Writing Architecture

Tropolism Books: Lucio Costa: Brasilia's Superquadra

Author: Fares El-Dahdah
Publication Date: February 2005 
Publisher: Prestel Publishing

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Speaking of Brasilia, one of the amazing books to come across my desk this year was the not-new-but-still-excellent Lucio Costa: Brasilia's Superquadra.  The book is part of The Harvard Design School's also-excellent CASE series.  Composed of ten essays about Lucio Costa's design for Brasilia, and how the resulting city has evolved since the majority of it was built.  The essays, starting with an excellent interview with Costa himself, focuses on the specific, unique character of Brasilia.  Costa sums it up well:

In a normal city, urbanism's objective is to create conditions that allow a city to sprout like a plant, unlike Brasilia, which is a product of reason imposed by an act of will that occurred with the expressed objective of transferring the country's captial.  The intention was to create a city that had a pleasant way of life, yet remained truly administrative with its own characteristics well defined, meaningful.

By focusing on the Superquadra, Costa's brilliantly devised solution to residential living in Brasilia, the reader enters into the life of the city, and the uniqueness of its organization.  The Superquadra are composed of housing blocks, and at its edges are commercial strips and public buildings.  The aggregation of these building blocks works, and works well, creating a modern city that is unlike any other.  Having just visited said Superquadra, I was struck by how well this book captures the very special nature of these neighborhood units.  The housing blocks, suspended above the ground, leave the ground floor almost entirely open.  The result is wonderful: one is truly moving through a park full of residential buildings.  Some of the newer blocks compromise this aspect but overall the city is as intended.  The essays do a good job of delineating this evolution, and the laws supporting them.

As a case study in how an entirely new urban idea evolved and played out, this book is valuable.  Everything from the shape of the buildings to the politics underlying them, to the way laws shape buildings is captured here.  Because Brasilia is so young, and is an entirely designed city, it is a good subject for this kind of case study: micro adjustments in code alter the buildings that go up immediately after.  For those interested in diving into some good urban design reading, as well as those who love Brazil and Brasilia, or those who study city design, this book is a must.

Tropolism Books: Brasilia-Chandigarh: Living With Modernity

Author: Iwan Baan
Publication Date: August 2010 
Publisher: Lars Muller
ISBN: 978-3037782286

Brasilia-Chandigarh: Living With Modernity is an enchanting book about the daily city life of these two great Twentieth Century capitals.  Both cities share common architectural attributes, stemming from their common early-Modernism DNA: the plasticity of concrete, the deep thinking about how to assemble the various aspects city, the ambition (and realization) of building an ideal city in the face of the impossibility of the task.  Each spread is a single photograph, and each spread is a world of lives unto itself.  The first half is devoted to Brasilia, the second Chandigarh.  Iwan Baan captures the city through his watchful camera, and his technique of having people engage (or try to ignore) his camera is a brilliant one: it connects the reader of this book to the city life he is documenting.

From the essay by Cees Nooteboom situated between the two halves of the book (and speaking about Brasilia):

Even then, only around ten years after the construction, the tropics had done their work, and human beings had inserted themselves between the design and the practice.  To be clear, perhaps you could put it this way: architectural sketches are always silent, whereas cities never are.  It is not drawings that live in cities, but people, unpredictable individuals who might at any moment disturb the order that has been designed for them, who may break through the silence of the sketches by making use of that unique instrument that makes a city a city: the human voice.

Having visited one of these cities this year, I found myself transported back to Brazil.  Brasilia is beautiful, shining, and entirely unexpected.  In the areas I wanted it to be great, it was not. Yet it was great in areas I did not expect, or did not even know to expect: because so much of it is unlike any city anywhere, it felt continually new, without feeling oppressive or alienating.  Iwan Baan's photographs are like that feeling.  They are inviting, unexpected, and evergreen.

Character Approved's Architecture Expert: Chad Smith

characterapproved.jpgIf it seems like the posting frequency has gone down a tad the last few months, that's because it has!  I am also writing for USA Network's Character Approved Blog, which assembles experts in various cultural fields to talk about what we think is positively impacting the cultural landscape.  I am the architecture expert.  I mean, who else would they pick?  Joke.  I was honored to be asked.

Visit often.  I'll twitter a link when the articles I've written go live there.

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If you're interested in advertising, contact us.

Springs Mills Building Gets Landmarked

millikensprings1.jpgNow that the Springs Mills Building is no longer taking second seat as part of the Milliken Building, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission was able to see it in its full glory and give it Landmarked status (warning: PDF press release).  It helps that the Milliken Building got demolished last year.

Seriously, I am dying to post the design I did for this building's gorgeous floorplate 10 years ago, but copyright laws prevent such intellectual property being shared.  Let's just say that the slender hexagon of a floorplate is as sexy-awesome as it sounds to everyone who describes it.

Mayer Rus On The Tyranny Of Taste

rus with love.jpgAh, we wondered what Mayer Rus was up to these days.  It's good to see his wit has found a suitable outlet.

Tropolism Corrections: Oscar Niemeyer Did Not Design Brasilia

pp_final.jpgTropolism Corrections: we almost never do them!  But this merits one.

In my last post, I stated that Oscar Niemeyer designed Brasilia.  This is wrong!  In fact, the city was designed by Lucio Costa in 1956-7.  It was Costa who developed the city's distinctive curved-cross shape and the shape of its blocks and transportation cores.  Oscar Niemeyer was the principal architect, with Roberto Burle Marx as the lead landscape architect.

Thank you Adriana Marasca for being our Brazilian Architecture fact checker!

Pop-Up Affordable Housing Storefront

Yes, the title says it all.  CUP, Tropolism's favorite NYC urban activist group, has done it again.  Their Affordable Housing pop-up storefront offers workshops on creating affordable housing, a place to get their Affordable Housing Toolkit, and a street-level visible front to what is usually an invisible topic: affordable housing.  They're at 61 Delancey (on the corner of Allen Street) in New York City.


Building Buildings Out Of Photographs

23crowd01_span-articleLarge.jpgThe folks at the University of Washington are on the cutting edge of creating models of buildings out of millions of internet based photographs.  With the wittiest of titles, Building Rome In A Day is a proof of concept that cities could be represented in computer models by using nothing more than the jillions of snapshots people take of places.  They're not the only ones involved in this sort of thing, but we think they are the most interesting.

So far they've created some sparse point cloud models and simple mesh models.  nothing ready for Iron Man 3 quite yet, but give it time.  We think the possibilities of this are very exciting.  Imagine fluid, dynamic models of cities changing based on internet photography and videos.  Cities could be captured and backed up.  You could experience a city of the past.  A street from your childhood.  Whole new film and game narratives arise.  

Check back in a few on this one.

Contractor Follies

As part of our Arquitecto ou Engenheiro? Que? Series, we bring you Contractor Follies from the United States, where everything (and anything) goes when it comes to home contracting. Dare to dream, DIY contractors! If you are prepared to laugh, click on the slideshow for all the captions.

Curbed's Top 10 NYC Buildings For The 00's

2009_11_best_hearst.jpgCurbed asked our opinion for their Top 10 NYC Buildings for the 00's, and we pointed out that we'd already submitted our opinion on this one.

And, who needs one pull quote when you can get three?

Two Takes On Writing Architecture

traystriple.jpgWriting Architecture is my favorite category.  For most of us architecture exists in words, either through conversation or through the written words.  These days the latter pretty much exist here, on the world wide internet.  Two fresh takes I'm taken with are as follows.

1. Trays.  The students at Harvard's Graduate School of Design have taken a very loose approach befitting a student body.  It's explorative, and worth a daily visit, because there's so much there.  It's also light: you don't need to get the Derrida Reference Book to get through it.  It's like a cross between DTWBYWL and, well, Tropolism.

2. Triple Canopy.  Triple isn't new, but what I love about them is they get in-depth and stay in-depth.  They're like a cross between Pin-Up and a theoretical journal, which is nothing short of a sweet spot in my book.  This one is less browsable, as in you'll need some time to read the articles, but they're all worth it.

LEED Starts To Get Interesting

LEED isn't resting: they've just launched a Pilot Credit Library.  As you may know LEED's system allows for a limited number of innovative credits to be applied toward a building's rating.  These innovative credits establish their own criteria, and then are approved or rejected by the USGBC. The credits are then put in a database online for other architects to research and maybe replicate.

With the Pilot Credit Library, LEED is taking this to the next level.  They are formalizing the innovative credits so they are easier to find.  And, more radically, they are crowdsourcing the criteria.  It's a Wikipedia approach that may entirely negate the need for versioning their credit system: the credits simply keep getting revised by the LEED members and the USGBC review process.  It's brilliant, simple, and will make upgrades more responsive to technology and what users are interested in.  That last part is key: if people are really serious about energy efficiency, then they can think up some revolutionary awesome credit, use it as a Pilot Credit, and get it approved so that others can take the same route, without having to do all the research.  It's a chance for designers who want to push LEED in a particular direction to take action.  Have at it, folks.

Rights Of Way: A New Politics of Movement in New York City?

Rights of Way 12Nov09 1.jpgAs you know we generally don't announce events here on the Tropolism.  However our trusty radio scanner came through with a discussion that is being led by David Smiley up at Barnard, and anyone who knows David knows his conversations are always productive.

So it's with pleasure that I invite you to Barnard College on November 12, 2009, at 6:30pm, on the 4th floor of Barnard Hall, to Rights of Way: A New Politics of Movement in New York City?  The discussion will explore the possibility of an urbanism after that of the automobile-dominated city.  In short, they are declaring the era of the auto over.  Which is nothing short of a radical conversation, even in this era of Lawn Chairs In Times Square.  Run or bike or MTA it up there.

Concrete Mushrooms: Transforming Paranoia

concrete-mushrooms-final-1034.jpgAlbania in the 20th Century produced 750,000 concrete bunkers, to defend the tiny country against the onslaught of the invasive Capitalist villains of the West. But ha ha we never invaded!  Leaving behind a bunker for almost everyone everywhere in this tiny country.  Who doesn't want one of those?  Except no one knows what to do with them, and no one really owns them, and they're everywhere.

Fortunately the concrete mushrooms are solid concrete and steel, making them so durable that it is not feasible to demolish them.  Or alter them except to build them out.  It is this territory that two Albanian graduate students at Politecnico di Milano are exploring in their blog and developing documentary Concrete Mushrooms.  The potential of this project comes to life in the trailer for the documentary, which includes several Albanians talking about how they have reused one of the mushrooms littering the landscape.  We'll be keeping tabs on this one.

Second Homes: Holiday Home In Asserbo

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Coming to the completion of my firm's own first holiday home, I am creating a series of some of the homes that inspire me.  

Holiday homes are the place where clients want to play a little.  There's less pressure on domestic bliss and more freedom to explore messy ways of living.  And there is almost always an automatic conversation about how the interior of the house works with the land, with nature.  Of course, the larger conversation for us all is WHY AREN'T ALL HOUSES CASUAL AND ABOUT CONTEMPLATION OF THE LAND.  I'll leave that for another time.  For now just enjoy Christensen & Co Architects holiday home in Asserbo, Denmark.  The simple shape, canted roof/ceiling, clapboard ceiling, deep overhang, and big deck.  We don't claim to be original.

LEED Gets Serious About Energy Performance

US-Energy-Consumption_xl.jpgA few weeks ago I wrote this piece about LEED and building energy performance.  LEED buildings don't measure energy performance after a building is built, and it is no secret, except to the New York Times, that some of the buildings just don't save energy.  At all.

The USGBC, the body that oversees LEED, sent out a press release (not to me!) a few days before my post announcing a set of information gathering, idea presenting, and comment having set of conferences.  The result of these conferences is to gather input to someday create a new standard for LEED, that of measuring building performance.  They're fuzzy on the details, but this goes to the point I made before: LEED is evolving and on the right track.  If this press release came out in 2011 I would say they are dragging their heels a bit, but to have it come out now suggests they are at least committed to getting it done.  Even if they are only in the "let's totally talk about it phase".  They're punting to the future a bit by gathering input, which is probably the only way to get the building owners on board: slow it down.  We're all for careful deliberation as a way to increase buy-in, but just remember, this is the easiest way for us to cut global carbon emissions.  There is no time to dawdle.

The City In Film: Ghostbusters

GB001 - Columbia by nycscout.jpgScouting NY does a very welcome and in-depth analysis of New York City, then and now, as seen through the classic lens of Ghostbusters.

One of the pleasures of this film is that it is shot in locations I am familiar with: Columbia University, the Upper West Side, and Tribeca.  Having seen their past captured as the sets of a 1980's film makes being in them in the present that much more thrilling.  Scouting NY's two-part dissection is a bit more precise though.

I would like to take this opportunity to request NYC then-and-now analyses of the following films: The Wiz, Klute, and The Warriors.

Mies and Japan

miesjapan.jpgWhile we're on the topic of Mies and Japan, we'd like to point out Hello Beautiful's hilarious-yet-we're-not-sure-they-meant-it-to-be hilarious comparison of Mies's work to the Ryōan-ji garden in Kyoto.  But the visual cues are fun nonetheless, and are an inspiring take on what Mies was going for.  Even if we're not sure that's what Mies was going for.

Video Life Of Small Urban Spaces

One of my favorite, formative books, The Social Life Of Small Urban Spaces, was of course a transcription of many written, photographic, and filmed records of how people actually use public space.  So you imagine my excitement when I saw that some of the video is now on youtube.

Excuse The Mess

Excuse the mess; we will look pretty again in a few days, promise.

LEED Certified Buildings Not Always Saving Energy

(Pictured: Cooper Union Building by Thom Mayne/Morphosis, which is going for a LEED Platinum Certification)

Shocker!  LEED certified buildings do not always save energy.  They never said they would be!  The New York Times gets wind of what has been known for a little while, that some LEED rated buildings, particularly the ones at the lowest end of the LEED scale, particularly the ones that got certified when the LEED rating was young, aren't saving energy.  Read this 2008 article by Henry Gifford (warning: PDF) to get a LEED critic's view on the matter.

Things to know:
1. Chad Smith is a LEED Accredited Professional, as of earlier this year!
2. LEED was developed to make owners, developers, builders, and I guess architects and engineers all happy.  Which means it is very popular yet is imperfect and has a few glaring loopholes, like this one: that LEED accreditation does not automatically mean the buildings will have lower energy consumption.
3. The whole LEED accreditation system is undergoing a revamp, to focus more on water use and energy consumption. Future buildings may be more energy efficient?  LEED won't nail this down because there still isn't a systemic demand to monitor the building's performance after it is certified by LEED.  But the two most pressing sustainability issues in buildings are water use and energy consumption, so they are on the right track.
4. One of the reasons LEED and green building is so hot right now is because LEED has been very popular.  So like Wal-Mart bringing organic food to each of their stores everywhere, LEED has brought the idea of sustainability to the world of building in the United States.  It's a huge success, but one that is not fully realized.
5. It is difficult to get a higher LEED rating without being somewhat more energy efficient.  So a LEED Platinum building: probably saving energy.  But no one actually knows!
6. The Times article implies that buildings can install a bunch of bamboo flooring and get a LEED rating.  In fact, Renewable Materials is one of the hardest points to get in the LEED system.  Basically it's bamboo anything, cork flooring, and like wool carpets...and that's it.  As a percentage of construction, you'd need to cover every surface in bamboo to make it work.  So no one is installing that much flooring in lieu of other sustainable strategies.  
7. But yes you could get most of your points saving water and putting your building on a sustainable site, and still be running a barely-OK HVAC unit.
8. I said it in February 2009: in 5 years we are going to look at LEED Silver as a ridiculously low standard.
9. Some LEED buildings are undoubtedly kicking ass on the energy consumption measure.  Let's hear about those too?

Tropolism Has Moved!

We are officially on a new host.  Life is good.

There are probably a few rough edges around here.  PHP is difficult yo!

Pictured: 364 Crown Walk under construction, Fire Island Pines, New York, August 2009.

Tropolism Is Moving

Tropolism is moving to a new host!  If you see us out of service, don't panic. We're simply moving to a new host.  In the coming months you'll also see T2 T2.0, as we evolve and expand.  

Tropolism has always been about the process of architecture.  You'll see us writing about that more explicitly.  

Pictured: 364 Crown Walk under construction, Fire Island Pines, New York, August 2009.

Tropolism Books: The Green Workplace


Title: The Green Workplace: Sustainable Strategies that Benefit Employees, the Environment, and the Bottom Line
Author: Leigh Stringer
Publication Date: August 4, 2009
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230614284
Available at Amazon.

Have you ever presented a recycling plan to the superiors at your office, only to be met with blank stares? Told bewildered colleagues that the florescent office lighting they replaced with extra hot and dim halogen track lighting is burning five times more carbon? Explained yet again that plastic bottled water is a ridiculous waste of resources, from cradle to grave? Wondered if there was a resource for people who somehow missed the entirety of the factual information they were exposed to in An Inconvenient Truth?

I have.

It's a pain. In this day and age there are still folks who don't know that recycling makes a difference, certain light fixtures burn loads of power, bottled water is wasteful, and that without a reduction in carbon emissions (forget reduction in rate of emissions, which is all politicians talk about) we are going to burn ourselves out of a home. One way to get people's attention, or to clear away their stubborn ignorance, is to direct them to The Green Workplace, a book by architect and MBA Leigh Stringer (who was also a classmate of mine in architecture school).

The book is aimed at CEOs and CSOs and other C-Suite folks who may be titans in the business arena, but are painfully dumb when it comes to the tidal wave of sustainability issues that are going to affect their bottom line in the next few years. The book makes a convincing case for how sustainability can benefit the bottom line, making the case so plain that even business owners who won't spend a dime to sustain their community or environment will be forced to acknowledge that there's money to be made by going green. The least interesting thing about this book it that it sometimes feels like it's overcompensating for the C-Suite folks. Does anyone who is playing at the upper levels of business really not know about how major corporations save oodles of money by saving energy, reducing waste, and making employees more productive? The answer to this question is, unbelievably, yes, and the author is well aware of it. The flip side of this is that Ms. Stringer patiently goes over these points in great detail, and undoubtedly there are some details that those who are very trained in sustainability issues (like me!) have missed.

The book also plays double duty. It is both a how-to book for the enthusiastic in-house environmental organizer and also an eye-opener to the internet deprived business traveler who found the book on a layover in Tuscon. Like the blog from which it sprang, the book is good for grazing on the parts you are interested, and discovering new concepts and ideas that you will read about later. For me this new territory was the introduction of a few green business measuring systems I didn't' know about (Triple Bottom Line or Balanced Scorecard), none of which are new concepts. You'll find your own new territory, and undoubtedly create a new reading list as a result.

The refreshing part of Mrs. Stringer's approach is that the focus is doggedly on organizational behavior. It assumes that everyone agrees that our behavior effects planetary environmental shifts, and that no convincing on that front is necessary. It gets to work. It also feels like a work in progress, like one in a series of books, or blogs. When I chatted with Leigh about the book, she acknowledged that the metrics of environmental business are not equal to the task at hand, and will probably need updating. What ever Book 2 looks like, we admire that this one covers all the bases, for now, and is plugged into a more active blog that will continue the conversation. When you choose to tune in, Leigh Stringer will be ready for you, and she will get you up to speed in no time.

Available at Amazon.

Tropolism: Moving Up To 7


Tropolism made it into the top 10 of the MoPo 2009 list of most popular architecture weblogs (written in English by primarily one person, and vetted by this or that metric) again this year, except moving up to slot #7. We were thrilled last year that we got in the top-10 at all, taking the #9 slot. Except we just learned that in 2007 we were #4.

The takeaway: top-10 trifecta!

Amazon Wishes

Just so you know, we have a wishlist at Amazon.com. And, our 4 year anniversary is fast approaching. Click the button to send us stuff:

My Amazon.com Wish List


Atlantic Yards: The First Post

missbrooklyn.jpgAtlantic Yards by Frank O. Gehry: we never liked it. It might be too big. It was a stadium for basketball, a sport we just don't care about and whose only reference point for us is "Madison" "Square" We Knocked Down Pennsylvania Station For This Pile Of Crap "Garden". It had open space on the roof that was accessible by only residents of a bunch of towers. But, it was Frank O., and it was glassy, and it was interesting. It would have densitized (densified?) a neighborhood, adding (more) life but also more traffic, congestion. It was going to amplify the city, this ever-pregnant corner of Brooklyn where it seems like something great should be built but is actually where nothing great has been built, and along with that building would be all the side effects that greatness brings: dirt, noise, change, conflict, and many messy conversations. In short, it was urban.

I took a wait and see attitude: the drawings and models looked somewhat great, but it was difficult to understand how it was going to interact with Brooklyn. Folks were up in arms about it, but these days you have to judge these things for yourself, because what with the internet and all, folks yell about everything in this town, as if every concerned citizen is a self-appointed Jane Jacobs, and every little brick repointing project a city-destroying commission by Robert Moses. Judging for yourself: it is the very purpose of Tropolism. It is what Tropolism means. Watch as the Atlantic Yards Project unfolds, better drawings come out, the project makes its way through court, and something happens, so that you can find your time to weigh in.

What happened you all know, or can easily find out: Gehry designed something awesome, the developer, Forest City Ratner, got all sorts of tax breaks and court victories, many riding on the fact that that particular design was going to be built. Then it turned out that design was too expensive, so Gehry redesigned it and it was less interesting. But OK so what, the central idea was still there, and it was still Frank O.

05gehry_600.jpgThe recent replacement of Frank Gehry as the architect of the project isn't the problem with the new Atlantic Yards design, although Nicolai Ourousoff's reaming article would imply otherwise. Ellerbe Becket doing a super simple and cheaper-design version of Gehry's design would have worked just fine, given that they followed his floor plan and massing outlines to the letter. Instead, the project has simply been redone, shorn of its residences and shops and now it's simply become one of those deadening black holes in the city, just like "Madison" "Square" "Garden". It's a classic, bald-faced bait-and-switch, which is a cute New York way of saying that Forest City Ratner are crooks. They have stolen the public's patience and benefit of the doubt in exchange for their own personal profit. The effect of which is that this part of Brooklyn will be dumb and cold and dead until 2050 when some even more stupid gyration will have to happen in order to renovate the dumb thing that might get built right now.

Atlanticeastbig.jpgThere is some crap glassy entrance so that yes 50,000 people or whatever can stream on through on their way to basketball a few nights a year, but nothing else except a huge box stadium. We get it. The roof looks like a basketball. This is the opposite of great architecture: this is cheeky architecture trying to get on our populist good side, while simultaneously sucking all the life out of our home city. There is no add here, only subtract: subtract money, subtract street life, subtract public conversation, subtract density.

And our great omission has been to not bring up, years ago, that this was a possibility all along. That the devil in Gehry's plan was that if Gehry didn't do his design, and someone did even and almost-version of his design, then the effect would be this drek. Our apologies for being quiet. It won't happen again.

Tropolism Books: Le Corbusier And The Maisons Jaoul

Title: Le Corbusier And The Maisons Jaoul
Author: Caroline Maniaque Benton
Publication Date: April 2, 2009
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
ISBN: 9781568988009
Available at Amazon.

The Maisons Jaoul, two weekend houses designed by Le Corbusier representing a period of intense work, have apparently not had their due. The author of Le Corbusier And The Maisons Jaoul traces the intensive period of work between 1951 and 1955 that created these houses.

If you can't distinguish Maisons Jaoul from Villa de Mandrot, The Villa in La Celle-Saint-Cloud (sometimes known as Villa Felix), or the vacation home in Les Mathes, or the house for Mrs. Manorama Sarabhai in Ahmedabad, or a dozen other examples, you might be forgiven. They all contain some combination of Le Corbusier's signature Catalan vaults out of terra cotta tile, exposed brick, beton brut concrete, or rusticated brick. Like much of Le Corbusier's oeuvre, the overabundance of work, the myriad overlapping examples, the constant, calculated, conflicting, and recurring areas of exploration tend to hide entire buildings in the fold. Case in point: the houses were originally sketched up in 1937, but the sustained work of design and construction happened 1951-1955. Just try finding them on this timeline if you need further proof. If you have to survey his entire life for a show, will Maisons Jaoul really make the cut? Not always. But they should. They are the clearest examples of these particular explorations, and the ones that get knitted up most comfortably into a livable set of houses.

This book rectifies their past omission from surveys (like the 100 year anniversary surveys had in the 1980s), in that it collects contemporary photographs of the houses (taken after restoration a decade ago), interviews and documents from the original craftsman, drawings that probably haven't been dusted off by FLC since Corb chucked them into box 1,277,569 fifty years ago, and a selection of wonderful letters between Le Corbusier and parties involved in the house. The balance of history and discovery is pitch perfect.

This book is available at Amazon. Your purchase supports this site.

Tropolism Books: Geologics: Geography, Information, and Architecture

GeoLogics.jpgTitle: Geologics: Geography, Information, and Architecture
Author: Vincente Guallart
Publication Date: April 2009
Publisher: Actar
ISBN: 9788495951618
Available at Amazon.

Oh great, another book with swoopy land-looking mountainbuildings, you might be thinking. Another snapshot of an architect with way too many free student laborers in his office, insulated from the need to produce actual buildings to keep the firm afloat, and inured to the need to have his written, visual, and spoken communications make simple sense. This is not that book. The difference with Vincente Guallart's monograph/handbook Geologics is that from word 1 it is a set of working ideas. It is a sketchbook, portfolio, and online photoalbum formatted so that someone on another continent can pick up the ideas, take them into practice, and work on the same set of problems. The format of the book, a thick 5x7 volume, makes it more like a field guide to Guallart's firm's ideas than a monograph. The first sentence:

"This book represents, at last, the beginning of a new cycle in our architectural practice, in which many of the questions outlined here should be corroborated..."

What allows all this to happen is that Guallart's ideas are clear. This is particularly useful since they all represent complex thoughts, phenomena, and conceits. It is the unabashed beauty of the conceits, and their integration into the research and buildings, that open the ideas up for discussion, preventing them from ever becoming declarations or unexamined dogmas. We expect some of the several dozen concepts in the first part of the book (full of ideas like geomorphosis, arborescence, re-urbanizing, ringing) to disappear as Guallart's firm exhausts their usefulness.

The second part of the book is a project-by-project account of the firm's favorite projects, some which you may be familiar with just by reading this site. And what projects they are: a range from swoopy mountainbuildings (a few of which need to get built) to a simple house, the built work is exhilarating, even when it's as simple as the wood decking of the Microcoasts project. Even if you've seen them before, they are placed in powerful context of the firm's inquiry by being cross referenced to the appropriate ideas in part 1 of the book. It's a technique we've mused on before, and one that we continue to think works well in this format. The second part of the book includes outstanding drawings, ranging from plans to diagrams, as well as well-edited set of photographs. The book is another must have for the practicing architect, theoretician, or architecture fan.

This book is available at Amazon. Your purchase supports this site.

Hemeroscopium House

The Hemeroscopium House, by Ensamble Studio in Madrid, is a refined combination of heavy infrastructural pieces. The pieces are stacked; the resulting spaces are a house. Most awesome is the pool deck, entirely under what is typically used for highway or parking superstructures: a giant precast beam. The surreal scale of the elements--nothing except the furniture appears people-scale--reminds us of OMA's work. Yet this is almost post-OMA, in that there is a clear pleasure to living underneath a highway overpass. The deck you walk on is polished and smooth, the pool and furniture are gorgeous, the landscaping mellow. There's no brutality to this brutalism, only refinement and play. In short a place to live.

Via Architect, which also has a big gallery of pictures.

Tropolism Books: Hybrids II


Title: Hybrids II
Authors: Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Mozas, Javier Arpa
Publication Date: Autumn 2008
Publisher: a+t ediciones
ISSN: 1132-6409

Hybrids II, the sequel to Hybrids I (about high-rise mixed-use buildings), published earlier in 2008, continues a+t's beautiful large-format periodical series. Although Hybrids II ties up the year's theme in a neat symmetry--its topic is low-rise mixed use buildings--the book is in many ways an improvement over its predecessor. It continues a+t's gorgeous plans, building analyses, and geographic locating diagrams. Yet the opening essay seems to cover the same points, but does so with more specific history, and a greater ease with the material effects of theoretical play:

The development of technology and trust in prefabrication caused science fiction and urban planning to find common friends. With the development of spatial bar structures, industrial modular cities made up of three-dimensional systems were starting to be drawn, though still only on paper.

This essay covers all the points on the historical spectrum between the invention of the skyscraper (that is, as it was formulated in Delirious New York), the superbuildings referenced in the quote above, and the megastructures developed in the late 1960s by Archizoom and Fumihiko Maki.

The activity of celebrating the culture of low, city-like superbuildings is of course fraught with the danger that one will ignore its most city-deadening invention, the plinth. Denise Scott-Brown's 1968 quote is presented as a warning of painting the world with acontextual supercity buildings: "What do they all do up there in those megastructures?"

Yet in the last 40 years, superbuilding has not died. It merely needed improving. Like before, during its plinth-era incarnation, it seems to remain a tool for economically efficient consumption. Yet it has survived in many cases only by allowing the cross-pollination of programs to happen, and for public space to infect it. The easiest example of this is The Ehwa Campus Complex in Seoul, by Dominique Perrault. It is a building whose entire roof is either a sloping grassy park or a monumental stair and plaza. The plinth is indistinguishable from the surface of the earth, a hybrid indeed.

It has also become commercially unviable for a building to not be contiguous with the city. A good example is OMA's return to fine form with their Bryghusprojektet in Copenhagen. A continuation of the diagonal spatial arrangements found in their 1992 Kunsthal in Rotterdam, the project proposes a 'heaping' of different programs to create hybridization, overlap, and new connections. However it does so by being contiguous to the ground of the city at many points along its edges.

What's astonishing in this book's survey is not only the scale of the projects being undertaken (such as the 100,000 square meter sporting complex in Kuwait, or Steven Holl's Vanke Center in Shenhen, China) but the diversity of solutions being proposed by architects. Megabuilding has taken on any form imaginable, making material the the possibility in ultra-dense city-scaled structures.

Tropolism Films: Brooklyn DIY


Last week’s world premiere of Brooklyn DIY brought a motley crowd of artists, performers, and groupies to MoMa. Through interviews and photographs, the film documents the “creative renaissance” of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Employing an ambiguous timeline, the narrative favors subjective experience over specificity. However, the disjointed “mapping of memory” is grounded by focusing on a handful of seminal moments that defined the neighborhood.

Right this way for the full film review...

BUTT: A Zine Proposal


Pruned proposes a zine that goes where MONU and Pin-Up so far have stayed away: scatology and porn. As most architectural magazines do. But Pruned's proposal for BUTT magazine (not to be confused with the real BUTT Magazine, pictured, I'll let you google the NSFW link) would explore a rich terrain of issues. Namely human waste and sewage. While not as sexy to some as the real BUTT magazine, the proposal immediately brings to life many topics that have been glossed over in our infrastructural-heavy theoretical musings on the city. As a work of creative criticism, this is brilliant.

Tropolism Books: Andrea Cochran Landscapes

Title: Andrea Cochran: Landscapes
Author: Mary Myers
Publication Date: April 13, 2009
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
ISBN: 9781568988122
Available at Amazon.

The work of Andrea Cochran can be seen, to those of us who have admired landscape design abroad, as finally completing the process of freeing American Landscape Architecture from the curse of postmodern landforms and wacky color cuteness. The work is powerful, but never unbalanced or trendy. Her outdoor spaces are clean, trimmed, and suitable for the modernist sensibility, yet they never feel like accessories to a building. Instead they reverse the relationship: the buildings are totally permeated, even subsumed by Landscape. That Landscape is the dominant piece here is not a judgment. In fact, seeing the concept so beautifully, seamlessly, effortlessly come to life leads one to believe that this particular resolution is the perfect conclusion of the idea that interior and exterior spaces are interconnected. There is more Landscape, more World than Building, so why not have Landscape's rules win? It is a conclusion that architects (and many landscape architects) fail to grasp. Andrea Cochran is way beyond grasping it: she's playing with it.

Yet her work is not simply concept, not airless, not minimal to its own death. They are spaces for living. There is air. There is messy stuff. The best example is the Curran House, an affordable housing building in San Francisco. The garden is a bamboo forest, a place to relax and congregate. Yet also included are galvanized agricultural troughs that provide urban garden space so residents may grow their own food and plants. It is a thoughtful touch that is beautifully executed with the simple, inexpensive, yet handsome troughs. Irony, cheekyness, and cuteness have been banished in favor of elegance, dignity, and reserve. Landsape is the background for fun, not a theme park.

The book Andrea Cochran: Landscapes continues this design sensibility. The photographs are flawless, rich, and will serve as references for decades. Like many landscape design books, this one has a superb plant reference guide that will help any architect successfully lift ideas (if not the overall concepts). Plan drawings of each project complete the documentation.

I am tempted to buy a second copy and write notes in the white space.

You can support Tropolism by purchasing this book at Amazon.

Starchitectural Disasters


We're rather proud of this one:

"Much like Martha Stewart's attack on the Travertine House, this house also lost its roof to a hurricane."

Utopias Reloaded


Plataforma Arquitectura has a great survey on utopian architectural visions past and present. Mostly past, showing us old favorites like Archigram and Superstudio, but introducing us to some we hadn't seen before, like Yona Friedma (pictured, prefiguring today's shipping container fetish) and Archizoom's "Aerodynamic City" (prefiguring blobstuff and Zaha Hadid). The article ends with projects by OMA and Norman Foster in Dubai, aka today's utopia breeding ground.

Furniture Friday: Kerk Apartment

Kerk_apartment_by_Stijn_Bisscheroux.jpgBehold the built in greatness of the Kerk Apartment by Dutch firm Stijn Bisscheroux. We do love it when furniture gets all architectural on us.

Via Materialicious.

MONU #10: Holy Urbanism

Archinect has a great piece on MONU Magazine's issue #10, titles "Holy Urbanism". The issue focuses on how building by religious organizations, and religious experiences in general, affect cities. It's a brilliant topic rarely discussed ever by anybody, so it's long overdue for the zine set.

Especially thrilling is the fact that you can browse the magazine on Youtube. Stunning.

Tropolism Newsletters


Tropolism Newsletters are still going strong! Be sure to sign up for the newsletter in the upper right hand field on this page so you get in on the action.

More Meta: Mention In New York Magazine

matrix090209_900.jpgSomeone at New York Magazine is reading us, because we were picked up on their Approval Matrix. You'll find us over halfway to brilliant, over halfway to lowbrow, right where we belong.

Tropolism Lectures: Gentrification Begins

washmews2.jpgGentrification, suburban sprawl, homogenization----we all have our takes on it. Inflated rents, overpriced restaurants, and multiple Starbucks are the clear symptoms. At the Municipal Arts Society talk at the Urban Center on Wednesday night, Francis Morrone takes us back in time to examine the origins of gentrification in New York City. Strikingly, it may have been started by a handful of progressive and socially conscious women.

Click here to read the rest of the lecture report...

Chicago Spire Tower Spawns Chicago Hole


The Chicago Spire, Santiago Calatrava's tower design that would have been the tallest building in the United States, had it been built, has been able to be referred to in the past tense for a little while now. What we didn't know is that where it was to stand is now occupied by a large, round, hole in the ground. That someone built. Oh, Chicago 2005. We still love you. After all, New Yorkers can't create perfectly architected holes. Our holes are simply messy construction sites for a decade or so. We'll respect you again if you find a good way to make money with the hole.

Documenting Disappearing St. Louis Continues


So much of St. Louis's architectural heritage is being destroyed that blogging it is a full-time project. Tropolism favorites B.E.L.T. and Vanishing STL have enough content to post frequently, and with terrifying stories of destruction of great works by the likes of Samuel Marx. Add to this list the tireless Andrew Raimist's Architectural Ruminations, who has created an internet home to a little known (outside of St. Louis) architect from the early 20th Century, Harris Armstrong. Much to explore here, but much of it has already been torn down.

Photo from Andrew Raimist's great gallery.

T Is For

Architechnophilia has posted their handy alphabet list of architectural weblogs. T is for us, darn straight it is! A little self love is a good thing.

Tropolism Editor On Vision 2020


Tropolism's Editor, Chad Smith (aka me!) was asked to participate in Vision 2020, a set of small questions asked to a large pool of architects about the future of architecture. My answers are found here, and will hopefully be no surprise to regular readers of Tropolism. This will hopefully be the last time you see a picture of me in a post here, I don't like getting too meta.

The Newspaper Went To Rio


The New York Times went to Rio and had a blast! And, there is architecture down there. And not just in Rio. I know, this is kind of like when MoMA discovered that the Spanish were doing something between 1971-1992. But in this case the articles are about great design.

First is a landmark show about Roberto Burle Marx at the Paço Imperial Museum, the powerfully influential painter who happened to do most of his work in landscape architecture. Usually taking second credit to Oscar Niemeyer, Marx is given his due in this show as a brilliant artist who gave modernist landscape design a distinctively Brazilian identity. His work is explored both formally (where his inventiveness is as tireless and arcane as Gio Ponti's) and as it relates to the native plant species and environs of South America.

Second is a house not far from Rio that some rich vacationers renovated. They liked Brazil so much they decided to renovate it into their very own tropical mansion. It's like John Lautner was asked to build with a Kon-Tiki kit of parts. Which is to say it's so over the top almost-modern that we love it.

Tropolism Books: After The City, This (Is How We Live)

Title: After The City, This (Is How We Live)

Author: Tom Marble

Book Designer: Juliet Bellocq

Publication Date: December 2008

Publisher: RAM Publications and the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design

ISBN: 978-0-9763166-4-0

This book is available through the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design's website. This book is not yet available at Amazon.

Review by John Southern.

In every dream home a heartache
And every step I take
Takes me further from heaven
Is there a heaven?
I’d like to think so

In Every Dream Home a Heartache, By Roxy Music, 1973.

I started out my career in architecture as a designer with a corporate firm in Washington D.C. that specialized in office parks, many of which were located in the rapidly developing Reston/Dulles Corridor of Northern Virginia. The experience, which only lasted 6 months, left me so cynical towards both corporate developers and the architects who serve them that I quit and went to work for another Virginia firm that focused on assisted living.

That however, is another story.

What I learned during my short tenure at that firm was that the development industry has neither an emotional attachment towards the social implications of the built environment, nor does it care for the utopian projections which began with the modern movement- both sentiments that are drilled into architects brains during their first year of design education. Instead, developers have learned to harness what architects typically eschew- society’s fondness for nostalgia and predictability, as well as an ability to conveniently ignore the implications of the environmental damage caused by suburban development.

Enter After The City, This (Is How We Live), a clever, exploratory pamphlet by Los Angeles architect, Tom Marble. Supported by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, After the city, (this is how we live) cloaks itself in the guise of a Hollywood script weaving a story that is both educational as it is entertaining. Marble seeks to unravel the why behind all of those “little boxes on the hillside”, how they got there, and the men who made them. Hollywood has long been infatuated with the suburbs, often portraying them as hotbeds of banal consumption juxtaposed with the prospect of illicit activities which often occur behind the carefully manicured hedgerows and modest facades. However, while many script writers have explored the psychology and sociology behind suburban living, few have sought to uncover the larger processes that gave us the suburbs in the first place.

Click here to read the rest of the book review...

Whole Earth, Online


For those fans of the Whole Earth Catalog, that awesome counterculture publication from the late 1960s that inspired everyone from architects to computer programmers, is now online. The original DIY zine, the catalog was as much about information delivery systems as it was about what to do with the hippie information it provided. So it is only fitting that now it's archived here, with us.

Tropolism Books: The Infrastructural City

Title: The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies In Los Angeles

Editor: Kazys Varnelis

Publication Date: December 2008

Publisher: Actar

ISBN: 9788486854250


Review by John Southern.

During the last ten years of economic mirth a lot has changed in regards to the contemporary city, both in how it looks and how we inhabit it. Since the late 1990’s both cities and private capital have invested heavily in glamorous architecture and staggeringly beautiful landscape projects whose role it was to enhance a particular metropolises cultural cache in relationship to its global neighbors. Technological innovations in consumer electronics coupled with the increasing prevalence of the Internet have enhanced cosmopolitanism and network culture rather than creating isolation that early critics feared. And while the money poured in aesthetic beauty and civic narcissism reigned supreme.

Now, as capital flows across global markets evaporate and those markets begin to collapse, politicians and civic pundits alike are all whispering the same word: Infrastructure. While a new museum or concert hall will be a hard sell over the next decade they theorize, a new bridge or light rail project will not because of the construction jobs those projects generate. Even President-elect Barack Obama has stated that part of the U.S. economic recovery will hinge on heavy government spending and investment in infrastructure. As building commissions dry up it is only a matter of time before architects try to align themselves with these new State and Federal patrons, casting aside formal seduction in favor of survival.

They will no doubt find that infrastructure does not need them and in fact faces a crisis of its own. It only takes a book like The Infrastructural City to make this apparent.

Click here to continue reading the review...

Kengo Kuma Designs Houses For Muji


Muji: for those of us in the United States and Europe, it is a wonder for inside your home. In Japan, it is also possible for it to be the home itself. You wouldn't know it unless you are able to read Japanese: Muji keeps these pages untranslated, and furthermore their design simplicity does not extend to their website. Tropolism favorite Kengo Kuma has designed some prototype homes for them (our favorite it the Window House, as you can see in our article over there at Yanko Design). He wisely sticks to a super-configurable model and shies away from too much prefab repetition. They aren't quite as radical as his other houses, but they have their pleasures. Greg Allen gives us another take on these designs.

Greg goes one further and translates the awesome Muji Village concept. It appears to be little more than a far-away rendering and some floorplans (awesomely displayed as take-home art posters. Take that NYC real estate brokers!), but as a feel-good concept, they have rocked the party mic. We'll keep you posted when it takes shape.

Less Stuff Is Better Design


I know I've been harping about this since I first got the idea for the Two Dozen list in 2004: the Roaring Two-Thousands created a lot of drek by designers because they were "designers", not because the designs were actually great. A lot of my writing has been focused on pushing designers to do better. What better opportunity for designers to really push design when all this money is sloshing around? Why not make things more efficient, more accessible, more inventively designed, and more beautiful, even if it costs a bit more? When the cycle downturns, we'll be happy to get scraps from the woodpile to make our stuff. Since September, most of us have been looking for that scrap pile.

Michael Cannell over at The Design Vote wrote a great article in the New York Times encapsulating these sentiments, looking quickly (as in long-blog-post quickly) at where product designers and architects are going to go from here. He champions sustainability in the production of goods and a good project by Lorcan O'Herlihy architects in Los Angeles that champions density over size of lawn. Welcome to the end of the decade, folks. We couldn't be more thrilled.

The High Line Construction Progress, 2008


Friends Of The High Line has sent us a year-end summary email, chock full of construction images that we hadn't seen yet. Try as we might, we were unable to find these on their website, so we have included two more after the jump. If you don't get their newsletter, stop by their website to sign up. Better yet, make a donation.

More images this way...

Tropolism Takes A Holiday


Tropolism will be quiet for a week while we observe a holiday. We leave with books, all our glorious books. And, pictured, a library to read them in: Steven Holl's crazy yet unnervingly beautiful design for the Franz Kafka Society Center in Prague.

A Tour Of Miralles's Market


One of Enric Miralles's last projects, one he never saw realized, is the spectacular Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona. It is one of our favorite projects, looks great from the air, looks great from the street, and Eikonographia's walkthrough gives us many visual and verbal details. Our favorite: what looks like the 'back' of the market includes a typical Mirallesian indulgence of sculptural bricks, concrete, and metal, where clearly none was required, on a face that I've never seen photographed in the published materials.

Tropolism Books: The Favorites Of 2008


For those of you who didn't get Special Tropolism Newsletter #1.7, here it is. It is in honor of one of the features I am most passionate about on Tropolism: book reviews.

Architecture books inspire me to discover new ways of thinking, as well as new ways of representing the art of my profession in print (and, these days, PDF).

Tropolism Books, The Favorites Of 2008

1.The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture This huge book is solid for more than just its size: it exhaustively collects, presents, and cross references over 1,000 new buildings, only 4 years after a similar book catalogued 1,000 entirely different new buildings in the same way.

2.Bunker Archaeology Paul Virilio's original is back in print after over a decade of being missing. Nothing about the book has changed: the essays and photographs retain the raw power they had the day they were written.

3.Loot: The Battle Over Stolen Treasures Of The Ancient World Anyone who knows the big museums has been inspired by works from the Ancients collected in their walls.  This book blows open our understanding of those collections, and puts them on the forefront of cultural disagreements in today's headlines.

4.Transmaterial 2 Even though our review seemed to be truly the most fastidious thing I've ever done, I reiterate here that this is an important book. It maps a clear direction for the interest in the cutting edge of materials and is an invaluable reference.

5. Density Projects Like anything A+T Ediciones prints, this book contains an interesting selection of unbuilt work and analyzes them with diagrams and data for every project.

6.Marmol Radziner + Associates: Between Architecture and Construction This monograph about an architect-led design-build firm is the gold standard for monographs, in our view. It includes unique side bars from clients, craftsman, and other project stakeholders.

7.Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan At times rambling and not quite as detailed as I like, this book is still an irresistible love note to one of our favorite building types. A fascinating portrait of vernacular Japanese building, and a particular house, written by a non-architect.

Tropolism Newsletter 1.6


Tropolism Newsletter 1.6 comes out this weekend, and in it I'll be writing about my five favorite buildings of 2008. Each building isn't just about the building, but about the bigger memes that surrounded it. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter in the upper right hand field on this page so you get it!

Tropolism Books:New York City Landmarks


One book we haven't gotten a review copy of yet is New York City Landmarks, the 4th Edition of the book put out by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. It's so new, it's not even available on Amazon yet. It's fieldbook sized, so perfect for running around town, but I'm frankly more interested in how they cover the buildings involved in some of their more controversial decisions (if at all).

Tropolism's Top Posts, 2008


This is one of our favorite time of years: mine Google Analytics for good, hard data about what everyone liked last year. The results surprised even us. Click here to read the list of our top 10 posts, as decided by you, the dedicated reader.

Tropolism Books: The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture

Title: The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture

Author: The Editors of Phaidon Press

Publication Date: December 1, 2008

Publisher: Phaidon Press

ISBN: 9780714848747


Few architecture books dare to take on the mantle of Atlas, but The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century Architecture seems to comfortably wear it. The book is a sequel to 2004's The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture--whose general outline and format the current book shares--and by looking at the measly amount of buildings that showed up in magazines between now and then, you would think that the new book would have lots of projects reprinted. Not so: almost all of the 1,037 buildings did not appear in the 2004 book. But when you consider the deluge of projects that have shown up online in that time, it's nothing short of astonishing that the book encapsulates such an encyclopedic spectrum. The project covers 6 world regions, and many of them, like China, seem remarkably well-covered.

Click this way to read the complete, large-format review...

Call For Work


Want to see your project on Tropolism? Send us a note through the Contact page. We are seeking new buildings, projects under construction, new projects, student work, competition entries, the most amazing plan or diagram ever, wicked fierce material assemblies, and any assorted related matter that just looks good.

Tropolism Books: Bunker Archeology

Title: Bunker Archeology

Author: Paul Virilio

Publication Date: January 12, 2009

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 9781568980157


Paul Virilio an architect of theory (which is the opposite of a theorist for architects). He organizes theory, making it useful. There is no better reminder of this than Bunker Archeology, his 1975 masterwork, which has been out of print since 1994. The book has been reprinted by Princeton Architectural Press.

Revisiting this volume was not the trip down memory lane I thought it would be. Instead, the writing and photographs, like the Second World War Nazi bunkers that are its subject, stand as raw reminders than most everything we discuss in architectural design theory is irrelevant to anything but the present. Death, war, infrastructure, and the eclipsing destruction made possible by 20th century technologies are all things Hitler and the Allies made perfect possible use of, and these are the complete context of our current times. The phones and bombs and radio programs have improved, but their highest best use were already conceived by the actors in that War. The most important actor of course is Albert Speer, architect, whose position in the Third Reich allowed him to conceive and execute total war. Virilio's telling of this leaves me feeling that we are living out someone else's future.

The essays have a raw power that matches those of the photographs, making them undateable except by the closest scrutiny. It is a useful scrutiny, one that needs revisiting by architects, if we are to write our own future.

This book is available for purchase from Amazon.

Miesian Delusions: Mystery Cabin From MoMA


Continuing our meme of Miesian Delusions (see Tropolism Newsletter 1.4 yo) we point you to Greg Allen's archeology of house by A. James Speyer, who was Mies van der Rohe's first graduate student. The house is a full on Mies country house from that era, except for a few powerful exceptions: the posts are made with tree logs. So clearly the architect has just dove off the deep end. To be fair, I proposed something like this a couple of years ago when friends bought an A-frame house that badly needed a big window wall in its giant A side. Let's just use trees!

Greg also points out that the house, mentioned in a MoMA catalogue from 1940, seems to have disappeared everywhere. It's nowhere online (no surprise there, I have a wall of books filled with projects from the 1980s that are invisible here) but it also seems to be a bit hidden from Greg's initial exploring on the subject. The guidebook includes detailed directions for visiting, so perhaps someone up in Warrensburg can help us out?

Tropolism Books Marmol Radziner + Associates: Between Architecture and Construction

Title: Marmol Radziner + Associates: Between Architecture and Construction

Author: Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner

Publication Date: July 1, 2008

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 9781568987446


As architects who build, we are continuously confronted by the friction between desire and execution. Who amongst us has not overdrawn a detail only to arrive at a jobsite to discover that it was completely overlooked by the builder? And that schedule and/or budget dictate the need to plod ahead without it?

The Santa Monica design-build firm of Marmol Radziner + Associates has been tackling these contradictions for almost two decades. Their latest monograph, Between Architecture and Construction catalogues the growth and development of this practice from a young, hungry, accidental design-build firm, to a mature and confident multi-faceted practice.

Click here to read the rest of the review.

James Corner Spotlights


James Corner, he of Field Operations (warning: totally annoying website navigation ahead), gets a lot of attention over at Landscape+Architecture last week. First he got a perfectly good mash note on November 24th: "The savoir [sic]... of course is James Corner and his firm Field Operations." This was the extended illustrated commentary on an article in the New York Magazine about the Fresh Kills park. But then he shows up in Metropolis for the highline (with really awesome pictures), and gets what can only be described as a mash note that further illustrates why we should love him. Frankly, we think he deserves it. He is redefining the profession of landscape architecture: there is no hyperbole in that statement. Will his built work be a success? That remains to be seen. But his influence on my generation is unmistakable. His desire to make beautiful, workable, urban spaces keeps his solutions looking decidedly non-theoretical. Yet somehow they look new. James Corner has many imitators, but few peers, and the mark his ideas leave on New York will be unmistakable.

More Miesian Delusions


Again with the Newsletter: last week I referenced some Miesian Delusions I came across the last few weeks. Another one opens tomorrow in Barcelona: SAANA is taking their bendy-glass-reflection-space to Mies's Barcelona Pavilion with a temporary installation. They have installed a semi-transparent acrylic curtain spiral. The curtain lets the visitor continue to visually see Mies's original space, but adds a layer of reflection and circulation that did not exist before. It's of the appropriate subtlety for the already-perfect Pavilion. We can't wait to see actual installation pictures.

Alerted by Designboom, who have more renderings.

Ouroussoff: Please Get A Photographer


As those of you who signed up for the Newsletter already know, I wrote a little about Nicolai Ouroussoff's review of Frank Gehry's new building in Toronto.

A quick recap. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times included a review of Frank Gehry's addition/reorganization of the Art Gallery of Ontario, in his birthtown of Toronto. Nicolai Ouroussoff gives Gehry his usual loving treatment, including a few gilding words about the building's new integration into its urban setting, which are barely hinted at in the accompanying photographic essay. So we will have to take his word for it, apparently. Actually, I'm kind of tired of taking their word for it. Can we see some proof? Or at least have the pictures align with the words a little better? I think this is probably an editorial problem. They send the architecture critic and a photographer to the building at the same time. They visit, and it is only later that the critic constructs his argument. The photographer has already taken the pictures though. But couldn't Ouroussoff (whose work we like!) take some snapshots as backups and then use them to fill the gaps? And half of the photos in the slideshow are from Gehry Partners anyway, didn't they have a couple that could help Ouroussoff better? It's a little distressing. And it's symptomatic of why print media, even in its online editions, is going to fall to The Blog, particularly with regards to writing about the city. Print is never messy. The city and blogs are.

So it's not without a little bit of frustration to see Mr. Ouroussoff's latest post, today about some theoretical museum by Toyo Ito (who we love), which includes two 'eh' renderings (one pictured above) and a lot of words about how the design is great. Really? Tropolism means pretty pictures. It also means good-awesome and accurate renderings. We just want more.

Mr. Ito, you can send more/better renderings using our submission form at the right.

Water Diagrams


Oh, us and our diagrams. This time it's the awesome water/development diagram over at Urbanarbolismo. Click through that link to their post, you'll find many more where the one pictured came from.

Pretty Pictures: Rust #1

rust1.jpg villa%20de%20madrid.jpg 4caixa.jpg

1. Performer's House in Denmark by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, 2005; via Arch Daily.

2. Plaza Villa de Madrid in Barcelona by Arquitectos Baena-Casamor-Quera, 2003. Via Daily Dose of Architecture.

3. CaixaForum Madrid, Herzog & de Meuron, 2007.

Casa em Arruda dos Vinhos


Portuguese firm Plano B's Casa em Arruda dos Vinhos is a small, one-room cabin that has all its green check boxes marked off. It's DIY. It's rammed earth. It's small. It has its own freaking blog. But what's best about it is that it's also elegant, with its clean, minimalist, glossy interior, giving new glamor to green.

Via a barriga de um arquitecto.

Star Trek Gets Architecture


Architecture enthusiasts who saw Quantum of Solace this weekend, or those (like us!) who watched the HD trailer to the next Star Trek movie frame-by-frame, saw the unmistakable criss-cross trusses of Fay Jones's iconic 1980 Thorncrown Chapel in one second of the planet Vulcan. What that that big podium or what Spock is doing in front of it, we have no idea. We love the inclusion of spectacular buildings in splodey science fiction. It gives a palpable material reality to the stories, both because we know these spaces in real life, and they have the grain and character of well-designed buildings. A computer generated set by a professional computer modeler just does not create the same effect.

Perhaps we should start designing our buildings with more of this cinematic flavor in mind? How it appears on film, yes. But also deep consideration of what kind of production values you are looking for. What kind of film would this building work well in? Buildings are always turned into sets long after they are built. Is it possible to develop a specific architecture that is ready for films of a specific type during the Schematic Design Phase?

Freeze frame from io9.

The Pyramids In Today's Egypt


Today The New York Times posts a little memo from Cairo touching on the relationship of modern Egypt to its ancient past. These are issues touched on in the book we finished recently, and the article stars Zahi Hawass, the cultural minister so prominently featured in Loot.

“A man without history is a man without humor,” said Galal Amin, an economist and author who has written about Egypt’s modern decline. “A man with history is more likely to have humor, because he is more likely to see the irony in things, how things were and how they turned out to be. And patience.”

Star Wars: A New Heap


Our favorite Death Star artist John Powers has posted a fascinating essay about Star Wars, Minimalism, and Modernism called Star Wars: A New Heap over at triplecanopy. This goes beyond his wonderful visual associations (like the original Star Wars text crawl and Robert Smithson's Heap of Language from 1966) and does research into the origins of the aesthetics of Star Wars, placing them squarely in the contemporary art of the late 1960s, including hard connections like the creative team from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddessy, who were in turn tightly connected to Minimalist and Modern Art.

Urbanism and Basketball


Free Darko, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, posted an essay last week about how urban planning could affect basketball coaches. It starts from silly relationships (basketball and skyscrapers, tall men and tall buildings), but quickly takes a more sophisticated tack. He looks at the effect of height restrictions on cities and ends up challenging height restrictions on basketball positions. It's a fascinating cross-pollination that we'd like to see more of. Tropolism loves sports.

Tropolism Newsletter 1.3


Tropolism Newsletter 1.2 included the book review Loot and some of our favorite ideas of the week. Newsletter 1.3 goes out this weekend. To get your copy, sign up now in the top far right email field on this page.

El Croquis Goes Digital


One of the pleasures of my job is getting updates like these: El Croquis is offering digital versions of its magazines. In one swoop the twin problems of acquiring and storing their oversize formats is disappeared. Of course you don't get the pleasure of having a huge page with a flawless image or superdetailed plan, but there are advantages to the digital option. We'd rather have a proof copy of the master PDF file, but we'll settle for the Zinio system for the time being.

Pretty Pictures: Resampled Space


BLDGBLOG is back in fine form with a survey of the work of artist Filip Dujardin, who manipulates images to create his architectural fantasies. Yet these images are sublime because they amplify the weight and grunge of the existing industrial photograph material from which they are born. It is that they are plausible which gives them power.

Under Construction: OMA's Wylie Theater In Dallas


OMA's Wylie Theater in Dallas in under construction. Click here for an awesome slideshow by Archinect contributor Orhan Ayyüce.

Via Archinect.

Tropolism Books: Loot: The Battle Over Stolen Treasures Of The Ancient World


We just finished the new book by Sarah Waxman, Loot: The Battle Over Stolen Treasures Of The Ancient World. The book is a fascinating account of the culture war that is the resitution of ancient artifacts in Western museums. Institutions such as The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The British Museum are turned inside out by these demands, and the author does a superb job of detailing all of the issues at play. She is remarkably agnostic about the arguments at play, and instead wisely focuses on the powerful questions that now arise. Do ancient artifacts belong in their home country where they can be seen in context, or are they better displayed alongside other civilizations in the great encyclopedic museums of the West? Should they be returned when the host country cannot insure their security, much less state of the art curatorial technology, even if the artifacts have unknown (therefore probably looted) provenance? Are colonial-era agreements (always written by colonists) that allowed some artifacts to leave their home countries legally still valid today?

The wheels spin on these issues and Waxman is content to let them spin. Along the way you will learn fascinating inside stories about museums and artifacts you probably already know and love (the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, and my personal favorite, the Zodiac Ceiling), as well as see museums in a greater historical, and now political, context.

The book is available for purchase from Amazon. Buying it here helps support Tropolism.

Tropolism Newsletter 1.2


For those of you who missed it, Tropolism Newsletter 1.1 went out last Sunday. It was how the Zaha Hadid Chanel Pavilion now-closing in Central Park would have been improved by curation ideas taken from my favorite Xbox 360 games. This weekend: something different! To get your copy, sign up now in the top far right email field on this page.

Pretty Pictures: Drafting #1

Imagine Coney: Now A Real Website


Ha ha, joke's on us. Here we thought MAS was just going to accept ideas for its Imagine Coney project through public forums and such. No, they were just hanging onto a wonderful website where you can click "Submit Idea" and it goes into their internetwork (text only, images need to be emailed in). Or, you can real-mail them something called a "CD". The website is really beautiful, too. Be sure to submit your stuff before November 12th.

PS if you still want to go rogue and send us your stuff too, we'll still publish the best ideas we receive.

Concrete Ammonite


In keeping with two of our favorite themes here at Tropolism (arctic residences and drawing) we direct your attention to Concrete Ammonite, the work of Lewis Wadsworth. Like a cross between John Hejduk and Lebbeus Woods, Lewis's work combines a densely layered architectural fantasia labyrinth (or is it many?) with densely layered narrative. What is powerful about it is the text is readable, like fiction, and it provides an expanded understanding of the images. Not only is a narrative about a labyrinth created, but the author at the same time talks about the process of drawing, and the blog itself becomes the architectural work, like an illustrated Borges.

Tropolism Newsletter 1.1 Coming Soon


What do Zaha Hadid, Art Museums, and Video Games have in common? In the next few days those pioneering readers who have signed up for our newsletter will be getting a very special entry in their inboxes to tell them the answer to that question. Sign up now in the top far right email field on this page.

Imagine Coney Reminder


Reminder: send us your ideas for Coney Island! Tropolism means good ideas win. We are asking all our readers to send us your ideas (especially visual illustrations) for Coney Island. Anything we get we will forward to the Municipal Art Society; the best ideas we will post on Tropolism. This is open to everyone and anyone. Whether you're an architect or an admirer, t's time to fantasize again. Send whatever you can to chad@tropolism.com; the deadline is November 12.

Bureau Of Architects


The latest wave in social networking has finally come to architects with Bureau of Architects. It's a nifty network for everyone in the design sphere, but without the extraneous geegaws of The 'Book. What's particularly great about this micronetwork is that it turns out to be not so micro: the applications and feeds that are included are going to be stuffed full of images, competition dates, and news feeds before too long, making this a very useful meeting place for the architecture world.

Be our friend?

Imagine Coney


Send us your ideas for Coney Island! Tropolism means good ideas win.

The Municipal Art Society of New York today announced a new initiative to re-imagine Coney Island, called Imagine Coney. Coney Island, that land of mystery and wonder, the genesis of delusional fantasies both distant and contemporary, has been in decline for some time. New York City has taken some actions to spur its revival, but the plans that have come forth have been less than satisfactory. To that end the MAS is leading an effort that only they can lead: bringing the public and private concerns together. In addition, they are drawing upon their line of recent successful design competitions, where they solicit public input but wisely create their own design short list. Today they are announcing this effort, part of which is to solicit design ideas for their design team to look at in mid-November.

Tropolism is inspired by this public brainstorming session. We are asking all our readers to send us your ideas (especially visual illustrations) for Coney Island. Anything we get we will forward to the MAS; the best ideas we will post on Tropolism. This is open to everyone and anyone. Whether you're an architect or an admirer, t's time to fantasize again. Send whatever you can to chad@tropolism.com; the deadline is November 12.

Tropolism Books: More Mobile: Portable Architecture for Today


Title: More Mobile: Portable Architecture for Today

Author: Jennifer Siegal

Publication Date: November 1, 2008

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 978-1-56898-758-3

The last few years have seen an explosion of explorations of the structures, armatures, tools, and systems that constitute a new nomadic living. The explorations chosen for this book range from smart fashion installations to surrealist fantasies to RVs for the West Elm set. But they all have one thing in common: they expertly explore what architecture can be in the wireless age. They suggests that transitional, temporary, and moveable placemakers are not merely appropriate for our digital lives, but they can even be comfortable. All of the projects here challenge what is expected of house and home, from the art installation tricked-out sleeping bags of Studio-Orta to Andrea Zittel's A-Z Wagon Station (pictured). They challenge conceptually what can be made into a home or public space, the way Archigram's work does. Yet many of them go far beyond being polemics of our time; some (like Zittel's work) strive to being useful, giving us entirely new architecture even as they strip most of the materials away.

This book can be purchased at Amazon.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Keep Loving Plans


In this crazy online architectural wonderland, pictures rule all, be it renderings or photos of the built work. Less common is the underused (but still useful) tool of plans and sections, as well as the relative newcomer, the animated diagram. It's a way of understanding projects that can add (or detract) from the genius of a design. Sometimes interesting photographs of a house reveal, in plan, to be a lame 3 bedroom 3.5 bath house. Sometimes the plans and sections support brilliant awesomeness in the pictures. I am tempted to complain about how the general level of skill at drawing has dropped precipitously since schools started going all-digital, but I think that is a topic for another post. Besides, I think the pendulum is swinging back to drawing, since renderings of clouds with text labels on them are not cutting it as cutting edge anymore.

It should come as no surprise then that my favorite weblogs are those that include plans and sections with every project selection. Daily Dose deserves special mention for devoting posts soley to plans and diagrams.

Tropolism Newsletter 1.0: Sign Up Now


Some of you have signed up for The Tropolism Newsletter. Ages ago. And you have never received anything. Soon your infinite and kind patience will be rewarded. Launching soon: Tropolism Newsletter. In it you will be able to read even more writing from the Tropolism crew. The first few will be some in-depth commentary and inside scoops only available through the newsletter. Sign up today so you don't miss newsletter 1.0. Just enter your email address in the box on the right, and click yes when you get the follow up email.

Next Generation House Update: Winner!


This just in: Sou Fujimoto Architects' Next Generation House, as seen here on Tropolism yesterday, won the Private Houses jury at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona. We concur with their report, this house is a winner.

Stair Porn


Stair Porn. The title (and design) of this blog says it all: it's about stairs of every kind, leaning toward the awesomely designed. The categories of stairs on the sidebar are going to turn this into a great architectural reference. It's run by the same people who do the brilliant Materialicious. Pictured is a stair by Gio Ponti with the comment "All we need now is for Sophia Loren to walk down those stairs."

Note to Stair Porn: include my West Village Duplex stair?

Libeskind Does Shopping Malls


Daniel Libeskind designed a shopping mall over in Switzerland.:

“Architects for a long time thought malls were below their dignity,” Libeskind says. “But if you bring nature and culture into the building, you can make it a radically different place.”

He's absolutely correct. Architects did some amazing shopping malls in the 1960s and 1970s, and then they kind of let go of those projects. The only problem is that what Libeskind designed actually looks like any ole mall in New Jersey.

Via Archinect.

Switch Bays


One of our favorite articles over the summer, during our sleepy time, was Daily Dose's piece about buildings with Switch Building like facades. While we will always have a fondness for the original Switch, we admit we are swayed by SHoP's M127 facade for its more elegant assembly of a diversity of typical New York materials: brick, metal, glass, into something entirely new. But still lovely.



Our favorite small mag has changed its name. Monu is now mudot. Yeah we don't get it either. What hasn't changed is their great design, their commitment to pdfs of every page online, and the microcontent mashup. It's our flavor of obsessed.

Herzog & DeMeuron's Tate Modern Mountain


While we were intrigued with Tate Modern 2.1, revealed way back in 2006, the stacked box pyramid we think has since found better expression and program and site in their proposal for the Parisian mega-pyramid of residences, mostly because the Paris project is much larger, and so the box thing turns into a pyramid from far away. It looked too jumbled to be Tate 2.1.

We are much more excited with Tate Modern 2.2, a smoother pyramid that works better with the existing power station and neighborhood, without losing its crazy awesome loudness. Check out their site geometry image at the bottom of this page for how it was generated. It also keeps with today's boulder theme.

Buildings On Video


0300 TV does what I was groping at with my post about that AIA site a few months back: simple video check ins on great buildings, some familiar, some not. With a minimum of interface. It's obviously a travelogue from someone based in Chile (today is Chile day at Tropolism) but we think it's the start of something great.

The site also contains videos on related topics, with interviews, art installations, and commentary about contemporary urban and media issues.

AIA Makes Videos


In celebration of the American Institute of Architect's 150th Anniversary, they have launched Shape Of America, a video diary of American (presumably United States) buildings.

As of this writing, there are only seven buildings profiled. We like the assortment of off-the-beaten-path buildings (the upcoming video on 1963 Air Force Academy's Cadet Chapel by Walter A. Netsch) and the big name superstar buildings (at least for the FAIA set, like 1937's Taliesin West by Big Frank 1). Also, we love snapshots of old buildings in their current state, seeing what worked and didn't work in groundbreaking architecture. The video of Exeter Library shows just such snapshots, complete with cracked concrete and repointed bricks.

There are some quirks that read as crazy to this young internet user. The search function is buried in the lower right and clicking on View Entire Conversation leads one to...random long letters written by more FAIA members. It would have been much better if they'd just set up a channel on youtube and run an embedded blog. Also, the graphic design: what is up with those fat red gridlines they have insisted on using since the 1980's? Looks like a little less committee and a little more student intern control would have been in order, but all in all looks to be a good google-able resource once they get a critical mass posted.

Tropolism Is MoPo's #9


We were happy and surprised to learn that Tropolism is #9 in the 2008 MoPo, the list of Most Popular architecture blogs in the world. Ah, the power of a great publicist. Kidding! Eikongraphia uses a bunch of internety measures to determine their list.

But it wasn't the fact that we coined the term pop-up park last week (a friend overheard people using that phrase on the Brooklyn Bridge two days later, after seeing it on television, after coming from us). Or our awesome book reviews. It's you, dear reader. You are the ones that truly make Tropolism great!

Tropolism Books: Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan


Title: Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan
Author: John Roderick

Publication Date: November 1, 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 978-1-56898-731-6

John Roderick leaves his metier of journalism (he was an Associated Press correspondent in Asia for almost forty years) and enters the much trickier realm of architectural memoir with Minka: My Farmhouse In Japan. It is his experiences as an American journalist in post-war Japan who purchases a minka, reconstructs it, and makes new home out of it.

Click Continue Reading for the full review.

Tropolism Books: Density Projects


Title: Density Projects
Author: Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Arpa

Publication Date: 2007

Publisher: a+t ediciones

ISBN: 978-84-612-1335-1

Nothing brings us more joy than architectural books in the mold of those in a+t ediciones' Density Series. In Density Projects we have architectural book nirvana. The book's topic is tight: 36 projects (many of them being built) of multi-family housing, all of them recent. The layout is clear, with complete floorplans, site plans, urban situations, and verbal descriptions, all without sacrificing concept drawings and wow renderings. The book is bilingual (Spanish and English). The cross sample is primarily European and North American (although some important projects in Asia are shown, none are by Asian architects), but still incredibly diverse, with good work from architects famous and less-famous. The latest ideas in modern urban planning are presented, all balancing the concerns of environmental responsibility, great cityscapes (both additive and entirely new), and of course, great places to live.

But perhaps the greatest pleasure is that this tight (yet diverse) sample is put to good use. The authors chose to analyze them side-by-side: simple graphic analyzes of residential density, dwellings density, floor area ratios, and uses all set this book apart from most of its kind that travels across this desk. In short, they did some work, and the book was saved from being interesting-but-forgetful, instead being a useful resource for designers and theorists alike.

This book is available at Amazon.

Two-Dozen List, Tropolism Editor's Edition 2008


Two Dozen List, Tropolism Editor's Edition, 2008. Subject to change. Click Continue Reading for Full Annotated Edition.

1. 40 Mercer: Jean Nouvel
2. 40 Bond Herzog & DeMeuron
3. 100 11th Avenue: Jean Nouvel
4. 524 West 19th Street, Metal Shutter Houses: Shigeru Ban
5. 515-517 West 23rd Street, HL23: Neil Denari
6. 366 West 15th Street, The Porter House at : SHoP (aka That Stripey-Light Building)
7. 165 Charles St: Richard Meier (aka Meier3)
8. Perry Street South and North Towers: Richard Meier (aka Meier1 and Meier 2)
9. 109 Norfolk Street, Switch Building: nArchitects
10. 385 West 12th Street: FLAnk
11. 290 Mulberry Street: SHoP
12. 184 Kent Avenue: Arquitectonica (aka The Illinois Institute of Technology)
13. One Kenmare Square: Richard Gluckman (aka Gluckman Wave)
14. 48 Bond: Deborah Burke
15. 15 Central Park West: Robert A.M. Stern
16. One York: Enrique Norton
17. 497 Greenwich Street: Winka Dubbeldam (aka Winka Wave)
18. 33 Vestry Street, V33: Winka Dubbeldam
19. 330 Spring Street, Urban Glass House: Phillip Johnson
20. West 11th Street, Julian Schnabel Palazzo Chupi
21. 166 Perry Street: Asymptote
22. Lower East Side, Blue: Bernard Tschumi (aka TschumiBlu)
23. Astor Place, Sculpture for Living: Charles Gwathmey
24. Highline 519: Lindy Roy

Notes On The Two Dozen List


In 2005 I fleshed out an idea I first proposed in 2004: that a slew of midsized residential buildings would be built, all designed by celebrity architects. And so the Two Dozen List was born.

The mid 2000's in New York City have seen a unique confluence of money, skyrocketing real estate prices, hyper-demand, and cheap credit. The competition between developers, combined with a rise in interest in architectural design by the general public, has led to the hiring of our beloved celebutantes as brand novelties to distinguish one development from another. The moment is now passing: credit is tight, leading to projects down the pipeline being shut off. While the competition for buyers will certainly continue, it is likely that high-priced talent, or at least the famous names, will not be invited to create design masterpieces quite as often.

The similar size, shape, and sites give us a unique opportunity to compare these talents, and ask some great questions. How powerful were these architects in the development process? How well did they redefine what is possible in this context? How many boundaries did they push? How did they approach, and solve, the great problems of the New York Skyscraper: the slab and the curtain wall?

I will post my personal version of this list this week. Tropolism will begin to review the projects on my list that have not been reviewed to date. In addition, guest writers will post their own lists, here and elsewhere. Finally, we invite you to submit your own entries for a reader's choice list, which will of course be published here. Enjoy!

MONU: Magazine On Urbanism


With an acronym title that makes us envious for not thinking of it first, MONU is difficult to resist. The production and art direction is decidedly low-res: they use only the Photoshop techniques that remind you of the punk posters from the 1980s, or the architecture school posters you made with Photoshop 1.5 in 1991 when you had access to one of the first 300dpi laser printers.

But what is truly special is the breadth of talent contributing. From artist Joep Van Leishout to the always-available (and always interesting) Teddy Cruz, the current issue alone is worth picking up. But there are also a raft of young artists, PhD candidates, and other members of the cross-disciplinary inclined.

MONU issue #8 is out now. A thumbnail of every spread in the issue is also available.

Mies Grave Stone Model


File under ephemera: a model of Mies Van Der Rohe's grave stone, by Strangeharvest, complete with pdf so you can make your own. The text is slightly different than the rubbing I took as a wee graduate student in 1994, but the proportions are just right.

Piano Gets Smacked, Deservedly


Today Nicholai Ourousoff puts the smack down on Renzo Piano's Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and addition to LACMA that has recently opened. From the photos in the article and the photos on LACMA's own website, we are left with a collective "HUH?". It's a little bit o'travertine, with a little bit o'Pompidou (via the 1980s). Or, perhaps bit o'Getty with bit o'Hugh Hardy (who did the awful 1986 Anderson Building at LACMA). And don't get us started on the flimsy entry pavilion, pictured. We like to think Mr. Ourousoff was channeling us when he said it:

And if to some the entrance pavilion’s flat, square canopy brings to mind a gas station, the reference falls flat. I’ve seen gas stations in Southern California with far more architectural ambition.

Football Game Space


Strangeharvest posts a smart and fascinating essay about the history of football fields:

Sometimes the goals would be the balcony of the opponents' church. The whole landscape became transformed into game-space. Houses, agriculture, sites of worship lost their everyday meaning and became an abstract terrain whose qualities impact the possibilities of game play.

The post also has beautiful illustrations projecting this history back into contemporary boundary markings of football fields. It's a kind of immediate refictionalization of history that we love: research with material effects.

Beautiful At Barnard


Recently the P/A Awards were announced, by whatever magazine is announcing them these days. Our enthusiasm for these awards faded not because of some nostalgia for the days of Progressive Architecture magazine. It's simply that the cutting edge of architecture has gone blog viral. By the time the print media gets to it, it's old news. The newest of the new gets chewed up and tested by the internets, and the increase in chaff is easily matched by the increase in voices talking about design.

The one highlight in this year's P/A award comes from old-fashioned great building design, from Weiss/Manfredi. It's their Barnard Nexus project, at Barnard College in Manhattan. It's not just a pretty rendering: the details of the glass curtain wall, mimicking the brick and terracotta of Barnard's and adjacent Columbia University's main building cladding, is sophisticated, beautiful, and yes, progressive.

NYC Bookstores


Awesome NYC bookstore alert: Storefront for Art and Architecture is having a micro-bookstore in the "eastern end" of the gallery. The bookstore is curated by Storefront luminaries known for their amazing book collections (ie Beatriz Colomina).

NYC has a dearth of great Architectural bookstores, at least in terms of the scale of those to be found on the west coast. Daily Dose, which pointed us to the Storefront bookstore, has also compiled a list of NYC bookshops.

Tropolism Books: Transmaterial 2


Title: Transmaterial 2: A Catalog of Materials that Redefine our Physical Environment
Author: Blaine Brownell

Publication Date: February 19, 2008

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 156898748X

What is the definition of transmaterial? The title of the upcoming catalog sequel from Princeton Architectural Press has us asking a lot of great questions.

Click Continue Reading for the full book review.

Observations On Unhelpful Architectural Writing


Architectural critics, like all art critics, are stuck between bald snap judgment and the extension of art history known as architectural history. It's a strange place to be, and the critics we admire tend to create new conversations about architecture in general, through their insightful opinions (IE Paul Goldberger) or their insightful riffing on architectural history (IE Robin Evans, RIP).

Click Continue Reading for the rest of the critique of the critics.

Art: Culture In The Age Of Supply And Demand


Sorry to be so tardy on this. Greg Allen gives us another insightful article on the effect of an Art World with lots of rich people buying up everything in sight. And he is searching for the art that is going to be around when the rich folks stick to investing in real estate.

And, he links to a huge and interesting PDF document from the Olafur Eliasson studio. Just in time for the holidays!

Tropolism Websites: Sorry, Out Of Gas


We usually don't link to websites from architects: our inbox is filled with them, and the navigation alone usually causes us to run the other way. This one got our attention though. The CCA has launched a companion website for their imaginative exhibition Sorry, Out Of Gas. With this exhibition, CCA has taken the world of architecture to Green 2.0: seeing energy crises and environmental concerns in a cultural and recent-historical context, as a way to shape the dialogue and practices of the present day.

The website interface is simple, and the information is presented as a series of slideshows. We think the touch of having the slide transitions look like real live slides flipping forward (in the days before digital slide programs) is particularly elegant. It's a way of visiting the exhibition that is effective, and saves you the trip to Montreal. If the installed exhibition is big documentary photos on a wall, I'd rather see it online anyway.

Also presented is a work that was found in the press kit: An Endangered Species, a booklet amusingly illustrated by Harriet Russell.

Herbert Muschamp, 1947-2007


Herbert Muschamp died yesterday in New York. While we were never a fan of his writings, we have to give the guy credit: he was consistent, loud, and all over the map. Just the way we like our New Yorkers.

Tropolism Books: Green Roof and Natural Architecture


Title: Green Roof—A Case Study: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' Design For the Headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects
Author: Christian Werthmann

Publication Date: October 1, 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1568986858

Title: Natural Architecture
Author: Alessandro Rocca

Publication Date: November 5, 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1568987218

The folks at Princeton Architectural Press have done it again: they have sent us a two-pack that again begs for a comparative review.

Green Roof is the rarest of architectural books. It is a case study of a single project (the green roof for the Headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects) that successfully balances theoretical concerns, models and sketches and computer renderings from a messy design process, reproductions of key construction drawings and details, documentation of the construction process, and great, informative photography of the final project. Every page is filled with useful, clear, and beautifully presented information. The photography is stunning. The project's design is fairly simple, and not the most formally interesting of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' work. And yet the book contains a persuasive point of view (the United States need more green roof projects), with a theoretical bias (green roof projects are an integral part of modern living), a position on how the project fits into the larger urban whole, all the while being a powerfully pragmatic reference book (complete with product manufacturers and descriptions of every plant species used) for how to do a project like this, from beginning to end. After years of blah rendering-filled monographs and cheeky formal explorations, this kind of book is not only welcome, but long overdue.

Natural Architecture is a cursory survey of artists whose works are sculptures using materials found in nature: trees, branches, rocks, soil, and streams. The artists surveys are all contemporary, and a wide range of explorations and concerns are covered. Included are a few big names (Olafur Eliasson, nArchitects), but the majority of the artists are probably known only to people who follow this sort of thing. The author makes the correct decisions to show work that is post-Land Art (if there is such a thing), work that both borders on interesting vernacular construction as well as the cutting edge of contemporary art and architecture, and work that is being done by artists worldwide. While some of the images are grainy and underexposed, they do capture the ephemeral nature of works made by natural materials, and the labor and processes needed to build them. The graphic design is mostly unobtrusive, except for some titles that seem ripped from my graduating portfolio circa 1997. But these are minor points. Like many surveys of particular themes of art, this book is one of the more useful compilations, with enough breadth of images to appeal to a wide range of artists and architects.

Green Roof: A Case Study: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' Design For the Headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects and Natural Architecture are both available at Amazon.

Tropolism Books: House: Black Swan Theory and AT-INdex


Title: House: Black Swan Theory

Author: Steven Holl

Publication Date: May 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-587-9

Title: AT-INdex

Author: Winka Dubbeldam

Publication Date: June 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-535-5

Not only do the folks at Princeton Architectural Press send us lots of books to review, but they have a sense of humor.

Recently we received copies of the two books listed in this review. The two books are polar opposites, and all but begged us to do a comparative review.

Click Continue Reading for the goods...

Hudson Yards Draft Strategic Framework Plan


Dear Diary,

Next time I do a master plan for anything, please be sure to run it by Lockhart Steele first. Just the other day, I was looking at Curbed, and I saw his brilliant, whithering criticism of the beyond-stupid Hudson Yards Draft Strategic Framework Plan. Of particular note: he noticed the glaring stupidity of the Plan's attempt to compare a development site with the size of the open spaces in New York, as if the entire site would be open space. What can we say, Lockhart is good.

He didn't mention one important point, but he's probably just leaving something for me to write about. That the Plan is obviously constructed so that one conclusion can be reached: building around the High Line is too expensive, and therefore it should be just knocked down. What architect can't see that this is the most interesting part of the High Line? FxFowle, we had so much faith in you up to now.

Rudolph Road Trip


Today's New York Times gives us a road trip to Paul Rudolph's work between here and Boston, and includes updates on the conditions of the buildings. It also divulges a lot of details about the people who inhabit them. It also includes, shockingly enough, actual addresses and directions to said buildings. Time to call the garage and have the car ready.

Ever since Modern Architecture In Europe went out of print, and the internet, er, happened, guidebooks to famous buildings have been few and far between. The AIA produces a few for major cities, but they are hardly comprehensive. Road tripping across the country means long expanses of no handheld device internet access, which means all that online information is useless, unless you print it out. Until someone finds a solution for this, we'll have to print out articles like this one.

Olafur Eliasson Lecture Report


A report on a lecture at the NAI appears in translation at Eikongraphia. Of particular interest is the discussion around Olafur's focus on being critical of the marketplace, and the difficulty he has working with architects.

Via Greg.org.

Tropolism On Gridskipper


On Gridskipper today: an article asking writers about architecture what they think the ugliest building in New York is. Of course, we picked the Whitney, but as we make plain, ugly has never been a perjorative for us.

Photo by Hagen Steir on flickr.

Lectures: The Cliff Notes


We love it when a weblog hits their stride. Do You Want Some Coffee? has been summarizing, and making informed commentary, on some of the lectures it lists, offering something unique to online architectural discourse. It's fascinating, and brilliantly useful. Architecture lectures, like many lectures, disappear without this kind of public note-taking. It's a way of seeing what's happening in lectures without having to be at each one.

The best example of this is the post about a recent symposium on Building Information Management (BIM). The post gives us the takeaway up front, and places the conversation in the world of other conversations.

Tropolism Fact Correction

Tropolism stands corrected. The smashup panes of glass at IIT, subject of one of our very first posts, were replacement glass from a 1970s renovation. The source of this is a press release describing the origin of the panes. The same press release we linked to in our original post. Whether our fact checker simply neglected to read the last sentence of the press release, the one that would have made our little rant entirely moot, or the release was post-tropolism revised, is not important. Mies' glass was long gone by the time the demolition derby came to town.



The exhibition "Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines", on view now at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, is in our world the perfect exhibition: about rare architectural publications, and curated by Beatriz Colomina. The show is only up until February 24th, so rush down. There can never be enough architectural book love.

Until you get there, you may soak up the magazine goodness at the show's excellent (and simple, yo. Take note architects!) website. Mr. Ourousoff from the Times has also reviewed the show today.

Vanishing St. Louis


Continuing our love to websites documenting vanishing St. Louis we bring you, er, Vanishing St. Louis, a new site devoted to documenting threatened landmarks in the St. Louis area. Such a small city can't afford to have too few of these websites: they're implosion happy in that town.

On Argumentum Ad Hominem And Rem


We mentioned a little while ago about our allergy to argumentum ad hominem. It flared up in full force upon reading Philip Noble's latest column in Metropolis, so much so that we had to reach for our medication. Mr. Noble makes plain his love of the OMA-designed IIT Student Center in Chicago, but still can't bring himself to like Rem Koolhaas. The complaint gives us the so-whats. I can't say I care to care about any architect I'm not personal friends with. The list of Rem Infractions listed in the article make his argument ring of an inferiority complex that should stay in therapy sessions. However, the crux of his argument brings ad hominem to a whole new level, and something worthy of debate:

Can I not, one might also ask, separate the tics of a genius personality from the work of a genius? No, I would proudly respond, I cannot. And neither should you: when a building is itself leveraged on the personality of its builder—as it always is in the case of Rem and so many others who need not be mentioned here again (okay: Peter, Zaha, Richard, Danny)—then that personality, tics and all, becomes part of what one must assess to understand the finished work.

While we at Tropolism prefer to see buildings as most people do--apart from the journalism and gossip that surrounds their making--and entirely focus on how the body of the building interacts with the life of the city, we do agree that it's possible to gain insight into the artistic will of an architect by understanding their personal eccentricities. But what does that give us, except some more Understanding? Understanding is the booby prize. In a hundred years, IIT will still exist in some form, and the slights received by journalists from Rem in the late 20th and early 21st century will seem like trivialities. It is a rare occasion (I cannot think of a single occurence) when our squabbling is not outlived by the buildings we produce, and their effects on urban life. Besides, there are so many other conversations in the city, it's difficult to focus on a few rants, particularly from architects.

Via Greg.org.

Tropolism Books: Tom Kundig: Houses


Title: Tom Kundig: Houses

Editor: Dung Ngo

Publication Date: January 3, 2007

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-605-X

This monograph for architect Tom Kundig is another example of how the approach to architectural works can be perfectly suited to the work itself. The five houses in this monograph are filled with obsessive details, raw materials, and blackened steel with the fabrication markings left on it. The monograph format is filled with obsessive photographs of the details, sketches, and diagrams, bringing the richness of the materials to life.

On a diagrammatic level the houses are for the most part unremarkable spaces: most of them are simple boxes. Yet it is the abundant detailing that causes a functional upending to most of the spaces. Instead of easy-access doors, the houses contain concrete cabinet doors, heavy corten steel doors, giant corten plates as house shutters, and over detailed and under bright light fixtures. The effect would be maddening--enough to warrant me not even writing this review--if it were not for the fact that many of the details serve to disrupt domestic smoothness. In a world of expensive houses, creating a simple space with domesticity-resistant details is a brilliant subversion of the task of delivering a well-built house.

This is not to imply that Mr. Kundig is this conceptual about his work, or that he thinks of his houses as anything less than the perfect home. For everyone. The Studio House, with its egg-shaped lights, egg-shaped wheels, egg-shaped fireplace, and egg-shaped soap dish, is reminiscent of the scene described in Adolf Loos' essay "The Poor Little Rich Man": a house filled with everything for living, designed by the architect. Nothing more will fit.

Yet the crafting of these pieces is beautiful and precise, while maintaining the patina of heavy construction. In the rest of the houses, the detailing is less precious but more outgrageous, by being brought to the scale of architectural device. It is pitch-perfect. In the Chicken Point Cabin (pictured after you click "Continue Reading", an entire glass facade opens by an ingenius pully system. The impossibly picturesque setting for the Delta Shelter is let in through huge sliding shutters, essentially double-height walls that can be hand-cranked to shutter the house (from a nuclear blast, one can only suppose. It's beautiful anyway.) The Hot Rod House has a beautiful winding stair made entirely out of blackened steel: an element of rawness winding through the house. The devices become more sophisticated in each house. We look forward to the next monograph.

B.E.L.T.: Built Environment In Layman's Terms


While cleaning out old bookmarks today, we hit upon B.E.L.T. (B.E.L.T.: Built Environment In Layman's Terms), which we had apparently urgently bookmarked twelve months ago.

The weblog documents many of the hidden treasures in greater the St. Louis area, that wonderful crossroads between the south, the southwest, and the midwest. Because St. Louis is a very small city that a century ago was competing with Chicago for midwest dominance, so living there is like living in your great-grandmother's attic: there are unique treasures everywhere, decaying and long forgotten. We should know: we lived there for five years, when we attended Washington University as an architecture undergraduate. The architectural treasures of St. Louis span from the World's Fair of 1904 (The Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, which gave Washington University most of its original buildings), to the mid-century midwest modernists, to the modernist prototype department stores, to art deco inspired Route 66 motels, to a few scattered inspired post-structuralist architects in the late 1980s. The treasures are in many cases rapidly disappearing. We're glad that B.E.L.T. is there to document it.



BLDGBLOG points us to a gorgeous site hailing from London called StrangeHarvest. I like to think of it as an English cousin of BLDGBLOG, reflecting an appetite for constructed environments and their relationship to nature. Case in point: the post about astroturfing Texas Highway medians from the January 1971 issue of Texas Highways, whose current manifestation is TexasFreeway.com. This stuff keeps us warm at night.

Unique to StrangeHarvest are some original visual artworks. Our favorite: the highway collages.

VV Takes on Wolfe


One of our allergies is to argumentum ad hominem. That is, attacking the people making the argument as a way to discredit the argument. It avoids discussion of merits, thereby turning an issue of substance into an issue of morality. With regards to architecture, this is a particularly slippery slope: so much of an architect's creative abilities are personal, non-rational, idiosyncratic. It's difficult to discuss architecture without slipping into a little ad hominem from time to time. We despise it anyway.

Today's Village Voice seems to imply that author Tom Wolfe is making ad hominem arguments against the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and other supporters of 2 Columbus Circle and 980 Madison Avenue, (two projects we've taken preservation positions on). The article doesn't make the accusation directly (itself drifting into ad hominem by accusing Mr. Wolfe of launching his attack to save his career), but the implication is that his characterization of the LPC in the Times was simply an attack on the LPC's members. The Times piece in particular seems to spend a lot of time on Anthony Tung's career shifts. Our request: create an argument about what the LPC should be doing, and stick to that.

Tropolism Books: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces


A few months ago, my brother sent me a book from my long-forgotten Amazon.com Wishlist: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. The joy of receiving it was matched only by the pleasure in reading it.

Most of you know the story: William H. Whyte wrote the book in 1980, an outgrowth of his work as the director of the Street Life Project (which he founded in 1971). This group diligently recorded how people use public space. Moveable vs Fixed furniture. Placement of trees. Places to eat. Relationship of shops to open space. Sight Lines. They recorded. The book reads like a manual for making good public space, written by anthropologists of American Urban Natives.

The book isn't a scientific treatise, or an unbiased state-sponsored report, even though all of the techniques used to gather data have a long track record in the science community. Yet concealed in the trappings of scientific data, Mr. Whyte makes palpable the perceived cynicism on the part of corporate and urban architects toward the use of public space. The data is brilliantly and swiftly put to use. In addition, there is a bias against anything that would prevent people from sitting on a low ledge (spikes, bars), yet the section called "The Undesirables" seems to describe passive, friendly, capitalist ways of keeping drunks away from your nice public space. What is powerful about these biases, aside from what you may think of their merits, is that they enter the conversation about designing public space at its source. The book is about the details that make public spaces in the city thrive.

This book can be purchased at Amazon.

Pamphlet Architecture Call For Entries


We here at Tropolism love our fledgling underground architectural publications. We have ever since we were wee students reading old issues of Oppositions and Pamphlet Architecture issues #12-15.

A publicist for the latter publication reminded us today that the call for entries for the next Pamphlet has been extended to January 16, 2007. For details visit the brilliantly super-simple Pamphlet Architecture website. Tell them Tropolism sent you.

ICA Boston Opens

Nicolai Ourousoff reviews the recently opened Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in today's New York Times. The new building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, apparently makes maximum use of its cantilever. Another triumph for innovative design. Let's hope Lincoln Center fares as well.

Tropolism Magazines: PIN-UP


The second entry in our, er, two-part series about new architectural magazines we like this week is PIN-UP, giving us helvetica love from the logo through the back cover Comme des ad. Published in New York, the magazine's inaugural issue features a layout suggested by its name: clean, collage like, and powered by ideas. In the dark days of architectural publications which we now live, where great aging publications like Architecture, P/A, and The Gutter have all fallen to the wayside, it is difficult to find one that is still up and running, much less remotely interesting.

PIN-UP plays both meanings of the double entendre embedded in its title. It feels casual, easy to pick up and leaf through, with great pictures art directed for a general, design-friendly audience. It also gets behind the clothes of the architect, in many figurative and literal ways, putting architects like Jurgen Mayer H., Zaha Hadid, Winka, and Charles Renfro on display as people/props to be studied, as much as the work they produce. This is to say nothing of the brilliant, phallic, tower-porn photo series, something straight out of Dutch/Matthias Vriens from 1999. The brilliant tendency of this magazine is to collapse both sides of the double entendre into a single article, as in the article about Jurgen Mayer H., constantly pictured (they are video stills) undressing or in bed in a hotel room, next to details of his buildings and installations. It is a perfect encapsulation of how architectural design consumes the lives of architects who build, particularly those famous architects who lecture around the world. Bravo.

And, as icing on the cake, they reprint an article from Beatriz Colomina in the back, her brilliant piece about Corb raping Eileen Gray's house with a mural from the 1980s. Cred building.

BTW, Comme Des, want to advertise on Tropolism?

Via Jason Thome, our own personal cool hunter.

Specifier Magazine


This week is New Architectural Magazine Week at Tropolism. Didn't you hear?

First up is a great magazine out of Australia called Specifier. Its publication includes a lot of information on architectural building products, and relates them to projects worldwide. Kind of like Architectural Record, only not so half-assed. Specifier has only recently gone online, which is how we found out about it (thank goodness for our magazine-surfing intern). Our favorite: being able to read and see pictures of the current issue, like this article about the marvellous Metropol Parasol in Seville.

Midwest Architecture Driving Tour


Having grown up in Lima, Ohio, I have a soft spot for any building in the Midwest by a famous architect. The Wexner Center was a gift from the heavens, in all its glorious inanity, when placed in the desert of architectural invention. Gehry's addition to the Toledo Art Museum about the same time was another gift, even though it's a blip on the radar in his oevre.

But the Midwest is at it again, building celebrity architect's buildings everywhere. Oliver Schwaner-Albright has written a piece for Travel+Leisure documenting a road trip one might take to see some of the more recent sights. Happy trails.

Tribeca: Contextual Architecture Hell


As regular readers of Tropolism know, we have a low regard for contextualistical architecture regulations, public design review boards, and unnecessarily stringent historic preservation guidelines. We're champions of good architecture; sometimes it "fits in", sometimes it doesn't. Mostly it doesn't. And that's what makes New York so wonderful. Can anyone imagine the High Line design if it had to be "contextual"? Ouch.

So it with a happy heart that we read a letter by Carole Ashle to the Tribeca Trib expressing similar views. On the subject of the North Moore Hotel, contextual-styled par excellance:

"Most of these creations stand out as clumsy interlopers because their concept is a fakery, and has nothing to do with architecture as an art. Nothing to do with function, either. The North Moore hotel evokes anything but Tribeca, parts of an Edward Luytens’ country house perhaps, minus the quality. A contemporary building on Hudson Street near Franklin fits better with the surrounding buildings. The “contextual” has been discredited in other countries such as Britain where it’s now rightly seen as a disaster for architecture.

We can vouch for the building she refers to on Hudson Street: it's all glass, yet somehow manages to turn the entire block of staid brick warehouses into a setting for its elegant, delicately patterened facade. Sometimes it fits in by doing not-fitting-in at the appropriate scale.

Via Curbed. Photo by Will Femia.

On Smithson's Hotel Palenque


Greg Allen posts a gorgeous piece about Robert Smithson's lecture/slideshow/fictional narrative Hotel Palenque. He includes a link to a filmed recording of the 1972 event at the University of Utah, and impressions of what it is to see this piece through the lens of a filmmaker.

Scion Competition: Beware


Somewhere along the way, we mentioned this: Tropolism means calling bullshit.

For a grand prize of $5,000, and the opportunity to have your design built, the Scion car company will gladly accept your pro-bono design ideas for their next generation of showroom. It's one thing to hold a competition for something that will improve public urban life, like the High Line: some find even this give-away of architectural design services to be repulsive, some see it as a great way to contribute to the common good. On this point we are agnostic. However, we find it completely outrageous to hold an open design competition and to have three prizes totalling $6,500 for an international car company's private showroom. In fact, we think it's so brazenly unprofessional that we're requesting y'alls spread the word and stay away. And spread the word to stay away.

Science Fiction and the City


Geoff Manaugh over at BLDGBLOG interviews Jeff VanderMeer in a transcription that follows Geoff's architectural imagination, swinging between hard urbanism stats to sci-fi geek. We are fascinated as much by his questions as by Mr. VenderMeer's replies. Also of note: incredible, as usual, illustrations.

Spanish Architecture Blog


As if El Tropolismo wasn't enough, we have come across Urbanity.es, a blog about urbanism and architecture in Spain. Spain, land of El Croquis and Quaderns and a large and thriving architectural press (the center of said press in the Spanish-speaking world), deserves a corresponding number of architecture blogs.

Our favorite entry so far: this one about an MDRDV apartment building in Madrid, pictured above.

A Little Summer Break

Tropolism will be at the beach this week, looking for Richard Meier's first house. See you next week!

(If you know the location of said house, or have pictures, do send them our way.)



Over the holiday a friend pointed us to the interesting StreetsBlog, a production of the Open Planning Project (itself a great locus of open-planning processes and public effect via the internet).

Our favorite entry so far: a piece on the Defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway, a proposed freeway in Portland, Oregon, planned by NYC's very own Robert Moses.

Pod Living, The Old School


In Manhattan's overheated and soon-to-be-totally-over celebrity real estate moment, apparently all that is required to sell some apartments is the inclusion of a few pieces of unique furniture in the renderings. Greg Allen writes a brilliant comparison of old skool pod living and the overhyped and underdesigned Jade by Jagger. Nuf said.

Magical Urbanism


We've recently been taken by Magical Urbanism, a weblog by fellow Ohioan Mike Ernst. It focuses on in-depth writing about urban and planning issues in specific cities, while still maintaining the majesty and surreal imagination of a blog like BLDGBLOG. The site is named after Mike Davis' book of the same name, and is a preparation for a big trip Mr. Ernst is going to take in the fall of 2006.

It also has a gorgeous design, which a sharp-eyed reader points out is one of WordPress's standard designs.

A Few More Words On Jane Jacobs


We here at Tropolism believe in being very clear, so we'd like to say a little more about our admiration of Jane Jacobs, just so others don't get the wrong idea.

In her time, in her context, we have unqualified admiration for her work. She was able to mobilize people to get involved in choices about urban development. She created a public appetite for good city planning. She wrote a book that captured the city in the way the urban theories of the time did not, and created an appetite for living in the city.

But a regular reader of Tropolism will know that we do not believe Death and Life is a guidebook by which New York, or any other city, should be beholden. We see it as a piece of a constellation of ideas. In fact, our one and only mention of Baby Jane up to her death was in the context of a radical interpretation of her ideas, that diversity in our cities goes way beyond far West Village townhouses. We also recognize that the problem of where to put a rapidly growing population are never really satisfied by this small-scale approach, either. We love density, brutalism, tree-lined streets, art deco, Memphis style, Modern Style, Any Style and everything else inbetween. And we still don't like the Sculpture for Living.

And so we found ourselves agreeing with Mr. Ouroussoff about how New York has outgrown JJ, both in physical size, size of population, and in the complexity of problems we face. We don't see Lincoln Center or the old WTC plaza as the best possible examples of a new kind of super-diversity, but that's the shortcoming of Mr. O. We prefer to think of glass towers by starchitects with only 24 units as an example of this, because it signals a culture with the ability to blur public and private boundaries, a culture that loves density in all its forms.

Street Ballet Contest


In honor of Jane Jacobs, our friends at PolisCurbed (Lisackhart?) have joined forces to create the Street Ballet Contest. The intention is to "celebrate the street ballet of your favorite block", and to elicit your own spin on Jane Jacobs' neighborhood ideas.

Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006


Jane Jacobs died this morning in Toronto.

Tropolism has mentioned her only once, but in one of our favorite entries. So much has been written about her, it seemed hardly necessary to mention her hovering over everything we do. Yet it goes without saying that a movement like Tropolismo would not have been possible without her brilliant contribution of intellectualism and urban activism. She not only changed the course of New York City's development, she inspired us to love urban life.

The Green House Exhibition


Back in the day we announced the publication of The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture [PA Press, we're still waiting for our review copy!]. Today we see that the National Building Museum will open an exhibit of the same name, complete with full-scale model of a modern green house. The show opens May 20 and will close in June 2007.

Via Inhabitat.

Where To Put More New York


Robert Yaro, produces a lovely piece on what New York might do to add the million to million and a half new New Yorkers expected over the next twenty-five years. Because many parts of New York CIty are already at capacity, or over capacity, he looks for what other cities have done to grow in a way that creates a livable city. Intriguing are suggestions on what places like Chicago have done (although he should be shot for using "regional visioning process" in a sentence). It reads like an internal email at City Planning, but it probably qualifies as the most useful internal email for 2006.

From the Gotham Gazette.



Today, Tropolism is one year old. A year ago (technically April 22, 2005, but that's on a weekend this year, yo), in the darkness of pre-launch and pre-URL, we made our first timid post into the ether. This year April 22 is Earth Day, and so we are celebrating by giving you our favorite green-stuff posts.

Your Hidden City Winner: Best Building


Rue marcel proust--some of the better housing around Paris... all are encouraged to look up the plan on google earth--maybe 1 or 2 directly km s.e. of the periphery--you'll find it.

From time to time we’re all compelled to renounce our city for someplace new and unfamiliar. On saturdays I’d swipe my Carte d’Orange and take the Metro to the end of the line—in this case the 8. From a strictly visual standpoint, this part of Créteil has scarcely anything in common with Paris proper (one could make a case for the Guimard stations but It’s a stretch), or few other places for that matter.

Your Hidden City Best Building goes to John H. Drain's image "Créteil". Thanks go out again to the participants and the jury for making this contest a success!

Open-Source Jury

The best part of the open-source part of Your Hidden City is the diverging views of the jury. Each of the jury members was selected because they were enthusiastic about the possibility of having our readers give us a glimpse into their world...instead of the way it usually goes (we write, you read).

First, we had Geoff "disqualify everyone!" Manaugh from BLDGBLOG, who picked some gorgeous images that got ignored by the final vote. I have to say, being someone partial to the reification of shopping carts, I was partial to the last image he picked.

Next is David Cuthbert of architechnophilia, who gives us a taste of his differing opinion on Density.

As the other jurors post their thoughts and favorite images, you'll see them here, too.

Your Hidden City Winner: Best Natural/Urban Overlap


I rode the A Train to the end of the line from Times Square. It's amazing that the same train that goes through the middle of one of the world's busiest cities also rides along a quiet, lonely beach. These houses sit on poles, suspended over the calm waters of Jamaica Bay. You never think of it, but this is New York.

Your Hidden City Best Natural/Urban Overlap goes to Adam Pietrala's image "Jamaica Bay, New York". This photograph stirred up the most votes of any of the winners. Tomorrow: Best Building!

Your Hidden City Winner: Best Vantage Point


« Shadows lurking in the windows are watching every step of the careless newcomer, preying on him, waiting for the dark to engulf him. Then, the fear comes. »

This yard is where you end up when you exit one of the "Bonjour" stores in the center of Sofia. Few people look up at that exact moment and so few people will recognize the location, even though they pass through there each day. The yard is very gloomy and you get a certain feeling of uneasiness if you stay there too long, particularly on dark and overcast days.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Your Hidden City Best Vantage Point goes to Sergey Todorov's image "The Yard". Serdjo's images were a big favorite of jury, who really hit a moody note here. Check back later today for another winning entry.

Your Hidden City Winner: Best Hidden Place


A dark alley, illuminated by a lone lamp leads you uphill to the ruins of an old medieval house (not in the picture) closely resembling a castle. Locals pass by this place everyday without considering the strong mysterious atmosphere it has. The paved road, standing there for ~800 years perhaps (the mediaval town house is from ~XII century) has a very long story and you can stand there and imagine the events it has witnessed and still has to witness.

Melnik is a small town in Southern Bulgaria. In the past it was a large merchant center with a population of over ~10000. Now there are only ~200 residents and the town is an architectural reserve.

You can read more about the town at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melnik,_Bulgaria

Your Hidden City Best Hidden Place goes to Sergey Todorov's image "Secret Alley In Melnik". Check back later today for another winning entry.

Your Hidden City Winner: Best Density


one of the most amazing things about this city is remembering to look up and seeing the most extraordinary ceilings above the most ordinary of settings.

The jury has voted, and the winners have won! Your Hidden City Best Density goes to Steph Goralnick's image "escalate". Juror Geoff Manaugh, of BLDGBLOG, interpreted density as "the light effects, where 'density' is interpreted as 'contradiction,' or multiple counter-motions in one frame". The rest of us agreed.

The contest created a gorgeous Flickr Pool. The jury thought they were going to be able to wade...instead, we had to swim. Deep pool. Thanks for being patient. Each of the winners will be posted each day this week.

Part of the open-source nature of this contest is that the other jurors may be posting their own winners. We were far from unanimous on our choices, and I invite you to discover the diversity of opinion by visiting the other jurors:

Lisa Chamberlain of Polis and who also covers real estate for the New York Times
David Cuthbert of architechnophilia
Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG
Shawn Micallef of Toronto Psychogeography Society Blog
Miss Representation
Jimmy Stamp of Life Without Buildings

Pretty Pictures Week!

This week is Pretty Pictures Week! at Tropolism. Also Known As: Totally Subtle Buildup to Announcing the Winners to Your Hidden City (we didn't forget, yo!).

Shakespeare Brings Out The Stars


Leave it to the ever-brilliant Choire Sicha to collapse Tropolism's categories in a single article. New York, Celebutantes, Public Effect, Theaters, and Writing Architecture. All we need is a location: Governor's Island. Mr. Sicha does a fascinating comparison of the roles celebrities (real celebrities, not architect celebrities) are playing in cutting-edge public space projects (High Line and Globe Theater on Governor's Island) in New York City. In an era when singularities like Robert Moses are long gone, and the Governor of the State or the Mayor of the City cannot get a single building built at Ground Zero, we appear to be left with one political/architectural force: movie stars!

Your Hidden City Judging Extended


Your Hidden City was such a success (over 1,000 entries) the judging has been ongoing. My fellow jurors and I are kicking back and forth on the winners, which will be announced when...they are announced. We're going to commit to 'soon'.

Tropolism Films: The Gamble House


Some buildings acquire so much affection, they show up in films again and again. Here a lovely bungalow for a mad scientist; there a lovely bungalow floating in, er, outer space.

We are equally enamored of sites like mirage.studio.7, which is currently tracking the appearance of the Gamble House in films, such as Back To The Future and Zathura. That's the power of love.

JG Ballard on Modern Architecture


JG Ballard, the novelist who wrote one of our favorite books (Concrete Island, of course), has extended his concrete reverie to discuss modern architecture directly. The article is a familiar love note to the bygone era of early Modernist architecture; his admiration for that era offers some insight into the fantasia that is Concrete Island

Through Boing Boing.



We are breaking our rule about not posting about posts about Tropolism for this: we apparently have coined a name for a whole movement. Viva El Tropolismo!

Picture by sgoralnick, from the Tropolism Flickr pool.

Your Hidden City Closing Soon!


Submissions for the Your Hidden City project end today at 5pm Eastern Standard Time. Click here to read the details on how to post.

After 5pm, the estimable jury will judge the photos and select winners in the following categories:

Best Hidden Place
Best Density
Best Natural/Urban Overlap
Best Unofficial Landmark
Best Building

The jury, you'll recall, is composed of:

Lisa Chamberlain of Polis and who also covers real estate for the New York Times
David Cuthbert of architechnophilia
Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG
Shawn Micallef of Toronto Psychogeography Society Blog
Miss Representation
Jimmy Stamp of Life Without Buildings

The contest was expected to be a little stream: it turned into a deluge. With close to 1,000 entries, we have our work cut out for us. The winners will be posted to Tropolism, as promised, but the posting date is delayed. Stay tuned for updates. Good luck!

Photo by We {Know}, You {Don't}! in the Tropolism Flickr pool.

The A to Z of Critical Regionalism

velux nordmarka0312.jpg

While we've always thought that "Critical Regionalism" was a construct of architectural historians (ever since I was in one of Ken Frampton's first classes on the topic in the mid-1990s), and not of much use to architects, we are thrilled to see the imagination at work on a series called The A to Z of Critical Regionalism over at architechnophilia. A is for Aalto, of course. But the real goods start flowing in with C (Correa), who we always need reminding of, and J (Jarmund / Vigsnaes Architects), pictured above, who we'd never heard of. But we're glad to know of them, even if it needed to be spelled out for us.

Madison Square Garden: Episode VI


Sorry, we skipped an episode of the Madison Square Garden Relocation series. We left you at Episode IV. For those of you that missed it, Episode V included a memorandum of understanding being signed by Cablevision (owner of MSG), and Vornado and Related, all but sealing the deal to move the Garden to be part of the former Post Office but soon-to-be 21st Century rail hub. The lights dimmed as everyone cackled.

This week's installment includes a heady dénoument: the memorandum was NONBINDING. And so there are now two to five celebrity architects involved, two real estate companies, one stadium-owning company, and probably about a dozen state and federal government agencys who will duke it out to see what gets built and who will design it.

Tipped off by the even more annoyed Curbed. One thing we aren't annoyed about: even though we still aren't convinced of the MSG as part of the rail station idea (does anyone else have a big HUH? around this), we would love to see them tear down the existing MSG. We've totally gotten thrilled about that part.

Your Hidden City Grows


Your Hidden City, the world's first open-source architectural contest, is only open for submissions for one more week! On March 10, at 5pm, we will close the Flickr pool and the jury will begin deliberating. Check out the full details at our announcement a couple of weeks ago.

If you place your entry right now, you will join 551 556 560 entries from 156 158 160 entrants. The pool is growing. The jury has its work cut out for it already, we hope you will add to the collection. Be sure to include your caption on why this is part of Your Hidden City.

Tropolism Books: LIC In Context


Title: LIC In Context: An Unorthodox Guide to Long Island City

Author: Paul Parkhill and Katherine Gray

Publication Date: 2005

Publisher: Furnace Press, Brooklyn, New York

ISBN: 0-9772742-0-9

Continuing with our month-long theme of Your Hidden City, we came across LIC In Context: An Unorthodox Guide to Long Island City. The book is a collaborative project of Place In History, an organization devoted to a deeper understanding of the city, so as to effect better urban design. The book is one of the infinite possible mappings of New York City, in this case with the sometimes-beloved but rarely cozy 'hood called Long Island City, in Queens.

LIC includes a short forward by Paul Parkhill explaining how the project is intent on "evoking what is compelling and unusual about the neighborhood." He explains that the book is not an encyclopedia about Long Island City; in fact, the impossibility of such a project is implied. Some of the buildings and places catalogued have been demolished or never built. Some, like the Terra Cotta Building, are facing radical and immanent changes. Also of interest is the collection of information from people's memories. Because industrial areas tend to be a little light on historiographers, this seems as suitable a method as poring over maps in the New York Public Library's Map Room for collecting vital information about what was there, and why what is there is there.

The introduction to the book is a four-page essay telling a brief history of Long Island City. The essay focuses almost entirely on the 19th century, with everything after 1930 being wrapped up in the last two paragraphs. The introduction betrays a bias: that the actual neighborhood documentation speaks for itself, and so recent history can be reduced to a few notations in the larger essay. The rest of the book is devoted to expanding these notations: 54 sites are brought to our inspection, with notes, photographs, illustrations, and sketchbook drawings. They are a wonderful walking tour of this sprawling neighborhood, without all the long distances or tiresome walking. They are also a valuable snapshot of LIC before its denoument as another center of residential and commercial density in New York.

Tropolism Contest: Your Hidden City


After a week of very subtle buildup, Tropolism is pleased to announce the first open-sourced architectural contest, Your Hidden City.

The contest is simple: post your photos (with a caption) to our public Flickr pool (or email them to us for posting), and our jury will select their favorites in five categories. The winners will be posted to Tropolism.

The theme of the contest is uncovering the Hidden City, your Hidden City, the one you see every day. It may be in plain sight of everyone else, but it is your eye that finds the extraordinariness in a particular street corner, a unique stair, a crazy intersection, a visually arresting approach, or a particular tree in the city. The photographs can be of a beautiful (and perhaps unpublished) park, or as simple as the sun hitting a particular building at a particular time of day. Please include a caption, or a Flickr annotation, about what makes it extraordinary to you. The entries should have one thing in common: they demonstrate, to you, the pleasure of living in the city.

The jury is a set of bloggers who write about architecture, urbanism, and landscape design. They are:

Lisa Chamberlain of Polis and who also covers real estate for the New York Times
David Cuthbert of architechnophilia
Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG
Shawn Micallef of Toronto Psychogeography Society Blog
Miss Representation
Jimmy Stamp of Life Without Buildings

The 5 Categories are:

Best Hidden Place
Best Density
Best Natural/Urban Overlap
Best Unofficial Landmark
Best Building

We will keep the contest open until March 10, 2006, and post winners the week of March 20. Good Luck!

Center For Land Use Interpretation Website


We here at Tropolism tend to avoid following the crowd. Perhaps it's the aura of Coolhunting, our publisher's website, or perhaps it's the vindication we received by not seeing Dances With Wolves when everyone else was raving about it. We still haven't seen it. Mostly, this keeps us thinking fresh, different, better.

But sometimes this tactic goes horribly wrong. For instance, on the sidebar of lotsa lotsa websites we have seen the Center For Land Use Interpretation, and never bothered to actually visit it. Well, a few months ago we did just that, and came across a database we never get tired of visiting: the Land Use Database, which is an index of "unusual and exemplary sites" in the United States that they have collected. Original photography of gems like the original site for Robert Smithson's Partially Buried Woodshed stand next to the problem-prone David Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Toledo. The agnosticism inspires us. The collective imagination, on a particular theme, inspires us as well. Do you see where we're going with this?

The Wordless Appearance, Part 2


Tropolism is happy to announce its own Flickr pool. This is a forum for Tropolism readers to share their corners of the city. The pool is public, so simply click "Join This Group" on this page, after setting up your Flickr account. I advise you to set up your account today; Friday's surprise announcement will involve this archive of photographs. Special bonus: the photograph above, our launch photograph, is posted and annotated by your editor.

Toronto Psychogeography Blog


In preparation for Friday's announcement, Tropolism presents the Toronto Psychogeography Society Blog. Students of Situationists will remember that Guy Debord coined the term psychogeography: effects of environment and geography on emotions and behavior. We've always loved the attempt to measure urban impressions.

The blog captures the psychogeography of its Toronto-based bloggers. We wonder what it would be like to do this elsewhere. Stay tuned.

Spiral Jetty Entropy Report


It is Spiral Jetty week at Greg.org, with a second entry about the newly cleaned-up sculpture in Utah. Because Robert Smithson is one of our heroes, we are unable to resist any post about him (although we were conveniently out of town for the floating island thing). Greg asks us some pretty difficult questions, for which we have no answer. Which means, the questions are those posed by Smithson's work, and they are themselves the impact of that work. They are his art:

When he sited Spiral Jetty in BF Utah, was Smithson building against New Jerseyification, or just ahead of it? Is it possible--or is it just convenient acquiescence to suggest--that roped-off "Nature"-driven degradation is not, in fact, entropy, but Romanticism? Maybe letting "civilization" have its paving, scrubbing, sprucing up, licensing, Acoustiguiding, Ritz Carlton Jettyway Weekend Packaging way with the Jetty isn't closer to the end game Smithson envisioned?

Spiral Jetty Cleanup Report


Crack art sculpture journalist Greg Allen does actual follow-up fact-finding for a post about a cleanup project around Robert Smithon's iconic work, Spiral Jetty. Special bonus add-on side bar: space imaging of Spiral Jetty (pictured above).

Alluvial Art


BLDGBLOG's interlude on Alluvial Terrains reminded me of an invitation I'd received to the opening of the Jokla Series by Olafur Eliasson, at Kunsthaus Zug. Then, on Olafur's site, I discovered I can download the entire grid in one wicked 47.2MB file.

Wood Clad Frenzy In San Francisco


Despite the complaining we read on other websites, we here at Tropolism say "Tropolism means imitation is the highest form of flattery." In this case it is both the entry we are linking to and the content of that entry (sorry to go meta on you). The entry: our entry about a new Manhattan residential building clad in wood has inspired Treough Blog to tell us about a San Francisco residential building clad in wood, too! The building: while it's difficult to see the two as inspiring each other, since they were probably designed around the same time to zero publicity, we are unable to refrain commenting on the West Coast entry. The comment: read what Treough wrote.

NY Times Trifecta: Future, Present, Past


Newspapers are such wonderful organizations. They are like huge mechanical writing machines, that create sets of articles with unintended synchronicities. Take, for example, this week-end's fare, neatly summarized by the staff here at Tropolism as Future, Present, Past:

(click continue reading for more)

From Today's Correspondance

"You should have a contest: who is worse at sharing credit, architects or God?"

Tropolism means sharing the credit. No design effort is without a team, yet no design effort is without moments of individual inspiration. When the product of this process works, it is because someone handily managed this paradox.

Tropolism's Best 2005


This is the time of year when I acknowledge you, dear reader, for making Tropolism a success! Accordingly, I've opened up our referral stats and compiled a list of your favorite entries. You all vote with your clicks!:

1. 55 Is Alive. Announcing the opening of a project I led and designed when I worked for Rogers Marvel Architects.

2. Manhattan Tower Clad In Wood. Posted only a few weeks ago. A tower with a prefabricated plywood veneer panel on the exterior. The architects for this have emailed me about 20 times thanking me for it; perhaps they are driving traffic up.

3. What Does Tropolism Mean?. Coming in unexpectedly is the dark horse "About" page, where the editorial staff attempts to explain what "Tropolism" means. We love this page too, so are endeared you found it in your hearts to include it.

4. The Increasingly Complete Two-Dozen List. The Two Dozen List, of celebrity-architect-designed luxury condo buildings of a particular size. We are hoping that 2006 will help us complete this list. We need something besides the Sculpture for Living to pound on.

5. Inspiration 101. Tired of Other Websites complaining (they're "kidding," which is high-functioning complaining in our manual) we chose to create Inspiration, which investigates where Beauty comes from.

It's Awards Time


December, New York: cold weather and blog awards. However, instead of being nominated for lame awards, Tropolism is being nominated for cool and bad-assed awards. This one is exciting, because the nomination comes with a little review of Tropolism that warms our Holiday Heart. And being compared to Mies, in the element of public dialogue, is positively thrilling. Although we are working on a larger community project....

Reasons To Love BLDGBLOG, #1


There are so many reasons to love BLDGBLOG. The omnivorous appetite. The appetite for the surreal. The appetite for the mineral. However, this entry, regarding A View To A Kill and its architectural fantasy, has made us true, die-hard fans. We have a thing for reading into things televised, you know.

Tropolism Books: Enric Miralles Works and Projects 1975-1995

miralles monograph.jpg

Title: Enric Miralles Works and Projects 1975-1995

Edited by: Benedetta Tagliabue Miralles

Publication Date: December 1, 1996

Publisher: The Monacelli Press

ISBN: 1885254431

Along with some issues of El Croquis from the mid-90s, this has got to be one of my favorite architectural monographs. Firstly, because it features one of my favorite architects, Enric Miralles. In case you hadn't noticed. More after the jump...

Long Live Emigre!

emigre 3269.jpg

I first encountered Emigre when I was a wee undergraduatelet, at issue 32 (above left), at the height of my fascination with all things that looked like they came from Vaughan Oliver and v23. Hey, it was the 90s, and I loved the Pixies.

Like the Pixies, it was a creative endeavor that wanted beauty unencumbered by commerce. Like the Pixies, it never successfully proposed a solution to this tension, it just held the tension for the term of its existence, safe in its world. Yet it was extraordinarily beautiful.

Now, I had to be told by a diligent under-25yo that Emigre has departed, at issue #69 (above, right). Long Live Emigre!

WTC Memorial Chat


Peter Walker, the landscape architect working with Michael Arad on the World Trade Center Memorial, will chat live with visitors to buildthememorial.org website next Tuesday, November 8th at 12pm EST.

Tipped off by the evergreen Pruned. We're with them: where's Arad?

Weekend Reading: Omotesando Hills Debate


While we here in New York talk about really important stuff, our peers in Tokyo are having an interesting, and elevated, debate about preservation on Omotedando. The editor of Tokyo's Metropolis told us how he really feels, while iMomus contributes a much more nuanced piece on the matter.

Omotesando Hills is another of Minuro Mori's Developments designed, of course, by Tadao Ando. The building is not yet completed. It was a hole in the ground a year ago, when I was there.

New Art City


John Updike's hilarious review of Jed Perl's New Art City. My favorite quote:

The words "existential" and "empirical" remain hazy, as much as Perl loves and uses them. The verb "existentialize" doesn't exist in my dictionary, and I groped to attach meanings to such nuanced variations of the concept as "in their wackily existentialist way" and the report that some Buckminster Fuller domes were sent out "into the world in a pure, almost existentialized form." Almost existentialized - an unlucky near miss!

At one time, we architects had a critic who was a master at architectural writing. He balanced description with illuminating generalization. Unfortunately, he unexpectedly died. And now we're still where we were. We need a master of language, like Updike, who can navigate the dangerous shoals of Writing About Architecture. Me, I'm going to do some more drawings.

Greg Allen Brings It For Bunshaft House


Greg Allen brings It On regarding the recently demolished beauty by Gordon Bunshaft. And includes links. Our hero. A taste, referring to Martha Stewart, John Pawson, Alexis Stewart, and Donald Maharam, successive owners of the houses after MoMA:

"Martha Stewart is a hack. The queen of hacks."

"Pawson's a frickin' hack, but he coulda--no, he was just Stewart's hack."

"Maharam's a hack, and a spineless hack at that. "

Greg, I share your ire, and thank you for documenting this. But if you're really upset, perhaps I should get you a chamomile tea while we comiserate?

Tropolism Books: Kengo Kuma Selected Works


Title: Kengo Kuma Selected Works

Author: Botond Bognar

Publication Date: June 2005

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

ISBN: 1-56898-468-5

One of the difficult aspects of Architectural Book reviews, particularly of monographs, is that they, like Art Books, are about the works of Artists. Artists make things, and the idea that a book with a lot of pictures about someone's work must itself be a compelling object is a given condition. It's like the air: all book reviewers must breathe it.

Read the full review of the new Kengo Kuma monograph after the jump...

The Wordless Appearance


Several months ago, I began a blog entirely devoted to my love, architecture. Like Warhol's wife (his tape recorder), I am always accompanied by cities, by how the density of building (or nondensity of buildings) brings people together in new an uncanny ways, by how their materials create a beautiful new world for us to be born into. Cities have become our Second Nature.

Tropolism is for architects and city-dwellers who are critical of architectural practice, and who find beauty everywhere, sometimes in really big failures. You can count on me to find value wherever it can be found.

Tropolism is for those of us tired of reading gossip and complaining about buildings and architects. This space is a quest for ideas, suggestions, and solutions. Writing this space has revealed to me that a powerful critic, unlike an opinion columnist, filters his opinions through a much denser lens of fact. It is a kind of writing perfectly tailored to architecture itself, which is never reducible to its function, motivations, or circumstances, yet derives its power by being irrevocably twinned to these concerns.

Today I celebrate beauty, in particular the urban impact of beauty, a topic of special concern to my nascent practice. I look forward to writing New York, Los Angeles, London, or Tokyo, and in turn brightening them. Welcome, again, to Tropolism.

Architectural Eavesdropping

Tropolism means talking about how you feel about facts, dahling. We would never be caught telling you how we feel about gossip, rumor. Conjecture and second-hand information, however, is one big gray area.

Our friend Aric Chen is giving Architect's Newspaper a little bit of conjecture, and some overheard statements, and a little bit of second-hand conversation thrown into the mix. What I appreciate about his brand of "I heard" is that he does a few follow up calls to at least weed out the blatently bad information, and his commentary is left to a minimum. Something we can all aspire to.

Finding ANY 27

Okay, I'm the first to say it: Why would anyone want a back issue of ANY? After all, the magazine was over-designed by 2x4: confusing layouts, illegible ink choices, labyrinthine page-folding strategies/tactics. The journal was neither academic nor journalistic: discuss. It never approached the academic rigour of Oppostitions, and had few new actual-buildings in it. They never seemed to get their website stuff in order, even though they had commissioned yours truly to create a huge architecture portal in 1998. So why would one bother?

I'm glad you asked, because I have prepared an answer for that question.

To get the wonderful fold-out print of Miralles drawings, the printed tribute to him shortly after his death, in the only large-format reproduction of his beautiful drawings I know of.

(Also, their offices are two blocks from mine, it was easier to go there than to troll ebay).


Tropolism means not taking anything too seriously.

Seriously, architectural writing oftentimes covers insecurity about the importance of the profession. We believe that it's better to embrace our profession's true importance to urban life, and then have fun with it. We don't really know what that 'true importance' actually is, but that's why we write this website: to discover it.

When we go live, we only hope that we get love mail as cool as The Gutter gets.

Tuesday Publications

Tropolism means dropping in, occasionally, on what is happening in non-major cities. Because good ideas and extraordinary contributions can come from anywhere.

In this case, I invite everyone in the New York City chapter of the AIA (or at least the graphic identity comittee) to check out Line, offered by AIA San Francisco. Being the web flaneurs they are, they've got a gorgeously minimal layout, some interesting articles (local interest), and a host of links to blogs and design sites of interest to the San Francisco architect. And, us.

Criticism of Criticism of OMA's Concert Hall in Porto

oportokoolhaas 087b.jpg

The LA Times' new critic, Christopher Hawthorne, reviews OMA's just-opened Concert Hall in Porto.

Mr. Hawthorne states

"Still, had Koolhaas managed to pull it off � had he created a box of space that looked flat and cool but sounded rich and detailed � we would simply have had to acknowledge and admire the feat."

in the second-to-last paragraph. Strange, because the paragraph before, he compares Koolhaas' approach to that of Gehry, who designed a hall that is "manages to be architecturally adventurous, acoustically impressive and humanely welcoming all at once." The logic of the argument is vague. So Koolhaas didn't do what Gehry did, and if he'd pulled off what he DID set out to do, it would have been great. Of course, he has no measures for success for Koolhaas' approach, in addition to not supporting the claim that the Porto hall did not meet these non-measures. It's unclear whether the critic even attended a performance in the space. For all we know, the sound is completely rich and seductive, and the tension between such a banal form and a rich sound is huge.