Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

The Razor’s Edge

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Designed by I.M. Pei in 1978, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art is easily one of my favorite buildings in the city.  The prismatic stone volumes are laid out on a daring plan that follows the angled streets of the baroque city plan while also fulfilling its own internal geometry.  The central lobby is a grand multi-level space full of light, crisscrossing with cast-in-place concrete terraces and bridges.  Note the curvilinear form of the escalator handrail as it is cut into the stone wall.  This was a bold modern move in an era when escalators were considered sub-architectural add-ons.  Pei elevates the mechanical by registering the newly iconic graphic signature of the escalator on the monumental walls themselves.

Other I.M. Pei buildings on the straight torquer:






1000 Years

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

The more I look around town, the more buildings I find by I.M. Pei.  Of all twentieth century greats, he seems to have built the most in Washington DC.  Here we have the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, completed in 1973, which is located just south of the Mall on 9th street.  Though I enjoy brutalist forms, I had an experience recently that made me second guess my unabashed love for the stark modernist style.  Late at night, I got off at the L’Enfant Plaza metro stop and found myself wandering around an uninviting and alienating  concrete landscape of soaring spaces that while beautiful in an awe-inspiring sense, were not comfortable to inhabit.  I felt nervous and dehumanized. It is already clear in the art world that modern art need not comfort.  As you can see from this sculpture by renowned artist Damien Hirst, art for its own sake need not be cuddly and immediately enjoyable to perceive.  There is a certain sense of pleasure or at least value in contemplating the conceptual qualities that the piece evokes in the viewer, even if that effect is shock revulsion.  But what about architecture?  There does seem to be some compelling reason to tailor the constructed spaces around us to actually be pleasant to inhabit.  The functionality of architecture remains integral in a way that art has managed to escape practicality.






Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

A sculpture in the lobby of 1044 Connecticut Avenue.


Digital Landscapes

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Maya Lynn’s current exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art is an exercise in space-altering installation.  These deceptively scientific sculptures impress into the surfaces and volumes of the occupied rooms, redefining the spatial character as perceived.  Along with being intricate and pleasing constructions of minimalist techne, these formal representations actually trace the lines of digitally mapped geological regions and formations from around the planet.  Mountain ranges, underground water sources, and the ocean floor are some of the ‘landscapes’ re-engineered here at a scale provocative to the human.




Stepping out

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

These are not in DC.  But they are probably one of my favorite staircases ever.  This  museum at Castelvecchio in Verona was given a modern upgrade by 20th century Italian master Carlo Scarpa and is considered widely to be one of the best renovations in all of architectural history.


“they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

A sculpture by Rob Fischer in the Corcoran Museum of Art.


Death of the Author

Sunday, February 15th, 2009


Right now at the Corocoran Gallery of Art there is a much hyped exhibition of Richard Avedon’s work entitled Portraits of Power.  The show spans the prolific photographer’s career as he photographs elite government, media and labor officials, counter-cultural activists, writers and artists, as well as ordinary citizens caught up in national debates.  The show itself is worth seeing, but I was particularly interested in a corresponding instalation in the main entrance hall called The Corcoran Portrait Project.  This interactive, user-generated art project makes available a professionaly-lit photo booth equipped with a high resolution camera.  Members of the public step up to the camera and click the shutter, and then look up at a large screen in the center of the room to see their self portrait inserted into a running slideshow of the hundreds of other images already taken so far.  The cumulative effect is quite captivating.  The lighting and reproduction of the images is of a high quality, and almost every protrait is captivating in a way that suprises one to learn that they were not taken by a professional photographer.  It makes one wonder “who is the artist?”  There is an individual or small group who is responsible for setting up the technology, but without the participation of the public, there is no art being created.  It could be said that each individual is performing a creative action when they click the button and record their face, but they are also clearly not responcible for the art project as a whole.

Reaching Up

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Here is the torquer’s submission to this years eVolo skyscraper competition.



Woven Skin

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

These images are from a recent National Gallery hosted installation of the work of sculptor Martin Puyear. Designed by I.M. Pei, the East Building of the National Gallery deserves attention of its own.



A Walk Among Stones

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


The Arlington Cemetery area offers several architectural specimens worth note and is well worth an afternoon walk. One can park at the Iwo Jima memorial and then walk south through the cemetery, thereby coming upon a bell tower that was given “to the People of the United States from the People of The Netherlands” in 1952.


Leading Dutch architect Joost W. C. Boks designed this rather imposing bastion of the “International Style.” With it’s smooth black monumentality and utter lack of applied ornament, the tower tests the public’s acceptance of a high modern style that has since been accused of being unresponsive to human emotion. But in memorializing such a universal catastrophe as WW2, this seems appropriate. The tower evokes a piece of industrial machinery, starkly posed against the multitudes of headstones.


Across the cemetery to the south sits an absolute gem of local architecture that I think goes largely unnoticed. The Women in Armed Services memorial was designed in 1997 as a renovation to an existing classical colonnade.


Subterranean space was made for the museum by excavating behind the colonnade, exposing the back surface of the retaining wall to the new interior corridor. There is a very pleasing upper level that looks across the Potomac to the mall and beyond. Spider-joints hold panels of an inclined glass ceiling, which protrude upward through the semicircular roof patio.

hpim2038 wasm-plan


A Piece of Functional Sculpture

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


Designed in 1966 by Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990), a Pritzker Prize-winning architect and longtime partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Hirschorn museum and sculpture garden is one of the more eclectic examples of brutalism in Washington.