Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Steven Holl speaks at the Swiss Embassy

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Last night renowned architect Steven Holl presented his work during a catered reception at the Swiss embassy residency. He designed the building itself, which is a serene minimalist composition of translucent forms and voids. The building does well what Holl is known for: creating softly glowing spaces.


Les Grandes Marches

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

In our second of a three part exploration of brutalism, we examine one of the most elegantly understated buildings in the district.   The offices of The Department of Housing and Urban Development was designed by Marcel Breuer and was completed in 1968.  This pre-cast concrete facade houses one of the most important institutions of our forthcoming era.  With the rapid increase in global urbanization, sophisticated and robust planning initiatives must be deployed  if we are to meet the needs of the growing urban population.

Even though HUD here in DC doesn’t necessarily operate on an international level with these kinds of urban problems, it will become more and more important to be aware of these challenges in coming decades.  The figures are staggering, especially in developing countries.   Within just 30 years, cities in developing countries will triple their entire urban built-up area, generating the same amount of urban area as the entire world had cumulatively generated by the year 2000–much of it will be in the form of over crowded slums.   In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, slum dwellers make up 72 percent of the urban population, totaling more than 166 million people in 2001.  Their numbers are expected to increase to more than 325 million by 2020, more than the current population of the United States of America.





In other news, Virginia Tech Architecture professor and National Building Museum curator Susan Piedmont Palladino gave a lecture on brutalism a few weeks ago and used a few Straight Torquer photographs.  She blogs about architecture and sustainability at:


Tectonic Botany

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the US National Arboretum on New York Avenue in North East DC  houses an impressive collection of specimens, some over 350 years old.   Almost any tree can be made into a bonsai and there are wide variety of species on display.   These miniaturized plants represent a profound control of the human hand over nature and they are surprisingly robust for their delicate size.  Many of the trees do require meticulous care from time to time, but generally they live outdoors fully among the elements.   Beyond the Bonsai exhibit, the huge arboretum offers a great deal of natural and landscaped beauty and makes for a terrific bike ride.






Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

“Fashion is architecture.  It is a matter of proportion.”  -Coco Channel

The Mary Basket collection of contemporary Japanese fashion was recently on display at the Textile Museum on S street.  Pieces by Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto were presented as groundbreaking examples of avant garde design from the 1970s and early 1980s.   By innovating new formal abilities of cloth through structural pleating as well as focusing on abstract silhouettes that are at times incongruous with the human shape, monochromatic color pallets, asymmetry, and graphics, these designers effectively set the stage for the postmodern movement in fashion.






Monday, March 22nd, 2010

The mythic history of the Finnish people is on display right now a the Finish Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue.  Viewing this exhibition is a wonderful excuse to visit one of the finest examples of modern architecture in Washington DC.  The soaring central space is punctuated by massive copper colored forms that appear to be floating in space.  For views of the exterior, please see this post:

From speaking with the cultural ambassador I learned among other things that the Finnish hero figure is known not for his might on the battlefield, but rather for his graceful diction and storytelling prowess.  His symbolic power object is a musical instrument made from the jaw bone of a fish.





Embassy of Finland

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

The Finnish Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue was designed by Heikkinen-Komonen in 1994 and is an emblem of Scandinavian design.  It is an elegant example of utilitarian minimalism utilizing raw unfinished materials to achieve a refined and poetic composition.  The un-ordained granite walls on the East and West of the building rely on the material’s own natural luster for there beauty.  The North and South walls are constructed of glass and translucent glass block with an integrated steel grid supporting the growth of vines that act as a regulating system for solar exposure and heat gain.

The building was meant to be a clear statement of Finnish identity and is considered by Architectural Review to be the “best new building in Washington in the past 50 years.”  For some background, look up the work of twentieth century modernist Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, who has richly influenced the architecture of the region.

For interior shots, see this post:





A Town Square for the World

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The headquarters of the World Bank in downtown Washington DC is a graceful composition that disguises its massive size with subtle texture transitions and balanced massing.  At over 2 million square feet and accommodating 4300 employees, this is a huge building by any standard.  However by burying 30% of it beneath street level and by breaking up the overall volume visually into a collection of buildings that fit the scale of those existing on the site, the architects were able to avoid making the headquarters appear monolithic or daunting.  The varied but coherent whole can be seen as representative of the banks diverse international makeup.

It would seem important for this building not to be designed in the western classical architectural tradition.  Though prevalent in Washington DC, a building of that style could carry associations too laden with memories of colonialism for such an international mission.   KPF Associate’s modern design effectively presents an unladen image of international prominence while simultaneously respecting its urban neighbors with both color and scale.

The atrium space is truly awe-inspiring in both scale and attention to detail.  Security is tight, but if you get the oportunity to visit the interior I highly suggest you do so.







Mini Mies

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is the only building in Washington DC designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  Designed in 1972, it was his last piece of work before he died at the age of 83 without ever seeing its complete construction.  The 400,000 square foot public library is the central facility of the district’s library system but it has been plagued by mechanical failures for many years.  Mayor Anthony D. Williams and the library board wanted to replace the aged facility with a new building but the DC historic preservationist board sucesfully added the building to the National Record of Historic Places, effectively preventing immediate demolition.   There are tentative plans for renovation, including painting the dark steel facade silver, replacing the tinted glass with clear, and adding an additional floor with roof terrace (an option designed into the original structural frame).

Notice the famous Barcelona Chairs, originally designed by Meis in 1929.

See also:





2009 Solar Decathlon

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

One sun, twenty teams, 10 events: The 2009 Solar Decathlon is currently underway on the National Mall in Washington DC.  The houses will be open to the public this weekend only, October 15-19.  I highly suggest you go check it out.  These twenty schools are incubators for some of the most exciting advancements in sustainable design happening today.  If you want to see the cutting edge of green, don’t miss this exhibition.  Here are some of my favorite entries:

Team Ontario/BC  (University of Waterloo, Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University) :


Cornell University:


Team California (Santa Clara University, California College of the Arts) :


Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany:


And last but not least, my own alma mater, Virginia Tech’s LumenHaus:






Wednesday, August 5th, 2009







Boulevard Towers in Chicago by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is a magnificent specimen of modern minimalism.  Designed by a master at the height of his practice, the facade of the building is buttressed by standard w-section steel members, welded vertically the entire height of the building.  Their architectural affect is stunning in its simple beauty, both utterly functional and visually pleasing.  As the father of the skyscraper, Meis is even more remarkable in his courageous and novel approach to building of his era.  He was active at a time when these new technologies of steel frame construction and curtain walls were just gaining widespread use.  His pioneering and elegant ingenuity set in place a hugely influential movement of minimal, functional grace in architecture.

Aqua is designed by Jeanne Gang, principle and founder of Studio Gang Architects, and it is the firm’s first skyscraper project.  This is the largest project ever awarded to an American firm headed by a woman.  It is another example of modern technology being implemented in a way that shapes the building’s form.  This time it is the technology of computer aided drafting.  Each floor plate of the tower has a unique and curvilinear plan, something made possible by the availability of NURBS-based drawing software.  Computer aided (CAD) drafting began as a digital version of the traditional drafting table–simply a faster and easier way to edit the same kind of drawing.   As the technology has improved, however, it has allowed architects to visualize,  generate, and quantify forms and combinations of material that were never before possible.  No longer are we simply using a new tool to produce the same artifacts of the previous generation.  We are pushing the new tools to produce objects that are suited to the new paradigm

Architecture = Furniture

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City brings together architects, industrial designers, manufacturers and the public to share the latest in modern furniture design.   This year I exhibited a white laser-cut chair that I designed in 2008.  Here are some other highlights from the weekend:











Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Designed by Tokyo partnership Sanaa, The New Museum in New York City posses as a tumble of hatboxes wrapped in a sheer stocking.  The blankly provocative stacked forms are clad with an expanded steel mesh, adding thin but vivid texture.  The distinct architectural expression of arranged polyhedrons is very clear from the outside, and the experience of this idea is re-emphasized on the building’s interior.  Each vast empty cube defines a floor of the museum, as is made clear by way-finding diagrams in the elevators and stairs.  One interesting decision was to place a standard sized elevator right next to a massive oversize museum elevator and equip them both to be used easily by the public.

The first thing one notices is the how the building drastically stands out from the surrounding Bowery neighborhood of cracked brick walls and parapets.  Given the recency of the project’s completion, one could say it predicts the future of development in the area.  But imagine an urban fabric composed entirely of such individualistic conceptual sculptures.  We cannot assume that all following architects will pick up this particular formal expression and apply it as assiduously as the jack arch has been above the windows of the other buildings in the area.  Historically, the style of buildings in cities is established and perpetuated by a distributed vernacular network of common patterns.  These patterns are traditionally driven by factors like the availability of local materials and the local conventions of building construction and iconography.  In the current era, the same limits on development do not apply.  The deconstruction of formal expression in architecture as well as industrial advances in transportation and fabrication have freed the outlying practice to build deliberately unique creations.  This leads of course to a  question of saturation.  How much can an existing typology accommodate each new building before loosing its original character?



The exhibit currently on display was titled “Younger than Jesus” and it featured all artists born around 1980.  Most of the work was motley punk-aesthetic-inspired post-everything commentary on corporate consumerism and political corruption.  The emphasis on conceptual weight over technical skill and precision was pervasive and a little disappointing.  But there was one piece that I found rather interesting called this is xx by Chu Yun.  There was a simple bed in the middle of one of the gallery spaces with a sleeping girl in the sheets.  At first I assumed it was the artist herself, pretending to sleep.  But I was fascinated to discover that the bed is occupied by rotating volunteers who take sleeping aids in order to fall asleep during the open hours of the show.  That the person is actually asleep while the public considers her like a sculpture, and the fact that they have to take drugs to attain that state I find quite curious.