Archive for May, 2009

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.


Goodbye, Noble Behemoth

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the flagship of the US military’s health system, has been slated to close in 2011.  With it will be lost one of the great pieces of mid-century modernism that Washington is lucky to have.

The hospital itself stands 125 feet, as tall as a 10-story building, but the true weight of its impression comes from its wide lateral form. The pleasing proportions are accomplished on such a massive scale that the onlooker can’t help but be astonished.  There are 5,500 rooms covering some 28 acres of floor space. The distance around the top three floors stretches the length of six football fields.

Even though it is so wide, the design of the hospital around several internal courtyards means each patient room has an outside view. There are normally accomodations for about 260 beds, though the building was originally designed with a capacity of 1,280. During the Persian Gulf War there were about 1,000 beds in operation.

So why is it closing?
In an effort to subsidize the city’s subway system, the medical center purposely limited the number of parking spots, forcing staff to use public transportation.  Combined with the fact that buildings are subject to a height restriction in DC, the campus became increasingly sprawled as it expanded, forcing staff to walk longer distances.  This is constantly bemoaned by many, including my roomate who works in the pathology department.  Assuming that the closure will likely cost upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars, is this sedentary attitude costing us all so much more than we realize?

The future?
Under federal law, the property would be offered to other federal agencies. If deemed excess, the land would be offered to homeless assistance groups, then potentially to local authorities by negotiation or for sale for reuse.

Chances are it will be developed into upscale homes and apartments.





Silver Spring at Night

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

The newly constructed Silver Spring Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College in Silver Spring Maryland.  The free-form layout of the building may appear a bit incongruous, but I find it excitingly lively.  The uniquely shaped stairwell stairwell on the southern end of the building is quite compelling at night.  That the space must be constantly lit to achieve this effect is somewhat regrettable, however.  Excessive lighting is one of the greatest energy wastes in buildings, which on the whole account for 70% of national energy usage according to the US Green Building Council, proctors of the LEED certification.

From the Montgomery College website:

“The Cultural Arts Center will contain two performance spaces. The 500-seat music and dance theater with a state of the art stage and acoustics will be used primarily as a rental space/booking house by organizations from outside the College. The 100-seat theater will be used by the Communications and Performing Arts Department for performances and as a classroom space for speech, theater, film, and dance classes. In addition, regional theater groups and community organizations will use the theater.”