By Carter B. Horsley
"Today, if a utopian yearning still exists,
it is a purely regressive phenomenon, represented by those few
who still proclaim that their nostalgic faith in a society free
of concrete and metal, social tension and unemployment."
So observes Olivier Boissière in his
foreword to this very exciting book that presents 35 architects
from around the world with their views of the future and current
Despite such a pessimistic pronouncement, whose
validity is not at all certain, the architects represented in
this lavishly illustrated book not only appear optimistic, but,
more importantly, their visions are often thrilling and beautiful.
"Within a few decades," Boissière
continued, "both the 20th Century and architecture have witnessed
the demise of over-arching narratives, all-embracing ideologies
and inflexible dogmas. In a complex and contradictory world where
reality is fragmentary, they have shed their illusions. A single,
vast, inoperable theory has been replaced by a galaxy of small,
usable, 'tool-box' theories, tailored to projects limited in time
and space. Deprived of a grand scheme, architecture has reappropriated
a territory of its own, where the useful and the sublime have,
somehow, been reconciled."
The hell with dogma, of course, but individual
vision is rampant and sublime visions are definitely in evidence.
The distrust of sweeping theories is accurate,
but the notion of a better world, a better man-made environment,
an ennobling architecture is not passé and the fact that
so many excellent and fascinating projects are actually being
built is vivid testimony to the potential for change, an architecture
of the future. While some cities, such as New York, have turned
their back on large-scale projects, others, such as Osaka, Japan,
with its spectacular new Kansai airport, have wholeheartedly embraced
the promise of the new. France's Grand Projects have not transformed
Paris, thankfully, but they have infused the French architectural
climate with enthusiasm and not just the French.
In a "Letter from Berlin," Daniel
Libeskind, the Polish-born, Cooper Union-trained architect, notes
the "reactionary" pessimism of the times.
"During the eighties, he emerged as a
unique figure in his field, searching for language that could
renew the meaning of architecture by drawing on sources as desperate
as music, mathematics and history," Boissière notes,
adding that his "drawings and models, with their complex
angular geometry, have contributed to the revival of architecture
Indeed, Libeskind writes:
"Planning decisions should be concerned
with creating a vital city that looks toward the future. The city
is a great spiritual creation of humanity, a collective work that
develops the expression of culture, society, and the individual
in time and space. Its structure is intrinsically complex; it
develops more like a dream than a piece of equipment. The impact
of the spiritual, the individual, and the creative cannot be relegated
to some outdated past. As long as there are human beings, there
will be the possibility of dreaming the impossible and achieving
the possible, which is the very essence of humanity
meaningful architecture is not to parody history but to articulate
it; it is not to erase history but to deal with it."
His recently completed Jewish Museum in Berlin,
a model of which is shown above, is a stunning monument to the
spatial poetics of the new architecture spirit that is sweeping
much of the world and even a few parts of the United States. This
shiny, metal-clad structure with 8 zigs and zags is awesome, mysterious,
slightly ominous, but dazzling with its asymmetry and daring geometries.
The design won an international competition in 1989 and calls
for the new structure to be entered from the basement of the adjacent
Baroque structure. It is, by far, the best memorial to the Holocaust
anywhere and it is most appropriate that it is in Berlin.
In a wonderful essay on the new "maverick"
architects, Peter Cook, a founder of Archigram, the riotously
inventive English architecture group that blossomed in the Sixties,
notes that "Perhaps the major weakness of much architectural
avant-gardism is its habit of integrating itself back into the
mainstream at too early a point."
He cites Libeskind and Coop Himmelblau for
"their consistent attempt to 'dart' across all the carefully
documented niceties of task, place, and space by capturing the
instantaneous, the first gesture - each in their own way displays
a fearlessness and, more significantly, a wish to bypass (or is
it reinvent?) the tyranny of additive and circumstantial thinking
.We can examine their work on the level of
a captured dynamic."
"Sudden lurches of architectural magic
do occur in a particular place," Cook continues, citing Art
Nouveau in Brussels, great 19th Century "cities of action":
Glasgow, Buffalo, Berlin. "The greatest of cities do not
fit comfortably into this scheme. New York is too supportive of
the idea of measurable (and provable) success to easily handle
the new at the point of pain, preferring to wait until creative
clones have been bred," Cook, whose own recent drawings,
some of which are reproduced in the book, are remarkably beautiful
and fascinating, asserts.
"The post-modern condition most often
depends on figuration, profile, automation, and a com-positional
manner more akin to graphic design than to three-dimensional design.
What links the opportunistic design of the nineteenth century,
modernism and the new explosive architecture lies outside these
constraints. The new work does not need quotation to gain our
interest. In some senses, it is more primeval, inherently tantalized
by the challenge of capturing space and wielding substance; it
reminds one of the effort involved and then revels in some of
the distortions and diversions possible along the way. The fascination,
for instance, that Toyo Ito and Itsuko Hasegawa have with layering
semi-transparent skins and then drawing analogies between them
and the natural phenomena of clouds or forests remains a primeval
wish to be associated with the basic observable elements of nature,"
Arakawa and Madeline Gins contribute an epigrammatic
summation of their incredible "Reversible Density Houses,"
the subject of a exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum SoHo from
June 25 to August 31, 1997.
Houses will consist primarily of
.Walls will be entered
.It will not be possible
to take an unambiguous step
.Nothing will be allowed to stand
on its own," they advise.
Arakawa, who came to the United States from
Japan in 1961, won fame as a leading conceptual artist whose work
is "rigorously diagrammatic" and with Gins has elaborated
a labyrinthine architecture of startling complexity and impact.
Their "Site of Reversible Destiny - Yoro" in the Gifu
Prefecture in Japan opened in 1995. In the Guggenheim Museum summer
1997 guide, Michael Govan, guest curator for the Arakawa and Madeline
Gins exhibition, observes that "The park deliberately disrupts
logic and confuses participants, who must make sustained efforts
to maintain their balance and resist disorientation," adding
that Arakawa and Gins "hope to compel each person to realize
that all of one's perceptual experiences, and therefore one's
entire concept of life, have previously gone largely unexamined."
Unlike many interesting theorists and conceptualists,
Arakawa and Madeline Gins have created works of immense profundity
and provocative beauty.
Bernard Tschumi, who is famous for his red
"follies" in a Parisian park, suggests that the future
will have airports that are also amusement-arcades, athletic facilities,
cinemas and the like and that "such non-causal relationships
between form and function, or space and action, go beyond poetic
confrontations of unlikely bedfellows."
"Strategy is a key word today in architecture.
No more masterplans, no more locating in a fixed place, but a
new heterotopia. That is what our cities are striving towards,
and here we architects must help them by intensifying the rich
collision of events and spaces. Tokyo and New York only appear
chaotic; in reality, they mark the appearance of a new urban structure,
a new urbanity. Their confrontations and combinations of elements
may provide us with the event, the shock that I very much hope
will make the architecture of our cities a turning-point in culture
and in society."
In his essay, Sir Richard Rogers, the co-designer
with Renzo Piano of the Pompidou Center in Paris, is, not surprisingly,
very much taken with technology: "The creation of an architecture
which incorporates the new technologies entails breaking away
from the platonic idea of a static world, expressed by the perfect
finite object to which nothing can be added or taken away, a concept
which has dominated architecture since its beginning."
"Instead of Shelling's description of
architecture as frozen music, we are looking for an architecture
more like some modern music, jazz or poetry, where improvisation
plays a part, an indeterminate architecture containing both permanence
.More like robots than temples, these
apparitions with their chameleon-like surfaces insist that we
rethink yet again the art of building. architecture will no longer
be a question of mass and volume but of lightweight structures
whose superimposed transparent layers will create form so that
construction will be effectively dematerialized.
Roger's is represented in the book by his Turbine
Tower in Tokyo, Japan, and his Inland Revenue Offices in Nottingham,
Among the many spectacular projects illustrated
are Sir Norman Foster's marvelous Torre de Colliserola in Barcelona,
Spain; Renzo Piano's sensual Kansai International Airport in Osaka,
Japan; Nicholas Grimshaw's very strong Berlin Stock Exchange and
sinuous Waterloo International Terminal Station in London; Alsop
& Störmer's colorful and bold Le Grand Bleu, Regional
Government Headquarters of the Bouches-du-Phone in Marseille,
France; Christian de Portzamparc's housing project in Fukuoka,
Japan, Cité de la Musique in the Parc de La Villette in
Paris, France, the Bandai Cultural Complex in Tokyo that was the
model for a Louis Vuitton building on East 57th Street on which
construction was been interrupted in 1997, the extension to the
Palais des Congrès in Paris, and the very impressive off-kilter
Credit Lyonnais Tower in Lille, France; Shoei Yoh's challenging
Aerial City proposal for Daikoku Pier in Yokohama, Japan; Massimiliano
Fuksas's entrance to the Niaux Caves in Ariège, France,
shown above, a perfect demonstration of what Richard Serra was
unable to achieve in his horrible "Curved Arc" sculpture
that ruined a Federal Office Building plaza in Lower Manhattan
until it was controversially removed a few years ago; OMA-Rem
Koolhaas's intriguing two libraries project at Jussieu in Paris,
France; Coop Himmelblau's intricate UFA Cinema Complex in Dresden,
Germany, and the Groningen Museum of Art in the Netherlands; Enric
Miralles Moya's new entrance to the Takaoka Station in Japan and
the Meditation Pavilion at Unazaki Gorge in Japan, both spiraling,
snake-like extrusions of trapped motion; Emilio Ambasz's poetic
House for Leo Castelli, the Worldbridge Trade and Development
Center in Baltimore, Md., Phoenix (Ariz.) Museum of History, and
the Fukuoka Prefecture International Hall in Japan, all demonstrating
the highest integration of environmental and landscape sensitivity;
Morphosis's complex Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, Calif.;
Masaharu Takasaki's Earth Architecture "folly" in Tokyo;
Itsuko Hasegawa's Fruit Museum in Yamanashi, Japan, and Exhibition
Pavilion at Nagoya, Japan and Shonandai Cultural
Centre in Fugisawa, Japan, all highly original, innovative
and romantic; and Du Besset and Lyon's interesting Extension to
the University Library in Dijon, France, and the Mediatheque,
shown below, in Orleans, France; and Toyo Ito's amazing Sendai
Mediatheque in Japan and simple Tower of the Winds in Yokohama,
Japan; and Jean Nouvel's colorful Euralille station in Lille,
France and elegant Cartier Foundation in Paris and very tall Endless
Tower in Paris and Shin Takamatsu's awesome as always Future Port
Other architects included are Frank Gehry,
of course, Lebbeus Woods, François Roche, Jacques Hondelatte,
Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama, Odile Decq and Benoit Cornette, Gunther
Domeniq, Zaha Hadid, Franklin D. Israel, Eric Owen Moss, Asymptote
Architecture, and Diller & Scofidio.
There are some omissions, of course, such as
Peter Eisenman and S.I.T.E., and Helmut Jahn, but this is a most
impressive and intelligent primer on how exciting the art of architecture