Architecture For The Future

To The Walls!

"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." - Peter Cook

"Architecture For The Future," Editions Pierre Terrail, Paris, 1996, an imprint of the book department of Bayard Press, S.A., 208 pp., more than 170 color illustrations, $24.95.

The New Explosive Architecture

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 projects.

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 A single, vast, inoperable theory has been replaced by a galaxy of small, usable, 'tool-box' theories, tailored to projects limited in time and space.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 as drama."

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….To produce meaningful architecture is not to parody history but to articulate it; it is not to erase history but to deal with it."

Model of Daniel Liebeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin

Model of The Jewish Museum in Berlin by Daniel Liebeskind

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 in architecture….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," Cook maintains.

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 entrances….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 and transformation….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, England.

Massimiliano Fuksas's entrance to the Niaux Caves in Ariège, France

Massimiliano Fuksas's entrance to the Niaux Caves in Ariège, France

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 City project.

Du Besset and Lyon's Mediatheque in Orleans, France

Du Besset and Lyon's Mediatheque in Orleans, France

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 is now.

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