COLUMNS

  • “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter”

    LIKE A LOT of inexpensive flat-packed furniture—shipped halfway around the world and arriving with “some assembly required”—the lightweight, pitch-roofed structure at the center of the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter” is missing a few parts. But this is not by accident. In a gesture of accommodation within an exhibition otherwise intent on revealing the inhospitality of contemporary migrant and refugee environments, two of the thirty-six polyolefin-foam panels enclosing the structure’s tubular-steel frame have been removed, inviting

    Read more
  • the staircase in contemporary architecture

    THE PRIMORDIAL SPACES of modernism were spaces of labor. It was in the industrialized efficiency of the factory floor that many of the fundamental attributes of modern architecture—the grid, the open plan, the revealed structure—were developed. And as modern labor became more corporate over the course of the twentieth century, modern architecture did, too: The cubicles of the typical modern office adhered to the same rigorous organizational logic as factory workbenches, with desks appearing one after the other, arranged in single file for solitary work. Yet today the nature of working

    Read more
  • Chicago Hope

    The recently appointed 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial artistic directors, Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee—in contrast to their predecessors, Graham Foundation director Sarah Herda and international biennial curator Joseph Grima—are not professional curators, but practicing architects. In 1998, they cofounded the Los Angeles–based firm Johnston Marklee, whose current projects include the Menil Drawing Institute, a renovation of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Green Line Arts Center, a project with the University of Chicago and Theaster Gates. Here, they discuss their interest in

    Read more
  • Tailor Made

    IT HAS BECOME COMMONPLACE for architects to describe their work as “tailored” to the sites on which they are built, but in the case of Christ & Gantenbein’s new addition to the Kunstmuseum Basel, this is literally true: The geometry of the structure has been ingeniously derived from the different angles of the ancient city’s streets. At the north-east corner of the site, Saint Alban-Graben turns toward the Wettstein bridge. The museum’s entrance runs parallel to this gesture, creating a small plaza defined by the front facade. This concave space reads like an open book, with its left page facing

    Read more
  • the Venice Architecture Biennale

    CONTEMPORARY ART at its worst is rarely so naive as contemporary architecture at its best. Because it operates so closely to the machinery of power, the design profession has been known to occasionally confuse design with power itself—to believe that architecture is politics—an idea that dates back at least to 1923, when Le Corbusier famously posited a choice between “architecture ou révolution,” as if they were commensurate political pursuits. Alack, they aren’t.

    This tendency has reached a new pitch with the latest Venice Biennale of Architecture. Crusading curator (and winner of this

    Read more
  • Behind the Music

    IN OUR EVER MORE INTERCONNECTED CULTURE, architecture’s predilection for interdisciplinarity has become a popular topic both inside and outside of the field, whether among those seeking to expand architecture’s reach or to co-opt its methodologies. Most of these conversations focus on a relatively narrow range of interaction with the visual arts, despite the fact that, historically, music has often been architecture’s closest partner. For centuries, while painters and sculptors were preoccupied with various techniques of mimesis, architects and musicians focused on more abstract compositional

    Read more
  • Operation Build

    THE TWIN IMPERATIVES steering the flurry of recent museum transformations resemble a yoga technique: expand and relax. It has been a boom time for some while now, but growth tells only part of the story and increasingly, a smaller one. In their drive for more space and higher attendance figures, large art museums in America are being refashioned to strike a casual demeanor and achieve an integrated relationship to their urban surroundings. These are renovations of institutional philosophies as much as buildings.

    The Whitney, relieved of its weighty uptown building—which the Met is leasing while

    Read more
  • the new Singapore National Gallery

    TODAY, THE OPENING of another art museum—even one designed or transformed by a starchitect—is nothing exceptional. The parade of spectacular new institutions, most of them private, that started in the mid-1990s continues apace. And the appeal is clearly still growing, as the continued echoing in the media of last year’s Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition, which attracted nearly two thousand entries, has proved. However, the opening of a new national gallery, as in Singapore this past November, is unusual. The singularity of this event provides an opportunity to look beyond platitudes

    Read more
  • the Met Breuer

    IN THE FALL OF 1963, presenting his vision for a new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Marcel Breuer described a structure that would play the role of mediator—actively shepherding the visitor through the transition from a frenetic urban context into the spaces of contemplation that awaited within: “It should transform the vitality of the street into the sincerity and profundity of art.” More than half a century later, Breuer’s conception of art can sound quaint; the last show the Whitney held in his galleries before moving on to more expansive accommodations downtown was a

    Read more
  • East of Eden

    PERCHED PARTWAY DOWN Bunker Hill, as if sliding off toward the braid of freeways in the valley below, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel marks the ragged westernmost edge of downtown LA. Its quintet of one-hundred-plus-meter mirrored cylinders, which look something like an unassembled skyscraper, make it the city’s largest hotel by volume. It is also the most iconic; built in 1976 by John C. Portman Jr., the building still beams the same retro advanced capitalism that led Fredric Jameson to flag the structure, part upscale sleepery, part shopping mall, as an emblem of the postmodern mindset. Indeed.

    Read more
  • China’s museum boom

    HOW MANY MUSEUMS does the ideal society need? During the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, the Chinese Communist Party had a slogan: “Every county must have its museum, every commune its exhibition hall.” In 2002, the Chinese government rededicated itself to that ideal, when the State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced that the country would build one thousand museums by 2015. As improbably ambitious as that pronouncement might seem, it was in fact accomplished far ahead of schedule. By 2013, the country had already built almost fifteen hundred museums—in essence finishing

    Read more
  • Assemble

    TATE BRITAIN’S Turner Prize is among the most publicized awards in the art world, long associated with the kind of sensational, headline-making artwork—from Tracey Emin’s soiled bedsheets and used condoms to Chris Ofili’s elephant-dung-studded paintings—that characterized the YBA era. But the announcement in May of this year’s nominees marked a significant shift: For the first time in the Turner’s thirty-one-year history, an architect is being considered.

    Or rather, an architectural collective. It is both start-ling and sobering to see Assemble, the group in question, nominated for this

    Read more