COLUMNS

  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • the Broad museum and urban development in Los Angeles

    “HAVE YOU SEEN THE LIGHT?” I heard the question over and over during a recent trip to Los Angeles. This being a city with a long and storied history of cults, the query was disconcerting at first, but I soon realized that there was nothing metaphysical about it. It was, instead, a literal reference to the most talked-about quality of the building I had come to visit: the new Broad museum, designed by the New York–based studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), which opened downtown on September 20 amid widespread praise for the sublime luminosity of its interior spaces.

    Daylight has always been

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  • the Broad museum and urban development in Los Angeles

    ALTHOUGH I MOVED to Los Angeles in 1990, I still get lost downtown. What the municipal government somewhat wishfully calls the Central City area is actually an amorphous zone, more or less bounded on the south by the Santa Monica Freeway, on the west by the Harbor Freeway, on the north by the Hollywood Freeway, and on the east by Alameda Street. And it contains multitudes: government buildings and courthouses clustered around city hall; the financial district; Grand Avenue, which is home to many of the city’s museums as well as the Music Center, including Walt Disney Concert Hall; the Broadway

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  • Amie Siegel’s The Architects

    DESPITE ITS TITLE, The Architects (2014) is not about architects. Certainly there are architects to be seen, mostly sitting, silently absorbed at their computers, sometimes chatting or tinkering with models. But artist Amie Siegel shows little interest in their personalities, pursuits, or motivations; the film registers people as objects, as merely one component of the complex social and economic machinery that produces our built environment today.

    Altogether, the film shows ten architecture offices in New York. Each has been filmed in a similar way, with a series of parallel tracking shots, and

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  • Wolfgang Tillmans’s Book for Architects

    ALTHOUGH WOLFGANG TILLMANS’S Book for Architects, 2014, offers an encyclopedic survey of the contemporary built environment, those to whom its title is addressed are likely to recognize surprisingly little of their own handiwork. Architects have never lacked ego, and we live in an age in which their trade has taken on an outsize importance and unprecedented popularity as a premium product of the international culture industry—charged with all manner of place making and identity branding. But this has led to a myopic understanding of architecture as little more than a series of individual

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