New York

“On Hold”

The Architectural League

The “Young Architects Forum,” an annual juried exhibition of the work of recent architecture program graduates, purports to present the new, creative participants in the field of architecture, one characterized by glacial innovation. This year’s program featured the double-edged title “On Hold,” exhibiting both constructed projects and theoretical proposals. Taken positively, it might suggest a time of reevaluation, an opening to diverse practices and theories. More grimly, it speaks of a moment when architectural practice is stalled by a depleted economy. Sadly, many architects are “on hold” and unable to work.

If the projects selected for the show are representative of the general conditions in architecture, there is no single, dominant perspective today. The work was neither wildly experimental nor limited to a single style. Clearly, the jury carried no collective polemics to the selection process. It is difficult to imagine a more universal—and eclectic—group.

Johannes Knoops’ Twelve Pilgrimage Chapels at Twelve Abandoned Missile Sites, 1990, was developed for an international competition sponsored by the Storefront for Art & Architecture in New York. Knoops proposed chapels at these abandoned, subterranean missile silos, sites reflective of our collective paranoia. Small, meditative buildings are preceeded by large, menacing paths, transforming the open doors of the silos into gates, while pedestrian bridges span 175-foot-deep, yawning holes in the earth below. A walk over a fragile, slender span is followed by a comforting sanctuary: knee-shaking fear precedes the reassurance of faith in “the order of things.”

Knoops proposes buildings and invents places in both banal and extreme contexts. A Drive Through Restaurant, 1992, sits on a narrow traffic island in the center of a two-way highway. The building is a slender spine that houses food preparation and serving areas, with elevations that serve as billboards; cars can pull off the road from either direction to place and collect orders instantly.

In contrast to Knoops’ invention of place, collaborators Peter Pelsinski and Marc Tsurumaki challenge its very possibility. Expressing the drifting, immaterial qualities of information-stimulated societies, their projects reflect a psychological nomadism. Skin Club, 1992, is a series of speculations on the sexual politics of the health club, the culture of bodybuilding, its narcissism and voyeurism. Large collages of images employ architectural puns in a non-site-specific environment of systems and surveillance.

Among the exhibition’s more pragmatic prospects, Joe Mashburn’s work is modest, emerging from the constraints of practice rather than the possibilities of theory. Following years of practice and a mid-career return to school, he recently completed a long, linear house that steps down a steep wooded site. House in Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, 1992, inscribes a deep commitment to an economy of materials, esthetics, and ideas. Mashburn interprets domesticity as a restrained procession of interior spaces that occupy the environment with unusual civility. The materials are bluntly industrial and unnatural, but the scale and site are gracious concessions to the surrounding environment. The project evokes Wendell Berry’s ideas about “home economics” and the ways in which human artifacts and communities can be powerful without being dominant.

These exhibitors suggest the smorgasbord quality of “On Hold.” It is still difficult to determine what this range of production means or whether the creative work provides a reliable reading of a contemporary (and future) profession. There is growing concern that the “new directions” this forum suggests are regionally and polemically limited. Still, “On Hold” suggests that there are many silent voices in architecture that do not conform to conventional vehicles of distribution.

Patricia C. Phillips