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TAKOTRON NEWS
Tuesday, 27 February 2007
OMOTESANDO HILLS
Topic: Architecture / Travel
One of Tadao Ando's most recently completed projects, and one of his largest commissions, is Omotesando Hills, a high-end shopping complex on Tokyo's boutique-lined street, Omotesando. It supplants the famous Aoyama Apartments, a landmark of early Japanese modernism, that were controversially destroyed before the new construction began. Ando has kept the shell of a portion of the original structure, erected in 1927 by Doujunkai, a governmental design bureau. I think this small gesture, combined with his attempt to echo some of the forms and proportions of the original, doesn't really exude a full-fledged historical sensitivity, but rather exposes a certain architectural guilt. Ando has a deep understanding of architectural history, as well as a firm rootedness in his national culture, and I'm sure it is only with profound reluctance that he participated in the replacement of a local landmark with a luxury shopping mall.

If only it didn't fall so flat. The rich textures of the old Doujunkai apartments (creeping ivy on rough concrete) have been replaced by Ando's (admittedly beautiful) signature smooth cast-in-place walls, but also layers of steel structure and slick glass. It's all a bit too common. There are of course some wonderful Andoan (?) moments, where shadows meet a running stream of water that separates the front facade from the sidewalk, but then once entered the space is overrun with gaudy lighting effects, decorations, and an open atrium that really seems like an oversized, conventional mall space.

I feel that Ando has made so many great smaller commercial and residential buildings (and some large museums and religious spaces) that display a powerful sense of monumentality in their materials and spatial experiences. It's a shame that a larger commission like this doesn't present an opportunity for those traits to really shine. There's a plan for a Tokyo Tower II for which Ando is listed as a supervisor. This is another apparently-conventional large scale endeavor, and while I understand the importance of a highly accomplished architect to progress and evolve, I worry that his talents should be focused on more sensitive, contemplative, or experientially interactive programs .





Official Site (ENG)
Video: Digital Facade
More Images
Interview with Ando re: Omotesando Hills (ENG)
Specs, Details and Images (JPN)
Tokyo Tower II

Posted by thenovakids at 9:54 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007 4:24 PM CDT
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Thursday, 22 June 2006
ISOZAKI SOCCER
Topic: Architecture / Travel
The famous Japanese architect, ISOZAKI Arata, known for a number of international projects including LA's Museum of Contemporary Art and Kyoto's concert hall, appears in an interview regarding Japan's results in the World Cup. An interesting choice, but since it's pretty much just soccer talk, it's probably only interesting if you like soccer more than architecture:

http://fifaworldcup.yahoo.com/06/en/060614/1/7jmh.html

Posted by thenovakids at 11:58 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 28 March 2006
TAKOTRON, LONDON EPISODE III:
Container City

Topic: Architecture / Travel
Another installmant of observations and highlights from London, after a brief hiatus--we've been holed up in our busy workshop.

In the docklands of east London are some architectural suprises. The landscape is former-industrial, with some remaining oil tanks, dumps, and emptied wastelands. Popping up all over are expensive new condos, which seem an odd fit. The Richard Rogers-designed Millenium Dome, the world's largest dome, sits on the Thames, a budget blowout temporarily abandoned. The Greenwich Meridian you set your watch to runs across it.

Across the Thames, near the River Lea, is a complex that harks back to the site's industrial past in a more creative way than the repetitive high-rise condos. Devised by Urban Space Management, Container City is literally just that, a mixed use complex built entirely from corrugated steel shipping containers fitted with spray on insulation and inhabited by various artists' studios, workshops, and small offices (zoning restrictions prohibit straight residential use).

Bright colors and unexpected angles make it more interesting than it might be. Intelligent re-use is found in less obvious manners as well: the newest block is built over a rain collection reservoir that pumps water up through the building for services like toilet-flushing. The site is also home to a lighthouse designed in 1863 for Michael Faraday, who used it in his experiments with optics and light projection.

Millenium Dome
Container City
Housing Prototypes: Container City

Posted by thenovakids at 12:40 AM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:53 PM CDT
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Monday, 13 March 2006
TAKOTRON, LONDON EPISODE I:
FUTURE SYSTEMS

Topic: Architecture / Travel
Last week featured TAKOTRON in London, where with my studio we toured fresh new urban landscapes. One highlight was a meeting with the London-based architecture firm, Future Systems. A couple of their completed projects can be found around town. In east London's Docklands is a pedestrian pontoon bridge--a floating lime-green slab that connects India Quay with Canary Wharf (completed in 1996). On the other side of the city they designed a new media center at Lord's Cricket Grounds. Inspired by the form of an SLR camera, the center is a semi-monocoque aluminum pod, offering a panoramic, unobstructed view of the field through it's glass facade (completed in 1999).

Future System's office is housed in a single-story brick building behind a parking lot, rather nondescript save for the neon-orange door. Once inside we found ourselves faced with a secretary who sat behind a gleaming white, curved, fiberglass desk. The huge open space around us was brightly lit, the busy staff shuffling around the fuchsia carpet in their socks.
We were given the huge honor of speaking with the firm's Czech-born ("millions of years ago in the middle of Europe") founder, Jan Kaplicky. He is a soft-spoken man, white-haired, thin, and extremely tall. For decades he has been designing curvy pod-like forms, and in the last several years has earned long-deserved recognition and some major commissions.


Many of these have been for high-design retail clients, such as Comme des Garçons, Maserati, and Selfridges. One question we had was how such innovative forms fit within their architectural context. Tokyo's Comme des Garçons (left) is on a street full of fancy designer's boutiques, but something like the Selfridges in Birmingham has much older, traditional surroundings. Mr. Kaplicky's answer was that the Birmingham store had nothing significant around it--"maybe an old church." Their goal was to create something bold and iconic that would revive a crusty old neighborhood, and from what I understand the new Selfridges, like a UFO plopped in the middle of town, has done exactly that.


Our studio was impressed with the amount of new, quality, exciting buildings that have been successfully developed in London. This is something largely missing in America, and we all want to know why. Mr. Kaplicky is outwardly dismayed that of the 20 or 30 magazine covers he has landed, only one has been in the States (New York Times Magazine), which he sees as a reflection of the US's architectural conservatism. He described being horrifed, riding to Manhattan and seeing the skyline (post 9-11) that "hasn't changed since the 30s," it's highlights still being the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. To a degree this is true. Why does America have such trouble putting forth new, innovative buildings? We invented the elevator, skyscraper, microchip, and the blues, but are awestruck by the UK's computer-designed experimental structures and Rock in Roll. So what's our problem? Is it America's puritanical cultural conservatism holding us back? Is it economic? Political?

NYC's recent massive planning attempts have been utter failures, the Olympic bid imploding and the WTC project stagnating. Both have been plagued with bickering committees and private interest groups, with no one able to agree on anything. My theory is that one major ingredient in successful, innovative urban development is a powerful, progressive politician. Paris benefited hugely from President François Mitterand's grands projets, and London similarly under Mayor Ken Livingstone. Chicago has had more luck under Mayor Richard M. Daly's political machine than New York under its conservative counterparts Giuliani and Bloomberg.

Europe's grand cities are completely different animals from America's, and evidently their planning approaches as well. But whatever the reasons, America has got some issues and could benefit from looking to London's exciting urban environment (and Paris's, too, for that matter), before we're totally put to shame.

Future Systems: Official Site

Posted by thenovakids at 12:25 AM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:57 PM CDT
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Tuesday, 2 August 2005
TAKOTRON, JAPAN EPISODE III (continued)
Topic: Architecture / Travel
Topic 3: Aoyama Apartments / Tod's Omotesando / Yoku Moku

We continue with another installment of our architecture/food theme.


It begins with the Doujunkai apartments. The great Kantou earthquake in 1923 left the region in ruins, but also opened up a unique opportunity for the nation to push forward their ongoing process of modernization. A variety of European-influenced building styles were being employed since the Meiji restoration, and the results often look like strained attempts at old Europe--heavy masonry, sometimes with a Japanese-style roof plopped on top, or with some traditional detailing. On the other side of the design spectrum emerged the Doujunkai, a design division for the government's Public Housing department. The Doujunkai foundation was responsible for building a number of mid-rise, reinforced concrete, Modernist apartment buildings throughout the 20s, among them the famous Aoyama Apartments on Ometesando near Harajuku, completed in 1927 (see my photo from 2002, right). At the time the Doujunkai apartments were state-of-the-art, fitted with trash chutes, electricity, modern plumbing, and toilets. They were also adaptable for a variety of middle-class tenants, and sometimes contained tatami rooms, sunrooms, communal courtyards, and even public cafes and restaurants.

By the 1990s demolition of the numerous Doujunkai complexes began amid much protest, and today only 2 remain. The Aoyama Apartments were destroyed about 2 years ago. In their place "Ometesando Hills," an apartment/retail comlex designed by world-famous architect Ando Tadao, is in the midst of construction. It is exciting that Ando has been granted this opportunity, and I'm sure the completed project will be as thoughtful and elegant as his previous work.
From what one can see so far, it looks as thought the new design makes a conscious effort to memorialize the buildings it displaced, with it's similar proportions and the preservation of the zelkova trees. 75 years is a long time for a building to last in Tokyo, no matter how beloved it becomes, but we can hope that the style and functionality of the Doujunkai apartments will be remembered historically and remain influential.

Here's a link to some multimedia:NTV Documentary

Item 2 on the agenda is Ito Toyo's building for Tod's Omotesando, an upscale Italian shoe company (left). Before we departed I discussed visiting it a mission. Consider that mission accomplished [report to base: Takotron mis012667 code 034 affirmative]. When you walk down Omotesando away from Harajuku and past Aoyamadori, you will come across a district of upscale boutiques and classy brand shops with things you can't afford. But often the retail spaces are designed by high-profile architects and are of notable quality. Herzog & DeMeuron designed the Prada store, Ando built Collezione which houses a number of small showrooms, there's a new Dior store(right) with a big star on top by SANAA (Sejima Kazuyo and Nishizawa Ryue), and now Ito has the Tod's. The structure is based on the abstracted sillhoute of a tree-line, folded several times to create an L-shaped floor plan. The tree branches are cast in concrete, and the 270 openings between them paneled with glass or, in some places, opaque aluminum. The facades are structurally striking, and the irregular polygonal spaces continue throughout the interior, which also contains furnishings by Zaha Hadid. That said, some of the interior details were a little if-y; seams that weren't quite matched up on some pexiglass light panels, some cracks in the concrete over the stairs, a rough corner, etc. All forgivable, but paired with the no-longer-working Tower of Winds outside Yokohama station's west exit, I'm still waiting for realized, long-lasting perfection.

About that tower, (see Takotron News 22 June 2005) we asked at the koban (police box) right in front of it if it still lights up. The officer there said it glows blue at night around 10 or so once in a while. He said he had trained to become an architect before he began his cop career, and was a friendly guy considering we were bugging him about something sort of irrelevant to police duties. Though people always ask them for directions and use them as a lost and found, so I guess it wasn't bad. But we checked that Tower of Winds a million times at all times of the day and night, and it didn't do a damn thing.

Past Tod's is the Yoku Moku Confectionary Headquarters, featuring a fancy dessert cafe, home of the ¥1000 coffee. We went there with Miss Jenny Wu and Brian and ate exquisite cakes. Mine had genuine gold flakes on it (Tranche Champenoise). Then we bought some more Yoku Moku cookies in the store, and Kei got a couple little tarts. Their Double Chocolate au Lait sandwich cookies are incredible, and possibly even more addictive than the $1 variety pack of sugar wafers. In the US you might find them at Neiman Marcus. YOKU MOKU HQ DREAMLAND EAT THESE COOKIES

Posted by thenovakids at 8:03 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:20 AM CDT
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Monday, 1 August 2005
TAKOTRON, JAPAN EPISODE III
Topic: Architecture / Travel
Topic 2: Kisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower / IMAHAN SUKIYAKI

When thenovakids first began to emerge in 2002 during a semester abroad at Jouchi Daigaku, we went building-seeking on many occasions. At the top of our list was Kisho Kurokawa's Capsule Tower in Ginza, Tokyo, but we lacked the background information, navigation skills, and discipline to find it. For just a second I thought Tange's ugly brown Shizuoka Broadcasting Headquarters might be it--it's modular I guess (right). But this time, EPISODE III, we were prepared, with KENCHIKU MAP TOKYO, among other things, to strike.

The Capsule Tower in Ginza was completed in 1972, and represents the pinnacle of realized Metabolist architecture (left). During the 60s and 70s Metabolism represented a movement in architectural design that advocated principles of modularity through the use of interchangable, mass-manufactured, replacable components. That is, a new type of building that could be modified indefinitely over time to suit the occupants' changing needs. As influential as the group's ideas were, much of it remained only theoretical (like the projects of England's sometimes similar Archigram group).

However, a suprising number of projects were actualized. These included a 1968 Discotheque Space Capsule in Roppongi and the Capsule House "K" in Karuizawa. Then the 1970 Osaka World Exposition provided a forum for such experiments, allowing Kurokawa to prove the relatively easy installation and disassembly of his system with the Takara Beautillion, an expo installation for a furniture conglomerate. The Beautillion was made up of cubic units formed by steel pipes bent at right angles then bolted to steel plates. The pipes were fitted to plug into one another, and the completed capsules were joined to one another with high-tension bolts.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza has two concrete shafts, bolted to which are 2.3m x 3.9m x 2.1m capsules made from modified shipping containers. The tower was originally intended to provide short-term housing for transient businessmen on trips to Tokyo.

More than 30 years later, it's still around. It could use a power-washing. There is a prototype capsule room on the ground floor. If you ask the surly security guard inside the building, he will coldly let you go in the prototype, which is fitted with a built-in rotary phone, air jets, and a TV/Audio system from the 70s with a reel-to-reel tape deck (right). It's those electronics that betray the building's age, not the overall form, which still approaches the science fictional. The mobile urban society the Metabolists were planning for didn't quite develop the way they imagined, and the Capsule Tower remains something of a monument to some foward-looking thinking that resonated with enough people that it materialized. Planning for a possible future that never panned out.

Our day in Ginza did not end with the Nakagin Tower, however. We wandered over to the fancy part of Ginza, which is like the 5th avenue of Tokyo. There we purchased several bags of the greatest green tea produced on this planet. I won't tell you all the secrets, but the place is called CHA GINZA. If you can find it you can get some. Otherwise, it's strictly for those with grandmotherly connections.

We had a few hours before dinner and Kei had to pick up some CDs so we went to Shibuya, got drinks at Fujiya, went to HMV, and took some purikura. Then we returned to Ginza for the fanciest meal of my life.

We wanted to try Sukiyaki, which is supposed to be pretty fine and very expensive. Kei's uncle recommended a place, IMAHAN. We had a private Cha-shitsu style room, into which a young woman came and cooked for us. There's a boiling broth in which she cooks various vegetables and then the thinly sliced, perfectly tender beef. You dip it all in raw beaten egg. The environment and the quality of the ingredients were incredible, and the service is traditional (and slavish). But Kei got our server to lighten up by exhibiting her purikura collection, and ultimately donating a picture to her.

Posted by thenovakids at 10:12 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:21 AM CDT
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Sunday, 31 July 2005
TAKOTRON, JAPAN EPISODE III
Topic: Architecture / Travel
TAKOTRON SPECIAL REPORT
We have returned from a month-long residence/experiment at our satellite base in Totsuka (Yokohama, 30min to Tokyo). We have collected an overabundance of information and ideas, and now must begin filtering our data in order to transmit it to our beloved audience.

Topic 1: Antonin Raymond/Fujiya/The Family Restaurant

Antonin Raymond was a Czech-born American architect who brought the International Style to Japan first with his own reinforced concrete house in Tokyo, completed in 1923. He arrived there in 1919, when he oversaw the construction of his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel. Wright's hotel remarkably withstood the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, which helped fuel the growing interest in Modern design.

Raymond was instrumental in helping the region rebuild after the destruction, and continued to work in Japan from 1923 until 1937, the year the FUJIYA FAMILY RESTAURANT building in the Isezaki-cho district of Yokohama was completed!!! Notice the International Style glass brick and reinforced-concrete facade.

Inside is FUJIYA, famous for PEKO-chan, the Milky candies campaign girl (left, with Takotron campaign girl Kei-chan), and their delicious desserts. The stairwell is bathed in light from the glass bricks, which you can see amid all the manga promo from the internet/manga cafe on the second floor (right).

All throughout Japan exist family restaurants like Fujiya. Though none of the others make good candy, they're all pretty similar--SkyLark, Sunday's Sun, Jonathan's, and of course DENNY'S--that very same Denny's you find in little Midwestern towns, where teenagers hang out and smoke cigarettes. And yet it's quite different. All the Japanese family restaurants serve standard Japanese interpretations of American food. These always include such favorites as Hanba-gu (Hamburg Steak--a tender, bunless burger with a ketchup-based meat sauce, served with rice) and Guratan (Gratin, usually seafood with macaroni in a white sauce, baked as a casserole), plus you can get beer and good desserts. But in only one location can you enjoy such things in an elegant, historically significant landmark of Modern architecture.

But here our story takes a troubling twist. Deep in the Utah desert the wartime Allied forces built the Dugway Proving Ground, a test site for new weaponry. Because of his experience with and knowledge of Japanese architecture, Raymond was commissioned to design a small replica Japanese village on which the military could test incendiary bombing techniques (they found that tatami, both imported and recreated from local grasses, and shoji burn real well). Similarly, nearby was a replica German urban working -class block designed by the Jewish-German architect Erich Mendelsohn. It is difficult to understand the position he must have found himself in, engineering the destruction of a place he seems to have loved.

After the war Raymond returned to Japan where he reestablished his office and would ultimately design more than 250 Modern homes and buildings in Japan, including such notable projects as the Fukui house in Atami (1933-5), the Rising Sun Petroleum Company's Yokohama offices (1926), The Reader's Digest Building in Tokyo (1947-9), and the Catholic Church in Shibata (1965).

Posted by thenovakids at 10:52 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:22 AM CDT
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Wednesday, 22 June 2005
Kanto Tour '05
Topic: Architecture / Travel

The TAKOTRON field research team departs tomorrow for Narita international airport, to begin a month of extensive work/pleasure in Yokohama and Tokyo.

I love NY pizza and Chicago hot dogs, but Japan is the pinnacle of fast, efficient, wonderful food. We will also investigate some baseball, Kei's new baby cousin, and some buildings.

Last year we went to see Ito Toyo's Tower of Winds, built over an air vent outside the Yokohama station (upper right). It's supposed to light up in response to surrounding weather conditions and air patterns. Instead, it was just sitting there in the middle of traffic, gray and dead-looking. Maybe they revived it. This years target is Ito's new "Tod's" building on Omotesando in ritzy Aoyama, Tokyo. In that same area Ando Tadao's plans for a row of apartment houses is under construction. They will replace some iconic and well-liked apartments from the 50s, so it was a sensitive project. Down the street is the new Prada building, by the Swiss partners Herzog + DeMeuron. This was last year's novakids field trip highlight (lower right, with Kei and Yusuke). So you can hope for a field report within the next month. But no guarantees. More on Tod's Omotesando

Posted by thenovakids at 4:23 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:27 AM CDT
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Thursday, 9 June 2005

Topic: Architecture / Travel
The other day I got around to reading a long article on the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer that appeared in the May 15 New York Times Magazine (my mom takes care of her novakids, and sends me the good ones). Niemeyer, who is still working at 97, was the head architect for Brasilia, the capital planned by fellow Brazilian Lucio Costa, and the only realized Modernist utopian city.

Politically, Modernist architecture was a complicated mess. The ambition to execute new ideas through new forms and technologies led admirable architects seeking opportunities down some questionable roads. Philip Johnson helped organize an American Fascist Party and attended Hitler's rallies in Nuremberg. Le Corbusier joined the Vichy government and was a proponent of something like Technocracy throughout his career. Mies left Germany for Chicago at the onset of war, but made every effort to avoid politics on either side.

Niemeyer, on the other hand, was an avowed Communist during the most politically dangerous times. During the 60s the US government backed a coup that overthrew Brazil's government. Niemeyer's office and studio were destroyed, he faced arrest and interrogation, and spent more than a decade in exile. Brasilia failed, ultimately, as political change, overpopulation, and suburban ghettoization took hold, but it survives. The architect says,

You may not like Brasilia, but you can't say you have seen anything like it--you maybe saw something better, but not the same. I prefer Rio, even with the robberies. What can you do? It's the capitalist world. But people who live in Brasilia, to my suprise, don't want to leave it. Brasilia works. There are problems, but it works. And from my perspective, the ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens.


Niemeyer's Modernism also attempts a sympathetic relationship to with the environment: "We absolutely need to look at the sky and feel how insignificant we are--the offspring of nature."

In other news, a remix of Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" is getting play on Power 92.3, the Chicago hip-hop station ("#1 in the Streets"). I don't know what to think about that. But what thenovakids dig about 92.3 is that it promotes a more positive hip-hop culture than 107.5 and expecially Hot97 in NYC, where people are always getting in fights outside, shooting at eachother, or mocking Tsunami victims on air. But 92.3's djs promote discussions on serious issues affecting the community, like AIDS (black women account for 72% of new HIV/AIDS cases among women), poverty, inequality, single motherhood, etc. So, whether you're making buildings, creating cities, or playing music, remember you can do it conscientiously.

? 2005 TAKOTRON Department of Education, Propaganda Division

Posted by thenovakids at 8:12 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:30 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 17 May 2005
PARIS2999 femme bot nation
Topic: Architecture / Travel
THENOVAKIDS RETURN Our experimental research abroad in cheese, romance, and Le Corbusier has come to a close (at least for one of us), and we are happy to report success on all fronts. I love Chevre (goat) cheese, though Takotron Kommander Keichan is not as big a fan. But the best cheese EVA in the universe is "Motin Charentais Fromage au Lait de Vache." You can get these amazing cheeses for just ~2?, which is just a little more than 2 weak little US $s. Then you put it on your amazing 80? baguette, whose price is regulated by the government, and you are eating affordably, amazingly, and authentically in Paris. You can also survive off of crepes, paninis, incredible falafel (introduced by semi-professional, semi-famous Parisian/World explorer Jeff Mok, who we met up with a couple times), croque monsieurs, strong cafe, etc. But even though thenovakids and Takotron know how to live the high life on a tight budget, we also like some fine wining and dining once in a while, which France of course can also provide, in the form of STEAK FRITES!!, saumon, gelato, escargot, etc.

As for the romance, Paris is just that kind of city. Everything is on a human scale, but still bustling. It feels both contemporary and ancient, the Metro is incredibly efficient, but it also seems like you can walk anywhere. And with the right person, it really feels pretty good. Le Corbusier pics are being processed, so more on us and him later. KEIPOPNATION has a photo album page with tons of paris pics, including corbu(bu) ones, so you should check it out: KEIBOOGER'S PHOTO HOME PAGE


Paris has it's PARIS2012 campaign going in full effect. They have my vote. NYC, I love you, but you better STEP YO GAME UP! There's no way NY will get it, since they are proving to be too disorganized, fragmented, and bombastically overambitious to carry out two current grandes projets: the new WTC and a west side football stadium. Allow us to explain the phrase above borrowed from the French, which not one of those uneccesary foreign word insertions to make us look intellectual, like ouevre and wunderkammen. Although, those two words have specific, untranslatable meanings. Hmm. STEP YO FOREIGN LANGUAGE GAME UP, readers. Anyway, grandes projets is a term used for a number of major architectural undertakings commissioned by the national and Parisian governments, initially under former socialist president Francois Mitterand. Among them are I.M. Pei's Pyramids for the Louvre, The Centre Georges Pompidou (Piano + Rogers), La Grande Arche de la Defense (von Spreckelsen), and the Bibliotheque Nationale Francois Mitterand (Perrault).

TAKOTRON LOVES PARIS.

coming this summer: TAKOTRON RE-LOVES YOKOHAMA/TOKYO

Posted by thenovakids at 10:02 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:26 AM CDT
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Wednesday, 27 April 2005
Antoine Predock
Topic: Architecture / Travel
Today architect Antoine Predock gave a lecture at the Art Institute of Chicago organized by the museum's Architecture and Design Society. And TAKOTRON was there. The architect spoke mostly of his more recent projects, including two proposals that recently won their respective competitions: The National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan (below), and The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnepeg.

If you're not familiar with Predock's work, it would help to generally think of it as fitting nicely into Kenenth Frampton's outline of Critical Regionalism. Let's bust out that old book (The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster, 1983) for some good quotes from the classic "Towards a Critical Regionalism":
Architecture can only be sustained today as a critical practice if it assumes an arriere-garde position, that is to say, one which distances itself equally from the Enlightenment myth of progress and from a reactionary, unrealistic impulse to return to the architectonic forms of the preindustrial past. [...] The fundamental strategy of Critical Regionalism is to mediate the impact of universal civilization with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities of a particular place. (22-3)

Much of Predock's work is in the Southwest U.S. (his firm's office is in Albequerque) where it makes use of local materials and imagery from the inspirational landscapes and their indigenous cultures. He succeeds in creating powerful and resonant spaces while avoiding the pitfalls Frampton warns against, namely "nostalgic historicism or the glibly decorative" and "the communicative or instrumental sign."

Predock's Shadow House in Santa Fe (above) is built to frame views of the nearby Jemez mountains as it resonates with the desert sun through the use of an edge-lit glass prism and courtyard enclosed by two walls that incorporate copper.

Predock accepts the Critical Regionalist label to a degree, but is careful not to be confined by it. He reponds to the idea, "yeah, but it's portable." The National Palace Museum in Taiwan indirectly references a plethora of cultural symbols and ideas, including the distant peak of "Jade Mountain," early scroll paintings depicting rivers and mountains, and lanterns, as well as borrowed "pan-asian" examples, especially for the surrounding gardens. It is approached from two opposite paths that bridge a surrounding canal. The paths are to remain open after hours, so that pedestrians can travel through the space without actually entering the building. The museum is to house some 650,000 treasures secretely salvaged from mainland China's Forbidden City by Chiang Kai-shek, in addition to contemporary artwork and performance spaces and increasing collections of pieces from other Asian countries.

At the end of the lecture the architect took some questions. I posed an architectural problem I had been thinking about for a while. So you know I represent Long Island, but not a setting of beachfronts overlooking the Sound or nice little towns where you can get good seafood and take the old boat out. I grew up between two commercial highways lined with gas stations and strip malls. There's no train station in my town, but from one a town over it's an hour ride to Manhattan. So my setting was nothing special, nothing too nice. I'm not ashamed, and when away for awhile I even find myself feeling just a little bit of home pride. This is all only slightly relevant, and I certainly didn't bring it up tonight. You can read more about my town on the Takotron images page. What I asked, was something like, "is there a way to build a project that resonates with its setting if the setting is a place that's quotidian and anonymous, like some of our overdeveloped suburbs?" Mr. Predock gave an informed, deep, helpful response (I must paraphrase):
In such a situation (and others as well) it helps to think on archaological time. When you look at a roadcut, you see the layers of different eras, and on the top is a thin section of candy bar wrappers and cans and things. So, on this scale it is possible to think of things like suburban developments as a temporary fluttering. Most of our country is now covered like this, but in a way it is only temporary. We live in a place built on genocide, but underneath are rich layers of different cultures and the real essence of the land. So sometimes, especially in a situation like that, you need to look beyond the scatterings on the surface, to somewhere deeper.


FOR MORE: www.predock.com

Posted by thenovakids at 10:06 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:32 AM CDT
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