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Preview: Tropolism


Tropolism means loving the works of architects, and all the public conversation that surrounds it, while retaining a healthy skepticism for what architects say about their work.

Last Build Date: Tue, 11 Aug 2009 10:53:50 -0500

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Tropolism Books: The Green Workplace

Tue, 11 Aug 2009 10:53:50 -0500

Title: The Green Workplace: Sustainable Strategies that Benefit Employees, the Environment, and the Bottom Line Author: Leigh Stringer Publication Date: August 4, 2009 Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan ISBN: 978-0230614284 Available at Amazon. Have you ever presented a recycling plan to the superiors at your office, only to be met with blank stares? Told bewildered colleagues that the florescent office lighting they replaced with extra hot and dim halogen track lighting is burning five times more carbon? Explained yet again that plastic bottled water is a ridiculous waste of resources, from cradle to grave? Wondered if there was a resource for people who somehow missed the entirety of the factual information they were exposed to in An Inconvenient Truth? I have. It's a pain. In this day and age there are still folks who don't know that recycling makes a difference, certain light fixtures burn loads of power, bottled water is wasteful, and that without a reduction in carbon emissions (forget reduction in rate of emissions, which is all politicians talk about) we are going to burn ourselves out of a home. One way to get people's attention, or to clear away their stubborn ignorance, is to direct them to The Green Workplace, a book by architect and MBA Leigh Stringer (who was also a classmate of mine in architecture school). The book is aimed at CEOs and CSOs and other C-Suite folks who may be titans in the business arena, but are painfully dumb when it comes to the tidal wave of sustainability issues that are going to affect their bottom line in the next few years. The book makes a convincing case for how sustainability can benefit the bottom line, making the case so plain that even business owners who won't spend a dime to sustain their community or environment will be forced to acknowledge that there's money to be made by going green. The least interesting thing about this book it that it sometimes feels like it's overcompensating for the C-Suite folks. Does anyone who is playing at the upper levels of business really not know about how major corporations save oodles of money by saving energy, reducing waste, and making employees more productive? The answer to this question is, unbelievably, yes, and the author is well aware of it. The flip side of this is that Ms. Stringer patiently goes over these points in great detail, and undoubtedly there are some details that those who are very trained in sustainability issues (like me!) have missed. The book also plays double duty. It is both a how-to book for the enthusiastic in-house environmental organizer and also an eye-opener to the internet deprived business traveler who found the book on a layover in Tuscon. Like the blog from which it sprang, the book is good for grazing on the parts you are interested, and discovering new concepts and ideas that you will read about later. For me this new territory was the introduction of a few green business measuring systems I didn't' know about (Triple Bottom Line or Balanced Scorecard), none of which are new concepts. You'll find your own new territory, and undoubtedly create a new reading list as a result. The refreshing part of Mrs. Stringer's approach is that the focus is doggedly on organizational behavior. It assumes that everyone agrees that our behavior effects planetary environmental shifts, and that no convincing on that front is necessary. It gets to work. It also feels like a work in progress, like one in a series of books, or blogs. When I chatted with Leigh about the book, she acknowledged that the metrics of environmental business are not equal to the task at hand, and will probably need updating. What ever Book 2 looks like, we admire that this one covers all the bases, for now, and is plugged into a more active blog that will continue the conversation. When you choose to tune in, Leigh Stringer will be ready for you, and she will get you up to speed in no time. Available at Amazon.[...]

Charles Gwathmey, Dead at 71

Wed, 05 Aug 2009 16:56:05 -0500

(image) We don't do obituaries at Tropolism, but this death is worth mentioning. Charles Gwathmey died August 3rd in Manhattan. Mr. Gwathmey was the target of derision in my very first published article, so I like to think of him as my entree into the world of writing. His work's promise is something I still think bears repeating. One key project I was unhappy with. Some other minor works seemed undercooked. But he created some triumphs (see the New York Times slideshow for this, they hit the major ones) and his hand at renovation/additions was an important first example in how to expand a famous building without either wimping out or trying to speak over the star performer. What remains, of course, is his influence.

Poster Designers, Get Ready

Wed, 05 Aug 2009 14:07:46 -0500

(image) CUP, Tropolism's favorite NYC urban activist group, is at it again. As you may know, they publish a smart poster every few months announcing their initiatives; the poster is called Making Policy Public, or MPP. This time around, they are partnering with some innovative groups; most interesting to us is FIERCE (or Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment; yes the acronyms are fatiguing). FIERCE is probably most known for their organizing of youngsters who hang out on Christopher Street and on the Village piers, and have been harrassed by both West Village residents and the police alike. But like the piers themselves, the crowd has evolved, is better organized, and even has its own mission statement. And, now, involved in the conversation about the development of public space. My, how the children have grown.

CUP has issued a call for designers for the next MPP poster. If you were looking for a time to get directly involved in these conversations, I am here to tell you that that time has arrived.

Tropolism: Moving Up To 7

Tue, 16 Jun 2009 14:14:00 -0500


Tropolism made it into the top 10 of the MoPo 2009 list of most popular architecture weblogs (written in English by primarily one person, and vetted by this or that metric) again this year, except moving up to slot #7. We were thrilled last year that we got in the top-10 at all, taking the #9 slot. Except we just learned that in 2007 we were #4.

The takeaway: top-10 trifecta!

Amazon Wishes

Thu, 11 Jun 2009 08:51:56 -0500

Just so you know, we have a wishlist at And, our 4 year anniversary is fast approaching. Click the button to send us stuff:



Tropolism Exhibitions: The Pictures Generation 1974-1984

Wed, 10 Jun 2009 15:23:22 -0500

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been an embarrassment of riches this summer. Roxy Paine's rooftop installation is an artwork so right for its summer vista (in a way the Madison Square Park installation was not), and so right for right now, that it seemed as if I had left the repository of artifacts on the floors below and had entered a temporary installation on a gallery's rooftop in Chelsea. Except this rooftop was in Central Park, and the view there is pretty sweet. Stumbling around the rooms of stuff downstairs, I happened upon The Pictures Generation 1974-1984, a wonderful collection of the image-oriented artists in that period who were focused on the mechanisms of images, and how they shape our perceptions. It's like a redo of the Image World exhibition the Whitney for those of you (like me) who missed that show in 1989. For those of you who (like me) haven't quite gotten around to purchasing your own copy of the Image World catalog, the catalog for The Pictures Generation will do as a handy substitute. This show fits better into the Met's usual role of repository for Old Important Stuff: these are artifacts that are 30 to 40 years old, and have special nostalgic significance for students of art history and the newfangled Art Criticism going around departments of architecture in midwestern universities in the early 1990s. I will spare you the boring (but so not boring!) details of the show, because the power of the works shown--by no-names like John Baldessari, Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince--are almost overwhelmed by the fact that these images of resistance are so very important, and the artists so well known. They are so recognizable that they almost become the toothless icons for image-worship they seek to expose. The inclusion of a few of Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills (the ones donated to the Met by Madonna, of course) is the easiest target. Fortunately, the show is large enough to keep it from being a trip down nostalgia lane. A couple of other elements keep the show fresh and alive. One is the inclusion of Dana Birnbaum's ever-awesome Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman. The work distills the original television show into an intense five minutes that is at once dizzying, loud, disco-awesome, and far more entertaining than any single episode of Wonder Woman could ever hope to be. It is also as fresh as the day it was made. The work, and its twin in the show Kiss the Girls: Make Them Cry, liven up the static images around them, and had some people grooving while they walked around. Both expose how entertaining the flatness of images can be, if properly sequenced and given a fierce soundtrack. I was struck with a powerful desire to see these treatments give to every form of entertainment I've ever enjoyed. It was this feeling that made me think of them as premonitions of Who We Are Now, fully subsumed in the Internet Era, where my daily entertainment time is checking out the cute pictures of other people's experiences in their latest Facebook photo album. Another is that one of the recurring themes is, of course, the criticism of architectural imagery. Or, to be more precise, the exploration of how we understand the built environment through architectural images. James Casebere's photographs of little paper models or Barbara Bloom's Crittall Metal Windows series (mashups of Bauhaus-era buildings and steel window advertisements, hung throughout all the galleries and not shown together) are powerful reminders that the practice and consumption of architecture, like any other art, is dependent upon concealing the mechanisms by which images work. This show will disabuse you of that notion, yet again. And you'll have fun.[...]

Atlantic Yards: The First Post

Tue, 09 Jun 2009 09:26:46 -0500

Atlantic Yards by Frank O. Gehry: we never liked it. It might be too big. It was a stadium for basketball, a sport we just don't care about and whose only reference point for us is "Madison" "Square" We Knocked Down Pennsylvania Station For This Pile Of Crap "Garden". It had open space on the roof that was accessible by only residents of a bunch of towers. But, it was Frank O., and it was glassy, and it was interesting. It would have densitized (densified?) a neighborhood, adding (more) life but also more traffic, congestion. It was going to amplify the city, this ever-pregnant corner of Brooklyn where it seems like something great should be built but is actually where nothing great has been built, and along with that building would be all the side effects that greatness brings: dirt, noise, change, conflict, and many messy conversations. In short, it was urban. I took a wait and see attitude: the drawings and models looked somewhat great, but it was difficult to understand how it was going to interact with Brooklyn. Folks were up in arms about it, but these days you have to judge these things for yourself, because what with the internet and all, folks yell about everything in this town, as if every concerned citizen is a self-appointed Jane Jacobs, and every little brick repointing project a city-destroying commission by Robert Moses. Judging for yourself: it is the very purpose of Tropolism. It is what Tropolism means. Watch as the Atlantic Yards Project unfolds, better drawings come out, the project makes its way through court, and something happens, so that you can find your time to weigh in. What happened you all know, or can easily find out: Gehry designed something awesome, the developer, Forest City Ratner, got all sorts of tax breaks and court victories, many riding on the fact that that particular design was going to be built. Then it turned out that design was too expensive, so Gehry redesigned it and it was less interesting. But OK so what, the central idea was still there, and it was still Frank O. The recent replacement of Frank Gehry as the architect of the project isn't the problem with the new Atlantic Yards design, although Nicolai Ourousoff's reaming article would imply otherwise. Ellerbe Becket doing a super simple and cheaper-design version of Gehry's design would have worked just fine, given that they followed his floor plan and massing outlines to the letter. Instead, the project has simply been redone, shorn of its residences and shops and now it's simply become one of those deadening black holes in the city, just like "Madison" "Square" "Garden". It's a classic, bald-faced bait-and-switch, which is a cute New York way of saying that Forest City Ratner are crooks. They have stolen the public's patience and benefit of the doubt in exchange for their own personal profit. The effect of which is that this part of Brooklyn will be dumb and cold and dead until 2050 when some even more stupid gyration will have to happen in order to renovate the dumb thing that might get built right now. There is some crap glassy entrance so that yes 50,000 people or whatever can stream on through on their way to basketball a few nights a year, but nothing else except a huge box stadium. We get it. The roof looks like a basketball. This is the opposite of great architecture: this is cheeky architecture trying to get on our populist good side, while simultaneously sucking all the life out of our home city. There is no add here, only subtract: subtract money, subtract street life, subtract public conversation, subtract density. And our great omission has been to not bring up, years ago, that this was a possibility all along. That the devil in Gehry's plan was that if Gehry didn't do his design, and someone did even and almost-version of his design, then the effect would be this drek. Our apologies for being quiet. It won't happen aga[...]

Tropolism Books: Le Corbusier And The Maisons Jaoul

Tue, 28 Apr 2009 16:36:11 -0500

Title: Le Corbusier And The Maisons Jaoul
Author: Caroline Maniaque Benton
Publication Date: April 2, 2009
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
ISBN: 9781568988009
Available at Amazon.(image)

The Maisons Jaoul, two weekend houses designed by Le Corbusier representing a period of intense work, have apparently not had their due. The author of Le Corbusier And The Maisons Jaoul traces the intensive period of work between 1951 and 1955 that created these houses.

If you can't distinguish Maisons Jaoul from Villa de Mandrot, The Villa in La Celle-Saint-Cloud (sometimes known as Villa Felix), or the vacation home in Les Mathes, or the house for Mrs. Manorama Sarabhai in Ahmedabad, or a dozen other examples, you might be forgiven. They all contain some combination of Le Corbusier's signature Catalan vaults out of terra cotta tile, exposed brick, beton brut concrete, or rusticated brick. Like much of Le Corbusier's oeuvre, the overabundance of work, the myriad overlapping examples, the constant, calculated, conflicting, and recurring areas of exploration tend to hide entire buildings in the fold. Case in point: the houses were originally sketched up in 1937, but the sustained work of design and construction happened 1951-1955. Just try finding them on this timeline if you need further proof. If you have to survey his entire life for a show, will Maisons Jaoul really make the cut? Not always. But they should. They are the clearest examples of these particular explorations, and the ones that get knitted up most comfortably into a livable set of houses.

This book rectifies their past omission from surveys (like the 100 year anniversary surveys had in the 1980s), in that it collects contemporary photographs of the houses (taken after restoration a decade ago), interviews and documents from the original craftsman, drawings that probably haven't been dusted off by FLC since Corb chucked them into box 1,277,569 fifty years ago, and a selection of wonderful letters between Le Corbusier and parties involved in the house. The balance of history and discovery is pitch perfect.

This book is available at Amazon.(image) Your purchase supports this site.

Radiant Copenhagen

Tue, 07 Apr 2009 14:07:58 -0500


Radiant Copenhagen documents the future of Copenhagen. Marking up a GoogleWiki maplike thing, artists Anders Bojen, Kristoffer Ørum, Kaspar Bonnén, and Rune Graulund have created a new future, one that is at once probable and entirely fantastic. Kind of like reality. It's brilliant because it's played out over our new way of discovering architecture: through markups, tagging, satellite imagery, and as a companion to the real city we are surfing the internets in.

Tropolism Books: Geologics: Geography, Information, and Architecture

Fri, 03 Apr 2009 08:30:48 -0500

(image) Title: Geologics: Geography, Information, and Architecture
Author: Vincente Guallart
Publication Date: April 2009
Publisher: Actar
ISBN: 9788495951618
Available at Amazon.(image)

Oh great, another book with swoopy land-looking mountainbuildings, you might be thinking. Another snapshot of an architect with way too many free student laborers in his office, insulated from the need to produce actual buildings to keep the firm afloat, and inured to the need to have his written, visual, and spoken communications make simple sense. This is not that book. The difference with Vincente Guallart's monograph/handbook Geologics is that from word 1 it is a set of working ideas. It is a sketchbook, portfolio, and online photoalbum formatted so that someone on another continent can pick up the ideas, take them into practice, and work on the same set of problems. The format of the book, a thick 5x7 volume, makes it more like a field guide to Guallart's firm's ideas than a monograph. The first sentence:

"This book represents, at last, the beginning of a new cycle in our architectural practice, in which many of the questions outlined here should be corroborated..."

What allows all this to happen is that Guallart's ideas are clear. This is particularly useful since they all represent complex thoughts, phenomena, and conceits. It is the unabashed beauty of the conceits, and their integration into the research and buildings, that open the ideas up for discussion, preventing them from ever becoming declarations or unexamined dogmas. We expect some of the several dozen concepts in the first part of the book (full of ideas like geomorphosis, arborescence, re-urbanizing, ringing) to disappear as Guallart's firm exhausts their usefulness.

The second part of the book is a project-by-project account of the firm's favorite projects, some which you may be familiar with just by reading this site. And what projects they are: a range from swoopy mountainbuildings (a few of which need to get built) to a simple house, the built work is exhilarating, even when it's as simple as the wood decking of the Microcoasts project. Even if you've seen them before, they are placed in powerful context of the firm's inquiry by being cross referenced to the appropriate ideas in part 1 of the book. It's a technique we've mused on before, and one that we continue to think works well in this format. The second part of the book includes outstanding drawings, ranging from plans to diagrams, as well as well-edited set of photographs. The book is another must have for the practicing architect, theoretician, or architecture fan.

This book is available at Amazon.(image) Your purchase supports this site.

Arquiteto ou engenheiro? Que? Parte Dois

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 10:07:06 -0500


Back from Brazil! In this second installment of Arquiteto ou Engenheiro? we bring you more contractor comedy gold, mostly from South America, one from Europe, and one which look like a mishap in suburban Georgia.

Baldessari Does Mies

Tue, 17 Mar 2009 14:26:25 -0500


"Brick Bldg, Lg Windows w/ Xlent Views, Partially Furnished, Renowned Architect" is John Baldessari's new installation at the Haus Lange from 1928, in Krefeld, Germany. The project furnishes the house with Baldessari's surreal nose- and ear-shaped furniture. In addition, the windows are lined with pictures of California seascapes on the inside, entirely blocking the views to the exterior, and reflecting Mies's indoor-outdoor connection back inward. From the exterior, the windows are lined with pictures of bricks, further killing the Mies effect.

The effect is deadening, and powerful. It causes the visitor to notice the power of Mies's original arrangement, the levels of zig-zag transparency, the scale of the glass, the pervasiveness of the brick both inside and out. In a way, the project celebrates Mies, even as it temporarily disrupts the way the house works.

U.S.A.'s Venice Biennale Pavilion Comes Home

Mon, 16 Mar 2009 12:04:08 -0500

[photos courtesy of Rain Yan Wang]

Earlier this month, the U.S. Pavilion from the 2008 Venice Biennale opened at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at the New School. Into the Open: Positioning Practice attempts to realign architectural thought towards socially relevant issues. All sixteen studies ask us to “reclaim a role in shaping community and the built environment, to expand understanding of American architectural practice and its relationship to civic participation”. Highlights include Teddy Cruz’s examination of the border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana as well as Laura Kurgan’s view of incarceration through Architecture and Justice.

Upon entering the gallery, we found the exhibition’s rhythmic series of text intensive pilasters to be a bit daunting and overbearing. The models and graphic components receded into the background as they were clearly overshadowed by the bold text. However, as the evening wore on, the exhibit’s true potential emerged. Within the niches of the display’s formal structure, patrons were invited to contribute their own personal touch. A tertiary artistic endeavor superimposed itself upon the gallery. The interactive quality served the dual purpose of contextualizing the exhibit while reminding us of the continually shifting dynamics of the social order.

Posted by Saharat Surattanont.

Hemeroscopium House

Wed, 11 Mar 2009 08:06:46 -0500

The Hemeroscopium House, by Ensamble Studio in Madrid, is a refined combination of heavy infrastructural pieces. The pieces are stacked; the resulting spaces are a house. Most awesome is the pool deck, entirely under what is typically used for highway or parking superstructures: a giant precast beam. The surreal scale of the elements--nothing except the furniture appears people-scale--reminds us of OMA's work. Yet this is almost post-OMA, in that there is a clear pleasure to living underneath a highway overpass. The deck you walk on is polished and smooth, the pool and furniture are gorgeous, the landscaping mellow. There's no brutality to this brutalism, only refinement and play. In short a place to live.

Via Architect, which also has a big gallery of pictures.

Tropolism Books: Hybrids II

Wed, 04 Mar 2009 14:02:34 -0500


Title: Hybrids II
Authors: Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Mozas, Javier Arpa
Publication Date: Autumn 2008
Publisher: a+t ediciones
ISSN: 1132-6409

Hybrids II, the sequel to Hybrids I (about high-rise mixed-use buildings), published earlier in 2008, continues a+t's beautiful large-format periodical series. Although Hybrids II ties up the year's theme in a neat symmetry--its topic is low-rise mixed use buildings--the book is in many ways an improvement over its predecessor. It continues a+t's gorgeous plans, building analyses, and geographic locating diagrams. Yet the opening essay seems to cover the same points, but does so with more specific history, and a greater ease with the material effects of theoretical play:

The development of technology and trust in prefabrication caused science fiction and urban planning to find common friends. With the development of spatial bar structures, industrial modular cities made up of three-dimensional systems were starting to be drawn, though still only on paper.

This essay covers all the points on the historical spectrum between the invention of the skyscraper (that is, as it was formulated in Delirious New York), the superbuildings referenced in the quote above, and the megastructures developed in the late 1960s by Archizoom and Fumihiko Maki.

The activity of celebrating the culture of low, city-like superbuildings is of course fraught with the danger that one will ignore its most city-deadening invention, the plinth. Denise Scott-Brown's 1968 quote is presented as a warning of painting the world with acontextual supercity buildings: "What do they all do up there in those megastructures?"

Yet in the last 40 years, superbuilding has not died. It merely needed improving. Like before, during its plinth-era incarnation, it seems to remain a tool for economically efficient consumption. Yet it has survived in many cases only by allowing the cross-pollination of programs to happen, and for public space to infect it. The easiest example of this is The Ehwa Campus Complex in Seoul, by Dominique Perrault. It is a building whose entire roof is either a sloping grassy park or a monumental stair and plaza. The plinth is indistinguishable from the surface of the earth, a hybrid indeed.

It has also become commercially unviable for a building to not be contiguous with the city. A good example is OMA's return to fine form with their Bryghusprojektet in Copenhagen. A continuation of the diagonal spatial arrangements found in their 1992 Kunsthal in Rotterdam, the project proposes a 'heaping' of different programs to create hybridization, overlap, and new connections. However it does so by being contiguous to the ground of the city at many points along its edges.

What's astonishing in this book's survey is not only the scale of the projects being undertaken (such as the 100,000 square meter sporting complex in Kuwait, or Steven Holl's Vanke Center in Shenhen, China) but the diversity of solutions being proposed by architects. Megabuilding has taken on any form imaginable, making material the the possibility in ultra-dense city-scaled structures.