The Art of the Gift

02_Andromeda

Burning Man, at its most elemental level, provides an opportunity to shift various social norms in unexpected and provocative ways.  Is this the basis for a larger cultural shift, or just a capricious indulgence ….?

If we take the point of view that architecture is an art form, it is largely a transactional one, we design on the basis of commissions.  We have clients, whose interests we are obligated to serve, we consider the Public, as our creations can have a large impact on people’s lives. As such, most often we design under numerous constraints, such as budgets, programming, and governmental restrictions ….. things that we can adapt to, but ultimately not control.

01_Andromeda

At Burning Man, one of the powerful experiences is that of 70,000 people being self-expressive.  This ranges from the outfits people wear to the 400+ pieces of artwork contributed by teams of artists.  At first it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this creative output, but that in itself is not the most provocative part of Burning Man. The aspect that profoundly challenges your normal life experience is that everything along this range of offerings is meant as a gift.  Within this context each participant charts the trajectory of their gifting, these gifts might be quite small and heartfelt, or the size of a five-story building.  While often times the gift is in the form of art, the process of gifting is an art form in itself.

04B_AndromedaThis year I was asked to join an art team as Lead Artist. The vision began with Team Leader Brian Poindexter, who was inspired by the Burning Man 2019 Theme Metamorphoses, to start an Art Project exploring the myth of Andromeda and the expansive nature of the night sky. We decided to challenge the classical myth of Andromeda, wherein a young woman is chained to a rock, left to be devoured by a sea monster that was sent by the Gods to punish her mother for the arrogance of proclaiming her daughter’s beauty.  This led ultimately to the project name; Andromeda Reimagined.  Within this new narrative, Andromeda saves herself, with the help of her community. The “rock and chains” have been morphed into a story of her inner journey to find strength and purpose in a world of chaos and absurdity. In the spirit of interactivity, we are asking people to write the names and stories of their female heroes on the inside walls of the structure. Following several reiterations, the final art piece takes the form of a 26 foot-tall, five-sided pyramid.

06_andromeda.jpg

Rarely, as architects, do we design and build, using our own resources, with a pure sense of contributing to the vibrancy of our communities, where our imagination is only restrained by the amount of time and resources, we are capable of committing. 05_AndromedaOut of this “blank canvas”, free of normal constraints, we can build our own vibrancy, in the most deeply authentic way possible, with the work of our own hands. This freedom invites us to explore our innermost motivations, to ask ourselves “what would we do?” out in the dust, for one idyllic week, if for no other reason, than to build for the pure joy of gifting an experience to others. Yet, once back from this moment in the desert, the more fundamental question is, ­ “What if even a small part of this sense of gifting came back with us from the Playa?” ….. what a delightful and humane world we might start to create.

This year Burning Man is taking place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada: August 25 – September 2 For more information about Burning Man visit: https://burningman.org/

– John Marx, Chief Artistic Officer at Form4 Architecture

03_Andromeda

Fuelled by WAF and Transitioning from 2018 to 2019

img_5499
John Marx talking through Form4 Architecture’s Innovation Curve building located in Palo Alto, California with Sir Peter Cook in the jury

Form4 Architecture recently took part in their 5th World Architecture Festival. This time around it was staged in Amsterdam at the RAI conference centre with the largest number of delegates in attendance that the Festival has welcomed since its inception in 2008.

There were over 400 architects from around the world presenting their work in the 42 different categories for the World Architecture Festival Awards. This alone creates a mesmerizing overview of what is taking place in the profession be it in the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia or Africa. Keynote speakers included David Adjaye, Jeanne Gang, Rem Koolhaas and Li Xiaodong whose presentation of his Liyuan Library on the outskirts of Beijing was one of the highlights of the talks.

img_5454-e1547599289427.jpg
John Marx at the World Architecture Festival Chairing the jury for the “Large Scale Housing” category

Form4’s Co-Founding Principal and Chief Artistic Officer John Marx chaired the jury for the “Large Scale Housing” category won by an extraordinary project in Mathura, India designed by Sanjay Puri Architects. The project is made up of an 800-room complex devoted to young academics. The design skillfully incorporates the idea of a street following the same urban patterns seen in this part of the country.

John Marx also presented Form4’s projects in three different categories including the practice’s recently completed Innovation Curve in Palo Alto in the highly competitive “Use of Colour” category. The jury for this category was chaired by Sir Peter Cook, an English architect who is best known for having been one of the founders of the legendary and avant-grade Archigram studio in the 1960s and for his own imaginative approach to colour in architecture.

img_5523-e1547167299937.jpg
At the World Architecture Festival Gala Dinner in Amsterdam
img_5498
This year the World Architecture Festival had stylish interactive screens summarising day’s content at each of their presentation pods

As per usual, in between presentations, talks and the actual awards ceremony at the Beurs van Berlage, there was real buzz of colleagues from across the globe catching up, introducing each other to new friends and acquaintances. All the things that happen in between the official Festival program being what at least half of what WAF is really all about. A place to swap notes on the state of architecture today, be it in San Francisco, London, Valetta, Milan, Dubai, Beijing or Singapore. And of course we saw first-hand what was happening in Amsterdam and were thoroughly impressed by their public infrastructure including the recently opened metro line that transported us effortlessly to the conference centre.

Another highlight at the Festival for us was The Architecture Drawing Prize stand displaying winners of hand-drawn, hybrid and digital categories. We ended our time at WAF sitting as guests at the Architecture Drawing Prize winners’ table and enjoying once again the Festival’s Gala Dinner atmosphere. A great finale to this event and particularly as 2019 will see Form4 focus on ideas around representation and architecture just as we did in the watercolour section of the Architectural Review (AR) monograph published earlier this year; and which was also featured on the AR stand at WAF in Amsterdam.  We were delighted!

img_5465
Third in row, “The Absurdity of Beauty” Form4 Architecture’s very own Architectural Review monograph featured at the Festival’s AR stand

Fall Reading V: “Dreaming Aloud”

04_22 Poncho-Visual Poems-Balance-3_cropped

Form4 Architecture’s Co-Founding Principal and Chief Artistic Officer, John Marx, initiated a highly original publication in the Architectural Review (AR) monograph series. “The Absurdity of Beauty – Rebalancing the Modernist narrative” is a hybrid monograph that features Form4 Architecture’s work as well as a wide range of topics that advocate a fundamental shift in the way architects design through a mix of poetry, essays, and watercolors.  This shift is to do with how we tackle contemporary challenges, like placemaking, gentrification and identity in society, through our built environment.  Marx’s own essay within the publication, “Dreaming Aloud”, touches on a theme that is at the heart of what instigated the idea of approaching the monograph in this multifaceted way.  This theme is the notion of “range”.

“Range” is understood by Marx as embracing inclusiveness in place of exclusiveness. It is about seeing architecture as a plentiful feast as conveyed in the cover image of this blog. “Range” rejects the notion of artistic endeavour only being of value within the confines of conventional and often hierarchical definitions.

The visual quality of the AR publication as realised by Art Editor Tom Carpenter celebrates “range” through the variety of imagery and the richness of the graphic sensibility throughout the monograph. It is all about giving a distinct platform to different voices that in their individualistic ways challenge us to create emotionally meaningful, culturally vibrant places to live and work. Places that we value and that we feel belong to us.

The following extract on “range” from “Dreaming Aloud” elaborates on what John Marx wants to convey when using this term.

“Dreaming Aloud” by John Marx – Extract: 

Range is a very balance-dependent concept. On the one hand, we as a humane species thrive (diversity-adaptability are the key traits which ensure our survival) because we don’t all want the same things at the same time; on the other hand, we also tend to form ourselves into groups with like-minded interests or traits. It is the creative dynamic between these two conditions where healthy and vibrant communities thrive. Existing on either extremes of this equation can have undesirable and unintended consequences. 

From an architectural object or project standpoint, range includes the way we judge the value of the work that is created. This aspect of range is well illustrated at the annual Burning Man festival, where some 70,000 people gather at a temporary city in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada to celebrate creatively. Among the many events at the 2017 Burning Man, more than 300 artworks were set out on the Playa. These ranged from ‘museum grade’ sculpture, to the Jedi Dog Temple designed by a five-year old boy. The participants recognise that everything on this range has a deep value to them, because, in the case of Burning Man, each art piece is given as a gift, and each was created from the heart. However they also embrace the idea that the nature of each piece is different and adds value each in its own special way. We, as architects, and as a culture in general, might benefit from embracing the concept of design value across a much broader spectrum than we currently permit.

Read more about theabsurdityofbeauty.com

Autumn Reading IV: “Designing at Evolving Frontiers”

Pierluigi-2b Saulk
Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, 1965, by Louis Kahn from a picture of unknown photographer

In this series, we are publishing excerpts from Form4 Architecture’s monograph: The Absurdity of Beauty – rebalancing the Modernist narrative. Our third post focusses on an essay written by the British architectural critic, Jay Merrick, who spent his formative years growing up in California.  We are delighted that Merrick used his early impressions of living on the West Coast to reflect on what makes Californian architecture distinct as it plays on a unique mythology that has put the state on the world map from the days of the Gold Rush and well into the 20th and 21st centuries.

The inclusion of a chapter on Californian architecture in this monograph examining the Modernist narrative was important to us not least because we are a San Francisco based practice. The story of California and its own brand of culture has therefore shaped the way we design. Californian landscape, light and climate and the early adoption of environmentalism have all played their part; as has its free spirited entrepreneurial outlook that has been the backbone of Californian society from the early pioneers to today’s tech giants. The success of Silicon Valley has also coincided with the Bay Area’s approach to workplace interiors becoming globally influential. These interiors support a collaborative and flexible approach to work that is very much of California. This made us want to reflect on the roots of the innovations that Californian high tech companies have introduced to not only office design per se, but to office life around the world.

The title of Jay Merrick’s essay “Designing at Evolving Frontiers” hints at the way he sees the journey Californians have taken as changing with the times, whilst creating a thriving contemporary culture that is often ahead of its time.  How this journey is expressed in the local architecture is something Merrick captures with great flair and insight.

“Designing at Evolving Frontiers” by Jay Merrick – Extract:

“The museum’s curator, Justin McGuirk, links Californian existence with Jean Baudrillard’s definition of an achieved utopia – a place that ‘allowed itself to imagine it could create an ideal world from nothing’.

Facebook’s start-up motto in 2004 was ‘Move Fast And Break Things’, an ethos of fearless invention which had already been demonstrated in architecture such as Greene and Greene’s 1908 Gamble House – the so-called ‘ultimate bungalow’ – and Irving Gill’s remarkable, proto-minimalist 1916 Dodge House in West Hollywood. In the 1930s and ’40s (and leaving aside California’s early Modernist houses), aesthetic-formal frontiers had been breached by vividly outré, neon-edged Popluxe (aka Googie) architecture, such as Wayne McAllister’s faux-futurist Simon’s Drive-Ins, and the boomerang-canopied Harvey’s Broiler outlets.

In 1960, John Lautner’s pedestalled octagonal Chemosphere was the apotheosis of space-age domestic Modernism and, 18 years later, the weirdly discombobulated Gehry Residence in Santa Monica was an instantly legendary lift-off moment for Deconstructivist design.

Simultaneously, the countercultural ideas and output of artists, writers, and environmentalists became key influences on Californian architecture. Ed Ruscha’s laconic photographs in Twentysix Gasoline Stations, for example, were produced five years before the publication of Learning From Las Vegas. ‘I’m interested in glorifying something that we in the world would say doesn’t deserve being glorified’, said Ruscha. ‘Something that’s forgotten, focused on as though it were some sort of sacred object.’

Equally sacred in Californian architecture are compelling fusions of Modernism and environmentalism – contradictory, tense, potentially fertile. Charles Moore’s blocky cascade of clifftop condominiums at Sea Ranch, 100 miles north of San Francisco, was brilliantly novel in 1966. The noted architectural critic Paul Goldberger said it was, ‘the ancestor of virtually every California beach house and Vermont ski house with unpainted wood siding, a boxy form and a slanted shed roof – one of the few buildings of our time that has become part of the vernacular’.”

Read more about theabsurdityofbeauty.com

 

Pierluigi-1 Case Study 22 r1
Case Study House #22, Los Angeles, 1960, by Pierre Koenig from a picture by Julius Shulman
Pierluigi-1a Eames r1
Case Study House #9, Pacific Palisades, CA, 1949, by Charles & Ray Eams from a picture by Julius Shulman

 

The above drawings relating to this blog post 11/4/18 are all by Pierluigi Serraino, AIA.

Pierluigi is a San Francisco Bay Area based architect, author, and educator. His work and writings have been published in professional and scholarly journals. He has authored and contributed to several books, among them Modernism Rediscovered (Taschen, 2000), Eero Saarinen (Taschen, 2005), and The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Personality Study (Monacelli Press, 2016). His latest book is California Captured (Phaidon, 2018) on architectural photographer Marvin Rand. His forthcoming book is a comprehensive appraisal of architectural photographer Ezra Stoller (Phaidon, 2019).

Regarding his interest in hand drawing historic buildings, Pierluigi notes, “Drawing is a way of knowing. What is learned in the process of re-drawing the icons of modernity and previous eras? A world of content unfolds and a higher awareness of the scope of architecture as an art form.”

 

Late Summer Reading III: “Rethinking Silicon Valley”

02_06_38-002-officeparks-e1538462180251.jpgIn our series of extracts from The Absurdity of Beauty – Rebalancing the Modernist narrative we wanted to include an excerpt from writer Sam Lubell and his essay “Rethinking Silicon Valley”.  Sam edited the California edition of The Architects’ Newspaper over many years and is currently a staff writer at Wired magazine.  His interests and knowledge of the Bay Area thus made him uniquely placed to write about Silicon Valley in The Absurdity of Beauty.  His essay on the architecture of the Silicon Valley is an insightful description of the urbanistic challenges office developments for high-tech industries continue to face as they are built ever further afield.

As architects at Form4 Architecture, we are particularly interested in this discourse having worked with many high-tech companies in the area. Over the years, we have sought ways in which to improve a sense of placemaking and the relationship of our buildings with their neighbours. We have tried to match the enthusiasm and interest our clients have for creating uniquely forward-looking office interiors to the exteriors of these buildings.

01_2. GlassWallOffices15
Example of Silicon Valleys’s generic office types that blur and coalesce into a featureless urban tableau

It is a curious phenomenon that in terms of progressive design thinking Silicon Valley excels at space planning and fit-out but less so at genius loci. As Sam suggests, change is taking place and we are excited to be part of a movement that hopes to see the Silicon Valley as a place that people will not only go to work but one in which they will want to live.

“Rethinking Silicon Valley” by Sam Lubell – Extract:

So while today’s glamorous tech entities have brought a welcome emphasis on design with a capital D to the area, they haven’t transformed what remains a placeless place. Collaboration here is internal, not with the community; offices are open – and often they’re arranged with their own internal streets – but that’s as far as their urbanism reaches. Their elaborate contortions and urban simulacra haven’t reached beyond their corporate boundaries; and they’re not ready to rethink the larger social fabric.

Urban change, though, is slowly seeping into this anti-urban culture. Albeit via baby steps. Santa Clara is exploring mixed-use development around its new stadium. San Jose’s Santana Row, while hardly authentic, has developed into a true centre of human activity. Companies such as Adobe are going vertical in San Jose’s downtown core. And downtown Palo Alto, the most walkable and vibrant of Silicon Valley’s places, now demands higher rents than San Francisco.

Read more at theabsurdityofbeauty.com

CREDITS: Grid of building images by Mark Luthringer
Silicon Valley Aerials by Steve Proehl  

 

#architecture, #california, #californiaarchitecture, #SiliconValley, #HighTech, #TechBiz, #StartUp, #Urbanism, #Placemaking, #GeniusLoci, #Sprawl, #architecturalreview, #form4architecture

Summer Reading II: “Building Enchantment”

I_Beauty_R3

In this second post for our summer reading series “Excerpts from: The Absurdity of Beauty – rebalancing the Modernist narrative”, we wanted to highlight the discourse around poetry and architecture that informed our approach in publishing this monograph with Architectural Review. Conversations around the notion of poetry were critical from the start and developed as we talked to architect and Royal Academician Ian Ritchie about what he would write for the publication. He also introduced us to his friend, architect and writer Richard England, who has dwelled on this topic over many years.

What emerged from our many pleasurable exchanges whilst putting the monograph together was a discourse on how the poetic qualities of architecture are what makes it an art form. They are what enables architecture to have universal appeal and to be emotionally meaningful. These exchanges led to Richard England also writing for the monograph and what followed was his thoughtful essay “Building Enchantment”. In it, England eloquently describes the expressive potential that architecture and poetry share. The devices are, of course, different but their ability to transcend the everyday is the same.

We hope you enjoy the following passages from Richard England’s essay “Building Enchantment” and its foray into the essence of things and perhaps the very things we seek to find when we fall in love with architecture.

“Building Enchantment” by Richard England – Extract:

In attempting to establish a relationship between architecture and poetry, it seems appropriate first of all to investigate the origins and meanings of the two respective disciplines: Architecture derives from the Greek word Arkhitekton, where Arkhi signifies ‘master’ and Tekton ‘building’. Poetry also comes from the Greek Poieses, meaning ‘to make’.  

“Making and building”

From the etymology of the words, it is clear that the two disciplines are involved in a process of making and building, ie, creating. However, the materials and methodologies employed are different; building materials for architecture and words for poetry. Yet both share the aim of enchanting and elevating the human spirit. Architecture and poetry also share the qualities of precision, metrics, structure and rhythm, as essential constituents in both their creative process and manifestation. Also common to both is the play of contrasting opposites: solid and void in architecture, sound and silence in poetry.

Poetry, not unlike architecture, is also about building, building with words and sculpting with sound. It is about the taste of words and the intermittent voids and silences of the pauses; a crossover between sound and silence. One reads not only what is written, but also that which is not written; the words between the lines and the invisible words too; the heard and the unheard, the said and the unsaid. It is how musical and meaningful the poet can make these passages that elevates his or her work from the realm of prose to that of poetry, in the same way that an architect can make a building lift the spirit and enchant its users. It was TS Eliot who said ‘poetry must communicate even before it is understood’. The true poet is the one who casts a web of magic that has the capacity to carry the reader away, just as the true architect caps into his building human emotions to lift the hearts of its users.

Read more at theabsurdityofbeauty.com

Summer Reading I: “Against Notopia”

E_Place_flt

This summer we are posting a series of extracts from essays featured in “The Absurdity of Beauty – Rebalancing the Modernist narrative”, our advocacy monograph published with The Architectural Review.  To launch this series of extracts we have chosen an essay by the monograph’s Editor, Catherine Slessor, on the idea of place.

Called “Against Notopia”, Slessor’s essay touches on many of the ideas that recur in different contexts elsewhere in the monograph. Ideas about a growing ambivalence to the legacy of much of what the Modern Movement has achieved in terms of creating a successful, engaging and emotionally meaningful built environment. Ideas about how corporate forces have high-jacked the Modern Movement’s aesthetic whilst leaving behind its ethos. Ideas about how we might better reconnect with the very people whose communities we are designing. Slessor’s often provocative and always perceptive style offers a fresh perspective on these issues and adds a new dimension to the discourse on the notion of ‘nowhere place’ or ‘Notopia’ that has been examined on the pages of Architectural Review in recent years. 

“Against Notopia” by Catherine Slessor – Extract:

“In an age of increased cultural and social homogenisation, the elusive and often contested notion of place has assumed a renewed importance. The current era is dominated by rapacious globalisation, the systematic erosion of difference and the commodification of culture. While representing material advancement and social liberalisation, these forces also invariably involve the destruction of traditional cultures and a disengagement with the past. What is now prized most by the multinational corporations who stalk the globe are universal systems of value-free exchange and profit.

Left to the mercy of market forces, the commercialisation of land has spawned the selfish city, as described in the AR’s recent ‘Notopia’ manifesto as being ‘disfigured by the interests of bankers and stillborn in vision and unable to cope with mass urbanisation … one building next to another does not make a place and many buildings do not make a city’. Notopia is ‘a warning sign that the metropolis as place of exchange dialogue and delight between diverse groups of people is being exterminated. Buildings alone do not support life.’

Architecture’s ambivalent relationship with modern capitalism and its growing dependence on arcane treatises and self-justificatory theories has also resulted in the neglect of a diversity of physical environments that have the potential to deliver empirical inspiration for art and invention. To an extent, architecture has become a marginalised freemasonry, its creative potential reduced to eclectic wrapping paper adorning slabs of dehumanised corporate space planning. From Dallas to Dhaka to Dubai, the outcome of this banal hegemony of the built environment is only too apparent.”

Read more at theabsurdityofbeauty.com