Book Review: Exposed Architecture

Exposed Architecture: Exhibitions, Interludes and Essays by LIGA
Park Books, 2018
Paperback, 312 pages

Five years ago, coinciding with a couple conferences on architectural exhibitions, I did a short survey of venues devoted to architecture for World-Architects. With only eleven institutions, the survey was far from comprehensive, though it made up for this with a diversity of locales and approaches to displaying architecture. One of the youngest – two years old at the time of publication – of the bunch was LIGA, Space for Architecture in Mexico City, which I had only marginal knowledge of at the time. An “uneven balance between lots of construction and no discussion” in Latin America led to the creation of LIGA and made it “a necessary platform to create a local architectural culture.” Amazingly, the ambitious impetus of LIGA and its diverse seasonal programming (four exhibitions per year) took place in a corner storefront of only 160 square meters (photos below, though LIGA’s website hints at an impending move to, I’m assuming, larger digs elsewhere in Mexico City).

[LIGA at Av. Insurgentes Sur 348, Mexico City CP 06700. Photo: Ramiro Chaves]

Exposed Architecture documents three years of exhibitions at LIGA – from LIGA 11 to LIGA 22 (all exhibitions have been prefaced by LIGA and the number of the exhibition) – but does it in a way that is partial yet exploratory. It’s partial, because the critical texts provided in the book are extracts from the longer texts provided at the time of the exhibition and archived on their website (well, hopefully the full archives will be there after LIGA’s new website goes live). The book is exploratory because it is not limited to documentation of the exhibitions; it also includes information on the Interludes, the “series of events which explores specific themes” and take LIGA beyond it’s small 160-square-meter footprint; ten short essay from fellow curators of architecture exhibitions, many outside Mexico; and “an archipelago of historical references” inserted between the three other sections.

[Inside LIGA: OPAQUE SOUND: Eduardo Castillo, 2013. Photo: Ramiro Chaves]

Of Exposing Architecture‘s various parts: the presentations of LIGA 11-22 illustrate just how much the exhibitions rely upon the space of LIGA for their display and impact, thereby making any book documentation only partial; the Interludes make it clear that LIGA is as much about art as architecture (reminding me of New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture); the essays reveal the complexity of curating architecture exhibitions today, when so much is expected of the many venues for architecture; and the historical references reveal how that complexity is nothing new. Together these parts describe a place, LIGA, that considers the content and display of architecture exhibitions much more than their diminutive footprint would make it seem.

(Note: Books purchased via these links send a few cents or dollars to this blog, keeping it afloat.)

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Jenny Sabin Studio at House of Peroni

Last night I attended the opening of LUSTER, an installation designed by Jenny Sabin Studio and curated by Art Production Fund for House of Peroni. LUSTER transformed the top floor at 463 West Street (part of Westbeth Artist Housing – PDF link) into a pop-up bar for a few days, after which the piece will travel to LA, Miami, and DC this fall. Before the party got going Jenny Sabin spoke with Christoph a. Kumpusch about the installation and the work of her studio based in Ithaca.


Sabin’s work came to my attention, like most people I’m guessing, when she won the MoMA PS1 YAP last year with Lumen, a lightweight canopy of digitally knitted, robotically woven, photo-luminescent, solar-active yarns. Unfortunately, I only saw Lumen during the day, not at night when it glowed in various colors. Thankfully, last night’s discussion took place just after sunset, when LUSTER‘s color-changing lighting kicked in, distracting me from whatever Sabin and Kumpusch were saying. See the roughly one-hour color-transformation in the slideshow below.


Liberty’s New Museum; a Hard Hat Tour

[All photographs by John Hill, unless noted otherwise]

Twelve years I’ve lived in New York City and Wednesday morning was my first visit to Liberty Island, home to the most famous statue in the world. I didn’t go to walk up the 350-plus steps to the crown of the Statue of Liberty though. I was there for a hard hat tour of the Statue of Liberty Museum. Designed by FXCollaborative, with exhibitions by ESI Design, the building is expected to open in May 2019.

[Rendering of Statue of Liberty Museum by FXCollaborative]

The current museum is housed in the base of the Statue of Liberty at the eastern end of the island. This location means that many people don’t visit the museum, since thousands more people take a ferry to the island than get inside the statue’s base. The new freestanding museum, located next to the existing Flagpole Plaza on the western end of the island, will enable more people to visit the museum and it should alleviate congestion on the island. Its galleries will have three main parts (Immersive Theater, Engagement Gallery, and Inspiration Gallery) to tell the story of the Statue of Liberty, but I’m guessing most people who head inside will do so to see the original torch (visible in the rendering above); it was replaced in the 1980s when the statue was restored for its centennial.

The one-story building – elevated for post-Sandy FEMA requirements – is basically an irregular trapezoid that is cut at an angle by exterior steps that span from the plaza to the roof of the museum. Halfway up the granite steps is a walkway that leads to the museum entrance. An accessible route consists of an exterior ramp to the entrance (the vantage point of the photo above) and an elevator accessed from an exterior walkway for going up to the roof.

While it was easy to make the leap from construction site to completed building in my mind in regards to the building’s exterior, the same was a bit trickier inside, where tools were much more prevalent than displays, which were basically non-existent. Regardless, the flow of the fairly open interior and three-part exhibition spaces were easy to grasp, starting with the entrance and its patina-green donor walls (above). From there, visitors follow undulating walls to watch projections of short films in the Immersive Theater, then find themselves at an exhibit of artifacts before ending up at the torch. ESI’s design will tell the history of the statue but also of the idea of liberty, bringing it to the present through an interactive gallery beneath the exterior steps, where visitors can snap selfies and merge them with selected images that say “liberty” to them. The exhibits’ success will have to wait until May, but suffice to say the museum is aiming to do a heck of a lot in its small, 26,000-sf footprint.

The museum’s irregular footprint makes a bit more sense when considered relative to the building’s immediate site and distant views. The plan contorts itself into its corner of the island and then opens itself to the east and north toward views of the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan, and Ellis Island. Inside the museum, both views will be taken in from the room housing the original torch. This is partially grasped in the above photo, which is a bit misleading since the opaque panels are temporary (there to allow the torch to be brought into the museum) and will be glazed once the torch is in place.

Back outside, the roof of the museum is split into three: the steps in the middle; grass to the south, with views toward New Jersey (photo above); and a paved surface on the north, with it’s panoramic views from the Statue of Liberty to Lower Manhattan and Ellis Island (photos below).

The panoramic views from the roof would lead us to believe the museum has been designed with a prescriptive architectural promenade, but routes through the building are loose and it’s very likely that some visitors will head up to the roof and skip the interior exhibits altogether. Such is liberty today: the freedom to move about the island and museum after going through airport-style security and riding a crowded boat to get there.

Book Review: The Divided City

The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in America by Alan Mallach
Island Press, 2018
Paperback, 326 pages

Although I live in New York City, I haven’t lived here all my life and therefore I like to think I’m more aware of some biases held by New Yorkers. With twelve years now as a NYC resident, following decades in Chicago and half a decade in Kansas, I’ve grown to understand, for instance, why people here are so focused on the city, as if blinders shut out the world – or at least parts not deemed worthwhile – beyond the shores of the five boroughs.

Not as cliché or hyperbolic is the way the media in NYC shapes issues well beyond the city, something natives might not be so aware of. Take gentrification, a very real issue for residents of lower-income neighborhoods that witness rezonings, public works improvements, widespread development, and then displacement. With rising rents, stagnant wages for working classes, and rising inequality, gentrification is eating into New York City’s supply of affordable housing and turning parts of the city into rich enclaves lacking in diversity. But outside of NYC, San Francisco, and a few other large metropolitan centers in the US, is gentrification that big of an issue? Not  according to Alan Mallach, author of The Divided City.

Mallach, a planner, advocate, writer and educator based in Washington, DC, believes that smaller, postindustrial cities such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have bigger issues to deal with than gentrification. At the top of the list, and the subject of his new book, is the effects of inequality on those in poverty. As the book’s subtitle indicates, Mallach looks at the rich and the poor, in terms of how inequality extends to opportunities for people in life. In other words, those growing up in well-off (mostly white) neighborhoods have access to opportunities to do well in life, but those growing up in struggling (mainly black and Hispanic) neighborhoods don’t have access to the opportunities that would pull them out of poverty.

One important assertion stands out in Mallach’s book: economic opportunities are place-based. This statement may seem far from new (just think of “the other side of the tracks” and other embedded “wisdoms”), but it screams for a simple solution: forming ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods where equal opportunities exist for all residents. Unfortunately, too many ingrained beliefs and myths in the US seem to stand in the way of such a fix.

I read The Divided City over the summer, not long after reading Matthew Desmond’s Evicted and right before diving into Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law. These are all excellent and important books on some of the worst aspects of American cities. Although each ekes out its particular niche in the booming urbanism literature this decade, there is some overlap – to the point that the three blur together in my recollections of them. They share some optimism amidst the gloom, and the authors balance practical visions for change alongside idealized scenarios.

Mallach focuses, in part, on the distribution of money, pointing out, in one case, how easy it would be to take the money spent on luring professional sports franchises to postindustrial cities by building expensive stadiums and putting those dollars toward programs that would employ and/or house people in need. Sure there are plenty of obstacles (racism and the negative view of “handouts” and wealth redistribution today, to name just two), but in these and other scenarios Mallach believes change comes from cities rather than the federal government. With an emphasis on relatively bottom-up approaches, the change Mallach argues comes across as manageable, if still hard, and is also aligned with his (accurate, I think) take that place is the key to creating equal opportunities for everybody.

Grimshaw Obscura

A highlight of Queens International 2018: Volumes (QI 2018), now on display at Queens Museum, is Volumes Cyanotype, a 100-foot-long tablecloth that documents a communal meal with the exhibition’s participating artists and which turned the building into a large camera – a camera obscura. I wrote about it for World-Architects.

Also check out the website for QI 2018 (screenshot below). Created by artist Ryan Kuo with Taekeun Kim, the website is structured about the Queens Museum building – built for the 1964 World’s Fair, used briefly for the United Nations, and expanded by Grimshaw in 2013.

Architecture @ Kanopy

Ever since learning about Kanopy back in June, I’ve been using the free, limited access made available through two libraries – NYPL and Queens Library – to watch primarily documentaries on architecture. If you live in the United States and have a card at a participating library, then you might know already that Kanopy is excellent for watching documentaries of all sorts but also independent films, foreign films, and classic movies. This isn’t binge-watching on Netflix; it’s expanding one’s mind by watching educational, intelligent films on a variety of subjects. Below are 40 architecture films worth watching, organized by film production company.

Checkerboard Film Foundation:

Film First Corp:

  • Helvetica. The first of Gary Hustwit’s three-part series on design at different scales. Focused on typography, it’s the most removed from architecture but, to me, the most interesting of the trio.
  • Objectified. The second installment looks at industrial design and features just about every important designer from the last 50 years.
  • Urbanized. Hustwit jumps from handheld objects to cities, jetting around the world to see how architects, urban designers, and planners consider this centuries many seemingly insurmountable problems.

First Run Features:

  • Art House: Exploring the Homes of Artists. Although I didn’t get to watch this one yet, based on the other First Run Features I’m confident it’s well made and worth watching. The houses include Frederick Church’s Olana, Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti, and George Nakashima’s house and studio in Pennsylvania.
  • Concrete Love: The Böhm Architects. As the title hints at, Concrete Love is about a family of architects, not just Pritzker Prize winner Gottfried Böhm. It’s an intimate story of a tight-knit family beautifully told. (Image above is a screenshot from the film.)
  • The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat. Although modest, Richard Neutra’s Oyler House in Lone Pine, California, is blessed with a stunning site. Neutra’s sons, client Richard Oyler, and new owner Kelly Lynch enrich the story of the house as one about design, family, and preservation.
  • The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. A great film on a project – Pruitt-Igoe public housing in St. Louis, built in 1956 and demolished starting in 1972 – that is the center of a number of myths: of Postmodern architecture and of the failures of public housing.
  • Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island. A relaxing story about the work of architect Todd Saunders on Fogo Island, focusing on the Fogo Island Inn. The client’s repetitive if good-natured words on building responsibly on the island got old at times, but they don’t detract too much from the charms of the story and the place.
  • Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art. As described in my review of the 2016 documentary, Troublemakers is more an origin story than a comprehensive story of land art. There’s plenty about artists Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, and Nancy Holt, as well as Virginia Dwan, the gallerist that gave them their big breaks, but little beyond them. Lots is missing, though there’s still lots to learn. 

Michael Blackwood Productions:

  • Beyond Utopia: Changing Attitudes in American Architecture. Most of Michael Blackwood’s architecture documentaries were made in the 1980s and 1990s and therefore focus on Postmodern and Deconstructivist architecture. This one dates to 1982 and visits four important architects: Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and Peter Eisenman
  • Deconstructivist Architects. Thirty years ago, MoMA mounted the Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition, and Blackwood was there to interview Eisenman, Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Bernard Tschumi, and others about the designs shaking up architecture at the time.
  • Frank Gehry: The Formative Years. Seeming to anticipate that Frank Gehry would become the most important architect at the end of the century, Blackwood devoted a one-hour documentary to him in 1988, almost a decade before the Guggenheim Bilbao.
  • Frank Gehry An Architecture of Joy. This documentary on Gehry picks up with the “starchitect” two decades later, following him in Bilbao and Berlin as he talks about Guggenheim Bilbao and builds the DZ Bank Building.
  • Louis Kahn: Silence and Light. Nathaniel Kahn’s Oscar-nominated My Architect isn’t on Kanopy, but this documentary on the great Louis I. Kahn is – and is worth watching.
  • Peter Eisenman: Making Architecture Move. Blackwood captures Eisenman’s personality – arrogant, intellectual, friendly with the right people – as he follows the architect in the US and Germany. Suited best for fans of Eisenman’s buildings and words.

Oy Bad Taste LTD:

  • The Koshino House. Of the four documentaries in Finland’s Oy Bad Taste’s Master Houses series, this is the only one I’ve watched – so far. The laid-back telling, great cinematography, and thoroughness of this one-hour documentary make me want to watch the rest. Which I’ll do once my limited views (a downside of watching Kanopy via libraries) are recharged next month. Accordingly, the descriptions of the other three “master houses” come from Kanopy.
  • Le Cabanon par Le Corbusier. The film “dive[s] into the amazing story of Le Cabanon tracing from the architect’s arrival at Cote d’Azur to his final building connected with the Etoile de Mer restaurant, and the fate of the architect in his paradise home.”
  • The Melnikov House. This film “tells the incredible story of how this utopian design from the late 1920’s in Moscow imprisoned the fate of the architect when Joseph Stalin prohibited modern architecture from the Soviet Union.”
  • Villa Mairea. This film “explore[s] how the Villa Mairea is a unique artistic microcosm influenced by international modern architecture and art, Finnish cultural heritage, and Japanese aesthetic tradition.”


  • 10 Buildings That Changed America. The first of Geoffrey Baer’s ongoing series that also highlights 10 Parks That Changed America and 10 Towns That Changed America. Not the most thorough takes on fairly well-known places, but I’m a sucker for lists.
  • Cool Spaces: Unique Architecture in the United States. A series of four videos with Stephen Chung highlighting some contemporary buildings following four typologies: art spaces, healing spaces, libraries, and performing spaces. My review of episode 1, on performing spaces.
  • John Portman: A Life of Building. Back in 2012 when I first watched the documentary, I was surprised that there was even a documentary devoted to Portman. Given his influential and ever-appealing atrium hotels, I’m not that surprised anymore. A standout from the documentary is Portman visiting the progenitor to those atriums: a public housing project that was eventually demolished.
  • Ken Burns’ American Lives: Frank Lloyd Wright. Ken Burns usually sets his sights big, creating multi-part documentaries on such sweeping subjects as the Vietnam War, jazz, and baseball. His two-parter on Wright, done with Lynn Novick, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
  • Ken Burns: The Brooklyn Bridge. Well before he made the Wright documentary, Ken Burns made this relatively diminutive (only 58 minutes) documentary on the greatest bridge in New York, the Brooklyn Bridge. It came out in 1981, two years ahead of the bridge’s centennial.
  • The Rise and Fall of Penn Station. I can’t think of any other building that continues to enthrall people so long after it was removed from the face of the earth. This documentary of Penn Station though, as mentioned in my review of it, deals more with the tunnels, which still exist, rather than the building.

Misc filmmakers – architecture titles:

  • The Edge of the Possible, From my 2009 review: “Interviews with Utzon at his home in Denmark and archival footage of the construction make this documentary valuable… It was especially nice to see the various models made for the design, be it the roof structure, the house ceilings or the proposed plywood structure.”
  • Glenn Murcutt: Spirit of Place. As much a story of Murcutt’s life as about his design and realization of the Australian Islamic Centre in Melbourne. A humble film on a humble and enormously talented architect.
  • Precise Poetry: Lina Bo Bardi’s Architecture. One of these days I’ll make it to Brazil and make a beeline for SESC Pompeia. In the meantime, this documentary (in Portuguese with subtitles) intelligently discusses it and other designs by Bo Bardi.
  • Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman. Released in 2009, the year of Shulman’s death, the film celebrates the life and career of “the world’s greatest architectural photographer, whose images brought modern architecture to the American mainstream.”

Misc filmmakers – landscape/urbanism titles:

  • The Human Scale: Planning Livable and Humanistic Cities. Danish urban designer Jan Gehl is the star of The Human Scale, a documentary that “questions our assumptions about modernity, exploring what happens when we put people into the center of our equations.” I saw it five years ago, when Gehl’s urban design recommendations in NYC were long embraced by residents and tourists alike.
  • J.B. Jackson and the American Landscape. Two one-hour films on an American treasure: John Brinckerhoff Jackson, who created the field of landscape studies after serving in Europe during WWII and applying his take on European landscapes to American ways of life. Both films are worth watching, with only a little bit of overlap between them.
  • Manufactured Landscapes: The Art of Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky’s powerful and impressively large photographs document the destruction of the earth by humans, be it through excavation, pollution, or other modern processes. An equally powerful film even eleven years after I saw a matinee of the film.
  • Radiant City, From my 2009 review: “The film is a mix of documentary and reality TV, with some of the usual experts and critics of suburbia (James Howard Kunstler, Andrés Duany) comprising the first and some families living in a subdivision in the suburbs of Calgary making up the second…the actions of the parents and children of sprawl … [was] a more scathing critique than the retread lines of Kunstler.”

One more for an even 40:

  • Playtime. How could I not include Jacques Tati’s classic comedy that critiques modern society in general and modern architecture in particular? I can watch this or any Tati film over and over – all of which are available on Kanopy through the Criterion Collection.

October in NYC

October in New York City means two things, at least to architects: Open House New York (OHNY) and AIANY’s Archtober. I’ve been too busy to post about these events far in advance, so below are highlights for open-access OHNY sites and some events drawn from Archtober and other sites that I’m pretty sure aren’t sold out. Everything is free, unless noted otherwise.

Bronx Community College

All October, Center for Architecture
Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture
Hip-Hop Architecture produces spaces, buildings, and environments that embody the creative energy evident in hip-hop’s first four elements: deejaying, emceeing, b-boying, and graffiti. Close to the Edge: The Birth of Hip-Hop Architecture exhibits the work of students, academics and practitioners at the center of this emerging architectural revolution.

Various days throughout October, Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Celebrates Archtober This Fall
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is excited to offer special tours, workshops, and public programs that highlight Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building design.

Opened October 4 (Thursdays through Sundays until November 18), The Modulightor Building
Paul Rudolph: The Personal Laboratory
An exhibition, on the occasion of Paul Rudolph’s Centennial, of models, drawings, photographs & artifacts exploring his residences—designed by himself, for himself—that served as his laboratories for the psychologically & aesthetically compelling spaces which Rudolph developed throughout his career.

Opened October 4 (Mondays through Fridays until February 8, 2019), CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture
The Unfinished exhibition, presented in the Spanish pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale and winner of the Golden Lion, seeks to direct attention to processes more than results in an attempt to discover design strategies generated by an optimistic view of the constructed environment.

October 9, 5:15pm, Chelsea Piers
NYC Waterfront Zoning 25th Anniversary Boat Tour: Accessing the Edge
This tour, an adaptation of AIANY’s Lower Manhattan Architecture Boat Tour, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Waterfront Zoning and feature special guest speakers Claudia Herasme and Michael Marrella from the Department of City Planning, who will highlight several sites that were developed pursuant to Waterfront Zoning.
General Public: $48 / Students: $32

Both October 13 & 14:

  • Brooklyn Army Terminal, Sunset Park, Brooklyn: A 100-year-old industrial building by Cass Gilbert I visited back in OHNY 2012.
  • Flushing Quaker Meeting House, Flushing, Queens: A 17th-century religious building still in use.
  • Greater Astoria Historical Society, Astoria, Queens: My neighborhood.
  • Mmuseumm, Civic Center, Manhattan: Mmuseumm tells contemporary stories about humanity through vernacular objects from around the world — housed in former freight elevator and loading dock.
  • Noguchi Museum, Astoria, Queens: Go for the courtyard, stay for the Jorge Palacios exhibition.
  • Rockefeller University, Upper East Side, Manhattan: Tours of the “world-renowned center for research and graduate education in the biosciences.”
  • Stickbulb Showroom at RUX Studios, Long Island City, Queens: The newly opened gallery, studio, and production facility for Stickbulb in the old Empire City Iron Works.
  • Westbeth Artists Housing, West Village, Manhattan: Guided tours by residents will include highlights of The Bell Lab era of the building, the conversion to artists housing, and information on the artists of Westbeth.

October 13 only:

October 14 only:

October 16-21, SVA Theatre & Cinepolis
Architecture & Design Film Festival
A half-dozen standouts from the 10th anniversary of the annual ADFF:

  • Do More With Less, a film from Ecuador presenting student-built projects in Latin America that “are changing the paradigm by offering a new understanding of the way architecture interacts with society.”
  • The Experimental City, on the Minnesota Experimental City, a domed metropolis for 250,000 residents that “didn’t quite go as planned.”
  • Frank Gehry: Building Justice, which “tells the story of architect Frank Gehry’s investigation into prison design as a subject for the best architecture students in the United States.”
  • Mies On Scene. Barcelona in two acts, on the famous pavilion “surrounded by myths and stories, statements and questions.”
  • Parallel Sprawl, which looks at the urban sprawl of “two diametrically opposite case studies on the European continent – Switzerland and Kosovo, the former extremely rich and old, the latter extremely poor and young.”
  • The Power of the Archive, which “delves into the archive of the Renzo Piano Foundation and their workshop…drafts, sketches, models, renderings, drawings are all housed in a … converted factory in Genoa.”

Opening October 23, The Cooper Union
Archive and Artifact: The Virtual and the Physical
This exhibition celebrates The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture’s experimental and influential pedagogy by presenting undergraduate thesis projects completed at the school over the past 50 years, and includes the beta launch of an online database of its Student Work Collection.

October 24, 8pm, 92Y
Makers of Modern Architecture: Maya Lin in Conversation with Martin Filler
Architecture critic Martin Filler chose Lin’s portrait for the cover of his latest book, Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume III, which examines the crucial role that personality, character, and temperament play in professional practice. Lin, who faced sexism and racism while she pursued her singular career path as an artist-architect, will speak with Filler about the challenges and opportunities she encountered during her rise to international fame.
Tickets: $35