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Midcentury modernism a midcentury later.

Midcentury Modernism.

Is it in? Out? I’m thinking a little of both. When Target introduced their Project 62 line, I knew the cat was out of the bag (more like the shag was out of the bag!). At least with this line, dedicated to all aesthetics midcentury, it’s a good looking bag. Target is selling shag rugs in pink, wooden furniture to your heart’s delight  and the chairs are more rectangular, all adorned with rounded wooden feet.

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All things midcentury modern are hot and now the style seems a part of the common vernacular. It’s a little dizzying for me! Remember all that stuff your aunt had that you hoped she would never give you? Brown dinnerware, copper lights and the olive green walls? If only we had known, we could be rich right now!

Brands like Heath Cermanics and DWR have long-known that midcentury is très in but with Target joining in on the aesthetic, the look becomes accessible to a whole new demographic. Besides, is it Heath ceramics or it Target? Only your wallet will know!

 

I love the idea of making this kind of design accessible to anyone. It’s fascinating to witness in what forms the past gets picked up. What appeals to the popular culture? What becomes the symbol for that era? Is it copper? Spindly light fixtures? Dark wood furniture or just the good old shag rug?

 

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When I visited Los Angeles earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about the unfussy, democratic nature of mid-century modern architecture. There’s something appealing about the strident lines and simple silhouettes.

 

 

 

But we can’t spend too much time looking backwards! The Project 62 line is about revisiting the past but not reinventing it. It can all end up being a little boring, frankly. My favorite pieces end up being the one that take on a mid-century shape but add in some modern colors (peacock blue) or fabrics.

I just hope that Target realizes there are things from the past we shouldn’t ever revisit (like post-modernist furniture or shoulder pads).

Back to “Average”

I am a a fan of the exceptional: beautiful items of clothing, stunning meals of unusual ingredients, architecture that pushes the boundaries of physics. But the exceptional is only palpable if other things aren’t (exceptional, that is).
In an attempt to make every moment of our lives noteworthy, we seem to constantly want the exceptional. A kind of exceptionalism that seeps into all elements of our life: new headquarters meant to revolutionize working spaces, new makeup technology that will fight the signs of aging.

I went to a beautiful dinner a few weeks ago at a gastronomical hot-spot. The French chef imbues memory and heritage into every dish but in a ten course meal, nearly course was over-wrought and over-thought. Not only was each course only one small bite, every dish had something in it that was not edible. What! When did this become fashionable and the norm in high end restaurant?! Is this what I pay extra for?   And because each dish was a thesis unto itself, once the meal  was over I could hardly remember what the chef was trying to tell me and why it mattered. And you may think I’m being dramatic but even the great Heston Blumenthal agrees that molecular gastronomy is over.
Two nights later, while watching the Chef’s Table, I agonized as the lead chef assembled every dish with tweezers. Ingredients pulled from the Andes, caviar made of moss and nearly microscopic leaves. These exceptional meals are of course proving a kind of ethos, a representation of the self within food. But…have you ever noticed how exhausting it is? It’s not a sustainable life-force! In the episode, even the wife of the featured chef iadmitted some of the dishes did not taste good! So now each dish is composed of the edible food that tastes bad and non-edible elements that you cannot swallow.
Why does every newsworthy recipe now involve molecular gastronomy, a sous vide machine and in-depth understanding of umami, favor profiles and notes? Why can’t my dinner include six ingredients, not sixty seven? When did a ladle become a faux pas in the kitchen? As the ladle is replaced by the tweezer, common sense is being replaced by the preposterous.

This is over complication. Some things just need to be average so we can survive: so we can make it to the next step of whatever we’re going to do.
And look, average does  not mean mediocre or uninspiring.  It is just more approachable and appropriate, something we could all use in food design and—dare I say, even architecture.

The Idea of Excellence

In the last two years, I have begun a newfound obsession. A something ignited within me and I am now a basketball fan. A big basketball fan. Games had been in the background of the home I share with my partner, Mark, for years, but until the powerhouse Curry sent the team in a new era, I hadn’t paid much attention. And now, I can say I am a Golden State Warriors zealot. Friends know if plans are made around game time, we’ll likely be watching and my daughter googles their schedule to know when not to interrupt me at night (I’ll answer but only to quickly say “The game is on! I’ll call you back later!”).

I’ve never been much into watching sports on television. I definitely have a competitive streak and love a close race. But I am drawn to The Golden State warriors in a similar way to studying the contours of a beautifully designed building. The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to ignore excellence when it’s placed directly in front of you.

We’ve seen plenty of examples before: watching with rapt attention an Olympic sport we had never heard of before, standing in long lines for one fantastic food croissant or life-altering falafel. We are drawn to excellence, to exceptionalism. It’s why in Barcelona, lines for Gaudi’s works are the longest, his parks and churches filled with tourists in awe of his bizarre genius. It’s why the Guggenheim is one of the most visited museums in New York City: it has phenomenal art but it’s curvaceous design is really what halts visitors in their step.

Watching Steph Curry maneuver on the court, you can see he is not only an exceptional athlete but a leader on the court as a communicator.  The team is a body and he is serving as the heart, helping the other pieces function, providing them with the necessary resources to do their jobs.

Steph Curry isn’t why I keep watching, though (or Durant!). My love of basketball is the fluid movements, teammates sacrificing their own opportunities for each other. You don’t always have the best shot, you aren’t always going to be open.

It isn’t about individual glory, it’s about how these players can move and work together as a nearly unbeatable unit.

Maybe it’s another example of how we are more than the sum of our parts. It’s somethings we can discuss in the future.

Just don’t call me during the playoffs, I’m busy.

Palm Springs: Modernism and Democracy

While I am a tried-and-true Northern Californian, my work often brings me to Los Angeles and the neighboring areas. And well, as an architect, I can’t help but notice what’s around me.

Modern architecture is often painted as elitist—as if efficient design can’t also be good design.

Buildings can be useful while still being beautiful.

 

 

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Sexism in Architecture

Since I began my career in architecture, I have faced sexism. I’ve been ignored in meetings and belittled. I’ve had contractors not take my word and watched jury after jury of all male panelists. The behaviors bothered me. I never tolerated them but I was also just one architect.

As my career has grown, I have grown more and more tired of the same trite sexist structures I see in architecture. Audiences of only white men, award ceremonies where not a single woman is nominated. Other than Zaha Hadid, most can’t name a contemporary female architect.

A portion of this is our own invisibility. While more than 50% of architecture students are female, only about 18% are practicing in some form. The lack of spotlight on females in architecture and our own shrinking or narrowing are clearly an issue.

I like to discuss how being a woman and being an architect are—at times—set up as diametrically opposed. How does how we perceive women (or how women are told to act) impact their potential careers as architects? How do existing patriarchal structures undermine women interested in engineering or more math-driven work? How can we work within a community and without a community to begin implementing solutions?

Earlier this week, I spoke at an AIA event in Dallas, Texas. I discussed sexism in architecture and the lack of diversity in the most celebrated architects and work of architecture. I was humbled by the amount of people who came up to me after the event or who sent emails and thanked me for addressing inequality in.

However, every one was not so happy. One man wrote a response to me citing that I had completely ignored “gender strengths” as a confounding factor.

“[Anne] conveniently ignored gender strengths such a show men are spatial thinkers whereas women are stronger visualizing color and sympathy. She also ignored how Architecture is a strong draw for introverted types – much more prone to men; whereas, women are much stronger with client and people relationships.”

What our (white male) writer fails to recognize is how these characteristics of gender are completely based on stereotypes. Are men truly more introverted or is it that males are conditioned to not share their emotions? Are women better with relationships inherently or is it because the idea of mothering and tending to emotions is impressed upon females from a very young age?

Discussing this kind of inherent sexism is similar to discussing white privilege, micro-aggressions or other biases and how they reflect in various industries. It’s about looking at current societal constructs and hierarchies–it’s about recognizing the imbalance and making efforts to rectify them.

 

 

 

 

Why we need to bring back the Draft

Architectural drafting, that is.

In recent headlines, there has been mention of adding women to the Draft. It reminded me of a blog post I’ve long been planning to write. Why I want to bring back the draft—that is, the architectural kind.

There is something riveting about Revit, the way in which the structure comes alive. We can view and manipulate it at any angle. And how SketchUp gives us a sense of space. But now a days, I frequently encounter younger architects who can’t even remember the last time they drew something by hand (other than a doodle!).

Buildings, at the end of the day, are still built by our hands and once they are finished, they will be filled with people. Without a relationship between your hands, eyes and your idea, you remove an element of humanity. You forget the shoes that scruff, fingers that leave smudge marks. The space will never remain stark and its users will all be imperfect. This is an important element to understanding your structure and how it must exist.

Also, there’s a lingering memory with drawing by hand that cannot be replicated on a computer. I can visualize the first steps of all of my buildings, the thick black lines that would eventually lay out a new home or headquarters. Like on a computer, drafting by hand occurs through layers. Translucent sheets of paper laid across each other as they begin to weave a structure. In these early stages, we innately pick an angle, a focal point for our building. We are not yet connected to its three-dimensionality but rather its personality. What draws the eye? How does it fit into its site?

A computer can always solve the problems of a site, of a building. But it is rarely–if ever–an elegant solution. It is a cold and calculated one and usually ends up being inconvenient for the people who will share the space. Whenever I encounter the starkness of a building, inconvenient banisters, I can see an architect who has distanced themselves from the humanity of the building.

 

 

What makes an architect or building good? Even great?

What is great architecture? What makes a building “good?”

As a woman, my buildings are immediately a political statement, a statement on my gender. I am often described as a “female architect” rather than just “architect.” But rather than let the politics of the system control my work: politics and aesthetics inspire and innovate me.

I don’t think great architecture comes from architects who dedicate themselves to one kind of project. After awhile, those two dozen office headquarters you’ve designed start to look alike. But good architecture isn’t just about vision either, it’s about a personal mission and a philosophy. Deciding what architecture meant to me and what creating a building meant—what it represented—was a seminal decision in my career and in my style.

In all of my projects, I try to imbue what I describe as humane modernism: buildings that are well built, that foster connections, and inspire their inhabitants, are an ethical responsibility. And this is a challenge.

Often times, the projects I take on have a moral and environmental dilemma to face; tight sites, tight budgets, modern but environmentally conscious design that can echo the voice of the clients. How can a Planned Parenthood clinic be both warm, opening but secure? How can a residence on a cliff (with a 200 foot drop) look romantic, modern but still fit on its rural site? And all while working with clients with their very own opinions.

I have designed health centers and multi-family residences. I have designed headquarters and homes, some from scratch and others were given to me with bones. In each project, I consider and apply my philosophy.

But your vision or mission doesn’t need to be morally or politically oriented like mine. Gehry’s façades play with perspective and his interiors with space. He challenges what a building can be. Hadid looked towards angularity that is still fluid. She compromised nothing

Discovering what philosophy motivates your creation—that is good architecture.

 

 

Architecture With A Social Agenda

Designing the Kapor Center for Social Impact is about working towards the future. The Center will work to improve access to opportunity, participation and influence in the United States for historically underrepresented communities through investments in information technology.

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When More is Really Less

The tendency in architecture these days is to go bombastic: think big hair beehives in the 60’s, not to be missed, in your face, flashy and maybe a little tacky….and all under the guise of modernity.

Frank Gehry’s Louis Vitton Foundation

Just like mentioned in the Devil Wears Prada, economics doesn’t trickle down but style does. So when there’s this tendency for grandiose object making architecture by brilliant architects, the aesthetic trickles down to the more common, but the buildings become more desperate. Without the knowledge and context of a season architect, it becomes a hodge-podge of copy and paste. If you can have wood sliding, wood panels, metal and copper, why not add metal screens, glass, tile and stucco?

The facades become only skin-deep, full of materials and not much else. But the good news is, no matter how horrifically a building is, someone will deem it worthy of publication, 15 seconds of fame on the Internet.

Humor aside, it isn’t just the lack of weight and meaning behind the facades. It really is what this represents. The thing here is that these buildings are supposedly modern in form but really there are post-modern in their exterior expression—an attempt to resolve the architecture of the new with the appreciation of the old. The ornamentalism and contradictions of post-modernism cannot co-exist without much education, thought and deliberation. Post-modernism is a beast of rule breaking and remaking. This is the ultimate revenge of post modernism (ugly post modernism, at that), which got shunted by modernism in the 90’s. It has insinuated itself back–behind the scenes– reemerging in the hands of the modernist who are desperately trying to differentiate themselves.

All the glass facades have begun look alike. How many variations on mullions, glass colors and module layout can you do? Is the issue education? How young architects sometimes seem oblivious to any “modern” architecture before 2000? History is a subject no longer taught or in fashion in architectural education. So the newbies to the industry design with panache, unaware that it has all been done before. Worse yet, they design without much reference to the successful buildings of the past. But it’s a hard to slay a beast if you don’t know why you’re fighting it in the first place.

The Amazon by Acronyms

I just came back from a phenomenal trip to Brazil, visiting some of the world’s most unbelievable architecture. But nothing truly compared to the Amazon: fantastic sites, unbelievable nature and no cell-phone reception! But we don’t all have the luxury of wistfully dreaming of the Amazon (or reading someone’s 1,000 word blog post), so I bring you the abridged version.

ICYMI: It’s amazing. It’s awesome.

The Amazon covers 40% of South America (including 8 different countries), it’s 20km across at its widest and it’s been around for over 10 million years.

FYI: There aren’t many animals and there are a lot of hiding places.

Don’t go to the Amazon for exotic wildlife. Movie depictions tend to romanticize this area, which is more overgrown with monkeys and bird populations than jaguars and anacondas.

OMG: It hasn’t always been the green heart of the world.

Scientists have now found evidence that humans occupied this area for thousands of years till the 15th century (the Amazon was previously considered “unlivable” by scientists). Estimates show that there were over 15 million people living in the Amazon at one time. And human cultivationthat’s what made the land so fertile. The astounding conclusion is that it is a man-made product.

IMG_4102BTW: It’s not one climate.

It’s easy to imagine the Amazon as humid, unbearably hot and wet. In truth, there’s a dry and wet season for the Amazon and the amount of rainfall varies from location. There’s a lot more rainfall in areas closer to Peru while Manaus in Brazil is known for its dry season.

P.S. Ever heard of El Tunchi?

He’s known as an evil spirit that haunts the jungle, terrorizing (and eventually hypnotizing) humans who disrespect the environment. He lures people with an eerie whistling sound. Legend is, if you hear the whistling, do everything in your power to not respond to his whistle—or it will be the last thing you do.

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