Reference Page: December 2008
Making a Mountain
The Danish architect Bjarke Ingels loves to show off his projects on YouTube. Predictably, the 34-year-old founder of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), whose motto is “Yes is more,” doesn’t shy away from grandiose stagings. His video for the Scala tower in Copenhagen opens with a satellite image of Scandinavia. As the camera zooms in and the rhythm of Swedish electronica accelerates, a building rises before our eyes with yellow lines and arrows (search YouTube for “BIG Scala tower”). For more on Ingels, go to BIG’s Web site, www.big.dk. Migraine sufferers, beware.
There’s nothing glamorous about building a monument to 9/11. Just ask Michael Arad, the callow Israeli architect who, in 2004, beat out 5,201 competitors to design the World Trade Center Memorial at Ground Zero and has probably regretted it ever since. The project has been an arena for outsize egos, as New York magazine reported in 2006 (search www.nymag.com for “Michael Arad”), with impatient politicians, demanding victims’ family groups, and Arad brawling so brazenly with fellow architects (“It’s my design,” he defiantly told New York’s Joe Hagan) that the best chance for resolution might be in the ring. As for the memorial, officials say it’s slated for completion by the tenth anniversary of September 11, which means that somebody had better put Arad on tranquilizers—fast! The Pentagon Memorial has had a more auspicious rise, opening seven years after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Or did it? If 9/11 deniers are to be believed, the building was attacked by some sort of U.S. government–issued fighter plane or missile (The 9/11 Conspiracy: The Scamming of America, Open Court, 2007). Uh, yeah. (Google “Debunking the 9/11 Myths” for Popular Mechanics’ point-by-point refutation.) Whatever you believe, Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman’s (www.kbas-studio.com) Pentagon Memorial is a powerful ode to the victims: www.pentagonmemorial.net. Still, all those jutting steel-and-granite benches look awfully eerie at night. Some might even say missilelike.
Rooms of Their Own
In her first book, To Each His Home (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), Metropolis’s former photo editor Bilyana Dimitrova explores eight “inspired interiors,” including the Manhattan apartment of Erik Sanko and Jessica Grindstaff. The hipster couple sleeps in a bedroom the color of “dried rose petals” and lives surrounded by marionettes, taxidermy crows, mounted butterflies, and skulls. On www.jessicagrindstaff.com, we learn that Grindstaff has worked as an “amateur entomologist” and “taught at an anarchist art school in Denmark.” Her husband (www.eriksanko.com) is an artist who moonlights as the bassist and singer of Skeleton Key. Time Out New York has described the band as “downtown-bred sophistication meets full-throttle Southern wham.”
Home Sweet Hideaway
IJburg is a Dutch Levittown of sorts, the kind of place where Volkswagens pass for muscle cars (www.vwclubtheijburgedition.hyves
.nl) and a tiled whale’s belly counts as whimsical kitchen decor (go to www.faroarchitecten.nl, then click on “Architecture” and select “98”). Lately, given global anxieties, dark, safe, and inexpensive are the order of the day, and Marc Koehler’s black-brick fortress is no exception (www.marckoehler.nl). If a fastidiously planned suburb in one of the most stable countries in the world is smarting from the crap economy, surely this doesn’t bode well for the rest of us. For nervous stateside professionals, the American Institute of Architects has set up an online resource center, with links to a career site, government-advocacy how-tos, and assorted podcasts for surviving the meltdown. Among its suggestions: find work abroad. IJburg, it should be noted, isn’t mentioned. Go to www.aia.org/navigatingeconomy.
“What would Jane Jacobs do in Shanghai and Dubai?” asks Karrie Jacobs in this month’s America column. For our money, she’d get arrested. The bespectacled urban-planning provocateur was no stranger to the pokey, getting collared for demonstrating against Robert Moses’s proposed Lower Manhattan highway, the Vietnam War draft (she was cuffed alongside Allen Ginsberg and Susan Sontag), and the Spadina freeway in Toronto, her adopted home. That kind of moxie isn’t exactly rewarded in China, where protesters are traitors (Google “Washington Post” and “Grace Wang”), or in the United Arab Emirates, where voting (never mind more confrontational forms of democracy) is denied to more than 95 percent of the population. (Search for the UAE in the CIA’s World Factbook at www.cia.gov.) Even in the United States, the Jacobsian brand of activism seems to be relegated to sixties enclaves like Berkeley, California, where the city council recently voted to make it nearly impossible to jail protesters. Kind of takes the fun out of it. (Search www.sf.curbed.com for “Berkeley” and “arrested.”) Brushes with the law aside, Jacobs’s true contribution to the world was her writing, and her pièce de résistance, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Random House, 1961), remains the gold standard for planning livable communities.
Form Follows Performance
The medieval German town of Stralsund is hoping to attract hordes of tourists with its new Ozeaneum museum, designed by Behnisch Architekten (www.behnisch.com). Along with 39 aquariums, the building features a room where visitors can lie down in recliners to watch life-size models of whales and listen to their songs. (Go to Behnisch’s homepage and click on “Lists to Go,” or try to navigate the museum’s German-only Web site: www.ozeaneum.de.) This summer, shortly after the Ozeaneum’s opening, a humpback whale was spotted in the Baltic Sea not far from Stralsund. Bucki, as the media called the 40-foot-long scamp, survived by swimming past Denmark, where he found more than enough food to last him through the winter. Viva the European social-welfare system!
Reclaiming the Night
For more than a decade, the French lighting artist Yann Kersalé has been setting up light installations around the world, from airports in Asia to an industrial harbor in western France. Kersalé rarely fails to give his computer-programmed projects poetic names, such as “The Voice of Trees,” “The Skin of the Object,” or “The Place of the Link.” His work is fun to watch (search YouTube for “Agbar tower by night”), but French art critics see much more in it than just ingenious innovations. The philosopher Jean-Paul Curnier and the sociologist Henri-Pierre Jeudy recently cowrote Yann Kersalé: Light for Landmarks (Birkhäuser, 2004), in which they described his work as an effort “to perceive anew the immensity of night as a supra intelligible source capable of assuming the infra-rational properties of the universe.” Kersalé, who posted the quote on his Web site, seems to agree. Another fan is Jean Nouvel, who writes that Kersalé is “a man of brilliance and transcendence.” For more effusive effulgence, go to www
.ykersale.com, then click on the artist’s name and select “Raconté par.”
Rediscovered Masterpiece: The Ford Foundation
The Ford Foundation headquarters in midtown Manhattan has garnered generous praise over the years. Herbert Muschamp heralded it as “one of the last first-rate office buildings to go up in New York,” Ada Louise Huxtable called it a “subtle splendor,” and Paul Goldberger, never one to rein in the metaphors, deemed it “the city’s modern Medici palace, an appropriate housing for an organization whose philanthropic largesse rivals that of a host of beneficent dukes” (The City Observed: New York, a Guide to the Architecture of Manhattan, Vintage, 1979). None of this, of course, has shielded the Foundation itself from criticism. According to the John Birch Society, the charitable institution spent the Cold War in cahoots with liberty-hating communists (www.jbs.org). Leftist anti-imperialists, meanwhile, have maintained that it was a front for the CIA (www.voltairenet.org/article30039.html). More recently, the organization came under fire for supporting Palestinian NGOs—what the investigative reporter Edwin Black calls “funding hate” (www.thenation.com/doc/20060605/sheman). Frankly, we find it hard to believe that there could be much clandestine scheming in all those glass-fronted offices.