Southern Exposure
The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side

Pride Cleaners, 558 E. 79th, Gerald Siegwart, 1959. © Lee Bey.


That Chicago has a remarkable architectural history is news to none. Since the late nineteenth century, significant buildings across the city have defined its many neighborhoods and influenced architecture worldwide. However, while relevant architecture can be found in every neighborhood, buildings in some areas have been omitted from books, tours, and talks, and stripped from the recognition they deserve. Those omissions include the work of world-renowned architects and prominent African American architects from the city’s South Side whose significant contributions have been overlooked for decades. Writer and photographer Lee Bey has been documenting some of these buildings for years, highlighting their architectural and cultural importance and helping to expand the narrow narrative typically projected over the South Side. Following a 2017 exhibition of his architectural photographs, this fall Bey publishes the book Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side (Northwestern University Press, 2019). It is an important contribution to celebrate the rich and diverse architecture and community of the South Side of Chicago.

To celebrate the launch of the book, Iker Gil talked to Lee Bey about his book to learn about its origins and ambitions, some of his personal highlights, and the future of the South Side.


Lavezzorio Community Center, 7600 S. Parnell, Studio Gang, 2008. © Lee Bey.


IG: Your book Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side comes after your exhibition Southern Exposure presented at the DuSable Museum of African American History as part of the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial. What was the premise of the exhibition and what was the impetus to turn it into a book?

LB: The exhibition aimed to show biennial attendees—this potentially broad audience—that much of the city’s great architecture is located in a place their tourist maps and guides, and far too many architecture books and publications don’t even mention: the South Side of Chicago. I wanted the exhibit to essentially say to them, “You haven’t been getting the full story when it comes to this city’s architecture.” On the flipside, I wanted to push back against the prevailing narrative that the South Side is nothing more than a wasteland of abandoned buildings, crime, and disinvested neighborhoods.

The exhibition and the book grew up together. In spring of 2017, just as I started shooting the exhibition, Jill Petty, who was then an acquisitions editor for Northwestern University Press, met me for coffee to see if I had a book of some sort in me. I was essentially, “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I don’t know. Right now, I’m kinda consumed shooting an exhibition on the architecture of the South Side. There’s a ton of fine architecture there that’s totally overlooked and barely documented, if documented at all.” And right there, she said, “That is your book right there. That’s it.” We basically shook on it and worked out the details over the next few months. The idea was to not make the book an exhibition book, but to use the exhibition as inspiration and to go beyond the show and showcase more buildings and places, and have the text delve deeply into the South Side’s—and Chicago’s—historic issues of race and racial prejudice against black people. That prejudice shapes the South Side and the city’s perceptions of it to this day. And I mean the South Side’s architecture and its people.


Chicago Vocational High School, 2100 E. 87th, John C. Christensen, 1941. © Lee Bey.


Allen Miller House interior, 7121 S. Paxton, John Van Bergen, 1915. © Lee Bey.


IG: The title of the book includes the word “overlooked” as it refers to the architecture of Chicago’s South Side. Can you talk about the meaning of the word for you, who is it overlooked by, and what are the consequences of that?

LB: That word and the very concept of categorizing these buildings as “overlooked” troubled the heck out of me as I thought about what direction the book should take. The places in the book are overlooked by white people, because the black and brown folks who live in these neighborhoods know these buildings, live in these buildings, and patronize these buildings. They are not the ones overlooking these places. But the issue isn’t that white hipsters have overlooked South Side neighborhoods. The trouble is, the largely white power structure in this city has actively overlooked and minimized the South Side for a century, devaluing majority black neighborhoods, and seeing them as places to disinvest or demolish. Elected officials, policy makers, banks, and insurance companies have done this damage and have helped form the troubling narrative about the South Side. And when you overlook a neighborhood, you can allow anything to be done to it. The book talks about how even intact black neighborhoods on the South Side are valued far less than white neighborhoods. That inequity over the course of years and decades has robbed the South Side of untold millions—if not billions—in real estate wealth over generations. That’s money that could send a kid to college or private school, fix up a house, fund a business—whatever. A leg-up into the middle class or upper middle class. The robbery was done neatly, cleanly, and with a balance sheet. Like I say in the book, “The South Siders would’ve stood a better chance against a stick-up man on the street.”


GN Bank, 4619 S. King Drive, Bank Builders Corporation of America, 1962. © Lee Bey.


Stephen A. Foster House and Stables, 12147 S. Harvard, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1900 . © Lee Bey.


IG: The photographs included in the book can be placed in two groups: lesser-known architecture by globally recognized architects, and buildings by unknown but prominent African American architects. Can you talk about one project from each group that you find especially relevant?

LB: I think Eero Saarinen’s law school building at the University of Chicago leads that first category. Here is a beautiful building—that accordion-like glass façade over a Bedford limestone base—designed by one of the most famous architects of the post-war period, while he was at the top of his game, and surprisingly little has been written about it. Even the 2016 documentary on Saarinen, Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, put together with the involvement of Saarinen’s son and covering a LOT of Saarinen’s collegiate work, completely omits this building. I couldn’t help but think, “it’s because it’s on the South Side. If this building was on the North Side, or even closer-in to downtown, say, on the IIT campus, it would be recognized.” Even when a big image of the building was on display during the Southern Exposure exhibition, people would ask me “Now, where is this building?”


D’Angelo Law Library, University of Chicago, 1120 E. 60th St, Eero Saarinen, 1959. © Lee Bey.


With unknown but prominent black architects, it is probably a tie between John Moutoussamy and Walter T. Bailey. Moutoussamy, if he’s known by the larger public at all, was best known as the architect of the former Johnson Publications building at 820 South Michigan Avenue. But he designed a wealth of fine-looking modernist buildings across the city, especially the South Side, where he designed Olive-Harvey College, and the headquarters of the black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which is mentioned in the book. He also designed his own house, a fine-looking minimalist beauty in the Chatham community on the South Side. The house was built in 1954 and looks like it could have been designed 15-20 years later. Bailey’s work includes First Church of Deliverance at 43rd Street and Wabash Avenue in the Bronzeville community. It is a streamline moderne building—kind of an unusual choice for a church. But it is a beauty.


John Moutoussamy Home, 361 E. 89th Pl, John Moutoussamy, 1954. © Lee Bey.


IG: Having grown up on the South Side and living in Pullman, you have seen many of these buildings throughout your life. Was there any building or architect that you discovered while working on this book that surprised you?

LB: Yes! One of the biggest surprises for me was a small midcentury, brick and limestone church, at 84th and Stony Island. I grew up four blocks east of this church and never really noticed it until I passed it while on my way to photograph another building for the book. I thought, “actually, that church is pretty cool. I wonder who designed it?” Turns out it was designed by Ray Stuermer, an architect who had been Raymond Loewy’s chief of design. It makes me want to see more of this post-Loewy work.


IG: While many of the photos don’t include people in them, you sense that these buildings are actively used and play a role in shaping life on the South Side. They are part of active neighborhoods and they are used and loved places. In your photographs, how do you balance your exploration of the building itself versus the role that they play in the neighborhood?

LB: For me, the two went hand-in-hand. I wanted to show buildings that were in good condition and in-use. In service to their communities. Far too often, photographers come to the South and West Sides, and focus on the decay and ruin—giving the incorrect impression that these neighborhoods have nothing to offer but abandoned buildings and vacant lots. I wanted to show buildings that are intact and in-use, which is the case for the majority of South Side buildings. People are trying like hell to maintain their neighborhoods and buildings, despite, as I say in the book, a century of institutionally racist policies and practices that work against them.


Anthony Overton School, 221 E. 49th, Perkins & Will, 1961. © Lee Bey.


IG: There are other great buildings on the South Side that are vacant such as the Anthony Overton Elementary School designed in 1963 by Perkins+Will and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Do you think a photography exhibition or publication has the power to tell the story of what the building can become and the role it can play in the neighborhood?

LB: I hope so. I hope at least it can raise awareness. My book is the latest in a recent line of artistic interventions, literature and even a TV comedy, that examines the South Side. I think people on the South Side and outside the South Side are ready for a different set of stories about this place. People—in this moment, at least—seem a bit more curious about the South Side. “What’s the history?” “What’s going on?” I’m hoping this leads to the South Side being treated better, more equitably. If it’s going to happen at all, the groundwork, I hope, is being done now.


Method Soap Factory, 720 E. 111th, William McDonough and Heitman Architects, 2015. © Lee Bey.


Walter H. Dyett School, 555 E. 51st St., David Haid and Kenneth Childers, 1972. © Lee Bey.


IG: You studied journalism at Columbia College and, for three decades, you have written extensively about the city, with a focus on its architecture and urban planning. You have also taught about architecture and politics. Can you talk about those relationships in your photographic work?

LB: It’s funny. I’m 53, and while I started out in journalism young—I was 22—I didn’t get interested in photography until I was past 30. And even then, only as a way to photograph my daughters growing up. By the time I started pointing my camera at buildings, I was a mature writer who could see—and was writing and teaching about—the intersection between architecture, urban planning, and politics. As my photography developed, I wanted there to be a relationship between what I photographed and what I wrote about. I wanted the photography to be in service to the writing. Southern Exposure is an outgrowth of that.


University of Chicago South Campus Chiller Plant, 6053 S. Woodlawn, Helmut Jahn, 2009. © Lee Bey.


Gary C. Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside, John Ronan, 2010. © Lee Bey.


IG: The South Side covers a very large section of the city, occupying over 50% of the land area. It is also very diverse, both racially and economically, as well as in its architecture. Why do you think that the narrative about the South Side is typically so narrow and does not represent its diversity and complexity?

LB: I think when a neighborhood becomes predominantly black, the narrative of crime and struggle begins to define the neighborhoods. Either that’s all you hear about a neighborhood like Roseland, South Shore, or Englewood—or whatever good happens there is always reported like some sort of surprise that the news reporter has found a story that isn’t about robbing, cutting, shooting, and murder. I saw a story recently in the Chicago Tribune about a job fair in Englewood. Even in writing about this good thing, the newspaper couldn’t help itself from calling the neighborhood “crime-ridden,” “blighted,” and part of the “inner-city”—which has been code for “black” since at least the 1950s. I live in Pullman. The neighborhood next door is Roseland, which, like Englewood, has its struggles. But it also has a place called Old Fashioned Donuts, a black-owned shop that has the best donuts in the city. On social media, almost every time I see someone white post that they have been there, almost immediately some asshole will comment,“Did you get shot?” Or “You’re so brave.” Not, “did you meet fellow donut lovers?” or “There is a great restaurant across the street” (which there is). Even if you present another narrative, another story, some people will tune it out, and ask if you wore your Kevlar when you went to buy some donuts.


St. Gabriel Catholic Church, 600 W. 45th, Burnham & Root, 1888. © Lee Bey.


IG: What excites you the most about the future of Chicago’s South Side?

LB: I like a lot of what new Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been saying about the need to really address the needs of the South Side and West Side. Acknowledging there is a problem and that the city has a role to play in fixing it is important. She seems to understand that Chicago isn’t successful if all we have is a glowing and successful downtown, North Side, and near West Side, while the South and West Sides continue to drift. And though the South Side is experiencing a historic population loss in black neighborhoods, I have been excited to see young black people speaking up and fighting for the needs of these neighborhoods, including the preservation of its buildings.


Central Manufacturing District Tower, 2000 W. Pershing, 1915. © Lee Bey.


Victoria Soto High School, 5025 S. St. Louis, Wight & Co. 2013. © Lee Bey.


Lee Bey is a photographer, writer, lecturer, and consultant who documents and interprets the built environment—and the often complex political, social, and racial forces that shape spaces and places. His writing on architecture and urban design has been featured in Architect, Chicago magazine, Architectural Record, and many news outlets. His photography has appeared in Chicago Architect, Old-House Journal, CITE, and in international design publications including Bauwelt and Modulør. A former Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic, Bey is also a senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and served as deputy chief of staff for urban planning under former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. | @LEEBEY

José Miguel de Prada Poole and the
Perishable Architecture of Soap Bubbles

Aerial view, Instant City, Ibiza, 1971. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Essay by Antonio Cobo.

The Spanish version of this text was originally published as part of the catalog of the exhibition Prada Poole: The Perishable Architecture of Soap Bubbles, curated by Antonio Cobo and coproduced by the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC) and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC). Essay translated by Iker Gil and copyedited by Lance Patrick Sy.


In 1974, the literary magazine El Urogallo dedicated its first issue of the year to a collective reflection on “The Contemporary Human Dwelling.” Under that ambiguous framework emerged about twenty contributions with very diverse considerations. In “The City and the Conception of the World,” Enrique Tierno Galván defends the need to develop the city as utopia, understood as a rational solution. Alain Arias-Misson, in “The Public Poem,” describes the city as a focus of signifiers turned into a “language machine” that would serve to construct its concrete poetry. This diversity mirrored the complexity and multiplicity of ideas that the political, cultural, and global context favored in defining concepts related to architecture and the city.

Among the most thought-provoking contributions to this issue was “The Perishable Architecture of Soap Bubbles,” by José Miguel de Prada Poole. [1] In the essay, the architect promotes an architecture in which its material would reflect the temporal nature of its own existence. Therefore, in a significant nuance, he avoids, as early as in the title, the term ephemeral—commonly used in architecture to define a short-term construction—and uses instead the word perishable: the ephemeral is short-lived; the perishable lasts as long as the material that defines it.

The text by Prada Poole sets forth the reasons that he believed the urban configuration to be too rigid in the traditional city. For him, the economic and social structures in an urban context make the city “last too long.” For that reason, the city is incapable of adapting to new and ever-changing demands. By this premise, which takes into account the factors that shape the city and its architecture, Prada Poole conceives the city of the future through what he calls “the three stages of a nonexistent architecture.” In this conception, the traditional city would, in successive transformations, morph into an immaterial city, without inertia, in which the solid buildings would be replaced by the accumulation of foam that would “appear and disappear, converge and disperse according to the different needs.” Each building would become a “bubble” defined according to the physical and atmospheric conditions best suited to its intended use. The city, as it was known, would be replaced with an “intangible reality permeated by stimulatory waves.” That city, vanishing and shapeless, might seem a chimera, but it is ultimately a clear declaration of principles.

Maybe we shouldn’t interpret the essay by Prada Poole as a naïve description of architecture but rather as a poetic manifesto of his own work projected into the future, which is the standpoint from which we consider it today. Not coincidentally, the text was written while he was developing one of his most unique projects: the ice-skating rink in Seville. According to his own words, architecture must be the “adaptation of the natural order to the human order in some cases and, in others, the adaptation of the human order to the natural order,” and to achieve that delicate balance it “must meet, in both cases, the same goal: life.” [2] With its organic shape that is the result of the construction system used—pneumatic structures akin to soap bubbles—alongside the functional scheme of its plan, the ice-skating rink was considered the first vitally satisfactory “sensorially sensitive architecture.” Immersed in American counterculture, nomadism, and body art, Prada Poole in this moment understood architecture as a wellspring of stimulus, built of a technology rooted in lightness, capable of altering both psychological and environmental conditions. In his city of soap bubbles, “information would travel through information channels accessible to every citizen, creating a tight network more important than the networks of transportation.” Those channels—which today exist and are known as the internet—would allow “the networks of information, accessible to all, to facilitate the construction of a global city and society.” Perhaps that magic city, built of stimulus, information, and pure energy, has more in common with the global city of the twenty-first century than we might imagine, and the propositions put forth by Prada Poole then, as like a visionary, form in part the reality in which we live today.


Technological Optimism

As technical advancements played an increasingly larger role in everyday life, optimism for technology, too, advanced within the new consumer society. The moon landing on July 20, 1969, could be considered the highlight of this technological apogee: one giant step for mankind saw its hopes for a better world renewed, thanks, paradoxically, to that old, nostalgic feeling of conquering new territories. The event took place in a present with grand visions for the future—a future that was the obsession of at least some part of society and more than a few of its architects as well.

Within this atmosphere of technological optimism, the Calculus Center of the University of Madrid (CCUM) was born at the beginning of 1966. The CCUM was the result of an agreement between the university and the US company International Business Machines (IBM), which donated, among other equipment, an IBM 7090 computer. This powerful machine, which years earlier was used for the calculations that allowed the arrival of the Saturn rocket to the moon, was one of the first to include transistors, which multiplied sixfold the computational speed of its predecessor. The conditions stipulated by IBM for installing the computer at the university was that it would not be used solely for technical or administrative tasks; it had to be put at the service of faculty and students as a tool for research. To encourage this goal, IBM allocated a budget each year to provide scholarships to explore new possibilities for academic research that could be advanced by the use of the computer.

Proposals by the artists José Luis Alexanco and Manuel Barbadillo to initiate computer-aided research spurred the creation of the Seminar on the Automatic Generation of Plastic Shapes (SGAFP) at the end of 1968. [3] At that time, seminars on “Composition of Architectural Spaces” and “Linguistics” were already on their way at the CCUM, and their initial success explains in large part the support that was extended the new seminar.

The SGAFP officially opened with a meeting on December 18, 1968. Among a considerable group of artists and architects, the meeting was attended by Prada Poole and his then-wife, artist Soledad Sevilla. The meeting minutes reflect the initial intent of the seminar to explore the “application of computers to sculptural composition and perception,” for which “the generalization of the models of a generative grammar for the description of the formal structure of a painting” was deemed possible; it considered particularly useful the initial study of the work of Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, and Kazimir Malévich.

Antecedent to producing a “generative aesthetic” was the establishment of an “analytical aesthetic,” based on known works of art, that would seek to reveal aesthetic structures such that they could be described in mathematical terms. Prada Poole, already involved in the study of applications related to art, tried to translate and quantify specific aesthetic values with the help of computer processes. The outcome of his research was the software program Estetómetro (1971), which he used to try to measure those values, with the goal of achieving a “quality index.” With Estetómetro he was trying to put this goal ahead of the direct translation into a language or the elaboration of a new grammar applied to the generation of new works of art. In this sense, an important aspect of his research was the marked interest in the physical and perceptive values that define a beautiful and balanced work of art and, thus, allow the objectivization, through an aesthetic reality, of certain indices or elements traditionally considered subjective in art history. The goal of Prada Poole, then, was to reveal the specific elements of an aesthetic, at once empirical and numerical.


Estetómetro, 1971. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


In the project for Estetómetro, Prada Poole identified three aspects that needed to be considered when tackling an analytical experience in a work of art: the conceptual field, the perceptive field, and the physical field. The conceptual field—relating to culture, sociology, or politics—needed to be approached through the preparation of surveys, the taking of samples, and direct observation. Regarding the perceptive field, Prada Poole demonstrated a strong interest in systems of perception—of a physiological and psychophysics basis—that affect our appreciation of a work of art. Yet, without question, his greatest interest lay in the description, in mathematical terms, of the aesthetic elements that were going to be needed in future investigations. This led him to focus his research on the third aspect: the physical field.

For his tests, Prada Poole chose the work of Piet Mondrian. The characteristics of Mondrian’s paintings correlated directly with the type of analysis proposed, such that any results were as evident as possible. With the development of Estetómetro, Prada Poole proposed the application of linguistics and psychology through a transposition of the semantics and the syntax of those sciences for art. But the most novel and remarkable aspect of his research was his methodology of previous analysis using the computer: a lineal method, with evolutionary ability and, thus, the ability for adaptation and improvement of its functions—a quality fundamental to understanding his analysis and proposals for “pneumatic structures of variable response” or what today we might call “smart structures.”


Architecture and the Computer

With the principles of the Modern Movement in crisis, Prada Poole developed his first architectural projects within a very polarized context. On the one hand, there were architects who believed that change was necessary but were unable to dissociate themselves totally from the past. They chose postmodernism, which, although it left the past behind, didn’t totally reject it but used it as a reference or point of departure. On the other hand, there were other architects who opted to abandon the past and fully trust in technology, convinced that this was the definitive solution to the question of architecture’s role in society. Prada Poole found himself among the latter group, which was in the minority against the former.

With the CCUM experience, Prada Poole had already understood the role that computation ought to have had in the field of architecture. It wouldn’t be a mere tool or aid in design, an approach that was most common among architects who were originally interested in computers. From Prada Poole’s point of view, computation needed to be integrated into the building, becoming a part of it, as like another architectural element; computation needed to serve towards the generation of a “computationalized architecture”—that is to say, an architecture that was not merely designed with the aid of the computer but that constituted a computer in itself. It was a type of architecture that necessitated fluid communication between the building-computer and the field of its insertion, each relating with the other in an active way as part of a continuous exchange of information.

Some of the academic projects of Prada Poole of that period already demonstrated a prior interest in material structures in architecture. That is evident in the project of a Gas Station (1962)—where he explores light structures applying models by Robert Le Ricolais—or the design of a Folding Structure Pavilion (1963)—where, for the first time, he considers the possibility of using a double-layer pneumatic envelope to achieve the best thermal insulation with the lightest weight possible. His concern can be summarized very clearly in the drawing of the structure of a single-celled alga (the diatom Navicula), dated 1964, where he wrote: “a structure is only useful if it affords maximum performance with minimum material (or energy).”

His fascination with the organization of material structures alternated with other types of structures—in this case, organizational and informational—tested in his projects for universities. For the competition to design the new campus for the University of Madrid, in Alcalá de Henares (1969), he proposed a new model of distributing the different departments, in the form of a network. Through basic relationships, the project emphasized the way of organizing the spaces and the information of the different knowledge areas that come together in the education of students. The project cast the building as a vast knowledge repository, contained in a structure that allowed the synthesis of as much data as possible: a building-computer? The result is a campus without departments, organized around cross-curricular topics, through which each student could flow as desired, gaining a knowledge founded on the transmission and exchange of information.


University of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares, 1969. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


University of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares, 1969. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


University of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares, 1969. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


In 1968, coinciding with his early research at the CCUM and under the influence of cybernetics, he began his first projects in “pneumatic structures of variable response.”

Cybernetic science is based on the premise that both humans and machines are part of a system of control and response—that is, a system of messages. Aware of the work of Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, Prada Poole accepted the paradigm shift that turned communication into the essential tool for understanding society. To illustrate this principle and its operation, Wiener had compared society with the new model of the universe proposed by physicist Josiah W. Gibbs. According to that model, the universe would be defined by a series of systems that are organized, closed, and tending to chaos. Gibbs called that tendency “entropy” and proposed a new scientific method for its analysis: thermodynamics. In a manner analogous to the principle of constant increase of entropy, in society, information would start from a regulated system that, moving through different entities, would progressively degrade in terms of what remained that made sense.

With his structures, Prada Poole laid out the possibility of establishing a new system of active communication between the medium and the building through the building’s structure (understood here as an open system), enabling it to adapt to the various structural forces extraneous to the system. In this case, the structure would be similar to a contingent but organized system that, with a reactive response, tries to counteract its own entropy or structural failure. The different forms of communication would be tools that would help the organization of the structure, turning it into a kind of “anti-entropic” entity, where the exchange of information would in fact allow equilibrium: “just as entropy is a measure of disorganization, information is a measure of organization.” [4] By contrast, traditional structures are fixed; they respond to passive structural models that do not take into account their own degradation. Their behavior as it relates to the world beyond does not depend on the complexities of that world. These structures thus operate like a clock or any other preprogrammed complex mechanism, which make no considerations of their surroundings: deaf, dumb, and blind automatons, incapable of altering their activities with the changes in their environments.

In this light, the proposal by Prada Poole regarding traditional structures can be understood as the difference between behavior that was preestablished and one that was contingent. While traditional structures are severely limited—calculated for the maximum load that the structure might withstand in its lifetime and oblivious to the factor of time—smart structures can take infinite variations within a preestablished range. For its operation, Prada Poole proposed a series of sensory elements or receptors connected to a computer that was able to receive inputs—the changing conditions of the environs—emanating from the outside world. In this way, one achieves a structure not only designed for a hypothetical maximum load but also adaptable to a variety of forces. This signaled the transition from a fixed and invariable structure, inevitably overdesigned, towards a reactive structure, with a capacity for adaptability.

The way in which these new types of structures adapt to their environments is the result of a complex process. This type of response takes place when the data received (input) requires a large number of operations in order to obtain effective results with exterior effect (output). In this case, that effect is caused by the behavior of the structure against the external factors that affect it, both past and present, which in turn allows the evolution of the responses with the passing of time. Prada Poole defined this evolution “structural learning,” and it was what made it intelligent. Its behavior is determined by the combination of two types of information: on the one hand, the information received by the sensory elements and, on the other hand, the information stored in the memory. The combination of both factors—data and memory—allow a responsive reaction, in a learning and evolutionary process similar to an organic structure.

Prada Poole found in nature the models that allowed him to understand these principles. In technology, especially in electronics and computation, he found a way to translate those principles into a “living architecture” using pneumatic structures. [5] His interest in form and in using the least amount of material and energy possible link his ideas to those set forth by the projects of Buckminster Fuller. The Fullerian concept that perhaps most clearly describes the principles that most interested Prada Poole was that of “ephemeralization.” [6] This concept can be defined as the evolutionary progression that allows a system to achieve better results with fewer resources. From a theoretical point of view, the aim is to do everything with nothing, hence its name.


Expoplástica Pavilion, 1969. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


The evolution of the natural system rewards those that use the least amounts of resources and energy to satisfy their needs. From the point of view of artificial systems, technology is the tool to achieve that goal. Various principles put forth by Prada Poole follow from this tenet and aimed at achieving the optimum result with the minimum use of energy. This technologically driven process is directly linked to the better use of natural resources, and, in this respect, form plays a fundamental role. It is not coincidental, then, that the formal scheme chosen by Prada Poole for the design and construction of the Expoplástica Pavilion (1969) was Fuller’s dome. Nonetheless, the choice of a spherical geometry was based on a formal approach more strictly than a structural (and, thereby, Fullerian) one. Whereas in the Fullerian geodesic domes, the loads are supported by the bars, in the structure proposed by Prada Poole, those loads are supported by the membranes spanning the voids between the bars. Regardless, the subdivision into pentagons and hexagons would prove useful in achieving a precise formal definition of the individual elements comprising the sphere, one whose individual elements would then be assembled with the use of zippers, the end result being that it could also be completely disassembled.


Expoplástica Pavilion, 1969. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


An aspect in architecture that is traditionally variable and controlled is climate: exchange between the building’s sensors and the environment provides the required comfort for its users. However, the challenge proposed by Prada Poole was to consider what is conventionally the most stable element of the building—the structure—as the variable solution. Once active and reactive communication between the building and the environment had been addressed, his next step was to apply that technology to foster communication between the building and the user as well as between different buildings. That was the ambition for the Casa Gusano (Worm House) or Casa Jonás project (1970): a floating movable structure where the exchange of information between the user and the house allowed the latter to change its position depending on the unique characteristics of each occupant. With this project, Prada Poole anticipated, forty years ago, a model for a smart city where new exchanges of information would have a direct impact on the relationship between urban dwellers and urbanism, proposing a socially networked architecture.


A New Idea of Community

The second half of the 1960s saw the birth in the western world—primarily France and the United States—of numerous underground movements highly critical of traditional life. What they had in common was their inspiration in the so-called “irrational philosophies.” Urbanist and writer Luis Racionero, guru of some of the underground movements that timidly emerged in Spain during that time, considered those philosophies not as irrational but as different from rationalism and, as such, equally structured, consistent, and effective.

In a world that was increasingly more technical, replete with machines capable of automating large swaths of industry as well as domestic tasks, there was a surge in the creation of leisure spaces where existential and philosophical questions began to surface. There was a need to organize extraordinary events and new forms of freedom that became the basis of a revolutionary period. In this “new era,” for some people, the shorter the duration of architecture, the greater was its value. What this group of people began to prize was the architecture of the event, of a celebration and a party, where the specific qualities of location and weather conditions defined the project: a device of permanent change, where the architect was but one of the actors that determined its configuration.


Aerial view, Instant City, Ibiza, 1971. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


“The people, the youth of the New Culture will meet in Ibiza to be together, to listen to music, to dance, and to build the space in which we will live for a few days. We ask designers from the world over to help us create the instant city that our minds will shape over those several days. In an event centered around environmental design, behavior and form can come together over a week of design, construction, music, mime, fair, festival, and improvisation.” [7]

Luis Racionero was the author of the manifest that gave name to the Instant City in Ibiza, which helped the self-determined ad hoc committee launch an international call to students who wanted to attend the VII Congress of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) that was going to take place in Ibiza in 1971. Due to the unexpected success of the call, the organizers, led by architecture students Fernando Bendito and Carlos Ferrater, asked José Miguel de Prada Poole for the design of a plan to help build a city in which participants could stay. Asked in an interview about how he would define the project, Prada Poole answered that it would be “a City of Freedom not anarchic, because the greatest freedom is always found within a superior order. Not the unique order that is typically found in the city, but an order.” [8] That is, a flexible order that allowed the greatest number of possibilities within a range previously established and, thus, avoiding as many frictions as possible: freedom born out of a new rule.


Plan, Instant City, Ibiza, 1971. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Prada Poole designed the project based on a simple formal structure comprised of a series of cellular units able to develop a system of aggregation, seemingly without limit, that could be configured to varying scales in accordance with the needs of the moment. During the construction and aggregation of the units, there emerged an interesting dialectic between order and disorder that would allow the inhabitants of the city to adapt the overall scheme to the variable needs and circumstances of the project. The result was a city that was the product of a collective creation, emerging from individual needs, and, at the same time, conforming to a general scheme that allowed organic growth in a continuous evolution.


Diagram, Instant City, Ibiza, 1971. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


The Instant City project appeared in many international underground magazines but also in mainstream publications such as Architectural Design. In its December 1971 issue, the British title dedicated several pages to the project, along with other proposals by Superstudio and Peter Cook. It emphasized the self-built and self-sufficient architecture that aimed to shape a social structure, where individual freedom was able to “act against the most basic ideas of the Instant City, if desired.” [9] The project aligned itself with other proposals that were the legacy of the May of ’68 protests, as well as experiences like the Woodstock or Isle of Wight music festivals, where the individual could not be separated from the collective.

The irrational philosophies that activated the underground movements tried to endow society with an ostensible purpose. The values they promoted subordinated technological means to human ambitions. These values were, perhaps, closer to the technology and order defined under the City of Freedom proposal by Prada Poole, which favored new uses of the mind, different from those traditionally advocated by the rationalists.

A large number of the inhabitants of Instant City, who came from different parts of the world, favored or were part of the hippie movement. The success in participation and the desire to test new types of living by means of this experience cannot be understood without the emergence of some of the fundamental values of this movement, born in the US in the mid-1960s. The hippie movement had inherited from the Beat Generation a taste for the nomadic life, inspired by the renowned 1957 novel On The Road by Jack Kerouac—a life that rejected the growing consumerist lifestyle in favor of other ways of engaging with nature, anticipating new environmental values. The best demonstration of this attitude was the pneumatic cell built by several Canadian students, which incorporated an existing tree in its interior, an image that would become one of the icons of the project.


Interior, Instant City, Ibiza, 1971. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Instant City was a purely experimental project, as it was not strictly addressing real needs. It was a perishable architecture, unprecedented until then in the Spanish architectural field. It was a pivotal moment of change as much for the use of pneumatic structures and flexible materials as for the activities, relationship to place, self-construction, and, in general, for its approach to the process as a collective creation that reflected and extended the experience of the city itself.

In art as well, the spectator stopped taking a passive role and came to embody an active part of the artistic act. This trend was evident in the Encuentros de Arte de Pamplona (Pamplona Encounters) that took place between June 26 and July 3, 1972. The art festival, modeled after Documenta in Kassel, took over the city with art projects, concerts, performances, and installations of all kinds, done by over 350 national and international artists. [10] The Huarte family, who sponsored this initiative, asked painter José Luis Alexanco and musician Luis de Pablo to take charge of the organization of the event. Both artists asked Prada Poole, with whom they had coincided during the research about art and computation in the seminars at the CCUM, to design a large pneumatic structure for the Pamplona Encounters.


Aerial view, Pamplona Encounters, Pamplona, 1972. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


After a failed proposal—the first project was designed to be installed at the Plaza del Castillo—the final project involved building eleven large domes, of twenty-five meters in diameter and twelve meters in height, and two proposed but unbuilt “tunnel-routes to nowhere.” [11] In total, the project covered 5,000 square meters (53,820 square feet) in the area around the Citadel.

The colors chosen for the PVC membranes (white, yellow, and red) filtered the light and spread it across the space, creating an undefined interior atmosphere. On top of the optical effects created, there were slight variations in pressure and temperature, as well as the presence of perfume used to conceal the smell of plastic. “I know of little or no architecture that takes as its emphases the aspects of sound, tactility, and olfaction. Those are words that are never included in the repertoire of professional architects.” [12] That is what Prada Poole said about the ingredients of an architecture that explicitly addresses “sensorially sensitive” experiences. The domes turned out to be an evocative space, built solely of air and plastic. Nobody remained indifferent, as demonstrated by the description of the space by the artist Isidoro Valcárcel Medina: “The space possessed something magical, so immense, with light coming through the domes to create an orange effect and the steady sound of the fans.” [13] It was a heightened experience, in line with some of the artistic interventions that took place during the Pamplona Encounters.


Interior, Pamplona Encounters, Pamplona, 1972. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Several setbacks during its construction forced the opening to be delayed until June 29, 1972, three days after the original date. The next day, hundreds of people got together in the interior in the afternoon. The gathering, which had not been authorized, had to be dispersed when a heated debate around political repression started. It is important to note that the Pamplona Encounters took place during a time of strong social and political tension: the terrorist group ETA had detonated two explosive devices on June 26 and 28 in Pamplona and distributed pamphlets against the event across the city.

Maybe the short duration of the “Pneumatic Mosque,” the nickname that some locals used for the project, made it a truly ephemeral event: a collective party that identified itself with the celebration of place, in the form of a proposal that rejected the idea of a specific architecture for an extraordinary event. In the Pamplona Encounters, Prada Poole succeeded in exploring the possibilities of architecture in the artistic field, where the role of the architect was increasingly ambiguous as the work took over the landscape and acquired greater technological complexity. Like the large pneumatic monolith by Christo and Jeanne-Claude for Documenta in 1968, the domes posed the question outlined by Jasia Reichardt in the issue of Architectural Design dedicated to pneumatic structures: “Where does the art stop and the engineering and aerostatics begin?” [14]


Form and Universe

Within the same timeframe, some Spanish artists started to shift away from the conventional puritanism of geometric abstraction, moving into more kinetic definitions of the works of art, as in op art. In that sense, art also introduced the element of time as an artistic concept using, as in architecture, series and variation, attempting to focus the debate on the relationship between art and reality.

One of those artists was Soledad Sevilla. Prada Poole and Sevilla got married in 1967, and it can be assumed that their personal experience, plus the strong interest in geometric art during the second half of the 1960s, had an effect on the work of both. During the first years of her artistic career, her works were influenced by normative art, a Spanish movement that proposed art that was serial, had chromatic purity, and was atonal; one of its main characteristics was the rejection of subjectivity.

In the preceding years, between 1964 and 1967, Prada Poole had developed most of his doctoral thesis at the School of Architecture in Madrid. The research project, supervised by the architect Alejandro de la Sota and disguised under the title “Urbanism and Prefabrication: Analysis of the Industrialization of Housing,” analyzed the need for a structural and dimensional coordination of space. It, in itself, constitutes a complex geometric analysis aimed at the objective definition of morphological relationships in architecture. This work, applied to architecture, connected him directly to the work developed by Sevilla and the rest of the artists of Spanish geometric abstraction. This fragment from the introduction to his thesis illustrates this point:

“There is no unit that does not have an order that is specific to it, just as there is no predetermined order without a unit that is determined by the type of order. Unit and order, form and organization, are aspects of the same thing. […] It is clear that, in a pragmatic way, this means that, to prefabricate, there must previously be either a precise model of a repetitive form, or a formal model that can be deconstructed into common elements (a system). In any case, it seems evident that we need to know what we are going to prefabricate. Sketch out the shapes to try to determine the maximum number of shared dividers and define the solution. Know from the beginning the catalog to establish later the grammar—if possible, a generative grammar.”

This generative grammar of division and organization outlined by Prada Poole could be used to define some of the works that Soledad Sevilla did during the following years and that defined the rest of her career. Before coming into contact with the “geometrics” of Madrid, Sevilla met José María Yturralde and Jordi Teixidor, both members of the Catalan group Antes del Arte, a pioneer group of machine art and technological art. From that moment on, Sevilla abandoned her normative art and aligned herself with geometric art via optical, perceptive, and structural proposals.


Edificio Picos, Leon, 1967. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Drawing, Edificio Picos, Leon, 1967. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Prada Poole also implemented some of those principles in one of his early works, built in Leon in 1967. He called the project, a housing complex, Edificio Picos (Peaks Building). In the design of its façade one can notice, as if it was a large painting, his interest in modulation based on geometric grids. It is a game of volumes that co-opts the perambulation of the pedestrian to produce a certain kineticism, underscored by the variegated shadows cast by it over the course of the day. The project was published three years later in a special issue of the French magazine L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui dedicated to Spanish architecture from the schools of architecture in Madrid and Barcelona. The text that accompanies the publication, written by Prada Poole, highlights the experimental character of the proposal. In the text, he self-criticizes the archaic, albeit obligatory, construction system and praises the scientific aspects that can be appreciated with the play of light and shadows. It is precisely this quality that relates this project with the work that Soledad Sevilla and other Spanish geometric artists started to produce during that time.

Prada Poole continued to think about form beyond architecture, understanding it as a question of general knowledge. In one of his most unique theoretical studies, done in 1981, during his time as a guest researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he sought to determine if it would be possible to assign a form to the universe. He imagined a flat and graphic universe, finite but unlimited. He created several conceptual and geometric analogies, starting from the mutual agreement about its large-scale isotropy and homogeneity. This universe, translated visually, would look the same in any direction an observer might cast their gaze. Translated mathematically and geometrically, it would imply a mathematic continuum and perfect symmetry.

Prada Poole approached the problem in a systematic and ordered way and explored the model of a Euclidean universe, taking into consideration that the world of matter, contrary to the mathematical one, is discontinuous. Starting from that model, he generated a series of images about how someone would perceive the universe, in ideal conditions, if it was as homogeneous and isotropic as possible. In those images, Prada Poole assumes that there exists not one single image, no matter the model that is chosen, as the image would depend on the direction of the symmetry of its axis or if it is random.


Form and Universe, 1981. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Morphology has been an important aspect in the work of Prada Poole, especially from a relational point of view. Many of his works can be understood as grouped forms that establish a structure of relationships between them to complement the initial formal structure. The grids of his projects, even when they don’t allow spatial divisions—the domes for the Pamplona Encounters are a good example—are the basis for understanding the connections that can be found between them. From the point of view of the construction of his architecture, the projects by Prada Poole have been coherent with the formal analysis outlined in his doctoral thesis, where he proposed the study of industrialization, finding its origin to be located most profoundly in form. Through that, he explored the principles of solids and voids, as well as the notions of order, connection, and relationship, from their most abstract notions. Ultimately, it is the establishment of grammar that makes everything possible.


The Energy Crisis

Issue 563 of the Italian magazine Domus, published in October 1976, carried on its cover a photograph of a strange grouping of shiny white domes reflecting the last rays of the light of day. Neither its shape and placement nor the landscape of olive trees and grains that surrounded them offered any clues about their function. Something similar must have happened to many people, because, during its construction in the periphery of Seville, a rumor spread about the construction of a sophisticated and secret installation to support the US Army, already present in the nearby base of Morón de la Frontera. On the pages within, the magazine cleared up any doubts about the building: a harmless ice-skating rink designed by José Miguel de Prada Poole— indeed, a strange structure, able to generate great conjecture but whose interpretation and analysis posed a significant challenge. Other publications such as the French magazine Techniques & Architecture and the US magazine Fortune were interested in the project and dedicated several spreads to it, replete with photographs where, in a thoroughly succinct way, they mentioned, beyond the sports and entertainment program, the constructive system and the deployment of a pneumatic structure. [15] [16]


Domus, Issue 563, 1976. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Prada Poole received the commission for the ice-skating rink in 1973, a time in which social, economic, and manufacturing structures, increasingly interconnected and interdependent upon each other, had an Achilles’ heel: the sources of energy. This reality was made clear that year, when the embargo from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) provoked the spike in petroleum prices that gave rise to the first energy crisis of our history. The dependency of society on economic structures and on petroleum necessitated hitherto a renovation in the relationship between humans and architecture and between architecture and nature.

The projects by Prada Poole understood much earlier the role of architecture in mediating this relationship. His proposals were not objects in a field but devices that interacted both with their users as well as the environment that surrounded them in a continuous exchange of energy. The ice-skating rink, commercially known as Hielotrón (Icetron), is the best example of this dialog. The name itself is confusing, as it connotes of machine or device more so than a building. Hielotrón was indeed a perfect cold machine installed in one of the most extreme climates in Spain. It was an inhabitable device that had to maintain a huge thermal differential (up to 30ºC / 86ºF). It was subject not only to variations in outside temperatures but also to fluctuations on the interior resulting from the varying flows of the public. The project was successful in its aims, achieving the lowest energy consumption of any ice-skating rink at that point.


Aerial view, Hielotrón, Seville, 1975. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Architecture de l’air, the 1961 project by Yves Klein in collaboration with the architects Werner Ruhnau and Claude Parent, had certain similarities with the project in Seville. Similar to the ideal architecture proposed by the French artist, the mechanical systems that control the climate of the Prada Poole project are buried underground. [17] These two different realities serve in mutual complementarity to generate a single architecture: the material beneath the ground and the immaterial above. The function of the latter is to maintain, as in the roofs of air of the project by Klein, the necessary temperature and humidity conditions by means of an impossibly thin membrane, while the ground beneath hosts the requisite mechanical systems that make those precise conditions possible.


Plan, Hielotrón, Seville, 1975. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


The end of the era of cheap oil also required a rethinking of some of the most fundamental aspects of architecture as they related to energy. Among those who grasped the importance of energy was the Italian group Superstudio, who, instead of proposing a nonexistent architecture, imagined an architecture coursed through with conduits for energy. The ducts, hidden under a Supersurface, facilitated life in a controlled environment that would give rise to a habitat without obstacles. In a similar way, in the ice-skating rink, the mechanical systems were coursed through hollow concrete rings that circumscribed the edge of the domes, at once serving as a structure for anchoring the membranes as well. By means of those rings, the conditioned air circulated the perimeters of the domes and flowed into the rinks through a series of ducts. The result was a pool of cold air, denser, that settled on top of the ice rink, while the height of the domes, equivalent to a five-story building, kept the warm air, less dense, high up enough above to create a perfect thermal gradient. In this way it was possible, even in the warmer months of the year, for users to skate in short sleeves over a perfect ice, kept up with a minimum usage of energy.


Interior, Hielotrón, Seville, 1975. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Prada Poole did not pursue an immaterial architecture, built only of pure energy, as Klein had dreamt. However, he did take into account numerous aspects related to the immaterial condition. The building had a white translucent membrane that was designed as a very large screen on which to project images. On the interior he envisioned hundreds of speakers and misting stations for essences that, when in operation, would have created a new equivalent space: a virtual atmosphere of material-immaterial elements—images, sounds, and smells—where users could experience places they had never experienced before.

The short life of the Hielotrón—it barely lasted three years—did not frustrate Prada Poole, who acknowledged this fact as being part and parcel of his conception of that evanescent soapsud that gives rise to the perishable architecture of soap bubbles. Nevertheless, this brief interlude saw Prada Poole awarded the National Prize for Architecture in 1975, the biggest and essentially only Spanish recognition befitting the work of an architect as uniquely singular as his architecture.

Prada Poole’s erstwhile mentor and thesis supervisor, Alejandro de la Sota, wondered once if meteorologists would become the architects of the future. [18] Prada Poole worked as such, even claiming that “microclimate control” would be a new science capable of combining engineering, architecture, and urban planning. During his time at MIT, between 1981 and 1983, this stance started his initial investigations around tensile structures aided by computer models. Using those light structures, he envisioned large venues climate-controlled through an architecture that was better adapted to the climate conditions of its environment.


Techo Plegable al Aire Libre, Killian Court, MIT, 1981. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


The project for the Techo Plegable al Aire Libre (Open-Air Folding Roof) in the Killian Court at MIT (1981) allowed him to approach a new line of experimentation with tensile structures that would lead to the construction of the Palenque for the Expo ’92 in Seville. The original idea for the building was to use transparent membranes to create a large artificial cloud supported on a network of poles towering some thirty meters (ninety-eight feet) above the ground. The cloud would be able to control the light that would blend with the misting water above the roof. Prada Poole sought to create an air of unreality: an ethereal experience that—in conjunction with the landscaping, another key aspect of the project—could amplify the experience of a traditional plaza, turning it into a plaza-park-building.


Model, Palenque, Seville, 1992. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Model, Palenque, Seville, 1992. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Aerial view, Palenque, Seville, 1992. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Interior, Palenque, Seville, 1992. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


In some of his subsequent works, architecture ceases to serve as shelter for humankind against (or within) nature. This is the case of the floating city of Sea Colony (1986) and La Casa del Paraiso (Paradise House) (1991), where architecture engulfs the landscape, becoming an artificial nature that serves both to defend and regenerate the landscape. On its interior, human beings coexist with animals and plants in a closed and transparent ecosystem: the interchange between interior and exterior would be perfectly controlled by means of computers. Architecture thus becomes a regulatory system, where the cycles of ventilation, relative humidity, and temperature are modulated to achieve climates privileged to foster life.


Aerial view, Sea Colony, 1986. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Axonometric view, Sea Colony, 1986. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Plan, La Casa del Paraiso, 1991. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


Section, La Casa del Paraiso, 1991. © José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


From his earliest work, Prada Poole has approached architecture as a probabilistic, predictive exercise in the face of an increasingly unstable, unpredictable reality. Alternative visions of the future have been a constant in his projects, on occasion extending into “architectural fiction” in which the project dabbles speculatively, albeit rationally, on scientific, technical, and social advances anticipated of the future.

On one occasion, he mentioned that his interest in anticipating the future can be traced to his childhood, when he started to read science fiction novels. [19] These stories, published since 1953 in the form of bolsilibros (pocket books), were part of the Future, science-fiction novels collection that were the first collection dedicated to that genre in Spain.


Future, science-fiction novels, cover of the second issue of the collection, 1953.
© José Miguel de Prada Poole. Courtesy of the author.


The second issue of the collection, titled “Prisión Sideral” (Astral Prison) and published by the under the pen name of J. Hill, had actually been written by José Mallorquí, a screenwriter and author best known for his series El Coyote. On its cover there were three characters, protected by space suits, walking away from a strange construction. The extraordinary resemblance between the building from the cover and the Hielotrón domes helps us understand the close relationship between those science-fiction stories and the captivating visions given expression in Prada Poole’s work on the “Perishable Architecture of Soap Bubbles,” a work in which science and fiction come together to refute the maxim “Ars longa, vita brevis . . .” (Art is long, and life short . . .), which alludes to the fact that the a priori conditions will always already have changed by the time the construction of the building reaches its completion.

The well-worn adage by Hippocrates continues: “. . . occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile”; to wit: “. . . opportunity fleeting, experimentation perilous, judgment difficult.” It is necessary to examine other approaches, some of them implicit in the projects by José Miguel de Prada Poole, where the proposition, resolution, and dissolution of architecture come together in a fleeting moment: a lethal triple somersault that the current perspective allows us to revisit, with fresh eyes, unencumbered by the uncharitable reception Prada Poole’s ideas have received.



1. José Miguel de Prada Poole, “La arquitectura perecedera de las pompas de jabón”, in El Urogallo, nº 25, January-February 1974, 72-78.

2. A. F. de la Reguera, “Hielotrón de Sevilla. Premio Nacional de Arquitectura”, in Jano Arquitectura, nº 36, April 1976, 23-32.

3. See: Various Authors, Del cálculo numérico a la creatividad abierta. El Centro de Cálculo de la Universidad de Madrid (1965-1982), catalog of the exhibition. Complutense University of Madrid, Humanities Area, Madrid, 2012.

4. Norbert Wiener, “The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society”, in Garden City, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), 21.

5. José Miguel de Prada Poole, “La arquitectura viviente,” in Nueva Forma, nº 63, April 1971, 7-9.

6. R. Buckminster Fuller, “Nine Chains to the Moon,” Anchor Books, 1938, 1973, 252-259.

7. Luis Racionero and the ad hoc committee for the Instant City. Manifest published as part of the invitation for the Instant City in Ibiza and distributed internationally.

8. José Miguel de Prada Poole, “La ciudad instantánea, la ciudad cambiante,” Arquitectura, monthly publication from the COAM, nº 157, January 1972, 23-36.

9. Toal O’Muiré, “Instant City, Ibiza,” Architectural Design, nº 12, December 1971, 762-767.

10. Documenta is one of the most important exhibitions of contemporary art in the world. It has taken place in Kassel (Germany) every five years since 1955. Among its main features is the occupation of public spaces around the city during the one-hundred days that each edition of the event lasts.

11. José Miguel de Prada Poole, Notations from the second version of the project for the domes for the Art Encounters in Pamplona. Unpublished text from the Prada Poole Archive, Madrid, May de 1972.

12. José Miguel de Prada Poole, “Cuando el cocinero es el arquitecto o la arquitectura de las judías con chorizo,” ON Diseño, nº 9, 1980, 40.

13. Statement gathered by Pepa Bueno, “Esto se hincha”, in “Encuentros de Pamplona 1972: fin de fiesta del arte experimental,” catalog of the exhibition. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2009.

14. Jasia Reichard, “When is art, art?,” Architectural Design, nº 6, June 1968.

15. “Piste de patinage à Séville”, in Techniques & Architecture, nº 304, May-June 1975, p. 45.

16. Robert Phillips, “A new air age in construction”, in Fortune, October 1977, 228-235. Fortune is an established magazine dedicated to the financial sector. It is not an architectural magazine and that is where the interest resides. In its article, it looks strictly at the functional and economic qualities of the pneumatic structures.

17. In the project Architecture de l’air, Yves Klein imagined a world in which traditional architecture disappeared to be replaced by areas of privileged climate and where the condition of the “New Eden” would be controlled by an immaterial envelope of air.

18. “… ¿serán los meteorólogos los nuevos arquitectos?” (Alejando de la Sota about R. Buckminster Fuller), “La arquitectura como arte y necesidad”. In: Moisés Puente, Alejandro de la Sota: escritos, conversaciones, conferencias, (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2002), 166-169.

19. Conversation between the author of this essay and José Miguel de Prada Poole.


Antonio Cobo is professor at the Department of Science, Materials, and Technology of Design at the School of Design of Madrid (ESDMadrid). He completed his studies at the University of Rome (Sapienza) and the School of Architecture of Madrid (UPM) where he obtained a Master in Advanced Architectural Design and is currently developing his PhD dissertation “J.M. de Prada Poole: The perishable architecture of soap bubbles.” Pneumatic Serendipity is a pedagogical project that is part of his doctoral research proposed as a tool based on the design of prototypes with pneumatic structures. As part of this initiative, he has taught and lectured at the Schools of Architecture of Madrid (UPM), Alicante (UA), Ambato (UTA), Birmingham (BCU), and Aarhus (AAA) among others. As an artist, he has developed several projects upon the concept of space and atmosphere, with air, light, and smells as fundamental immaterials of their work.

La Ricarda:
An Architectural and Cultural Project

Casa Gomis, El Prat de Llobregat, 2015. © Adrià Goula.


MAS Context presents the exhibition La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project. The exhibition will be on display October 12, October 19, and October 26, 2019, at Lawrence & Clark (4755 N. Clark St. Chicago 60640, USA).


About the exhibition

La Ricarda or Casa Gomis, completed in 1963, is one of the key midcentury buildings in Spain. Located by the Mediterranean Sea in El Prat de Llobregat, a town 10 miles southwest of Barcelona, the house was commissioned by Ricardo Gomis and Inés Bertrand in 1949. Barcelona-born architect Antonio Bonet Castellana, who had trained with Le Corbusier and Josep Lluís Sert, designed the house while living in Buenos Aires, where he had emigrated from Paris after the start of the Spanish Civil War. Working closely with the clients via letters, Bonet designed every aspect of the building, from the overall organization to the materials, interior details, and furniture. The result was a spacious and harmonious house defined by an 8.8m x 8.8m grid of thin metal pillars and vaults, with connected but distinct areas for the different uses. The house was also designed with its natural surroundings in mind, blurring inside and outside, and paying special attention to the nearby pines, dunes, and water.

Besides its architectural merit, the house is also remarkable for the critical cultural role it played in Catalonia since its completion. The Gomis Bertrand family supported and welcomed to the house intellectuals and artists during Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. Organized by Club 49, a private association that promoted avant-garde cultural activities, which Ricardo Gomis belonged to, the house hosted many cultural activities, from concerts that benefited from its state-of-the-art sound system to dance performances and theater shows. It was a haven for artistic experimentation.

Today, the house is still owned by the Gomis Bertrand family who has diligently preserved it in its original state, including its furniture, with the help of local architects Fernando Álvarez and Jordi Roig. Seventy years after it was commissioned, the house continues to be a must-see destination for architecture students and professionals from around the world. However, the future of Casa Gomis is uncertain. The passage of time, the humid climate and proximity to the sea, as well as the nearby Barcelona airport (its third runway is less than 1,500 feet away) put into question its long-term future. Now is the time to define the legal framework and secure the funds to ensure the maintenance and conservation of a key architectural and cultural project.

The exhibition, curated by Iker Gil, features photographs by Inés Bertrand Mata, Adrià Goula, and Eulàlia Domènech, as well as drawings by Ricardo Flores, Fernando Álvarez, and Jordi Roig. Publications and original items complement the selection.


Besides attending the exhibition on Saturday, October 12, and Saturday, October 19, Marita Gomis, one of the six siblings who grew up in Casa Gomis, gave a public lecture on Monday, October 14:


October 14 at 6:00 pm at the Graham Foundation (MORE INFO)
4 W Burton Pl, Chicago, IL 60610
Open to the public


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project has been generously supported by Chuck Thurow, and is a partner program of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial.



About Lawrence & Clark
Lawrence & Clark is a collection-based gallery run by Jason Pickleman. The collection spans more than 1000 works in all media. The storefront gallery is an opportunity to exhibit privately held artwork in a public setting. The gallery is open every Saturday from 1pm until 5pm and by appointment. For more information, please visit:


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.


La Ricarda: An Architectural and Cultural Project, Lawrence & Clark, Chicago, 2019. © Iker Gil.

Nocturnal Landscapes:
Urban Flows of Global Metropolises

Nocturnal Landscapes, Chicago, 2019. © David Schalliol.


MAS Context and the Instituto Cervantes of Chicago present the exhibition Nocturnal Landscapes: Urban Flows of Global Metropolises.


The exhibition will be on display from September 17 until October 30, 2019, at the Instituto Cervantes of Chicago (31 W Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA).


About the exhibition

The exhibition Nocturnal Landscapes: Urban Flows of Global Metropolises, organized by MAS Context and the Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, observes and analyzes cities at night from an interdisciplinary perspective.

The work by Mar Santamaría and Pablo Martínez of 300.000 Km/s presents a research methodology focused on the comparison of relevant case studies based on cartographic depictions of the rhythms and recognizable sites of seven global cities using Knowledge Discovery in Databases (KDD) data and tools.

Photographer and sociologist David Schalliol captures nighttime in cities around the world with photographs selected from more than a decade of work. The photographs emphasize human interaction, highlight moments of celebration and mourning, protest and labor, memorialization and solitude.

Together, the work of 300.000 Km/s and David Schalliol provides a comprehensive look at global metropolises at night, combining analysis and observation, questioning the correlation of human activity and light, and revealing hidden aspects of our cities.

The exhibition is curated and designed by architect Iker Gil (MAS Studio, Chicago) and features work by architects Mar Santamaría and Pablo Martínez (300.000 Km/s, Barcelona) and sociologist/photographer David Schalliol (David Schalliol, Minneapolis).


This exhibition is a partner program of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial.



Nocturnal Landscapes is partially supported by Simon with printing support by HP and American Color Labs.



The exhibition will be accompanied by two talks by Mar Santamaria, Pablo Martinez, and David Schalliol in Barcelona and Chicago:

August 27 at 7:00 pm at Espai Serrahima in Barcelona (MORE INFO)
Carrer Mèxic 3-17, 08004, Barcelona
Open to the public

September 25 at 6:00 pm at the Instituto Cervantes of Chicago (MORE INFO)
31 W Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
Open to the public


Mar Santamaría and Pablo Martínez operate 300.000 Km/s, a professional firm based in Barcelona that provides data analysis and consulting on cities. They apply technology to architecture, cities and land, searching for new ways to transform the environment. They work in the field of urban analysis, cartography, urban planning, digital tool development, and digital humanities. Their knowledge stems from architecture, urbanism, geographic data analysis, urban history, restoration, museology, industrial design, project management and software development. They provide data analysis services and data products to help cities make better decisions based on data. They have collaborated successfully with public entities, international companies, and cultural institutions. | @300000kms

David Schalliol is an associate professor of sociology at St. Olaf College and a partner with Scrappers Film Group. His photographs and writing have appeared in such publications as MAS Context, Social Science Research, and The New York Times, as well as in numerous exhibitions and collections, including the 2015 and 2017 Chicago Architectural Biennials, the inaugural Belfast Photo Festival, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. He is the author of Isolated Building Studies, and regularly contributes to documentaries, including Almost There and Highrise: Out My Window, an interactive documentary that won the 2011 International Digital Emmy award for non-fiction. He made his directorial debut with The Area, which screened in the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in April 2018. | @metroblossom


Exhibition credits

Participants: 300.000 Km/s and David Schalliol
Organizing institutions: Instituto Cervantes of Chicago and MAS Context
Curator: Iker Gil / MAS Studio
Design: Iker Gil / MAS Studio
Printing: American Color Labs
Installation: Kathi Beste, Xeno Coufal, Iker Gil, Julie Michiels, and David Schalliol.
Acknowledgements: Eva Blanco, Ken Campbell, Teresa Hernando, Jason Pickleman, and Chimi Tornow.


Nocturnal Landscapes, Chicago, 2019. © David Schalliol.


Nocturnal Landscapes, Chicago, 2019. © David Schalliol.


Nocturnal Landscapes, Chicago, 2019. © David Schalliol.

Hurricane Harvey, the Golden Triangle, and the Inequality of Relief

Markings indicate the date that a flooded home on the north side of Beaumont was checked for survivors. © Elizabeth Blasius


Essay by Elizabeth Blasius

A school bus pulling up in front of an extended stay hotel. Debris ages to a dull gray against a cemetery fence. Church services are held inside the parish gym. RV parks have no vacancies. The landscaping is new. While many of the wounds inflicted by Hurricane Harvey six months after the storm made landfall, when I arrived to assist with the recovery effort, had been treated in the area of Southeast Texas known as the Golden Triangle, they were only topical fixes.

This is a place where the big Texas sky looms over bayous and swamps. There is Tex-Mex, but there is also boudain and crawfish, and last names ending in eaux. This is Texas Cajun Country, where residents remember their grandmothers exclaiming “ca fait chaud!” in the excruciating summer heat. In the Golden Triangle, the petrochemical industry has been ubiquitous since the Lucas Gusher at Spindletop blew crude oil into the air for nine days in January 1901, the beginning of the East Texas oil boom. An hour and a half from Houston, an hour from the Louisiana boarder and only four to New Orleans, the region is pulled like cultural taffy. While cacti are present—clustered beneath highway underpasses and railway embankments (at least that was the only place I saw them)-this is also the swamp. A dampness hangs in the air and fogs up your eyeglasses. It hugs the back of your neck and when combined with intense heat and sun acts like a steam table with your extremities as the loins and chops. Trees are mossy and heavy with wetness. There are rivers and bayous and channels and all sorts of natural and man-made elements to hold water in, keep water out, keep water clean, or keep it moving. Each of these features seemed to almost sit above the ground, like the actual water table was above it, floating.

The Golden Triangle knows natural disasters well. Hurricane Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008, and the Tax Day Floods in 2016 all caused property damage, some of it becoming cumulative with every event. And then in August 2017, there was Harvey, where wind pushed rain through every crevice it could find, falling from the sky like a high-pressure showerhead, and finally causing deep, dark flooding that stayed that way for days. The city of Nederland, between Beaumont and Port Arthur, received a record 60.58 inches of rain during the event, topping the previous record for tropical cyclone rainfall recorded in the United States, making it the wettest location during the wettest hurricane in American history. Bodies of water swelled to capacity, turning the entire area into a dystopic bayou, leaving the rooftops of buildings as the only indication of civilization. Water infiltrated and saturated, but it also acted violently, blasting through windows, creating underwater projectiles, and sweeping vehicles and people away. Evacuees reluctantly left their homes for shelters, until the shelters too began to flood. Once the flooding receded, the Golden Triangle was without power and potable water, littered with debris, inundated structures and vehicles, the results of an unprecedented 1 in 1,000-year flood event.

Hurricane Harvey was a paradigm shift in climate violence. Harvey proved that a Katrina could and would happen again, and that little had changed in twelve years to prepare people or places for a similar event. Harvey was the first natural disaster of the social media age. Those outside the hurricane’s path watched in horror from their feeds, while those within it used posts as an ad hoc emergency network, a lifeline for survivors. Within a Twitter scroll, I would see my first image of Hurricane Harvey, a rushing, white-capped river that was once an interstate, the origin point of my own, now permanent experience with climate anxiety. As the Golden Triangle was drying out, Hurricane Maria was becoming violent and hyperactive, hitting landfall in Puerto Rico and causing incomprehensible damage. With mainland America seemingly more capable to handle a catastrophic hurricane, the sympathy and anger shifted to the commonwealth, exposing the fissures in our outdated and inequitable response and recovery matrices. Climate change was now an existential and unpredictable threat. The tenderhearted nature of “reduce reuse recycle,” pitched relentlessly to elementary school children a few decades earlier now seemed comical. We should have prepared for war instead of reciting alliterations.

Despite the brevity of damage inflicted on the Golden Triangle during Hurricane Harvey, the worst in terms of total flooding and destruction, it was Houston that received the coverage, and those ever-trending thoughts and prayers. Volunteers and truckloads of donated supplies symbolically flooded into Houston but never seemed to extend east, like nothing but valueless bayou separated Houston from the westernmost border of Louisiana. Suddenly Harvey became the picture of Houston’s suffering, a story of reckless land-use and sprawl. Those in planning shook their fingers at Houston from afar but found nothing worthy of judgement in other harder hit areas. The Golden Triangle’s largest city, Beaumont, tops off at 120,000—not urban, but not rural. Perhaps it was a matter of the area not having enough distinctive characteristics at a national level, or being devoid of good design, urbanism or applicable zoning tisk-tisks.

Or perhaps it was a greater systemic disinterest in the Golden Triangle as a part of America perceived as anti-placemaking. Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange are partially defined in part by components of America that we have made strides to move away from—the oil industry, chain restaurants, and racism. The nearby city of Vidor is almost completely white, and tales abound of the cities’ history as a notorious sundown town, where the Klu Klux Clan is rumored to frequent local diners. Sour Lake, a community only reachable by boat during Hurricane Harvey, is proud of their community history as the place where Texaco began. There are Golden Corral’s, Hooters, Waffle Houses, and Chic-Fil-A’s lined up in quick succession along Interstate I-10, repeated mile after mile.

While flooding didn’t discriminate between McMansions and pier on beam shotguns, a picture of what relief is, and to whom, is complicated to parcel together. It involves a gallimaufry of agencies, documentation and paperwork, hinging dangerously on insurance companies, many of which played god through policy. Receiving formal aid requires those that apply to narrate their purchases, insurance coverage and hierarchy of ownership, a series of processes that many residents on the economic fringes chose not to do. This is an area that has suffered from uneven investment, where many people live with the specter of institutional racism and the long-term effects of segregation. The built environment carries this weight too. It’s difficult to parcel out cumulative neglect from Harvey damage, which the hurricane undoubtedly exacerbated.

Some residents within the Golden Triangle without insurance simply walked away from homes and businesses, consolidating their lives and belongings to weekly hotels, or moving their modular structures elsewhere. Others are still quietly rebuilding over weekends and evenings. Here, the presence of an RV in a front yard doesn’t mean a vacation is eminent, it may mean the homeowner is living on site, repairing their home as they go, not a labor of love but a labor of necessity. Homes are jacked up high on piers, often a requirement of insurance payouts. Rural roads are still closed, their damage marked with discolored orange cones. Debris and garbage floated into the woods and settled there. Churches are stocked with canoes and sandbags, armament against an unpredictable threat.


A formerly flooded neighborhood repairs itself, Vidor. © Elizabeth Blasius


Sandbags and canoes at the ready, Winfree Baptist Church, Orange. © Elizabeth Blasius


A home elevated on piers, Rose City. © Elizabeth Blasius


Many survivors of Hurricane Harvey have moved themselves and their homes to higher ground, Beaumont. © Elizabeth Blasius


Area trailer parks are full, Beaumont. © Elizabeth Blasius


Elizabeth Blasius is an American architectural historian whose work encourages people to consider placemaking through existing buildings and vintage communities, and explores the potential for historic preservation to examine more personal stories and bring them into the practice. Her work seeks to build trust and collaboration between agencies that protect historic resources and the public. She develops innovative solutions that discourage gatekeeping and allow room for those that have stock in cultural resources to realistically manage development. Ultimately, her work strives to kick the doors wide open for underrepresented aspects of heritage, built and cultural. | @blaservations

MAS Context Spring Talks 2019
Tobias Armborst


Video shot and edited by Isabel Owen of Lucid Creative Agency.


Lecture by architect and urban designer Tobias Armborst as part of the MAS Context 2019 Spring Talks in Chicago. The lecture took place on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at the Society of Architectural Historians.


The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion

Urban History 101 teaches us that the built environment is not the product of invisible, uncontrollable market forces, but of human-made tools that could have been used differently (or not at all). The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion is an encyclopedia of 202 tools—or what we call “weapons”—used by architects, planners, policy-makers, developers, real estate brokers, activists, and other urban actors in the United States use to restrict or increase access to urban space. The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion inventories these weapons, examines how they have been used, and speculates about how they might be deployed (or retired) to make more open cities in which more people feel welcome in more spaces.

The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion includes minor, seemingly benign weapons like no loitering signs and bouncers, but also big, headline-grabbing things like eminent domaon and city-county consolidation. It includes policies like expulsive zoning and annexation, but also practices like blockbusting, institutions like neighborhood associations, and physical things like bombs and those armrests that park designers put on benches to make sure homeless people don’t get too comfortable. It includes historical things that aren’t talked about too much any more (e.g., ugly laws), things that seem historical but aren’t (e.g., racial steering), and things that are brand new (e.g., aging improvement district).

With contributions from over fifty of the best minds in architecture, urban planning, urban history, and geography, The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion offers a wide-ranging view of the policies, institutions, and social practices that shape our cities. It can be read as a historical account of the making of the modern American city, a toolbox of best practices for creating better, more just spaces, or as an introduction to the process of city-making in The United States.


Tobias Armborst, as part of Interboro, contributed to our Boundary issue with the article “The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion.” You can read it online at


Tobias Armborst is an architect and urban designer, principal and co-founder of Interboro. Interboro is an award-winning architecture, urban design, and planning firm based in Brooklyn, New York. They are leading experts in public space design and community engagement. Tobias received a Diplom Ingenieur in Architecture from RWTH Aachen and a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from the Harvard Design School. He is Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Studies at Vassar College. Along with Daniel D’Oca and Georgeen Theodore, principals and co-founders of Interboro, he is the author of the book The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion (ACTAR, 2017). | @access_wars


The Arsenal of Inclusion and Exclusion © Courtesy of Interboro

Connections: 48 Years

Architectural Site 17, High Museum, 1988 © Barbara Kasten


Lecture by artist Barbara Kasten co-presented by the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) and the Photography Department at Columbia College Chicago. Introduction by Karen Irvine, Chief Curator and Deputy Director, Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago.

An Enrichment of Vision

Barbara Kasten (American, b. 1936) is an architect’s photographer. All of her works address the perception of space, the interplay between two and three dimensions, the physical qualities of materials, and, ultimately, how all of these aspects of her work are affected by light. For Kasten, in fact, light is a medium. Her photographs of light-saturated sculptural forms and architectural sites are geometric, colorful, layered, and almost, but not quite, abstract.

Trained in textiles and painting, Kasten began making photographs in the 1970s. Unburdened by the conventions of formal photographic training, she was passionately experimental from the start, and approached photography much as a painter or sculptor would. Her earliest photographic works are cyanotypes―a blue-hued process created with liquid emulsion on paper. Made from direct impressions of materials such as window screening on the treated paper, Kasten’s cyanotypes recall architectural blueprints. In the late 1970s, she began to design and build sets to be recorded with her camera—arranging forms made out of materials such as painted wood and plaster, mirrors, plexiglass, screens, furniture, and fibers, and then carefully, to use her term, “directing” the light onto them in order to make a dynamic composition.

Although most of her works have been studio-based, Kasten has also executed ambitious projects in the built environment, most notably her series Architectural Sites (1986–90), set in locations like office buildings and museums designed by well-known architects such as Richard Meier and César Pelli. Often working overnight with film crews, Kasten sets up elaborate arrangements of colored lights and mirrors in the spaces, transforming them into vibrant two-dimensional compositions, toying with the legibility of the original space and rendering it nearly indecipherable. She has also recently projected video imagery in museum and gallery spaces, adding movement to the experience of light and color, in sequences that transform both the sculptural forms she places in the space and the architecture surrounding them. Reminiscent of Lázsló Moholy-Nagy’s kinetic Light Space Modulator (1922–30), which she cites as an influence, these installations are exhilarating and complicated. Kasten further expressed her interest in Moholy-Nagy and the Bauhaus Movement when she was an artist-in-residence at Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 2018, where she arranged steel table frames and colored plexiglass to make a site-specific installation recorded in photographs that add a chaotic and colorful touch to Mies’s austere modernism.

For nearly fifty years, the hallmark of Barbara Kasten’s work has been to mine tensions between highlight and shadow, representation and abstraction. Interested in “changing the reality of things,” she extends many traditions of the Bauhaus Movement through the interdisciplinary and experimental nature of her work. Indeed, Kasten’s works provide formal proof that, as Moholy-Nagy once observed regarding one of his own photograms: “The organization of light and shadow effects produce a new enrichment of vision.”

Karen Irvine
Chief Curator and Deputy Director
Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago


Collision, 2016 © Barbara Kasten


Connections: 48 Years
Lecture by Barbara Kasten delivered on Thursday, November 29, 2018 

For this lecture, I decided to put together my own little survey of work and show some things in my work that I think have connections to each other. I hope that you will find some other works that connect as well. It is always really interesting to put together a slide show because you see your own work in different ways. I will cover forty-eight years, from 1970, the year I got my graduate degree, until now. I took about ten years between undergrad and grad school, so I encourage students to give yourself a little time in between to find out who you are and what you like to do. I am still trying to figure it out so it does take a while.

I am not giving any chronological order to the works. I am starting with a project titled Artist/City Crown Hall that I did this past summer at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). I grew up in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, and that is not too far away from IIT. I moved with my parents to Arizona when I was out of high school so I didn’t know about IIT or the people who were going to influence my life that came to IIT like Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe. But the people that have taught at IIT have really influenced my career.

Artist/City Crown Hall, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


Artist/City Crown Hall, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


Artist/City Crown Hall, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


The idea behind the project was to merge Moholy-Nagy, Mies van der Rohe, and myself into a perspective that would be unique to me but also reflect some of the ideas that were important to them. Crown Hall is like the epitome and one of the most iconic buildings that Mies van der Rohe designed. Used as IIT’s College of Architecture, during the year the entire space is filled with worktables that the students use and those were the objects that I used to make the sculptures.

The project is a series of worktables stacked one upon another in different formations. To that, I interjected brightly colored plexiglass that I have recently discovered and fallen in-love with as a counterpoint to the very solemn gray, black, and white of the architecture of the building. But the building has the most incredible diffused light that I have seen in any place. In the summer, it was really glorious. I wanted to make work in that space and also comment on it, make independent sculptures, make photographs, and use the entire space as an ad hoc studio.

I had about six weeks to assemble the pieces. IIT was very generous in allowing me to use the space and all of the tables. I would go in and start with one arrangement. The next time I came, I added another one and then, the next time I came, I added a third one. After that, I started mixing them up, so they never stayed the same. It was like being in the studio. You go in, you experiment, things happen, and you are motivated to do something else. That is the way I treated the project. I made beams out of the same colored acrylic that I fell in-love with. Crown Hall’s floor was so shiny that it acted like a mirrored surface. If you know my work, you know that I have used mirrors a lot.

There were all these elements in there that I was really happy to use. I think I made a total of twenty pieces but I ended up with eight pieces that actually remained as “finished” constructions. They stayed up for a week after which we had to take it down because the students were coming back for the fall semester and all those tables had to be put back to work. None of these sculptural elements were attached. They were just there by balance, finding the right point for that to happen.

Intervention marathon, Navy Pier, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


Intervention marathon, Navy Pier, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


Intervention marathon, Hairy Who artists and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Navy Pier, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


From that, I took that same concept and used it for a stage sculpture titled Intervention that I made for the marathon interviews that Hans Ulrich Obrist conducted on September 29 at Navy Pier during EXPO Chicago and as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

There, I used the same tables. IIT allowed me to take some with me and I reconstructed and reproduced some of them because by now, I felt they were my own and I needed to have more. But I started making more beams, beams that reflected some of the real architectural and industrial construction beams, and one or two that were based on the iconic beam that holds Crown Hall together. It is a structure that has four great beams across the roof holding the open area inside up without a visible support system.

I worked on it for many weeks in my studio at Mana Contemporary and then, it went up for one afternoon in this giant space of the ballroom at Navy Pier. It had to go up in two hours and come down in fifteen minutes, and it was up for just the time of the event. I think you might be able to see something similar in March for Mies’s birthday on March 28. We will put up a sculpture and there will be a performance with a dance group. 2019 is the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus which, of course, Moholy-Nagy was connected to as well and brought the New Bauhaus to Chicago.

Parallels, 2017 © Barbara Kasten


These are forms that I made for an exhibition at Bortolami Gallery in New York last year titled Parallels. These are again, individual pieces that are not attached, but stacked one against another and held in very precarious positions by the balance and the weight of each form. The reason I ended up making these box-like forms was that plexiglass doesn’t have any strength until it is constructed into an object that holds it together. I made these boxes, which made them very strong, that could be leveled one on top of another.

Progression Nine, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


Progression Eight, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


Progression Four, 2017 © Barbara Kasten


At the same time, I did a series I called Progression that was exhibited at Bortolami Gallery in New York. It is an object that has a photograph as the base, a sculpture relief attached to it, and light going through it creating another level of shadows. This is the epitome of everything I have been working with, which is the illusion of photography, the sculptural identity of the work that I photograph, and light, which is an element that is essential to everything that I do.

These are unique pieces and very difficult to put together. This is a whole new process for me where first, I make the photograph. I use the same material in the photograph that I attach to the piece itself afterwards. The printed photograph is inside a plexiglass box frame. To make the design on top of it, I work with an architectural student from IIT, Devin Gora, and he puts it into a plan. Ten steps later and probably a few thousand dollars, each piece is complete. It really does match the whole idea that I have been after for years. I am really excited to be working in this physical space as well as with the illusion of the photograph, and putting it all together.

Yurakucho Asahi Gallery, Tokyo, 1985 © Barbara Kasten


Yurakucho Asahi Gallery, Tokyo, 1985 © Barbara Kasten


It reminded me of an exhibition I did in 1986 at Yurakucho Asahi Gallery in Tokyo. What I did there was also make sculptures of the same material that I used in the photograph. All the objects in this sculpture are independent pieces, not attached to anything and so, it comes apart. Everything I do needs to be flexible and rely on balance. All the objects that you see in my photographs from that time period reappear in newer works. I have used some of them just recently to make a proposal for a mural. I never let go of any props. I store them or reuse them.

Barbara Kasten, Warsaw, Poland, 1972 © Barbara Kasten


Seated Form, 1972 © Barbara Kasten


Seated Form, 1972 © Barbara Kasten


This is me in 1972 in Poland. I was on a Fulbright grant right after grad school. At that time, I was working with three dimensional form, but in textile. I was exploring abstraction, an abstraction that relied on reality such as identifiable body forms. I hand-wove them out of sisal, big, heavy ropes that came from the ports in Gdańsk. I would unfurl, dye, and I reweave them. They were made on a tapestry loom in shapes that then I could pull together to create these forms.

Seated Forms solo exhibit, 1973 © Barbara Kasten


Figure Chair diazotype, 1973 © Barbara Kasten


Diazotype, 1973 © Barbara Kasten


This is a show I did when I came back at my alma mater, California College of Arts and Crafts [now California College of Arts] in San Francisco. You will notice that there were a few pictures on the wall. It is probably one of the first “installations” I ever did where the objects and photographs related to one another, but it is the same as I do now. They were not photographs of the sculpture. They were companion pieces that interpreted the same concept differently. These are diazotypes, an architectural blueprint process, and they were 8 x 10 contact prints on film that were made using a model. One of the only times I think I have ever photographed a human. Of course, I couldn’t let it go at that. I had to abstract it.

Exhibit at UC Irvine, 1981 © Barbara Kasten


This is a little survey of installations from the 1980s. All my work has always been involved with three-dimensional space and making photographs of it, or just making installations. In the show, they were not installations that were photographed, but they come from the way that the photographs were made in the studio. I found fiberglass screening material that I have used ever since, and that was some of the material in this small setup at a show at UC Irvine. Photographs that were made in a similar manner were on the wall.

Centric 2: Barbara Kasten, installation/ photographs, 1982 © Barbara Kasten


Centric 2: Barbara Kasten, installation/ photographs, 1982 © Barbara Kasten


This is to show you the scale of where the photographs went to very quickly in 1982. I did a show called Centric 2: Barbara Kasten, installation/ photographs at Cal State University, Long Beach. There was this 30 to 40-foot room and, on one side of it, there was an ongoing set of multiple little vignettes that I made Polaroids of. At that time, I showed sculptures in different venues but it was all much more related to the photographs than what I do today.

Capp Street Project, 1985 © Barbara Kasten


I was invited to the Capp Street Project in San Francisco, which no longer exists. It was a house that was a residency offered to three or four artists a year, and one would go there, live there, make work in the space and then, exhibit it in the space. It was open to the public for part of the time of the residency. Here I saw that I could incorporate this spatial placement in a home, a different type of place than a big stage or a big gallery. I wanted the human element in it, so I invited Margaret Jenkins from the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, who had her troupe down the street not too far from the house, to dance in the space, which she did. Consequently, she invited me to collaborate with her. I never made photographs there however.

Wright State University, 1985 © Barbara Kasten


Wright State University, 1985 © Barbara Kasten


The next slide shows how the elements that came from one place went to another one, and into another arrangement, into another environment in an exhibition. This is at Wright State University. I have to note that those big pyramids came from the San Francisco Opera. I like all these hand-me-downs, using articles and objects, and repurposing them for different things. These came in very handy and I used them for several exhibitions. Here is the downward view because it was a two-story gallery with a mezzanine, and on the mezzanine, I had shown some 20 x 24 Polaroids.

Polaroid Corporation Studio, 1982 © Barbara Kasten


Barbara Kasten at Polaroid Corporation Studio, 1982 © Barbara Kasten


These are few setups of the Polaroid studio, the 20 x 24 studio that I was invited to use. I was very fortunate to be part of an early group of photographers who were invited to use this big camera that, at that time, was not available to the public. You can see the size of it. It was a very makeshift camera, but it ended up with great 20 x 24 instant photographs. Polaroid was very generous by offering the use of this camera to artists. You could work for a day or two, or however long they invited you for. In return, one of the images would have to be given to their collections. They amassed a huge collection. At that time I lived in California and they were located in Cambridge, so I had to do a lot of planning to have mirrors cut and ready for me to assemble into a stage setting that I would then photograph. It was probably the most that I have ever planned a studio photograph. Now, I rely on materials that I am interested in and find shapes that I like or make them. I have a more free-form attitude about it. But, at that time, it was much more planned and it took so much orchestration to get things ready as I only had a day or two to make photographs. I relied on mirrors and a big backdrop, and the thing that was the most important for me was the instant feedback. Coming from being a painter and not liking the darkroom, I had to find a way to visualize the work. I usually worked with one setup until I was happy with the results. Then, it came down when I went to the next setup. This is still my photographic process today.

Construct 2B, 1981 © Barbara Kasten


Construct 5A, 1981 © Barbara Kasten


Construct IX, 1982 © Barbara Kasten


When making photographs, I didn’t ever shoot many things at the same time. I never shot many angles. I only set the camera up and then, made changes to the set in front of the camera. I didn’t move the camera. It was a different way of working than I think a lot of photographers are trained to. I learned by doing. If I wanted to do something, I found somebody who could help me do it or tell me what to do. I only took one class in Photography at CCAC and that was it. I learned a lot about photography during a great well-paying job I had at the Presidio where they ran a photography program for the military on base, as it was a base at that time. I didn’t know what a darkroom really was. But, I said, “I know the job.” You take chances when you are young. I told them that I knew what I was doing and I bought the photographer’s handbook, talked to a lot of people, and ran the darkroom. That is one of the ways I got started. But I never liked the darkroom, it was too smelly for me. My magic comes in the studio when the light gets turned on, not when I see it coming up through the chemistry. This is a different mentality. These are the types of images I was making and the kind of things I was looking at that time: mostly constructivist painters such as Moholy-Nagy, Malevich, and Lyubov Popova, a fantastic Russian woman-painter from that time period.

I was not looking to photography as my inspiration. I knew photographers because I started a collection of photography with my husband Leland Rice who actually was the professor that taught me that one photography class at CCAC. He became my husband afterwards. You know, those romances that happen. He is the one that taught me the most about photography but mostly about the history, not about the technique. I also learned more about history by observing and seeing things firsthand, which of course in the 1970s was a lot easier to find and do than it is right now. Great photographs are much rarer to collect now than there were at that time.

NYC studio, 1984 © Barbara Kasten


This is my studio in New York. I moved to New York in 1982 from California, where I had been since I came back from Europe in 1973. I taught a little bit at UCLA, married Leland, and when I got divorced, I moved to New York. In this photo I am cheating as I am standing on the backdrop with my shoes on. You don’t do that in my photographs because you have to look down and it has to change the illusion of the space with no idea of horizon lines. I always had a sweep that is curved and I was always looking downward into that. These are some of the first images I made with an 8 x 10 camera. Polaroid Corporation had given some 8 x 10 Polaroid to my husband and he wasn’t interested in it. According to him, he gave it to me. According to me, they gave the material to me. I am not sure which is the real story but, in any case, I used it and that was really the beginning of how I used a camera. I had no reason to use a camera before as I was making photograms.

Construct VI B, 1981 © Barbara Kasten


Construct XI A, 1981 © Barbara Kasten


Construct XVIII, 1982 © Barbara Kasten


I made sculptural sets related to things that were made in the Bauhaus by set designers using a lot of found industrial materials and relying on constructivism for the imagery and the spatial ambiguity of the photograph. Again, light was the essential thing that made everything become very ephemeral and lose its reality, especially if it had mirror and those shapes bounce to other mirrors or to other walls and surfaces. It was, and still is, very magical to be there in the set and because, of the scale of most of the sets, I was really in the set. It wasn’t a matter of a tabletop where I was moving small things around. I actually physically moved around in these sets, so it had a performance-like aspect to what I was doing. I soon became very attached and involved in the spatial construction as much as what happened when that construction was transformed to the back of the view camera and it then became a flat piece of paper in my mind where shapes had to be rearranged. If I wanted a red half-circle moved up there, I got into the set and moved it up there. I was back and forth between the construction of the subject and back to the back of the camera, and saw things very differently from both points of view.

Some are titled Construct NYC. I have these codified titles that just means they were constructs and made in New York City. It is just a way of tracking it. I never went for metaphoric titles or explanatory things. I liked keeping it very clean, straightforward, “This is number one. That is number two.” Everything has a very theatrical feel to it because of the performance aspect and the whole idea of moving around in it myself.

Dance collaboration, 1985 © Barbara Kasten


Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, 1985 © Barbara Kasten


Here are some images of the collaboration with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company that I mentioned earlier that came out of Capp Street Project. It was a real, true collaboration. It wasn’t that she danced and I made the sets separately. We actually worked together. I made the sets so that the pieces were movable and the dancers could move them from one place to another. The lighting changed so I worked with the lighting designer to replicate the colors in the way that I make photographs. The movement was really important to me because I followed the Bauhaus philosophy of interdisciplinary ways of art making like they did then. I liked the idea of adding motion to these large-scale settings. The imagery ends up looking somewhat like my photographs and I liked the idea that the lights could change and the people changed. It inspired me for many photographs that came afterwards.

In 2011, the idea of performance and a space including people came about when I got interested in video. This is a short clip from a video piece that I did in Chicago in 2011. The sound was from the Lucky Dragons. They gave me sound clips and I put together the music. They were very generous to allow me to do whatever I wanted to do with it. It was really a great environment to see people walking in and out of the changing lights. In a way, it was my own dance routine, but it was all of you involved to make it happen.

That issue of scale, the idea of being in an environment that was very architectural, inspired me on a project that was commissioned by Vanity Fair. The project was to photograph in architectural settings in New York for an article that was being written about the new architecture, the postmodern architecture of the 1980s and the big, open, glorious entryways, and atriums, that are still prevalent in many buildings. It was a huge production. It was like a movie production. I had to photograph at night because lighting could not be controlled unless it was dark outside.

Architectural Site 17, High Museum, 1988 © Barbara Kasten


Architectural Site 17, High Museum installation, 1988 © Barbara Kasten


I had a crew of ten twelve people including experts in lighting from the cinema world. If I thought about it too long, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but it was exciting and I learned a lot. You can see all these are mirrors that are set up and that are visible in the view of the camera. I had to use a 4 x 5, not an 8 x 10 because of the lighting that would have been required for 8 x 10 film. It took a lot of pre-planning to make sure everything was in the right position and then you get one shot, that is all you get. I don’t know how many sheets of film we used just in case something went wrong when they got it developed. You don’t shoot one piece of film and spend $20,000 a night to do it.

I got into these buildings because it was Vanity Fair. You can’t just go up and knock on the door and say, “I want to use your atrium all night long.” But they were getting something in exchange, or that’s what they thought because, in the end, they never got published. I ended up being moved out by Leona Helmsley or somebody like that who had some kind of an affair, and that was the end of that. But it started me on a whole new track and it really got me excited about working in large-scale, big product, which has paid off for things that I am doing now.

Architectural Site 6, World Financial Center, NY, 1986 © Barbara Kasten


This is at the World Financial Center by Cesar Pelli, across the street from the World Trade Center, so it still exists. I remember seeing a photograph of it after the Twin Towers came down and it was just covered in white. It was the eeriest thing to see. But this series was a very joyful and playful look at it, and also commentary on how our money is spent. After that, I thought, “Oh, dear. Now, what do I do? I’m hooked. Where am I going to photograph?” I used connections that I had, which were directors of museums, people who knew who I was and trusted me. I also had the Vanity Fair shots to show that I could do it. This is the High Museum of Art in Atlanta designed by Richard Meier. If you know Richard Meier, you know that all his buildings are white. He would be horrified if he saw this photograph. It is totally against his sensibility, which is something I did in the same way I did the work at IIT with Mies van der Rohe. Inserting those really lurid, huge, colorful pieces was the antithesis to what they do. In a way, this was my commentary on architecture, maybe a little too blatant, but it worked. I liked it and the imagery changes your whole perspective of the place. If you go to there now, you’re going to say, “Well, where’s the red wall?” This is what it looked like around the camera: lots of cables, lots of big lights, and a lot of people moving them around. I would do two photographs in one night, but they had to be very pre-planned. I knew exactly what I was doing. There was no, “Go in and let’s see where the camera should go.” It had to be totally orchestrated.

Architectural Site 8, Loyola Law School, LA, 1986 © Barbara Kasten


This was Frank Gehry’s Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. I don’t like the most recent architecture of Frank Gehry. I can’t say I am crazy about his Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago. But I liked this. It had a more modernist look to me and it was pre-computer architecture. Everything was pre-computer: my photographs, the architecture. This is a much more modern point of view. Then, I did Isozaki’s MOCA in Los Angeles practically the week after it opened. We had to carry lights into the museum so that the skylight could be lit with that color….traipsing by a Jackson Pollock with one of those big lights…that was a little scary but we got things in there. These men were so professional and they did it partially as a labor of love because I couldn’t pay them what they get paid for their commercial jobs. They did it because they were helping an artist make art, which is something I found really great in the world. People are always interested in helping other people make a creative gesture, and I think that is really something we have to preserve and we have to keep alive in this time that we are in right now where creativity will be the thing that gets challenged and put out of any of our minds before we know it. We just have to keep being artists so that doesn’t happen.

Architectural Site 19, LACMA, LA, 1989 © Barbara Kasten


This was the Bruce Goff-designed Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It is right next to the main part that they are now going to tear down but this will remain. This was one of the biggest events because it took two nights just to set up the lights. We were working totally at night and we were lighting only the parts that were appearing in the image. It was a huge cross-section view of the building, not just a little corner. I was lighting the front, scanning the whole front of the building.

This one is a second shot at MOCA in Los Angeles. The cinematic lights are Tungsten balanced and the film is also Tungsten so it responds to daylight in this blue. Because of needing to work very quickly, in this image I relied on the changing daylight as well as what I was coloring with gels. I had to have some knowledge of what was going to happen if exposures were made when the light was changing and it did. I have varying degrees of this blue in many pieces of film that I made as the sun was coming up.

Architectural Site 15, Whitney Museum, NY, 1987 © Barbara Kasten


This was at the Whitney Museum in New York designed by Marcel Breuer. The people in charge of these buildings knew who I was and I was able to convince them that I was a low security risk. But I also enticed them with a photograph for their collection and an image that they could sell as a poster in their bookstore, so they made money back from that. I had to get a little entrepreneurial and make a deal there, but they saw the value. For me, it was valuable because it was a lot more exposure than just making one photograph. A lot of people saw it and they sold out the posters.

Juxtaposition Site 2, 1988 © Barbara Kasten


Juxtaposition Site 4, 1988 © Barbara Kasten


New Mexico Puye Cliffs, The Cliffs, 1992 © Barbara Kasten


I was invited to do the Jackson Pollock Studio, which was in Springs, New York. The floor that he painted on was covered over by Lee Krasner, his wife and also a great painter who used the studio after Pollock’s death. When she passed away, they started taking out the flooring and they discovered the painting created by drips while Jackson Pollock worked on his canvases. My work was made as a commission for a series that they offered for fundraising. I also did some work out in the real outdoors because I wanted to go back to the nature that I loved and the architecture of that was in Santa Clara in New Mexico. These are the Puye Cliff Dwellings that were shot at night, lighting them dramatically and changing it to a very eerie landscape. I did a similar project in 1992 in Tarragona, Spain, where I made a 40-foot mural that was backlit.

Scenario Video, Graham Foundation, Chicago, 2015 © Barbara Kasten


Scenario Video, Graham Foundation, Chicago, 2015 © Barbara Kasten


Corners, MOCA, 2016 © Barbara Kasten


Corners, MOCA, 2016 © Barbara Kasten


Untitled 79 25, Silver Gelatin, 20×16, 1979 © Barbara Kasten


Untitled 79 9, 1979 © Barbara Kasten


I am going to show another video piece that was part of the 2015 Stages exhibition at the ICA in Philadelphia when I really started getting into video. I did this piece with the help of my good friend Kate Bowen. The next iteration of the exhibition came to the Graham Foundation in Chicago later that year. There we created a different video (Scenario) because we didn’t have another 34-foot wall like the one at ICA. I constructed this set, which is an assemblage of cubes and geometric forms that are three-dimensional and then overlaid it with a video of the same cubes going through various colorations. These are some of the stills from the whole set. When the show went to MOCA in LA in 2016, we did a third video (Corner) that we fit up into this skylight corner. Each exhibition really was a whole different show. The work was all the same but it got rearranged and put into a different architecture. Each video made its own statement about the space as well as about the show. This reminded me of the very first pieces I did in 1979 on silver gelatin photograms. They were shots from the studio, then projected, and finally, the photogram on top. (Amalgam) I also painted on some of them. It just keeps coming around, the same props, the same obsession with geometry and photograms, and a concept of a similar nature.

Scene III, 2012 © Barbara Kasten


Scene IV, 2012 © Barbara Kasten


Studio Construct 8, 2007 © Barbara Kasten


Here is some of that same material in 2012 that ended up in an abstraction that came directly after my experience here teaching in Columbia. I wanted to make a photograph that was truly abstract, and I didn’t want to have anything identified or representational. I wanted it all to be a matter of form and light. I took away the color and I worked with the moiré. I worked with sheets of plexiglass that would stop the light and create shadows, but you could also see through and would create form. But it was the shadows that really became important to me, and that is what I looked for. These are just two or three pieces of plexiglass, but the form is really the shadow, not the plexiglass. I was really interested in that illusion and the ephemeral light. It is hard to identify what is really there, but there is form there. I chose something that couldn’t be labeled.

When I was teaching here at Columbia College, I was the first artist faculty member that they gave a Faculty Distinguished Artist award to. They gave me a studio and a couple of years release from teaching most classes. It came at a time in my life where it was very, very important to get back into the studio. I received the grant in 2006 and I worked while I was teaching. But when I retired, I was on my way to creating, having a practice that I could develop and really concentrate on. If I hadn’t had that, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to get to where I am now, and have the work that I had in order to have that big ICA survey. I have to say that I am really grateful to Columbia for this support that they have given me.

I still work with film. It’s not that I don’t like digital. There are things and qualities about digital that are very helpful. But there is something about film and the way that it records light and color that I still respond to. It is getting more difficult. I use positive film as I can’t use negative film because that means you have to transpose it. I can’t do that. I have to see what I am doing just like I have to see the sculpture, move it around, and touch it. I can’t take many pictures and edit them. It is too hard for me. I have to work in one direction.

Photogenic Painting, Untitled 21, 1975 © Barbara Kasten


Photogenic Painting, Untitled 23, 1975 © Barbara Kasten


Photogenic Painting, Untitled 19, 1976 © Barbara Kasten


I work with film and I work with photograms. I have done a lot of photograms in my career and these are some of the earliest. These were done using cyanotype for the photograms. Moholy-Nagy said that photogram is the most direct route to abstraction, and I believed him and I still do. I really love photograms because they relate to painting. I started it so that I could incorporate photography into my painting. It was a whole another perspective that I approached using a photogram for, and these were the results of those first things.

Shadow at the Met 43, New York, 2006 © Barbara Kasten


Shadow at the Met 63, New York, 2006 © Barbara Kasten


Again, I am enthralled with shadows. They allowed me to go to the MET in New York and photograph. I headed towards the African masks sections, as I loved all those fetishes. But when I got there, I photographed the floor. I loved what happened with the light and the shadow. The boxes, cubes, plexiglass… It is amazing how I always keep coming back to the same thing.

Incidence 1, 2009 © Barbara Kasten


Incidence 3, 2010 © Barbara Kasten


These are a few things you probably have never seen. They are 8 x 10 contact prints featuring very simple objects relying on light and shadow. They are very nondescript forms, very minimal, very painterly in an approach of how they are positioned and how I record them. This is a series that came right when I was on this mini grant from Columbia, and I worked with the way light interacts with surfaces, different materials, and scratch materials. I love the idea that one can see the application of the human hand and how the materials might have been cut or altered in some way.

Elemental 2, 2015 © Barbara Kasten


Elemental 3, 2015 © Barbara Kasten


These are some of the largest pieces I have made to date, experimenting with cardboard boxes. Simple shapes. Geometry has always been an interest of mine even from high school days. It has always been something I aim to try to solve and it is reflected in my choice of shapes and forms. It seems very natural.

Transposition 3, 2014 © Barbara Kasten


Transposition 27, 2016 © Barbara Kasten


This was when I decided, “Okay, I think now I’ll add a little more color.” But I needed to add it in small doses so I added shapes of gel that then got reflected and didn’t fill the frame in the same manner as it did earlier. This was the beginning of working with plexiglass and the reflection, and the reflection of light on different surfaces. I am trying to figure out how I could capture that and balance it into an abstract form. It reminds me of drawing. In making my own work, I feel like I am drawing on the back of the camera. That is how I interpret it.

Collision 7 T E, 2018 © Barbara Kasten


Triptych Composition, 7D, 7T, 7E, 2016 © Barbara Kasten


It is all kind of coming full circle back to form and light. It seems like I have had a very zigzag course through my practice but eventually it comes together. Zigzag might happen with years in between but it still seems to be reliant on who I am as an artist. It keeps going back to that same message inside myself that says, “You got to do what you love to do.” And thank goodness, I have been able to do it for all these many years.

Thank you to all of you for being here tonight.


Barbara Kasten is known for photographs that transform architecture into formal abstract compositions using lighting, color gels, and mirrors. Originally from Chicago, Kasten is the recipient of many prestigious awards, and her work has been widely exhibited by major museums in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Her photographs are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; International Center of Photography, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Lodz, Poland; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, among others.

Courtesy of:
Bortolami Gallery, New York:
Kadel Willborn, Dusseldorf:
Thomas Dane, London:

Karen Irvine is Curator and Associate Director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago. She has organized over forty exhibitions of contemporary photography at the MoCP and other institutions and written essays for numerous artist monographs and magazines. Irvine is a part-time instructor of photography at Columbia College Chicago. She received an MFA in photography from FAMU, Prague, Czech Republic, and an MA in art history from the University of Illinois at Chicago. | @MoCP_Chicago

A Receding Coast

Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Essay and photographs by Virginia Hanusik


Founded on the deltaic plain of the Mississippi River, New Orleans has been described as the impossible, yet inevitable city because of its complex geography that tests the boundaries of human engineering. Hurricanes, floods, and sinking land have forced structural innovation and adaptation in the city and its surrounding coastal communities. As a result, a distinct sense of place has been perpetuated through the built environment.

Louisiana is experiencing a land loss crisis more severe than any environmental disaster in the state’s history. Aerial photographs of the coast and national media coverage of the “first climate refugees” have told a piece of the story of what it means for a physical place to disappear. However, this type of exposure is one small part of a larger picture. A long-term Slidell resident whose home, newly rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, now floods with every hard rain; a fisherman in Plaquemines Parish whose livelihood is being threatened by river diversions; the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi Chitimacha Choctaw whose ancestral home is dissolving into the marsh: these powerful stories, when paired with in-depth research, serve to educate the public around the relationship between nature and architecture in this vulnerable region.

Particularly given the fraught political moment we all find ourselves in, this project seeks to convey a collective vision of place through architectural portraits that describe the history of building practices in Louisiana. Ultimately, this knowledge can be used to inform future design in the age of climate change. I believe the best way to do this is to combine the accessibility of visual art with academic research in climate adaptation. In doing so, the opportunity to connect Louisiana’s environmental challenges and architectural history to other communities around the world may assist in the fight against climate change.

The time to act has never been more urgent. The Louisiana Office of Community Development is currently outlining the state’s resettlement plan that dictates which communities are able to be saved from encroaching water and which are not. Those who are unable to remain on the land that has been passed down through generations must re-create their lives elsewhere. The built environment, both architecture and infrastructure, are the tangible symbols of this change and deserve to be looked at in depth as a means of understanding the future of human settlement.

With funding from the Graham Foundation, I was able to research throughout South Louisiana by visiting the architectural archives of Tulane University and conduct interviews with residents in coastal communities. The portfolio presented here seeks to capture the complexity and precariousness of the built environment at this moment in time and engage the viewer with daily life on the frontlines of climate change. Rather than photographing scenes of disaster or aerial footage—which allow the audience to dissociate—these images present the everyday landscape.

This project seeks to position itself as a means for connectivity, awareness, and empathy across communities with the aim of thereby strengthening our collective environmental stewardship.

Delacroix, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Pierre Part, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Ruddock, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Flood wall in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Lafitte, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Lake Verret, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Attakapas Landing, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


New development in Holy Cross, New Orleans © Virginia Hanusik


Hopedale, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Lake Maurepas, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Chalmette Refinery, Chalmette, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Holy Cross, New Orleans © Virginia Hanusik


Orleans Avenue Canal, New Orleans © Virginia Hanusik


House on Lake Verret, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Our Lady of Blind River, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Lake Verret, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Venice, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Fort Proctor, Lake Borgne, Louisiana © Virginia Hanusik


Virginia Hanusik is an artist and architectural researcher whose work explores the relationship between culture and the built environment. Her photographs have been exhibited internationally and featured in publications such as Domus, Places Journal, NPR, Fast Company, Newsweek, and The Atlantic, among others. She received her B.A. from Bard College and is currently working on a project about the architecture of climate change in South Louisiana with support from the Graham Foundation. She is a member of the Climate Working Group at New York University and was ranked as one of Planetizen‘s Most Influential Urbanists in 2017. She lives in New York City. | @virginiahanusik

It’s Not What You Say, It’s What You Do


Stanley Tigerman © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


Iker Gil and Ann Lui interview Stanley Tigerman


At one point in this interview, Stanley Tigerman asked us: “You know the character you need to be an architect? You need to be brave. You need to be strong. You have to have a very strong backbone. You have to have very thick skin because you’re going to get beat to shit by others, without question. You have to have that quality in you to take the criticism that will come your way no matter what.”

At the core of this advice is the central belief that vigorous debate—including harsh criticism, strong positions, and the prioritization of powerful new ideas even at the cost of one’s own comfort—is essential to the forward movement of architecture.

This position resonates across Stanley’s many roles in architectural discourse as practitioner, curator, and teacher. No encounters seem to escape his dedication, often ferocious, to the construction of an articulate battle over the future of design. (He even noted, at the beginning of our interview, his frustration with how others had censored his salty language in publication. His firm stance against the watering down of his positions, against the backdrop of increasingly edited and PR-worthy statements by designers, was refreshing fearless.) In the 1970s, Stanley curated seminal exhibitions that brought to the fore Chicago architects against rising stars in New York and Los Angeles. In parallel, he also staged discursive events, such as The State of the Art of Architecture (1977), from which this year’s Biennial draws its name, and a series of rough-and-tumble, informal debates at the newly revived Chicago Architectural Club. As an educator, Stanley hosted The Chicago Tapes (1986) conference, a symposium that took after The Charlottesville Tapes conference three years before; at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), he was also responsible for initiating a series of publications. These practices set the stage for decades of service as a moderator, ringmaster, and electric goad to architects in the city: calling upon us to both be self-critical and also engage others in conversation over our practices and beliefs.

To this day, Stanley Tigerman serves as the backbone of Chicago’s rich conversation on architecture and the city, including his warm nurturing of a new generation of architects. Stanley’s dedication to fostering debate—which always includes the demand that architects bring their work to the table and stand firm behind their ideas—has not diminished through the years. His gift to Chicago is his continued fight for the value of potent, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is, discourse.



From left to right: Helmut Jahn, Tom Beeby, Stanley Tigerman, and Stuart Cohen, Chicago Seven Townhouse Competition, c. 1978 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


AL: During your interview for the Chicago Architects Oral History Project you discussed the tough critiques at Yale in the late 50s and early 60s. You mentioned one critic that was especially tough on Louis Skidmore Jr.

ST: Yeah. Who, by the way, is an asshole.

AL: I was wondering how this harsh criticism shaped you as a teacher and as a pedagogue. It seems that Archeworks, the school you co-founded in 1994 with Eva Maddox, goes in another direction and focuses on fostering communication between disciplines. Did these tough critiques inform your thinking when you started Archeworks?

ST: Well, that’s a very complex question. When I was at Yale, Paul Rudolph was the Chair, and Paul was a very tough guy. In the 1959-60 academic year, I was in the Bachelor’s thesis class. The class started in September with thirty students. By the time we graduated, do you know how many graduated on time? Fifteen. Some flunked, some were asked to come back for the summer, some for a semester, some for a year, some for more than a year, some never. When I was there several of the kids ended up on shrink’s couches. One kid committed suicide. Is this a justification for that level of harshness? No, but it was what it was. This is a different time in architectural education. You don’t flunk people because this is a litigious society. The kid’s mommy comes after you and sues your ass.

But that was a very rough time. In my second year in my masters program, I worked for Paul at night. In those years, the architecture school at Yale closed at two in the morning. At two in the morning, the Yale radio station, which was on in the drafting room, played the alma mater “Bright College Years.” We all got up and sang it, and they all went to get drunk, except me. At two in the morning, I went to Paul Rudolph’s office and worked until five in the morning, five nights a week. But I had to be back in the studio by nine, because he showed up at nine. So I had basically four hours of sleep at night. It was a killer. There was a point when I got my masters and Paul offered me a full time job. I said, “Paul, do you see that old, beat-up station wagon belching gasoline at the curb? If I don’t go back to Chicago this minute I’m going to get physically ill. I’m going to vomit, probably all over you.” And I left. It was the hardest two years of my life. It made being in the United States Navy a piece of cake. Those of us who survived it, bonded: Bob Stern, Charlie Gwathmey, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Jack Robertson, Tom Beeby, blah, blah, blah. Irrespective of our differences stylistically, formalistically, whatever, we survived this trial by fire. Paul Rudolph did invent me, what you see is the product of my having been there. If he hadn’t come across me and molded me to his satisfaction I wouldn’t be sitting here. Period.

Paul was very demanding, and he was that demanding of himself. His problem was that, holistically speaking, he never was a whole human being. I remember coming back from Bangladesh one time and on the way back we stopped in Paris. I said, “Paul, do you want to go to L’Opéra, or l’Opéra Comique?” No, he just wanted to sit on the Champs-Élysées sipping drinks. I thought, “Where is your cultural IQ, Paul?” He walked, spoke, ate, shat, and practiced architecture. It’s what he did. He was a supreme, supremo architect, and he was totally single-minded. But that doesn’t cut it, even then. So Paul was flawed, but I loved him. I loved, and I understood the treatment because I had been in the Navy.

So did that infect the way that I then treated others? Yes and no. Archeworks was late in my life. Earlier, when I was at UIC, I burned a kid’s drawings. Burned it right in his presence. It was a shit drawing. As a result, they hung me in effigy, outside the building. I have a checkered career and persona. I didn’t do things the way traditional architects do them. I don’t mean stylistically, but the tradition of architects’ behavior. It’s one of the reasons that my office stayed small, which was done consciously. I didn’t want a big office so I could say no to people, I could actually fire a client, which I have done on three occasions.

I am a perfectionist. I used to believe in absolute values, not relative values. I’ve changed my mind. Times change. I’m thinking more of relative things now. So I’ve changed. But, did my experience at Yale impact my behavior later as a teacher? Yes. At Archeworks, not so much. I don’t think we ever got rid of a student because it was so god-damned small we needed every student. So I had to curb my innate behavior to some degree.

IG: During the 1970s and 80s, you organized a series of symposia such as the 1977 The State of the Art of Architecture at the Graham Foundation. The event is once again in the news as this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial has borrowed the name for its inaugural edition. What was the format and what were the goals of the 1977 symposium?

ST: It began with the New York Five, which was Eisenman, Meier, Gwathmey, Hejduk, and Graves. Only Eisenman and Meier are alive. And they’re cousins [they are second cousins by marriage]. Did you know that?

IG: No.

ST: It’s a great story about them. They’re first cousins. Eisenman’s mother is the poor one. Jewish family. Meier’s mother is the rich one. So Meier’s mother used to call Peter’s mother all the time and say, “What has Peter done? Richard just won the Gold Medal.” Typical Jewish mother bullshit, right? She would say. “Richard just won the Pritzker Prize. What did Peter ever win?” So Peter is filled with anxieties because then his mother would call and say, “Well you say you are so famous, but you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that. Because Richard’s mother just told me about blah, blah, blah.”

The New York Five was an elitist operation. It was architecture for architecture’s sake. Like art for art’s sake, which is as it should have been. It was not inclusivist. The first reaction to that was Bob Stern, Aldo Giurgola [plus Allan Greenberg, Charles Moore, and Jaquelin Robertson] forming The Greys. Then, the Los Angeles guys did The Silvers. If you can imagine: speed, extrusions, that kind of architecture. And then the Chicago Seven. Why the Chicago Seven? The Chicago Seven was a total bullshit operation. We didn’t then, and we still do not, even like each other. We had nothing in common. Do I ever see any of these people? Absolutely not ever.

I wanted to get them together. I have a history, which began at Yale. When I was at Yale, I brought students from Harvard and Penn to Yale and New Haven, to talk about the state of the art. I have done that a bazillion times. I see architecture as a performing art. I do well working alone, but I do well in groups. I like bringing people together.

You could ask the question, “What did you gain? What happened at that thing in ‘77? I could ask the same thing. You could ask the question, “What happened between Harvard and Princeton; Harvard, Penn, and Yale?” Or what happened at the Passing The Baton event at Archeworks in 2008 when I had Sarah Herda, Bob Somol, Zoë Ryan, Zurich Esposito, and so on? [1] What was accomplished that night? What was accomplished was that they got to know each other and, from that point forward, they could engage. That happened in New Haven and that happened in ‘77. For me, the result in ‘77 was great, because all those guys became my friends. I don’t have any friends in Chicago because we’re competitors. That’s the other side of architecture: I love competition. I see architecture as a competition. I see we’re all climbing a mountain. And it’s getting smaller. And there’s less and less oxygen. And they’re dropping off. I love it. I love it.

IG: You’re not mellowing out with age.

ST: I’m not mellowing out. No. I’m getting meaner and tougher. Straightaway. Always. It’s my persona.



From left to right: Robert Stern, Richard Meier, Jim Nagle, Peter Eisenman, Stanley Tigerman, Bill Turnbull, Jim Stirling, and Ben Weese, The State of the Art of Architecture panel, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, 1977 © Courtesy of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts



Sketch by Stanley Tigerman about The State of the Art of Architecture symposium, 1994 © Courtesy of Volume Gallery


IG: With The State of the Art of Architecture, The Chicago Tapes, and the other events then the idea was to bring people together, which led you to establish their friendship, but there was something about Chicago too.

ST: The other reason for forming the Chicago Seven, in counter distinction to the Miesian descendants, was because we wanted a place at the table. Make no mistake. It was straight about ego. We met all the time, we had dinners together, but we were not close. We knew that, but we wanted a place at the table.

IG: It was a self-interested relationship.

ST: There was self-interest involved, because without self-interest you got nothing.

IG: In your interview for the Chicago Architects Oral History Project, you made it clear that there was a desire to make sure you all had a place at the table, but also in rewriting the established architectural history of Chicago.

ST: Yes. It was revisionist history. Everybody needs to make a place. During the Passing the Baton event at Archeworks, there were eight or nine people onstage. The moderator was Ned Cramer, so he called me up to convene the proceedings. I came up with my little suitcase and I said, “This is about passing the baton to the next generation, because you need to help the next generation. There are three different kinds of batons. There is the conductor’s baton. There is the baton that relay racers use. Then there is this baton.” I reached in the case and pulled out, I swear to Christ, a ten-inch hunting knife. I said, “Your job is to kill me.” I tried to hand it to Ned Kramer, but Ned Kramer’s balls never dropped, and he never took it. Therefore, the next generation was weak. Your job, to become an adult, it’s straightaway, it’s about Oedipus. You need to kill your father to take his place. Period. But they didn’t want to take the knife. I mean I literally… a big fucking knife.

IG: I don’t know if anybody would have taken it.

ST: Well, symbolically that was their job. The job is to displace the father, to take the place. That’s why I resented the fucking Miesians, because they never got rid of Mies. They copied it. They never advanced his agenda, and I resented them for that. Dirk Lohan is a shit architect, the grandson of Mies, who uses being the grandson to make money. I mean, ridiculous.

IG: I guess it’s a marketing tool and I know how much you “love” marketing.

ST: I hate it. There is something I hate even more. It’s called branding. I fucking hate branding. You know what branding is? I can draw it. This is branding. It’s called the golden arches. You want to burn that into the brain of customers, not clients even, but customers, so they’ll buy your product. It’s all about money, which diminishes architecture. Guys that diminish architecture are by nature my born enemy, and I treat them that way. People that diminish architecture by using phrases like “value engineering”…ugh, Christ! Those are all the things why I identify with your generation, because they’re all the things that fuck up architecture. And I hate them, like you do. No question about it.



From left to right: Richard Meier, Nan Swid, Andrée Putman, Arata Isozaki, Robert Siegel, Stanley Tigerman, Addie Powell, Robert Stern, Charles Gwathmey, Frank Gehry, and James Polshek, c. 1984 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


IG: You started two publications, almost at the same time, during your time as Director at UIC as well as when you were the president of the Chicago Architecture Club.

ST: Threshold and the Chicago Architectural Club Journal.

IG: Was the idea for those publications to document what was happening in Chicago, to promote Chicago, or to begin to spark some type of conversation or debate between people?

ST: All of the above. In the same way the Chicago Seven wanted a place at the table, I was up to here [points above his head] with the publishing world being New York-centric. I still am. Log, have you ever tried to read that shit? They feed on each other until ultimately they only have an audience of each other. So the circulation is five, because only five people understand that crap.

While I was the Director at UIC, I went to Monacelli, who was then at Rizzoli, who was my publisher, and I said, “Gianfranco, please publish the Chicago Architecture Club Journal. It’s in the context of history. They did the Chicago Architectural Sketch Club founded way back when. And, for the University of Illinois at Chicago, let’s do a magazine. We’ll call it Threshold.” I wanted Chicago on the map, not just New York thinking it’s the center, because it ain’t.

It was a place for dialogue to engage, and now it’s been fulfilled. Look at all the people that are now in Chicago. That includes you [Iker], it includes Sean Lally, [Thomas] Kelley, Andy Moddrell, and the young people teaching at UIC. It’s sort of becoming a hot-shit place.

IG: It’s surprising that those two publications no longer exist and that neither UIC nor the Chicago Architecture Club published that much after those initial efforts.

ST: It needs continuous prodding. I got five issues out of each. But ultimately, in the biblical terms, in Ecclesiastes, there’s a time for everything and I just can’t be there continuously doing that. I loved when Jimenez Lai did Treatise, the fourteen books and the exhibition at the Graham Foundation. It was obviously self-serving for Jimenez, but it also put together a bunch of really good people. And he did it from Chicago, so I really miss him now that he’s in L.A.

IG: Now people like Ann, who has been doing very interesting work in Boston, are coming to Chicago to continue her practice and to teach. So some people are leaving for different reasons but others are coming too, and they see Chicago as a viable place for them.

ST: It’s a work in progress. Chicago, that is.

IG: It’s always going to be.

ST: Yes, it always is going to be, but I got to tell you, it wasn’t always the case. When I came back from Yale in ‘61, the big firm that was worth something outside of Mies was Skidmore [Skidmore, Owings & Merrill]. There were only two small firms that were really good architects. One was Harry Weese, and the other was Ed Dart, Edward Dupaquier Dart. He was a very good architect. That’s what I came to. So it wasn’t always like it is now. Now you can say with confidence that it’s a work in progress. It will always change.



From left to right: Helmut Jahn, Robert Stern, and Stanley Tigerman, c. 1982 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


AL: When the Chicago Architecture Club was reestablished in 1979, it was fairly exclusive: it had limited members [40] and you had to pay high dues to be part of it. However, it seems to me that the most grueling barrier to entry was to be able to hold your own at the debates and the critiques that took place at the Club.

ST: At every meeting, which used to be at the Graham Foundation, there would be two guys, more or less comparable, who would debate each other and show their work, because work is a vehicle for ideas. At the end there was a vote, and there was a winner and a loser. The winner got a certificate with a “W,” and the loser got one with a “L.” I loved that. In other words, I loved documenting what transpired. And that people lose. You don’t just win. If you play major league baseball, if you want to get your contract renewed, you have to hit at least .300. .300 means that seven out of ten times you’re out. You have to understand losing.

IG: I am assuming that some of these debates were fierce and very personal.

ST: Entirely personal. When [John] Syvertsen became president of the club, he put [Tom] Beeby up against me, and Beeby won. I have my certificate with the “L” on it proudly displayed at home. Everything you do counts. Don’t bullshit yourself, and say you can get away with it, because you can’t. Some asshole down the line will engage you in revisionist history and catch you up for lying. You see it all the time in the papers about politics, and movie stars. They think they can get away with something and they engage in something called hubris, which is the problem. You have to be truthful. You have to say what really happened, that you won this and that you lost that.

IG: Do you think those debates made people tougher and helped them create better work?

ST: Yes. Absolutely. They didn’t create better friends, but it did create better work. I realize that not all the work in Chicago was great, but Chicago has a lot of very good architects.

IG: Clearly you’d rather have better work than better friends.

ST: Abso-goddamn-lutley. In Chicago, I’d much rather have better work than better friends. No question about it. And who are my friends not in Chicago? Very good architects. Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Charlie Gwathmey before he died, Peter Eisenman, etc. Jeanne Gang was the greatest supporter of me because I’m very supportive of her. I told her, “Jeanne, it’s simple, when you start doing shitty work, you’ll see that I’m not such a good friend. Because I will call you out for it publicly.” I’m interested in good work, period. Good architecture, good dialogue, good ideas require critical mass. If you live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, you don’t expect good architecture, because there aren’t enough guys out there practicing good architecture to have an impact on each other. That’s why Chicago is great. Because it’s tough. I’ve been trying to do that my whole life.

AL: At the end of your text from Emmanuel Petit’s recent book Schlepping Through Ambivalence, you wrote, “It seems as if precious little changes, including the fact that I still miss you.” [2] It seems to me that a long debate can be very productive or collaborative when it is built on mutual admiration between you and Mies. Who would be a worthy candidate today to do battle with, as Ada Louise Huxtable described your conversation with Mies? [3]

ST: Mies had a huge impact on me. After a year at MIT, I flunked out. I got a job working for George Fred Keck, who was a wonderful architect. Keck was trying to do what turned out to be sort of a shitty building for the Chicago Housing Authority. He wanted to engage Mies to persuade the head of the Chicago Housing Authority to hire him. I was nineteen and an absolute apprentice, bottom, zero in this office. Mies came to the office, and I was blown away. To meet Mies, for me, was like meeting God. It was like meeting Moses. Mies was incredible. I can tell you endless stories about him. He was a wonderful person.

On the other hand, he was shit toward women, as was Corbu, as was Frank Lloyd Wright. We are all people. We have good sides, but we’re flawed. Mies wasn’t perfect. But Mies, architecturally, philosophically, and theologically, was perfect. Humanistically? Not perfect. But I admired him, and I liked him. He had a big impact on me and he obviously had a giant impact on Chicago.

When Saarinen designed the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport, I used to fly TWA when I went to New York because I loved the building. It was a great building. One time I came into the building, I was going to get a cab going through the concourse, and I saw a poster on the wall. The poster is a picture of the Seagram Building. A great poster. A beautiful elevation of the end of Seagram looking up. And the only words were, “This is the only building by Mies van der Rohe in New York. Isn’t it a shame?” It knocked me out. Why did it knock me out? Because there are forty-five fucking buildings by Mies van der Rohe in Chicago. And there are an additional thirty by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s incredible. So I have a chip on my shoulder.

I am antagonistic to the East. I would never have stayed for work for Paul Rudolph anyway. Between us. There’s no way I was going to be related to New York. No way. Even when I came back, when Cesar Pelli was Dean of the architecture school at Yale, he invited me back for my first big-name professorship. And I was thrilled. I was going home. When I got to New Haven, by the time I got to the architecture building I was in tears. I’m telling you, I was totally undone because I had come home. I was thrilled. I wasn’t even there ten fucking minutes when I wanted to go back to Chicago. I loved going back to New Haven, but every time I’ve gone for Peter’s juries, I can’t stand it. I can’t wait to get out of there. I hate it. Because they’re all so snotty… and think that their shit doesn’t stink, individually and collectively. I have a hard time with those attitudes.

IG: That’s one of the things I like about Chicago. You don’t find that attitude very often. If people say something, they do it.

ST: My conversations with Peter Eisenman always begin the following way: Peter says, “I’m totally out of it. I’m not in the mainstream. I’m more out of it than you are.” I say, “No, Peter, I’m more out of it than you are.” Outsider. I wrote about it in my own book. Emmanuel Petit wrote about it in his book. When I was a little kid, I grew up in my grandparents’ boarding house because they were very poor. My grandfather was a Hasidic, Jewish, Talmudic scholar. If he had lived I would have become a rabbi. I know that. Without question. However hard it was, that’s what I would have become. But he didn’t. I’ve always been the poor, Jewish, outsider kid. Period. Being an outsider is great.

AL: And Mies too.

ST: Mies too was an outsider. Chicago worked for him because he wasn’t an intellect in the conventional sense. He was as well-read, more well-read than anyone I ever knew. Do you know the story about how Mies came to America? When he came in ‘37 after the closing of the Bauhaus in ‘33, he tried for years to become Hitler’s official architect. Mies was trying actively to displace Albert Speer. When he came to the realization through his thick German skull that Hitler wasn’t having any, he stole his brother Ewald’s passport, and that’s how he came.

So he was an outsider, even in Berlin, and he knew it. He came here where he was for sure an outsider because he was too old to learn English. He thought, wrote, and spoke in German. Believe me, English was a distant second language. He couldn’t make jokes in English but he was a very funny guy, actually. So for him being an outsider was real.

When he finally emigrated, to become head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology [now Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)], the SS allowed him to take thirty books. He had a library of three thousand books but he was allowed to take thirty. Those thirty books, after Mies was fired from IIT in ‘58, are at the rare books library at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

IG: So you both had something in common. You were both fired from a university.

ST: Yeah, absolutely. My being fired was great. If I had been the Dean at that time I’d have fired me too, because I was absolutely a troublemaker. When I was the director at UIC, there was a long axis and faculty had to come down all the way to see me sitting in my office. On my round table there was nothing, except a piece of paper facing them with all the retirement dates of everybody on the faculty. There’s a guy named Louis Rocah, one of the major assholes of our time. When I became the Director, I said, “Louis, I consider you a really shitty teacher.” And I said, “Louis, do you know what the penalty box is in ice hockey? If you stick a guy too high, you get two minutes and you go to the penalty box. Louis, do you see this desk here? This is the penalty box for you. While I’m the director, I’m going to sacrifice your salary. We will pay you, because we can’t fire you. You have tenure. But you will sit here and never teach during my time. Ever. And you will be here every fucking day at nine o’clock.”

Yes, I was a tough character. For sure. I still am. I’m the same guy. I’ll never change. Where the phrase “mellowing out” comes from, I have no idea because it never pertained to me. I did things like that, and both Mies and I, among other things, had in common that we were both fired. When Mies was fired, there was a dinner that was called for by Myron Goldsmith and conducted by the Miesians. All the partners at Skidmore had gone to IIT. Among the people at the dinner, there was Alfred Caldwell. When Mies was fired, he was fired as campus architect, not just as a director of the architecture school, and Skidmore replaced him as the campus architect. Some of the IIT faculty were saying, “Where is this loyalty to Mies when you accept replacing him?” Only one faculty member, putting your action where your mouth is, quit: Alfred Caldwell. The rest of them stayed, the weak guys. And Myron Goldsmith became the darling of them. But he had stabbed Mies in the back. That’s why revisionist history comes about. Because it takes digging to find that stuff.

IG: You’ve always been very interested in morality and ethics.

ST: It’s how you behave. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. A very good friend of mine, a Hasidic Rabbi now in Jerusalem, used to give a course at the Spertus Institute here once a year on the Zohar, the Kabbalah. I always used to go hear his lectures and they were great. We became friends and one night we had a drink after a talk and he said, “the reason I like architects is because they actually make something. They don’t just speak it.” He said, “I know the Jews are renowned as being people of the book, but in actual fact it’s what you do that will have an impact on God. Not what you say.” Of course that’s true, all the way through. So I loved Caldwell ever since doing what he did, get out and resign. When it counted, he stood up for what he believed, and he left. So being fired, no problem. I’ve been fired. I’ve fired clients.

IG: It’s just a game.

ST: No, it’s not a game. It’s what you believe in. When you’re a zealot, which I confess I am, and people go against that, you have to act out. You have to act to show your displeasure with them. When I was director at UIC, I curated an exhibition, which changed everything. It was called, 10 Untenured Faculty. It included ten young people who would become the next generation of stars: Catherine Ingraham, Bob Somol… Bob Bruegmann resented the exhibition and said bad things about me behind my back. So I went up to Bob and said, “Bob, if you’re going to say bad things about me, do it to my face, because if you don’t you’re a fucking coward.” And with that he walked off. Because he is a fucking coward. Obviously there are very few subjects that I don’t have a very strong opinion for.







Cluster Container Housing for the Disabled, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, Chicago Architecture Biennial, 2015 © Tigerman McCurry Architects



Cluster Container Housing for the Disabled (model), BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, Chicago Architecture Biennial, 2015 © David Schalliol


IG: Let’s talk about the Chicago Architecture Biennial where, apart from using the title from your ’77 symposium, you are part of the advisory committee. What do you want to see come out of the event?

ST: I happen to have personally great faith in Sarah. I do know Sarah very well. And she knows, that I know, that her ass is on the line. If it’s a failure, she’s a failure, and she won’t allow that to happen. I’m certain of it. What I expect out of the Biennial, which will happen, is the youngest generation coming into their prime, like Spike [Erin Besler]. They will change the course of architecture, there is no question about it. And not just in design ways. They will change in other ways because your generation does not believe in doing things the same way. For example, your generation is not joining the AIA, is not becoming registered. So things won’t be done the same way. You’ll find your own way to make a building and to gather together.

I think there’ll be a lot of terrific work at the Biennial. I don’t think there’s going to be a shit Biennial, like Rem [Koolhaas] did. I think it’s going to be extraordinary, despite that not everything is going to be great. Not everything that was at the Graham Foundation Treatise show was great, but much of it was. Thomas Kelley’s stuff at that exhibition was fabulous. Because he’s a really good architect.

IG: I think it would be unrealistic to expect that all the projects in the Biennial are great.

ST: With a hundred participants, is it all going to be great? I don’t think so. But I think that Tom Kelley will be great. I think Andy [Moddrell] will be great. The problem is not Andy Moddrell. The problem is that asshole Blair Kamin. Margaret and I saw him at a Harvard Club event and he came up to us and asked, “What do you think of the Biennial?” I said, “It’s really great.” He said, “Well, give me an example.” I said, “Andy Moddrell’s project [The Big Shift] is going to be there.” I could barely get the words out of my mouth. He said, “That’s total bullshit. It’s a stupid idea. It ain’t going to happen.” I said, “Blair, the only asshole in the room is you. Because the fact is, it will happen. And you know why it will happen? Because it’s money. Because it produces tax dollars up the wazoo for the city. How do you like that Blair? It’s going to happen and you’re wrong. And if I live long enough I’m going to point that out to you.” He’s wrong. He has the vision of a goddamned cockroach. He’s not visionary. You can’t be a critic or a teacher, and not be a visionary. You have to have visions. You must be forward looking. And, in any case, you’d be a fool to deny that project by Andy Moddrell. I only wish I had that idea. It is a brilliant idea, utterly brilliant, and deserves support. If an 85-year-old man can recognize it, why can’t this asshole, who considers himself the architectural critic of the city, understand it? There’s something very wrong with this picture.

IG: I think there are a lot of young talented people who have very interesting proposals and ideas. The question is how to have the opportunity to make them happen, or at least take them into consideration when the decisions are debated. I think the Biennial provides the podium to present your ideas.

ST: But it begins with the drawings and ideas. Yours is a generation that, maybe not all, but many have ideas. So I anticipate, and I would demand that this be acknowledged, that it will produce a lot of good stuff. Not all, because you can’t lump these things together. There’s going to be crap. There always is.

IG: The Biennial will have a series of public programs but besides them, there are other people and institutions organizing parallel events. Richard Driehaus has organized a kind of counter program during the opening days of the Biennial focusing on tradition, more akin to his architectural taste. I find it interesting that he is building from and reacting to the official event.

ST: The September/October issue of Chicago Architect is dedicated entirely to the Biennial. Zurich Esposito has asked me to write a piece at the beginning of the magazine. So I wrote a good 250-word piece and, among other things, I said of course there are those that haven’t been invited to be in the tent. And then I noted them. I said one is Driehaus who’s spending his money again to bring forth this reactionary crowd, to the point that Sarah, among other talks, invited the Chicago Seven to give a talk. Beeby said no. I will note that at the talk. If you were doing a symposium on the Whites, the New York Five, would you do it even though three of them were dead? Sure. So Beeby is dead. Then I said there are also “former” star architects like Rem, Peter Eisenman, that are having an event here as well. Don’t you love it that I refer to Eisenman and Rem as “former” stars? That’s great. It’s a great game.

IG: It’s great to see that you still enjoy being part of the game.

ST: I love it. I love the game. I abso-goddamned-love it. I have no problem with them convening an escape route. Julie Hacker, Stewart Cohen’s wife and partner, is putting together a symposium at the Merchandise Mart during the time of the Biennial. She has invited traditional architects, and she invited Margaret [McCurry]. I said, “Margaret, this is your chance. Do this, but show these projects in this way.” The big house in Lincoln Park, which after all is based on a Palladian parti, but is an incredibly modern, glass, and zinc-coated steel house. So I said, “From the inside, you can cut their balls off.” So she’s doing it. I like the fact that things will happen outside the tent as it were.



Front row, from left to right: Frank Gehry, Charles Moore, Philip Johnson, Stanley Tigerman, and Robert A.M. Stern. Back row, from left to right: Michael Graves, Cesar Pelli, Charles Gwathmey, and Peter Eisenman. Philip Johnson’s AIA Gold Medal acceptance, pictured with his “kids,” Dallas, Texas, 1978 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


IG: Let’s talk about the Obama Presidential Library for a moment. It ended up landing
at the University of Chicago despite not having released publicly any information about their proposal. UIC had to share those plans because it’s a public school and they have to make the proposal public. In my opinion, there was a lack of debate about the actual ideas and proposals submitted. There’s something completely wrong about the process.

ST: Absolutely. It’s an unfortunate tradition in Chicago. They hold things too tightly to themselves.

IG: Despite using public land, you award a project that hasn’t been discussed at all, having been decided behind-the-scenes.

ST: Well, there’s an unfortunate tradition of behind-the-scenes. When Bruce Graham from Skidmore was alive, a number of us were helping him with the 100th anniversary of the Columbian Exposition in 1993. It never happened. You know why? I know why. In 1893, how many public meetings did Daniel Burnham conduct to persuade the population to do it? Would you guess?

IG: 20?

ST: Try 2,000. You know how many Bruce Graham conducted? Zero. So I said, “Bruce, how do you expect to get the support of the city? The politics, the city, the establishment, rich people etc. didn’t want to make waves. That’s one. Now let’s go to 2000-something when we attempted to get the Olympics for Chicago. When Mayor Daley went to Barcelona, how many public meetings were held before that? Zero. How do you expect to get the public behind you if you do zero? So I said to Sarah and Joe Grima, “Listen guys, you have to come out with this. If you hold it to yourself you’re going to get nothing but antagonism.” And they had done it to some degree, more lately than early. You understand the problem? It goes for schools, it goes for your practice, etc. I’m not worried that anyone’s going to rip me off. I show everything what I’m working on, what my thoughts are, to anybody that’s interested that’ll listen to it.

AL: In a 2003 interview you said, “Architects tend to be responders. Painters and artists tend to be initiators.” [4] Maybe that conflicts some with some of what you just said about the people you most admire in this Biennial. I want to know, do you still think that’s the case?

ST: It’s not the case now. There was only one architect of my generation who actively was an initiator, not a responder. What was his name? It’s a quiz.

AL: I don’t know.

ST: John Hejduk. He didn’t need a client. He kept putting things out there. In actual fact, the first drawings for his Wall House are actually better than the one built in Groningen. The one built in Groningen is great. But his original concept is earth shattering. It’s a brilliant concept. It’s surrealism about the future and the past, and the present is the wall. I think that your generation has more of that, of initiating. Let me go back to Spike [Erin Besler]. Her riff on Peter Eisenman’s stuff is fucking amazing. I loved that she screwed around with the robot, and that caused the robot to make inaccurate drawings, as opposed to perfect, cutting through foam-core with a hot wire. I love her misusing a tool to achieve something. That’s a first, as far as I’m concerned. She’s not the only one. Andy Moddrell is another example. Turning Grant Park into Central Park, for the purpose of high-rent districts all the way around.

IG: It’s an interesting project that understands the history of the city and its rules. If you can’t build east of Lakeshore Drive, then move Lakeshore Drive. The city has expanded its lakefront and added acres of land for a century.

ST: Exactly. All the best things come out that way. That’s how Utzon won the goddamned competition for the Sydney Opera House. He broke all the rules of the competition. That’s how Maya Lin won the Vietnam memorial competition. She broke all the rules of the actual competition. They had dismissed her project, and actually Harry Weese brought it back. “You guys are wrong. This is brilliant.”

IG: Going back to architects as initiators, people have to be willing to put themselves and their ideas out there in the public, to be open to debate and be challenged.

ST: So you know the character you need to be an architect? You need to be brave. You need to be strong. You have to have a very strong backbone. You have to have very thick skin because you’re going to get beat to shit by others, without question. You have to have that quality in you to take the criticism that will come your way no matter what. Guaranteed. Put it in the bank. I think there’s a moral to the story that you, the youngest person sitting here, should understand entirely. You know what the name of the game is? Health. You have to stay healthy. Because if you live a very long time, good shit will happen to you. But you have to be here. So all those people like Doug Garofalo, who died prematurely, that’s tragic. Or Eero Saarinen who died when he was 51. Great tragedy. Or Fazlur Khan, who was a great friend of mine. He was 51 years old. Come on. That’s the tragedy. But old guys who are 85 years old, no tragedy. I love seeing all the shit that’s going down right now. I love it, because it’s a wishful form of prophecy. I’m thrilled to be around for so long that I can see that things are going well. The latest generation, your generation, is doing it.



1. Stanley Tigerman, ed., Passing the Baton: The Next Generation of Design Leadership in Chicago (2008),

2. Stanley Tigerman, “P.P.S. to Mies,” in Schlepping Through Ambivalence: Essays on an American Architectural Condition, ed. Emmanuel J. Petit (New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011), 154.

3. “Oral History of Stanley Tigerman,” interview by Betty J. Blum, 2003 (Chicago Architects Oral History Project, Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago), 140.

4. Mara Tapp, “Can Stanley Tigerman Play Nice?” Chicago Reader, November 20, 2003,



Stanley Tigerman lecturing, c 2011 © Courtesy Tigerman McCurry Architects


Stanley Tigerman is a principal in the Chicago architectural and design firm of Tigerman McCurry Architects and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects as well as the Society of Architectural Historians. Of the nearly 500 projects defining his career, 200-plus built works embrace virtually every building type. He has delivered over 1,100 lectures worldwide, he was the resident architect at the American Academy in Rome in 1980, and he was Director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago for eight years. In 1994, in association with Eva Maddox, he co-founded ARCHEWORKS, a socially oriented design laboratory and school, where he remained as Director until 2008 when they were awarded Civic Ventures’ Purpose Prize Fellows.

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss. | @MASContext

Ann Lui is a Visiting Artist at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. She is a co-founder of Future Firm, a Bridgeport office interested in the intersection of landscape territories and architectural spectacle. She is also a co-founder of Circus for Construction, a mobile art and design gallery on the back of a truck. | @FutureFirm@paperarchitect

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