A Career in Five Projects
Barcelona-born architect Carlos Ferrater started his career in the early 1970s. His first project was fifty-four dwellings in Sant Just Desvern, a town on the outskirts of Barcelona. Completed in 1977, the brick housing complex was designed with architect José Antonio Coderch in mind—to Ferrater the last great maestro. Single- and multi-family homes as well as civic and sports facilities followed in the next decade.
Ferrater left an important imprint on the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. After winning public competitions, his office designed four key projects for the Games, one in each of the four Olympic areas in the city: three city blocks, in the Olympic Village, that housed the referees; a housing complex in Vall d’Hebron that accommodated the journalists; the Juan Carlos I Hotel on Diagonal Avenue; and the Botanical Garden in Montjuïc that, while it would not officially open until 1999, was used for the cross-country race in front of the Olympic Stadium.
Over his now nearly five-decade-long career, Carlos Ferrater and his office, OAB (Office of Architecture in Barcelona), have designed a wide range of projects, from housing, offices, and hotels to train stations, airport terminals, waterfronts, and public spaces. Today, the award-winning work of OAB can be found not only in his native Barcelona but also across many other Spanish cities, and countries like France, Italy, Turkey, Morocco, and Mexico, to name but a few.
In 2006, MAS Context editor in chief Iker Gil (who had previously worked with Ferrater) curated the exhibition Synchronizing Geometry at the historic S. R. Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The exhibition showcased a selection of his key projects at a moment of transition, when the office of Carlos Ferrater became OAB. His son Borja Ferrater, daughter Lucía Ferrater, and his son-in-law Xavier Martí-Galí joined him in the new partnership, with Nuria Ayala becoming Project Director.
This past February, Iker Gil sat with Carlos Ferrater in his office in Barcelona to talk about his career, focusing on five built projects from across the decades. Selected by Ferrater, these projects represent key breakthroughs in his career, defining new directions for the office.
Estartit Yacht Club
Estartit, Girona, Spain
Building: 1,000 square meters / 10,764 square feet.
Total area of intervention: 1 hectare / 2.47 acres.
In the 1970s, I started my career by designing small and intimate domestic projects. They were small houses located in Barcelona and L’Estartit, a coastal enclave in the Costa Brava area in Girona.
I then won two competitions: one to design a sports pavilion in Torroella and another, a yacht club in L’Estartit, both in the province of Girona. From a fishing town, L’Estartit became a touristic town in need of a yacht club, and the location chosen was a remarkable site that had been reclaimed from the sea.
Winning that competition was very important for me as it allowed me to define a new way of approaching architecture. At that point, I was working on my own in the studio, assisted by two or three people. I was designing Mediterranean houses located by the sea that were very successful. I was labeled as a Mediterranean architect who paid attention to details, classical composition, layering, the horizontal plane, the sea, and in-between spaces. All those aspects were true, but the yacht club had a different approach.
The approach was to design a container defined by a structure and a void. It was a structure with a roof and a façade that appeared in a new pier. In this project, like in all the ones from this first period of my career, you can see the reference to architect José Antonio Coderch. In this specific case, it relates more to his 1951 Ugalde House in Caldes d’Estrac: more organic, free, and removed from the urban context that define some of his other projects. Similarly, there was no city in my project, no place—just an area reclaimed from the sea. That gave me a similar freedom towards design as it did to Coderch with the Ugalde House.
The whole complex was built on a podium that presented its inhabitable areas as protruding from it. Under the podium, a concrete hull rests on the foundations at the water-table level and forms a series of accessible underground chambers that house the networks of cables, plumbing, and overall infrastructure. Above this hull appears a new structure that is neither a yacht like the ones moored in front of the building nor the traditional houses found in the town. It is an open structure that relates with the mountains on the back and the Medas Islands on the front, renowned for their rich and beautiful underwater wildlife.
The building was organized into two pavilions that define a pedestrian walk along the waterfront. The main pavilion, which has a triangular plan, houses the yacht club’s offices, small nautical library, and bar. The second pavilion houses the bathrooms, personal quarters, transformer room, antennae, etc. Each pavilion has an independent roof, and the void between them becomes the open atrium of the club, the place that articulates the two volumes.
All the building elements, including the pavement, finishes, and furniture, contribute to integrating the architecture with its context while establishing an ambiguity between the land and the sea.
For the project, I developed a construction notebook as a kind of logbook, as it was built directly with the different trades and with no general contractor. I did hand drawings for the whole project, from the Miesian shapes and the corners to the bathrooms and mechanical systems.
It is a building that was very important for me at that moment, as I changed from being an architect of houses, of details, of pergolas into a different kind of architect: one who was working with marine plywood, metallic roof-cladding, aluminum frets made in France, and an altogether new approach to architecture.
IMPIVA Technology Park
Castellón de la Plana, Spain
This project represents a second key moment for the office. It is a project located in Castellón and designed for IMPIVA, the Institute for Small and Medium Industry of the Generalitat Valenciana.
The brief for the project was fairly simple. They wanted a building that was around 2,000 square meters to host small industrial spaces, laboratories, workshops, and offices to provide rental space to incubate innovative tech companies. I worked on the project with two local architects from Castellón, Jaime Sanahuja and Carlos Bento. It was a project with which I was very involved, constantly going to the construction site.
I divided the program of the project into five different boxes. The boxes were organized with stepped setbacks to follow the shape of the site, located on the outskirts of the city, by the road that connects the city to the sea. It was a chaotic area of the city, with the orange groves in front and the mountains behind. Each box is an autonomous piece, but all the pieces are connected through light and circulation, becoming an organism of a superior order. It is a system of interconnected autonomous pieces that now work as a complex organism. I separated the boxes in order to create interstitial spaces where vertical circulation, such as the stairs, was located, allowing the boxes to maximize their façades. In a way, it reminds me of a Donald Judd sculpture. These ambiguous interstitial spaces became the essence of the intervention, connecting all the parts of the program irrespective of any particular hierarchy. The organization also helps to provide independent access to each of the boxes.
In this project I applied aspects first studied in the yacht club in L’Estartit, mostly conceiving the façades as an abstract whole. The boxes had a different material: metal cladding, wood paneling from Prodema, and white bricks. They were chosen depending on the program that the box contained and its insulation needs. The end views are static and monumental, the interstitial spaces are ambiguous and transparent, and the side views, with their superposition of different planes, convey a dynamic quality to the complex.
From a fairly banal program on a site located on the outskirts of the city, we were able to create a unique and very successful building. It received a lot of national and international recognition through both the press and with awards. For me, it was another evolution in my work: I discovered the concept of a system that I later used in projects such as the Catalonia Convention Center, the Auditorium and Convention Center in Castellón, and the Science Museum in Granada, to name a few.
Three Housing Blocks in Cerdà’s Ensanche
81,265 square meters / 874,729 square feet
Josep Mª Muntaner
The third project that I have selected is the three housing blocks for the Olympic Village, designed for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. The project asked for 560 housing units to be located on the site of the former Torras factory that used to manufacture steel structures. The three blocks are located between Ramon Turró Street, Llull Street, Zamora Street, and Àvila Street.
From the moment of the project’s inception we took into account that it could become a guide for future interventions in an area that was transforming from an industrial into a residential area. I thought that this was an extremely important project for the city, and I wanted to engage with an interlocutor to explore the possibilities for the project. For that reason, I worked with architect and critic Josep Maria Montaner, who would later become the Barcelona City Councilor for Housing. I also had multiple conversations with architect and urban planner Joan Busquets, who was the head of the Urban Planning Department of the Municipality of Barcelona during the preparations for the Olympic Games.
At that time, some of the housing proposals that were being done for the Olympic Games were exploring open blocks, with houses placed inside and with strange shapes—all experiments contrary to the Cerdà Plan. Taking a different approach, we wanted to study closely the traditional block of Barcelona, with the chamfer corners, that came out of the Cerdà Plan, and, after studying it, optimize it. But in Barcelona, Ildefons Cerdà was not the only person who had been thinking about the design of the city; we also had the Macià Plan, proposed by GATCPAC (the Spanish branch of CIAM), Le Corbusier, and Pierre Jeanneret. There had been a lot of thinking around the city and the waterfront, and we wanted to pick up these modern ideas that tried to change the city and see how they translated to the present in this area in transition.
As we had three blocks to work with, we wanted to make them individually autonomous but also internally connected so that they became a superblock, leaving the existing streets intact while providing a new pedestrian pathway that connected all three blocks. Zoning allowed for a ground floor plus five floors above. We designed a ground floor that was slightly taller than three meters to create spaces for local commerce that could face the street and the gardens inside—that way people could see the gardens from the street. There was a canopy facing the street so there was shade for each of the shops, which are slightly removed from the edge. We wanted to differentiate the south façade, to react to its orientation. As the late architect David Mackay, of the architecture studio MBM, said when he saw the project, the buildings have an identity, an orientation, a face. It is not a building with four equal façades.
The buildings are 13.5 meters deep, so the units have front and back façades. This was also a break from the Cerdà block, where some of the building had become 25 meters deep. The 13.5-meter depth plus the 1.5 meters of the sidewalks on the interior of the block provide the optimum 15 meters for the parking spaces located at the perimeter of the block. We designed for three regular floors and then two floors above as duplex units. The duplexes have access to the roof, which features terraces, which are typical of Barcelona and also of the modern ideas of Le Corbusier.
The frontage facing the sea includes the towers, which also comprise a ground floor plus five floors above; but instead of 3-meter-tall ground floors, now they have ground floors almost 6 meters tall. This variation provides the project with a clear urban presence. The whole project followed the zoning rules, but by rethinking one parameter—in this case, the height of the ground floor—the project was able to achieve a distinct, variegated volume.
Another aspect that we worked on quite a lot was the typology of the units. Banca Catalana was the developer and was very happy with our decision to use 5-meter modules. With two modules, you have housing units of 10 meters by 13.5 meters that, excluding the space for the patios and stairs, are about 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) in size. The bedrooms face the interior garden, and the kitchen and the living room face the street. If you combine three modules, you have a width of 15 meters for a three-bedroom unit. The duplex has four bedrooms and also the rooftop. The rooftops have what are now known as the “butterflies,” the sloped roofs over the stairs that give access to this level. With all these configurations there is a richness in typology.
For the façade, we used prefabricated concrete panels, unlike in Vall d’Hebron, where we used GRC (glass-reinforced concrete). Between the Olympic Games and placing the units on the market at the culmination of their use for the Games, the only thing that we had to do was to incorporate the kitchen; all the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems were ready for the transition. We worked a lot on all the small-scale details of the project.
This was the first collaboration with the late landscape designer Bet Figueras. (After this project, I worked with her on the Botanical Garden in Barcelona, and the last project we worked together on was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Barcelona, when she sadly passed away.) I contacted her to design a new type of landscape in the interior of the blocks, with the grids, the Populus deltoides that connect all three blocks, plazas within plazas, reflecting pools with a water depth of a mere one centimeter, and the benches. We even designed the streetlights in collaboration with Pete Sans. Here kids can walk down the stairs and go out from the lobby of the buildings directly to the garden, so there is no need to go out into the street—their parents can see them from above.
I was lucky to work on four key projects for the Games, one in each of the four Olympic areas in the city, each won through public competition: three city blocks, in the Olympic Village, that housed the referees; a housing complex in Vall d’Hebron that accommodated the journalists; the Juan Carlos I Hotel on Diagonal Avenue; and the Botanical Garden in Montjuïc that, while it would not officially open until 1999, was used for the cross-country race in front of the Olympic Stadium. This was an important project for the city, for the Olympic Games, and for my studio, which, at that time, hadn’t yet become OAB.
Benidorm West Beach Promenade
18,000 square meters / 193,750 square feet
Xavier Martí Galí
Sofia Machado dos Santos
PONDIO, Juan Calvo
The first decade of the twenty-first century was the busiest one for us, as we worked on such projects as the Zaragoza-Delicias Intermodal Station, the Science Park in Granada, and the Mediapro Building in Barcelona, to name just three of many. They were prolific years and also marked the transition of my office into OAB. My children, Lucía Ferrater and Borja Ferrater, and my son-in-law, Xavi Martí, were working in the office, and, in 2005, we formed OAB. We worked on a series of large-scale projects, and, among them, I want to talk about the West Beach Promenade in Benidorm.
It is an urban project, a landscape project, and a place of transition between land and sea. It is the waterfront of a city of half a million people, much maligned by some but one that I find very interesting, with its small footprint, the skyscrapers that follow the topography, water that still reaches the sea—everybody is ten minutes away from the beach; there is no need to have a car. It is a city that is occupied twelve months a year and has an extraordinary cultural, economic, business, and leisure density. It is a city that is more sustainable than you might think.
What was missing there was a public space. There was a terrible promenade, with balusters, with a 4-meter drop between the land and the beach, solved with small stairs. Our project covered about 1.6 kilometers and addressed the urban area of the west beach. We removed five lanes of traffic, so we had a width of a little over 30 meters to work with. We couldn’t take any space from the beach as it is the main destination of Benidorm and considered sacred. So, what we did was to overhang it. In that 30-meter-wide area we left a lane for emergency cars, a lane for bicycles, and the rest for pedestrians. That width and that length create almost 5 hectares of new public space in a place of privilege: a place hung between the land and the sea, between the city and the beach. The promenade is not understood as a hard edge but as an intermediary space rendering this transition permeable.
We started the project by doing sinuous shapes using computers. The sinuous interwoven lines were evocative of the fractal structure of a cliff, as well as the motion of waves and tides. We didn’t have a software like CATIA, and there was a moment during which the project was going faster than us. We stepped back from the computer and started working with physical models. They were 1-meter-long models made out of foam-core that were connected to form a model of the whole project, which extended over 20 meters in length. We would cut the foam-core with an X-ACTO knife to create the sinuous shapes, and then, using pins, we would connect the layers and document it through photos. We would digitize each layer and create a 3-D model of the promenade that we could adjust as needed.
From that, we created the ramps, the stairs, the location for the vegetation, the upper promenade, and the lower promenade, and we incorporated an old section of the existing wall. At that point, we went to a town close to Benidorm to visit a traditional shipbuilder so that he could build the wooden molds for the different sections, which we could then combine.
We made a 12-centimeter-thick shell made out of white concrete and stainless-steel rebar that is very strong structurally. The shell generated two voids: one is the void behind the shell that, with a series of structural ribs, supports the upper promenade, which is made out of colorful tiles and under which all the mechanical systems are placed; the other is the void in front of the shell that provides shade to the lower wooden promenade, at the level of the beach. An older couple from Benidorm told me once that they always walk on the lower promenade and that, due to the undulating shape of the shell, they can hear the sound of the waves from back there. With the colorful tiles you can define specific areas within this long intervention and identify where to meet with someone. This project has been very successful, both as a public space and as a way to increase the economic return around it.
It was a key project in the office and one that helped solidify the new structure under the name OAB. At this point, Borja was instrumental in providing an international vision to the office—now we work all around the world thanks to that global vision; Xavi and I are more local in that sense.
There is a drawing of the project that Lucía and I did with lipsticks of different colors. Until that point, we had never done any projects with colors. We took some risks with this project. It was kind of a crazy project, but I think that in architecture, if you don’t take some risks, you don’t push enough to get to your best work. You have to be on the razor’s edge. We accepted a risk and we thought that if there was a place to do a project like this one, it was here in Benidorm.
We also didn’t have sinuous shapes in any of our early works, but if you see the Botanical Garden in Barcelona, with its deformed grid applied to the Montjuïc mountain; the fractal shapes of the Juan Carlos I Hotel; the folds of the Confluence Museum in Lyon; or the topography of the Science Museum in Granada—at that point we were exploring a series of geometries that we captured in the book, Synchronizing Geometry, that we presented in Chicago, in the exhibition you curated. Benidorm is perhaps the project that best captures that effort and that moment in the office, with its open, flexible, and non-hierarchical geometry. The promenade left nothing to chance but grew out of setting up a number of specific laws, a geometrical ground plan, and modulation. An established design logic secures the project in case there are to be future changes or additions. In the end, we try to bring the culture, the traces, and the traditions of the places in which we design, and we do that through geometry. In Benidorm, that is the sea, the sun, vacation, celebration, and hedonism.
Office Building in Guadalajara
Xavier Martí Galí
For the current decade, I have chosen the office building that we have recently completed in Guadalajara, Mexico. It is an interesting project, as it addresses local and global conditions. On the one hand, we needed to design an iconic building that could become an international referent, but, on the other hand, we needed to take into account cultural and environmental demands so that we could design with a clear understanding of vernacular traditions as well as design with geographic and cultural specificity.
In Mexico you have had great architects who understood the vernacular context, like Luis Barragán, Francisco Artigas, and Ricardo Legorreta; but there are also a lot of new buildings that could be placed anywhere: repetitive towers and skyscrapers employing generic curtain walls that disregard climate, orientation, and location. Ours is not what I would call a franchise building that can be placed anywhere; it understands the local conditions.
The site was quite complicated, with an irregular shape, located at the intersection of Patria Avenue and Americas Avenue, two major roads. It has three primary orientations, and, as the building grew and rotated, we wanted to maintain one façade parallel to one of the orientations.
We wanted to design a building with a certain autonomy but also one that was generated with an understanding of the role of the car, which is quite important in this area. As we could not design a conventional parking lot due to the size and shape of the site, we decided to build a continuous helicoidal ramp that could adapt to all the odd shapes of the parcel. We made the ramp as long as was needed to fit the number of spaces that was required, which was over fifty.
Structurally, the building has a central core and a series of columns on the exterior that adapt to the shape of the site, adjusting their location to the allowable building area for each floor while freeing the internal space of any interruptions. The depth of the columns allows us to include a continuous glass façade on the interior; this façade is operable to ventilate the space and can be easily cleaned through a small catwalk. On the outside, we placed a deep latticework of squares made out of GRC (glass-reinforced concrete) panels, locally built. Each square in the lattice is 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters, with the size of the full panel being 3.6 meters square. The panels don’t touch, leaving a small gap between them. The latticework creates a porous tectonic image of the building. The area for the mechanical spaces and stairs is covered with microperforated metal mesh.
The façade provides an extraordinary light to the offices and is good thermally and also acoustically, which is important given the location of the tower next to a high-traffic area. We used metal deck for the floors, without providing a dropped ceiling. We also left open to the tenants the possibility of deciding the material of the floor, from a raised floor to carpet. That flexibility allowed for different price points when renting the space.
All this generated a very Mexican building, very sustainable environmentally and, in a way, related to Barragán, with its latticework. Once the daylight disappears and the interior light becomes more prominent, it becomes a building without a scale: a pixelated object—a digital element that turns into a global icon that could be in Texas, Shanghai, or Dubai. The latticework relates the local aspects and traditions to a global context.
This building helped us understand how to approach a local context that is not our native Barcelona and is already influencing projects that we are currently working on in other cities abroad, like Beirut, Dubai, Montevideo, and in Kazakhstan. This project represents a new phase for the Office of Architecture in Barcelona.
This interview was conducted in Spanish. It was translated and edited by Iker Gil and copyedited by Lance Patrick Sy.
Carlos Ferrater is a Barcelona-based architect and founder of OAB. He is Professor at the School of Architecture in Barcelona (ETSAB, UPC) and Director of the Cátedra Blanca. Throughout his career, he has designed, among other works, four project for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Catalonia Convention Center, the Scientific Institute and the Barcelona Botanical Garden, the Intermodal Station in Zaragoza, the Aquileia Tower in Venice, the Science Park in Granada, the Benidorm Waterfront, and the Michelin Offices on the banks of the River Seine in Paris. In 2006 he set up, along with Xavier Martí, Lucía Ferrater, and Borja Ferrater, the Office of Architecture in Barcelona (OAB), with Núria Ayala as Director of Projects . He has received many awards throughout his career, including the 2009 National Architecture Award by the Spanish Ministry of Housing for his overall career.
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, including “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the inaugural 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.
www.mas-studio.com | @MASContext
An Architectural and Cultural Project
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.
Through photographs—historic and current—as well as drawings, this exhibition, curated by Iker Gil, will convey the design and construction of the house, the cultural activities it hosted, its relevance more than five decades after it was built, and the efforts (and challenges) to preserve this historic house.
Besides attending the opening of the exhibition on Saturday, October 12, Marita Gomis, one of the six siblings who grew up in Casa Gomis, will give a public lecture on Monday, October 14:
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: lawrenceandclark.com.
Urban Flows of Global Metropolises
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, explores new political, economic, environmental, and social challenges that affect global cities at night. Currently, in the context of urban growth, there is a need to observe and analyze cities at night from an interdisciplinary perspective.
This exhibit 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. The exhibition also includes a collection of photographs of cities around the world providing a snapshot of their activities at night. Chicago, Barcelona, and Vancouver will be the focus of a more detailed exploration.
The exhibition is curated and designed by architect Iker Gil (MAS Studio, Chicago) and features work by architects Mar Santamaria and Pablo Martinez (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.
The exhibition will be accompanied by two talks by Mar Santamaria, Pablo Martinez, and David Schalliol in Barcelona and Chicago:
Mar Santamaria and Pablo Martinez operate 300.00Km/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.
www.300000kms.net | @300000kms
David Schalliol is an assistant sociology professor at St. Olaf College and director of Scrappers Film Group. Schalliol is interested in the relationship between community and space. His writing and photography have appeared in publications like Social Science Research, MAS Context, and The New York Times, as well as numerous exhibitions, including the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015 and 2017, the Belfast Photography Festival, and the Midwest Photographers Project of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Schalliol 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.
www.davidschalliol.com | @metroblossom
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
Pittsburgh as a Project:
Reimagining the Modern
Essay by Rami el Samahy, Chris Grimley, and Michael Kubo excerpted from their book Imagining the Modern (The Monacelli Press, 2019).
Imagining the Modern extends from a research initiative and exhibition of the same title held at the Heinz Architectural Center of the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2014-15. As curators and “architects in residence” for the nine months of the exhibition, Grimley, Kubo, and el Samahy were invited to unravel the city’s complicated relationship with modern architecture and planning through an archival history of the sites, actors, and voices of intervention that shaped the Pittsburgh Renaissance. The material presented in this book builds on these efforts, offering a nuanced view of this crucial moment through original documents, photographs, and drawings supplemented by scholarly essays, analytical maps and diagrams, and interviews with key protagonists of the city’s transformation. Addressing both positive and negative impacts of the era, Imagining the Modern examines what the Renaissance meant then and now, what was gained or lost, and what reengaging these histories might suggest for the future of the contemporary city. In looking to Pittsburgh as a specific case, we seek to reassess the broader narrative of urban renewal in U.S. cities, arguing for a deeper understanding of the complexities and concerns which underlay the evolution of architecture and urbanism.
We shall not be able to say that we have created a modern style until Architects cease to condemn all that is modern, or all that belongs to the past.
James A. Mitchell & Dahlen K. Ritchey, 1937 
In 1946, in celebration of the year-long Diamond Jubilee of his department store in downtown Pittsburgh, owner Edgar Kaufmann commissioned the young architecture and planning office of Mitchell & Ritchey to produce Pittsburgh in Progress, an exhibition that offered a visionary projection of the city’s future. Led by Kaufmann as client and James Mitchell and Dahlen Ritchey as designers—all three among the principal advocates for modern architecture in Pittsburgh after the 1930s—the exhibition imagined a radically new era for a city then shrouded in pollution, threatened with the loss of its industrial base, and in need of significant reinvention following economic and physical stagnation during the Depression and the Second World War. In their accompanying publication, Mitchell and Ritchey described their ambition to provide “an exploration of Pittsburgh’s possible future” that might envision “what the city and its region can become” at the outset of the postwar boom.  This transformation, they wrote,
calls for a partnership between us and our descendants for the continuous improvement of living….
[It] has been prepared on the premise that there will be an expansion in the civilized use of intellect,
heart, science, and technology and that the atomic age will be one of construction. 
The following year, the newly formed Allegheny Conference on Community Development (ACCD) issued a publication of similar format, titled Pittsburgh: Challenge and Response. In explaining its mission, the ACCD compared its ambitions for postwar Pittsburgh to the democratic origins of the U.S., arguing that large-scale redevelopment was both urgently needed and crucial to the city’s future. Pittsburgh’s environmental and urban problems, according to the Conference, required visionary thinking at a scale commensurate with
the genius of our country which has been its love of progress, its restless explorations, its unwillingness
to relax in the smug worship of things as they are. Each generation of Americans has gone farther, and
produced more, that than which came before it. The broad sweep of the Conference program can be found
in its profound acceptance of the inevitability of change. 
Together, these parallel documents marked out the breathtaking ends of urban redevelopment in Pittsburgh as well as the means by which this change would be effected. Both initiatives were driven by private interests in alliance with government: companies with leadership invested in the economic welfare of the city and determined to improve it. These corporate leaders sought out the talents of architects, planners, landscape architects, and engineers to help them envision a city renewed, one that was advertised to members of the public and elected officials alike as a necessary path toward a desired future. Viewed from the present, both documents reflect the great divide between that era and ours in terms of the power of architecture and planning—real and perceived—to reshape the built environment. What is today regarded as hubristic was, at the outset of Pittsburgh’s redevelopment, seen as both idealistic and urgent.
Imagining the Modern revisits the complex history of urban change that followed pronouncements like these, during the period that came to be known locally as the Renaissance and elsewhere as the urban renewal era. An ambitious program of revitalization in the 1950s and ‘60s transformed Pittsburgh and quickly became a model for other U.S. cities. Politicians, civic leaders, and architects worked together through sweeping local and federal initiatives that aimed to address the social, economic, and environmental problems that confronted the postwar city. This era of superlatives has often been identified with visionary mayors and business leaders, powerful urban planning authorities, and architects and designers of international as well as local renown.  Yet Pittsburgh’s progress also included less-well known designers, writers, photographers, and community groups who played important roles in envisioning, projecting, and contesting the modern project from their particular vantage points. The result was a contentious legacy of intervention whose social impacts continue to be debated, but whose buildings and landscapes remain among the most powerful examples of modern architecture and urbanism anywhere in the U.S.
Renaissance and Renewal
It is important to revisit the factors that sponsored the optimistic mindset behind urban renewal in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Uniquely among the protagonists of the World War II, the U.S. emerged with its physical and industrial fabric relatively unscathed, the only industrialized nation whose economic engines were not devastated, but rather vastly empowered, by the conflict. In 1950, the country, containing roughly half a percent of the world’s population, was responsible for more than a third of the world’s economic output.  By 1960, the U.S. share of the world’s production increased to 40%.  By this time the gross national product had more than doubled in the fifteen years since the end of the war, growing from $200 billion to more than $500 billion. 
In this climate of postwar prosperity, both civic institutions and private corporations shared a willingness to fund ambitious construction projects following the stagnation of the Depression and the war years, particularly in Pittsburgh, a national industrial center that was actively seeking to reshape its urban fabric and its image. At the same time, the end of the war drove a need to retool the economy, and the nation, for the imperatives of the Cold War as well as for the needs of an expanding population and a booming consumer culture.  The steel and aluminum industries, both with significant ties to Pittsburgh, redirected their production from the war effort to more domestic concerns, in the process developing new needs for their materials. These included a wide range of new building and consumer products, from the development of new structural possibilities in steel to the use of aluminum for everything from vases to facades.
At the same time, major metropolitan areas faced real and pressing challenges. The need to house returning veterans and their families dominated political discussions and led to sweeping new programs of federal legislation. The American Housing Act of 1949 widened federal subsidies for low income housing, while the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 inaugurated the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways at a cost of $26 billion, the most ambitious infrastructural project in the nation’s history. Together, these new mechanisms transformed the American landscape, nowhere more so than in its cities. In Pittsburgh, such federal initiatives were preceded by local environmental efforts to clean the city’s heavily polluted air and water and reduce traffic congestion, thereby shedding its national reputation (as well as its persistent image) as “the Smoky City.”  After the war, the city began to enforce a law passed in 1941 that required factories to use treated coal. Combined with the introduction of natural gas piped into most residential buildings and the transition of regional railroads from coal to gas, these efforts had a profound—and seemingly instantaneous—effect on the city’s air. Not least among the benefits of this transformation was a vastly altered visual landscape, from a dark atmosphere of haze and pollution to a bright setting for luminous new buildings that reflected the economic and material abundance of the renewed city.
In postwar Pittsburgh, national efforts toward urban renewal were bolstered by the unusual combination of civic authorities with a profound desire to meet basic needs and a wealthy corporate class willing and empowered to do so. Indeed, the story of the Pittsburgh Renaissance is deeply interwoven with the city’s attempt to evolve from a wartime industrial powerhouse to a peacetime corporate and civic center. These particularities of Pittsburgh’s situation led it to become one of the first cities out of the urban renewal gate, for better or worse. The city’s transformation in this period includes some of the earliest instances of successful public-private partnerships as well as grassroots efforts, both in support of and in opposition to urban renewal efforts. These complex relationships and competing aspirations were made manifest in the types of projects that were built—including corporate headquarters and suburban office parks, public landscapes, cultural and recreational facilities, university buildings, and housing districts—and in their aesthetic expression, often as a direct reflection of local means of production in steel, glass, aluminum, and brick. Meanwhile the press releases, brochures, newspapers, and magazines that narrated and promoted this construction boom were frequently filled with superlative boasts: Pittsburgh celebrated the world’s first aluminum-clad building (Alcoa), the largest retractable dome (the Civic Arena), and the tallest exposed steel structure (U.S. Steel). In this sense, the Renaissance is what we might refer to as Pittsburgh’s “Dubai moment:” an era when the world’s eyes were turned to the city’s spectacular firsts as emblems of the future metropolis.
Architecture and Urbanism
As architects and historians, our interest in Pittsburgh’s modern heritage stems not only from our appreciation of its buildings and landscapes, but from the experimental spirit that these projects continue to embody. The best products of the era share an expressive confidence that can be found in works built in other cities at the time, but there is a distinctiveness to their formal and material manifestation in Pittsburgh that makes them worthy of renewed attention. Renewal efforts in Boston, for example—also among the cities that received the largest proportion of urban renewal funds relative to their size—were dominated by governmental initiatives to remake the public sphere, often without the support of the city’s wealthy Brahmin class and expressed primarily through robust civic and institutional buildings in concrete.  By contrast, the Pittsburgh Renaissance was largely wrought in shimmering glass and metal, propelled largely through private interests in consortium with a cooperative local government.
Many of Pittsburgh’s finest buildings of this era were built as national or regional headquarters for industrial corporations. The period is bracketed by Harrison & Abramovitz’s towers for Alcoa (1953) and U.S. Steel (1971), both of which played key roles in reshaping the downtown area known as the Golden Triangle into a symbol of the city’s progress and power. Moreover, both buildings stood as essays in developing a corporate expression by pushing the boundaries of what was technologically possible for the industrial materials associated with each entity. At Alcoa, the architects deployed the company’s products to numerous ends, including the first aluminum stamped panel facade system, the first aluminum wiring and plumbing, and the first combination of acoustic ceiling panels with a radiant heating and cooling system.  Harrison & Abramovitz made similar use of U.S. Steel’s material expertise to create its corporate headquarters two decades later. Here exposed plates of weathering steel, known as Cor-Ten, snap into an exposed steel frame to create a rugged exterior that recalls the dark atmosphere formerly associated with the city’s steel industries, now chemically absorbed into the building’s surface. Situated on a difficult triangular site, the innovations of U.S. Steel extended to structure, with six massive supporting columns positioned outside the building envelope, and to systems, including the fireproofing of these external columns via a pioneering water-based solution.
Such technical achievements were not reserved for industrial headquarters alone. The external structural diagrid of the IBM Building (Curtis & Davis, 1963), clad in stainless steel, was also the first of its kind. Nor were the city’s architectural and material innovations exclusively the domain of corporations. The Civic Arena (Mitchell & Ritchey, 1961), originally conceived as a home for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Orchestra, boasted the world’s first large-scale retractable dome, comprising nearly 3,000 ton of stainless steel supported by a single cantilevered arm. Innovations also occurred on a more modest scale, as when architect Tasso Katselas designed a non-standard brick for the construction of low-income housing in East Liberty, incorporating a notch in the brick to accommodate the mason’s maximum reach and thereby save time and labor. 
Perhaps the project that best exemplifies Pittsburgh’s eagerness to innovate in this period is Mellon Park Square, designed by architects Mitchell & Ritchey and landscape architects Simonds and Simonds and completed in 1955. The project was the brainchild of Richard King Mellon, then president and chairman of Mellon Bank, who sought to keep Alcoa from moving to New York City by aggregating properties in the Golden Triangle to create a site for Alcoa’s headquarters next to a new public plaza at the center of the city. The design of Mellon Square addressed the change in grade between Smithfield Street and William Penn Place through the first integrated design of a modern park above a garage, accommodating seven floors of parking below grade and lining the exposed edge along Smithfield Street with retail to create a modernist, multi-level open space in the heart of downtown.  Significantly built through private initiative with the full backing of city government, Mellon Square remains one of the city’s most popular landscapes. 
Beyond the built legacy of the Pittsburgh Renaissance, a number of ambitious unbuilt proposals for the city continue to loom large in the architectural imagination. The most significant of these are Frank Lloyd Wright’s two proposals for the Point Park Civic Center.  Wright was approached at the behest of Edgar J. Kaufmann in the late 1940s to reenvision the Point following his magisterial design of Fallingwater, Kaufmann’s summer house southeast of Pittsburgh (1934–37), at roughly the same time that Kaufmann commissioned Mitchell & Ritchey to design the Pittsburgh in Progress exhibition.  Wright proposed an enormous corkscrew ramp, nearly a quarter-mile in diameter, that would provide access to a variety of large-scale cultural and entertainment venues, including an opera house, a planetarium, an aquarium, exhibition halls, and a sports arena. The complex was to be connected via two multi-level bridges to the North Side and the South Side, with a third connection leading to a 500-foot tower at the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Following a muted reaction from the Point Park Committee, Wright proposed a second, slightly more subdued version, featuring two cable bridges hanging from a shorter 100-foot tower and retaining the mammoth ramp as a parking podium. This second scheme met with no more success than Wright’s initial design, and the project was abandoned.
Other corporate patrons commissioned visionary schemes to remake vast areas of the city for cultural and commercial uses. In the early 1960s, Harrison & Abramovitz were hired by the Oakland Corporation, a consortium of private interests, to look at the potential of Panther Hollow, a ravine in the heart of Oakland that divided the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Museums from Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University). The firm designed a megastructure that would have filled the entire 150-foot deep gorge to the brim, a mile-long research city linking Oakland’s academic and cultural institutions and expanding Schenley Park with rooftop terraces culminating in a hanging garden at Panther Hollow Lake. In the same years Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) was hired to design a center for the arts on the Lower Hill, envisioned by civic leaders as “a cultural Acropolis.”  Lead designer Gordon Bunshaft and his team proposed a vast plinth containing an art museum and symphony hall at opposite ends of a landscaped plaza that would have afforded dramatic views of downtown Pittsburgh. A large glass box encasing the symphony hall was flanked by monumental travertine columns supporting a waffle-slab portico and roof, while the three-story art museum was to be enlivened with an undulating roof structure of low vaults.
At the same time, other designers were developing counter-projects for Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods that were extremely different in their methods but no less visionary in their intended impact. In the late 1960s, Community Design Associates, led by Troy West, worked with residents of the Lower Hill to produce “Our Way,” an ambitious response to the city’s official plans for the area. The project strategically located programs in two long buildings on both sides of the existing Our Way Alley, with the larger of these two bars organized in a stepped mass containing multiple types of housing units. A superstructure covering the upper floors was to be planted to provide residents with shading and food. West’s ambitious proposal, developed through innovative methods of community-led design, synthesized concerns for housing, environmental conditions, and food production in a radically modern project that was in many ways the antithesis of the top-down planning that typified other schemes for the neighborhood.
While these neighborhood-scale projects never made it past the planning stages, they had a significant impact on the development of the city as well as on discussions of urban renewal era beyond Pittsburgh. These proposals often helped galvanize support for subsequent plans that did come to fruition, in some cases leading to the critical rethinking of designs that were ultimately built. Moreover, the national attention garnered by these proposals affirmed the importance of Pittsburgh’s transformation as a touchstone for postwar debates on architecture and urban planning, one that provided architects with new models for thinking about large-scale solutions to contemporary urban problems.
Pittsburgh’s postwar architecture and urbanism represented a transformative moment in its history. At a point when the city is currently experiencing a new resurgence in energy, Imagining the Modern is especially relevant to those who seek to understand an era when Pittsburgh was at the center of the world stage. Using the city as a case study, this book frames questions that extend beyond the region, reassessing this important period in twentieth-century architecture at a time when many of its products are under threat across the nation.
A compilation of built, unbuilt, proposed, and demolished projects provides a rich history of the city’s transformation during the past century. When overlaid with traces of what was and what might have been, a map of Pittsburgh reveals that the concentration of the era’s efforts was localized to six areas of the city. In each of these neighborhoods, differing circumstances and constraints resulted in urban interventions that varied widely in their methods of planning and execution, as well as in their perceived success or failure.
The building texts in this section were written by Adam Himes, Phillip Denny, Martin Aurand, and Rami el Samahy.
The aptly named Point, where Pittsburgh was founded and the Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers converge to form the Ohio River, developed into a major node in the city’s industrial network. By the 1930s, however, pollution, abandoned railroad structures, underused warehouses, dilapidated housing, and periodic flooding had brought the Point to a state of disrepair, and it soon became a focus for government and business-led redevelopment efforts. Following a number of studies, including two bold designs by Frank Lloyd Wright and a Robert Moses plan that placed the Point at the center of an automobile-driven metropolis, civic leaders proposed Point State Park and Gateway Center. The former, a state-designated 36-acre parcel, was designed by an impressive group of local, national, and international landscape architects, architects, and engineers, including Ralph Griswold and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Gordon Bunshaft. Point State Park, which opened in 1974, features an iconic fountain at the Point’s tip. To the east of the park, Equitable Life, a New York-based insurance company that was committed to large-scale investment in Pittsburgh, developed twenty-three acres of land. Gateway Center became a commercial and high-end residential development that epitomized modern life through its architecture, landscape, and planning. Its distinctive modernist buildings included three cruciform towers, the IBM Building with its “diagrid” facade of diamond-shaped panels, and the massive Westinghouse Building. Gateway Center was considered a huge success, and became a model for urban renewal throughout the nation. The Point’s revitalization embodied hopes for a competitive business climate for Pittsburgh and increased employment in the city center, and the potential spread of this growth to other parts of the city.
Curtis & Davis, 1963
Formerly the IBM Building, and now fittingly the headquarters of the United Steelworkers, this gem of a building beautifully expresses the structural potential of steel. Each exterior wall is composed of a diamond grid of steel infilled with alternating bands of opaque and transparent glass. Five varieties of steel are used to accommodate differing loads, which are brought to the ground via two concrete pylons on each side of the building. The structural facades free the interior from all vertical supports except the central core, eliminating 200 tons of steel when compared to typical frame construction. This approach met IBM’s desire for flexible office space in the six floors it leased from the Equitable Life Assurance Company (the building being the fifth in the latter company’s Gateway Center development). The regular grid also enabled the prefabrication of large portions of the facades off-site, simplifying on-site construction. Here and elsewhere, IBM cultivated a modernist architectural image under the leadership of designer Eliot Noyes. Curtis & Davis, a noted modernist architectural firm from New Orleans, designed the Pittsburgh building. Structural engineer Leslie E. Robertson, of Worthington, Skilling, Helle & Jackson, designed the exoskeleton, a technical precursor of his designs for the World Trade Center in New York City and Pittsburgh’s U.S. Steel Tower.
The Golden Triangle
Pittsburgh’s downtown Golden Triangle is in some respects the most visible aspect of the effort to reshape the city during the Renaissance era. Lead by civic and corporate leaders, this effort included a series of new towers that served as the corporate headquarters for Pittsburgh-based companies and showcased the materials that led to these companies’ successes.
Among these are the Alcoa Building and two U.S. Steel buildings, each designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, then the architects of choice for corporate America. The Alcoa Building used aluminum in new and innovative ways, from the cladding to the insulation to the wiring and plumbing. The second U.S. Steel Building is an architectural masterpiece that evokes not just the client in its bold use of material but the entire city in a formal resolution that celebrates the Triangle’s two grids.
Nearby, the modernist landscape of Mellon Square offered the city a fascinating new prototype: the underground garage disguised as a plaza.
A number of other architecturally notable parking garages were built during this period. Each celebrated the automobile—sometimes with dramatic gestures—and endeavored to provide efficient means of visiting the Golden Triangle by car.
Harrison & Abramovitz, 1953
The 30-story tower was built as an experimental showcase of the construction applications of its namesake’s product: aluminum. The first building to be clad in stamped aluminum panels, it also served as a test case for aluminum wiring, plumbing, and a combination acoustic ceiling panel and radiant heating and cooling system; even the venetian blinds were made of aluminum. Though designed for the mundane purposes of lightweight economy and ease of assembly, and to demonstrate the insulative and fireproofing capabilities of an aluminum envelope, the building’s facades achieve a high level of refinement. They are punctuated by round-cornered aluminum-frame windows that pivot 360 degrees to allow for cleaning from the interior. As a final demonstration of aluminum’s light weight, the entirety of the four-story glass entry vestibule hangs from two cantilevered girders.
Harrison & Abramovitz were tasked with studying the use of aluminum in building in 1945. They designed an aluminum-faced low-rise office building for Alcoa in Davenport, Iowa, completed in 1949, as a trial run of sorts for the Pittsburgh tower. Alcoa was looking towards a site in Manhattan for the latter; but Richard King Mellon persuaded the company to remain in Pittsburgh by offering Alcoa a prime downtown site and proposing an adjacent garage topped by a public plaza, which became Mellon Square. The square offers excellent views to and from the tower. Alcoa relocated to the Alcoa Corporate Center on the North Shore in 2001. The building then became home to government entities, regional nonprofits and small start-up companies; in 2015, it was converted into residential apartments.
City planners had eyed the redevelopment of the Lower Hill as early as 1939 with Robert Moses’s Pittsburgh Arterial Plan, which advocated clearing the area in order to develop a more efficient highway system and new housing. The site was the commercial, institutional, and cultural heart of the city’s African American community; yet it was characterized by overcrowding, poor sanitation, absentee landlords, and property values that were falling faster than anywhere else in the city.
Beginning in 1953, local architects Mitchell and Ritchey developed a master plan for Pittsburgh’s “Cultural Acropolis.” In 1956, with backing from several civic leaders and foundations, significant federal funding, and some community support, a large swath of land was cleared for the construction of the Civic Arena, displacing thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses. Claiming the largest dome in the world at the time of its construction, the Arena was originally intended as an all-purpose facility, including a home for the Civic Light Opera and local sports teams. Because its acoustics proved incompatible with musical theater, it remained primarily a sports venue.
Subsequent plans to add the equally ambitious Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), and Washington Plaza, a three-tower luxury housing project designed by I. M. Pei & Associates, did not receive the same support. Displacement and failed relocation efforts left the local community deeply distrustful of further development, while a lack of consensus among civic leaders combined with a slow market for high-end housing in the area. Only one of Pei’s three towers was completed, and the SOM project was scrapped completely. The grand project stalled, and the Civic Arena was left stranded in a sea of parking lots for more than sixty years. With the demolition of the Arena completed in 2012, the midcentury dream of a cultural district adjacent to downtown was finally put to rest.
Mitchell & Ritchey, 1961
The Civic Arena dominated Pittsburgh’s Hill neighborhood for half a century. Initiated by Edgar J. Kaufmann, the department store magnate and patron of legendary residences by Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright, the arena was initially intended to serve as a venue for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, though it was never well-suited for this purpose. Mitchell & Ritchey, the premier architects of the so-called Pittsburgh Renaissance, designed the structure. James Mitchell was the lead designer, and took out a patent on an early softshelled version of the design. After many compromises, the final design featured a massive stainless steel dome, supported by a single cantilevered arm, which provided a clear span across the diameter of the building and was the world’s first retractable roof over a major venue. A complex, automated system allowed for the roof to be opened in under three minutes.
Site clearance for the Lower Hill Cultural Center, including the arena, controversially displaced over 8,000 residents and hundreds of small businesses. Yet the Center’s planned apartments, a Symphony Hall, and other facilities remained almost totally unrealized. Variously referred to as the The Auditorium, the Civic Auditorium, the Civic Arena, the Mellon Arena, and more colloquially as the Igloo, referencing its shape and latter-day role as the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, the arena hosted an extraordinary number of concerts, sporting events, and distinguished visitors. Truly one-of-a-kind, the building’s demolition in 2012 was controversial as well.
The urban redevelopment of Oakland during this period was driven largely by educational and cultural institutions. Chief among them was the University of Pittsburgh as it transformed itself from a regional to a national university by harnessing the energy of the Pittsburgh Renaissance. Although other Oakland institutions built notable modern buildings and additions, including the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History and Carnegie Tech (Carnegie Mellon University after 1967), none rival the University of Pittsburgh’s scope or scale.
Following World War II, the university spread out along the Forbes Avenue and Fifth Street corridor, a trend that only accelerated with the selection of the ambitious Edward Litchfield as chancellor in 1955. In one of his first acts, he retained Harrison & Abramovitz to consult on Pitt’s campus growth. The university quickly committed to twelve major capital projects including the new Hillman Library, Trees Hall (which at the time of completion housed the largest indoor pool in the country), and the Tower Residence Halls (later Litchfield Towers).
When Pitt purchased the land under Forbes Field, the city’s disused but venerable baseball stadium, Deeter Ritchey Sippel produced several versions of a new Forbes Complex Master Plan, of which the Forbes Quadrangle (later Posvar Hall) was completed. Troy West’s practice Architecture 2001 led an alternative effort to repurpose the stadium structure, transforming it into affordable housing and other uses. Other unrealized visions for Oakland included Harrison & Abramovitz’s breathtaking Panther Hollow development. Designed for the Oakland Corporation, a jointly owned, Pitt-dominated consortium of seven institutions, the project proposed a built structure to fill in the entire ravine that sat between Pitt, the Carnegie Museums, and Carnegie Tech. Although soon shelved, it remains a fascinating idea as well as a symbol of the era’s optimism.
Panther Hollow Project
Harrison & Abramovitz, 1963
Stretching for nearly a mile, and filling a ravine as much as 150 feet deep and 900 feet wide, Max Abramovitz’s Panther Hollow Project envisioned a megastructural “research city” linking Oakland’s academic and cultural institutions. The massive complex would have filled the hollow to the brim, and expanded Schenley Park with a series of roof terraces and gardens. Only in the first of three phases—between the Forbes Avenue and Schenley Drive bridges—would buildings have risen above ground level. As the megastructure grew from north to south it was to expand from four to seven levels with transit and utilities buried beneath. Terraced courtyards would have provided ample light to the research facilities, commercial areas, and auditoria within. At its southern end, the megastructure was to fan out around Panther Hollow Lake, creating a public “hanging garden.”
The megastructure would have integrated services and amenities within itself and supported a series of residential developments in the surrounding area. A complex structural system would have enabled the replacement of portions of the complex so that it could remain up to date. The community consortium driving the project, the Oakland Corporation, was dissolved in 1966, and the project was abandoned due to insufficient investment.
The once-prosperous Allegheny City, annexed to Pittsburgh in 1907, featured a civic core with public buildings, a ring of parkland, and an abundance of architecturally rich neighborhoods that would ultimately be preserved and revived. But by the 1950s, the Northside, as it came to be known, experienced high crime rates, traffic congestion, derelict housing, and a population drop of nearly a quarter in a decade.
In response, the city began razing over 500 buildings in the civic core to create the new Allegheny Center, with the support of Alcoa and the federal government. In keeping with the prevailing thinking of the era, thirty-six city blocks were transformed into a new pedestrian super-block surrounded by a one-way, four-lane loop designed to facilitate vehicular traffic. The center included office buildings, mid-rise apartment slabs, townhouses, and a shopping mall with 2,400 parking spaces below. Deeter Ritchey Sippel master planned and designed much of the project. Tasso Katselas added townhouses along the edge (Allegheny Commons East), and the Office of Mies van der Rohe designed an office building (East Commons Professional Building). An international competition chose the design of William Breger, a former employee of Walter Gropius, for the Public Square at the Center’s new heart.
Despite some initial success, the plan proved ill-fated. The traffic circle cut off most of the Center’s commercial space from pedestrian reach of the surrounding neighborhoods, and it could not compete with the ease of vehicular access offered by suburban shopping centers, despite the new road network and mega-garage. As a result, most of the mall’s stores were eventually replaced by back-of-house office space, populated by businesses that did not rely on foot traffic. The housing remains popular to this day, and the public square has been rebuilt along with the surrounding public realm. New owners have injected life into the complex, upgrading systems and bringing new programs and pedestrians back to the area.
Allegheny Public Square
William Breger, 1967
In October 1963, Mayor David Lawrence launched an international competition for a new public space intended to serve as a centerpiece for the Allegheny Center development. The square was to replace the historic public square of Allegheny City. The competition jury was chaired by Hideo Sasaki, a modernist landscape architect and chair of the Landscape Architecture Department at Harvard. Other members included Henry J. Heinz II; Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; and Pittsburgh modernist architect Dahlen K. Ritchey.
Over 300 entries arrived, nearly a quarter from overseas; yet the jury deemed just one entry to be acceptable. “Altogether too many of the submitters felt the need to clutter up the square with kiosks, pavilions, pilons [sic] and other self-conscious architectural and sculptural elements,” they wrote. The only design “of high enough quality to receive an award” was submitted by William Breger—a former employee of Walter Gropius and the Chairman of Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture—and a team of students, James Terjesen and Warren Winter. They proposed a stark suite of concrete walls, with benches and steps that punctuated a continuous brick-paved surface and created places for walking and sitting around a slightly sunken pool and fountain.
Breger’s design was built; but the square was underappreciated and badly neglected over time. In 2007, its neighbor, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, organized another competition to usher in its removal, won by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture. The new design, known as Buhl Community Park, filled in the sunken pool, softened hard surfaces with plantings, and strengthened connections with the fabric of the city.
Long considered Pittsburgh’s second downtown, East Liberty was the commercial core of the East End, historically a preferred location for the city’s upper and middle classes. As those with means increasingly relocated to the suburbs in the postwar era, local merchants and other civic leaders asked the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for assistance in saving East Liberty from through-traffic congestion, a high rate of commercial vacancies, and deteriorating housing stock. In 1960, following its successes with the downtown Renaissance and its challenges with redeveloping the Lower Hill, the URA took on its largest redevelopment project to date with an unprecedented amount of community input. Absorbing Gruen’s ideas of reestablishing human-centric social spaces in the face of growing sprawl, through-traffic was diverted via a boulevard looped around the commercial core, with surface parking lots available for those intending to shop. The business corridor was transformed into the East Liberty Pedestrian Mall, designed by landscape architects Simonds and Simonds, with wayfinding and signage by Peter Muller-Munk. Tasso Katselas was tasked to design 1,800 new residential units in a mix of townhouses, mid-rise apartment buildings and towers, including the heroic East Mall Residential Tower that spanned Pennsylvania Avenue.
Built by private developers who benefited from government subsidies for building affordable housing, the new residences changed the demographic of the area, but did nothing to stem the tide of middle-class flight. Many retailers relocated, further contributing to the downward slump. The success of the road loop hinged upon a new highway from East Liberty to downtown, which never materialized, and East Liberty Boulevard became famously known as the “road to nowhere.” Today, most of the built plans of this era have been undone. With the formerly malled streets reopened, residential towers demolished, new housing in place, and the loop road gradually reintegrated into the street grid, East Liberty is again looking at revitalization.
East Liberty Housing
Tasso Katselas, 1965, 1967, 1971
As part of the urban renewal plan for East Liberty, 1,800 new units of housing were constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Designed by Tasso Katselas Architects, the mix of towers, mid-rise apartments, and townhouses changed the landscape of the neighborhood. As a result, the project inevitably came to symbolize all that was wrong with urban renewal, despite its best intentions and interesting use of basic materials in a low-budget endeavor.
The most notable element was the tower that straddled Pennsylvania Avenue, establishing a brick and concrete gateway to East Liberty, and allowing vehicles to pass underneath. This landmark was complemented by a series of low- and mid-rise apartment buildings, arranged in T-shaped plans that helped define the public spaces around them. The brick walls running perpendicular to the long facade of the building are load-bearing; protruding beyond the main elevation, they are expressed as fins that cast shadows along the length of the project. The facades are further enlivened by a playful placement of floor-to-ceiling windows. This playfulness is not arbitrary, but instead determined by the dimensions of the structural bay and its ability to accommodate one-, two-, and three-bedroom configurations.
Despite earning some early accolades from critics and new residents, the projects have been much reviled. In 2005, the towers were demolished, and several of the lower and mid-rise elements as well. Many of those remaining were given face-lifts beyond recognition. The owner recently asked tenants to vacate the premises, and it has since been completely demolished.
1. James A. Mitchell and Dahlen K. Ritchey, “Impressions and Reflections, Part 2,” Charette, August 1937, 2.
2. James A. Mitchell and Dahlen K. Ritchey, Pittsburgh in Progress Presented by Kaufmann’s (Pittsburgh: Kaufmann’s, 1946), 1.
4. Pittsburgh: Challenge and Response (Pittsburgh: Allegheny Conference on Community Development, 1947), 3.
5. See Albert M. Tannler, Pittsburgh Architecture in the Twentieth Century: Notable Modern Buildings and Their Architects (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 2013).
6. Michael French, U.S. Economic History Since 1945 (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997), 199.
7. Peter Dicken, Global Shift: Transforming the World Economy, 3rd edition (New York: Guilford Publications, 1998), 28.
8. French, U.S. Economic History Since 1945, 199.
9. See Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Vintage Books, 2003). On the reorientation of architects and planners during the Second World War to the anticipated tasks of postwar renewal in U.S. cities, see Andrew M. Shanken, 194X: Architecture, Planning, and Consumer Culture on the American Home Front (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
10. See Joel A. Tarr, Devastation and Renewal: An Environmental History of Pittsburgh and Its Region (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005).
11. We have elsewhere described this period of concrete construction in Boston and other U.S. cities as the Heroic era. See Mark Pasnik, Michael Kubo, Chris Grimley, ed., Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (New York: Monacelli Press, 2015).
12. On the material innovations of Alcoa’s aluminum facades in contrast to the glass skins typical of other postwar office buildings, see Thomas Leslie, Saranya Panchaseelan, Shawn Barron, Paolo Orlando, “Deep Space, Thin Walls: Environmental and Material Precursors to the Postwar Skyscraper,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 77, no. 1 (March 2018): 77–96. Following their invention at Alcoa, Harrison & Abramovitz designed similar aluminum cladding systems for corporate clients in other U.S. cities including Republic Bank in Dallas (1954) and Socony–Mobil in New York City (1954–56), though no longer symbolically associated with the products of their respective companies.
13. Rami el Samahy and Chris Grimley, Interview with Tasso Katselas in Imagining the Modern: HACLab Pittsburgh Broadsheet #3 (April 2016), 7.
14. In its combination of a surface-level urban park with a subterranean garage, Mellon Square was preceded by Union Square in San Francisco, a nineteenth-century park to which underground parking was added in 1938–42 after three years of research on the feasibility of its construction. See Gregory J. Nuno, “A History of Union Square,” The Argonaut 4, no. 1 (Summer 1993). Union Square was among Mellon’s inspirations for creating a modern landscape in Pittsburgh that was integrally designed for the first time to combine park space with shops and a multi-level garage.
15. See Susan Rademacher, Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014).
16. On the evolution of Wright’s designs for the Point, see Neil Levine, “The Point Park Civic Center and Traffic Interchange for the Heart of Downtown Pittsburgh, 1947,” in The Urbanism of Frank Lloyd Wright (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 261–333.
17. Wright also designed Kaufmann’s office for his downtown department store (1935–37) in the same years as Fallingwater. See Richard Louis Cleary, Merchant Prince and Master Builder: Edgar J. Kaufmann and Frank Lloyd Wright (Pittsburgh: Heinz Architectural Center, 1999).
18. William Mallet, “Redevelopment and Response: The Lower Hill Renewal and Pittsburgh’s Original Cultural District,” Pittsburgh History (Winter 1992), 182.
Rami el Samahy is a founding principal at OverUnder, an architecture and design firm. Currently a Visiting Professor at MIT, he has taught at Carnegie Mellon University, Boston University, the Boston Architectural College and Wentworth Institute of Technology. His research has focussed on a wide variety of urban issues including the contemporary Arab city, the logics of main street retail, and the legacy of urban renewal.
www.overunder.co/ | @overcommaunder
Chris Grimley is an architect and designer at OverUnder, an architecture and design firm in Boston, Massachusetts. He has taught at the University of British Columbia, Rhode Island School of Design, Northeastern University, and Wentworth Institute of Technology. He is coauthor of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (2015), and the designer and editor of Henry N. Cobb: Words and Works 1948–2018 (2018).
www.overunder.co/ | @overcommaunder | @heroicproject
Michael Kubo is Assistant Professor in the History and Theory of Architecture at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design, University of Houston. He was previously the Wyeth Fellow at the Center For Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art and Associate Curator for the US Pavilion at the 2014 International Architecture Biennale in Venice. He is coauthor of numerous books on twentieth-century architecture and urbanism including Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (2015) and OfficeUS Atlas (2015), and is currently preparing a book on The Architects Collaborative and the authorship of the architectural corporation after 1945.
MAS Context Spring Talks 2019
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 www.mascontext.com/issues/17-boundary-spring-13/the-arsenal-of-inclusion-and-exclusion.
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).
www.interboropartners.com | @access_wars
Connections: 48 Years
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.”
Chief Curator and Deputy Director
Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
www.mocp.org | @MoCP_Chicago
A Receding Coast
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.
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.
www.virginiahanusik.com | @virginiahanusik
It’s Not What You Say, It’s What You Do
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.
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?
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?  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.
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.
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.
AL: When the Chicago Architecture Club was reestablished in 1979, it was fairly exclusive: it had limited members  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.”  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? 
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.
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.
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?
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.”  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), http://issuu.com/archeworks/docs/passing_the_baton.
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 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.
www.mas-studio.com | @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.
www.future-firm.org | @FutureFirm | @paperarchitect
Project by Stanley Tigerman
Urban ills are many and varied, this obvious to anyone who has ever entered a metropolitan area. For the urban environment to become meaningful tomorrow, we must solve these problems today. At the present, there are two approaches to satisfy the problems of the urban environment. The first is the “new town.” Build a city in and of itself—start from scratch. In many ways this could be considered an artificial solution, for it turns its back on the problems of existing cities. It is also artificial in that the site selection is a-priori; it is not generated out of natural demands. The second approach is renewal and rehabilitation of existing cities—HUD’s Demonstration Cities. While it is a more realistic approach, it is still shackled by existing zoning and transportation systems. The concept is valid now, but is neglecting problems that will affect us in tomorrow’s urban environment. URBAN MATRIX is a possible third approach. We link to, extend from, and expand upon the existing.
It is the intention of this project to illustrate a possible method by which man can expand center city. Research shows that a common denominator for the origin of most cities is proximity to water transportation. The water, which was once a city’s lifeline, has now become an edge—a boundary. The city can grow only on three sides. We had expanded center city vertically but find it rapidly reaches a saturation point. We have expanded peripherally until it can no longer be considered center anything, let alone center city. We have tried reclaiming land by means of earth-fill, but in doing this we destroy the social-economic prestige that is inherent in the edge. What, then, is an answer? How can center city expand both significantly and efficiently?
We feel a valid approach is to build in the water, but at an incremented distance from the shore. After reaching this decision, we established mandatory goals that the project had to meet in order to become a valid environment. First, each unit must have direct access to light and air. Secondly, it must be dense and establish a high ratio of open recreational space to enclosed floor area. Thirdly, it must develop an enclosed space that would satisfy human needs; a space that would be more than just a human filing cabinet.
The segmented tetrahedral form satisfies the light, air requirements; each face receives direct sunlight during the day. This phenomenon has far reaching connotations.
Within the urban environment there has, and perhaps always will be, a range of neighborhood desirability—the right and wrong side of the tracks. At the present, the parameter or range of values is quite great. All cities seem to have their own version of Harlem – Madison Ave. Theoretically, if we could more closely equate the desirability of real estate, we would eliminate some of the social unrest. If all neighborhoods possessed a diverse range of people differentiated by age, income, race, family size, etc., but all bonded together by some basic collective interest, we would have a unique neighborhood. Possibly this would eliminate financial and racial prejudice. Collectively, man will always have condescending attitudes, but within this diverse commune social structure it would be mutual.
The basic concept is to achieve a flexible, but dense, extension of the existing urban environment. The essence of a large metropolitan area is enclosure and transportation of man and goods. It is environment plus movement.
The structure for URBAN MATRIX is eighteen-foot octagonal aluminum trusses. The core of the truss is for all utilities. Man and goods are transported in capsules, which ride in any one of eight compartments in the truss. The movement of any given capsule is individually controlled by a master computer. The capsule programmed for a specific destination will take the most efficient route as dictated by movement of all other capsules in the system.
URBAN MATRIX is composed of 163 tetrahedral elements. The functional zoning within the structure is most flexible. Any given tetrahedron could be a total community—that is, it would have residential, commercial, communal, and recreational functions, or if circumstances dictated, the entire tetrahedra could be designated one specific function. Just as neighborhoods vary in size, so it, too, is possible to have “neighborhoods” within URBAN MATRIX VARY IN SIZE. Adjacent tetrahedra could comprise a neighborhood of specific flavor. It is our belief that if center city was expanded in the form of URBAN MATRIX most of the floor area would be allocated to communal and commercial space. Communal space would include governmental, judicial, retail trade, etc., and any other functions in which people gather together in large numbers. Commercial functions would be a flexible office area or space now considered semi-public. We feel that thirty-three tetrahedra, or approximately twenty percent of the total, could be designated for residential use. Within these tetrahedra, 689,000 square feet of residential area is distributed over twenty-four floors; each floor having a height of nine feet. Duplex apartments are distributed linearly along the external faces. The internal area is allotted to convenience shopping; in effect, the net residential area is approximately 460,000 square feet. This will yield about five hundred apartments per tetrahedra.
The remaining floors in the residential tetrahedra serve communal, commercial, and mechanical functions. The uppermost four floors, designated for commercial functions, have a total gross of 450,000 square feet, and a floor height of eighteen feet. The next six floors, designated as commercial, have a total gross of 511,200 square feet, and a floor height of thirteen feet, six inches. The residential function falls directly below the commercial and covers twenty-four floors. The lowest eight floors are designated for computer controlled mechanical and electrical systems; gross area is 15,000 square feet.
The functional use of the remaining one hundred and thirty tetrahedra is divided between communal and commercial. The necessary mechanical support functions are again designated to the lowest eight floors and occupy 15,000 square feet in each tetrahedra. 698,000 square feet gross of communal space is distributed over the uppermost eight floors; floor-to-floor height is eighteen feet. 503,000 square feet gross of commercial function is distributed over the next eighteen floors; floor height is thirteen feet, six inches.
Floor areas for URBAN MATRIX according to function are:
Residential 22,737,000 square feet
Commercial 82,259,600 square feet
Communal 105,668,000 square feet
Open area is provided by the buoyant sub-structure. The square pontoons of six-hundred, twelve-hundred and eighteen-hundred feet per side yield a total recreational open space area of 18,140,000 square feet or four hundred and fifteen acres. The sub-structure pontoons provide not only open space but also 88,2-0,000 gross square feet of floor area for light industrial usage. The buoyant sub-structure units are anchored to the water bottom by high-strength aluminum cable. For purposes of stability, a constant positive buoyancy is maintained through a wench mechanism in the sub-structure. This device will compensate for any rise or fall of water height. The concept of a buoyant sub-structure necessitates lightweight, high-strength, durable materials used to maximum efficiency—aluminum. Of necessity, new high-strength extruded shapes will have to be developed, but it is possible to employ many standard products.
Anodized ribbed siding, in its many varieties, is employed for lightweight, easily maintained partitions. Extruded aluminum boxes are used to form internal trusses. Aluminum pan roof deck is used in the floor system. Drop ceiling is an aluminum, linear, acoustical system with corrugated and “V” crimp panels.
The above are just a few examples of ways in which aluminum was used to satisfy a critical weight-strength problem of URBAN MATRIX.
URBAN MATRIX, we feel, can be seen as a total environment. It is more than a human filing cabinet—it provides basic needs essential to man. Random stairs, penetrating successive floors, plus open balconies will give man an awareness of URBAN MATRIX at all times. We express mixed usage and the recognition of man’s need for diverse environment. We provide open recreational areas, land and water, for ninety percent of the water rights area that we use. It is difficult to find an urban area that satisfies any one, let alone all of these problems.
In Support of the Speculative Project: A Chicago Legacy: www.mascontext.com/issues/25-26-legacy-spring-summer-15/filter-island
Filter Island: www.mascontext.com/issues/25-26-legacy-spring-summer-15/filter-island
The Big Shift: www.mascontext.com/issues/25-26-legacy-spring-summer-15/the-big-shift
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.