Sometimes while joking with my old friends who work as architects, I’ll offer my own summary of the entire history of the profession: “Let me just go ahead and boil this down for you: it was built to keep the poor people away.” It’s an absurd summary, and is far removed from the reality and concerns of practicing architects. More rational people might summarize the recent history of architecture (since Modernism) using either popular dictum from Mies van der Rohe, “less is more,” or another from Le Corbusier that describes architecture as a “machine for living in.” But, more recently, there seems to have been a shift toward thinking of buildings as organisms. I can’t think of a snappy saying associated with this shift, although I think the cover of the first Mark Magazine was getting somewhere with, “Let’s Build Trees!”
I haven’t quite figured out how seriously I should take architecture. Is it important? To some people, absolutely. But not everyone needs or wants it, so it’s a bit like fashion if you ask yourself these two questions: Do people need clothing? Yes, but not fashion. Do people need shelter? Yes, but not necessarily architecture. As much as we may like to dress spiffy or inhabit swanky spaces, most of us would probably roll our eyes if someone insisted that couture labels were a matter of life and death. And as long as it doesn’t collapse, architecture is pretty much the same way, right?
We’ve been looking at playful projects this past week, and have seen everything from roller coasters to legos to fiber optics. The last project we’ll see this week is from Michael Jantzen. Jantzen is probably best known for his shape-shifting M-Vironments which have been widely published, or you may know him from his playful photo series of deconstructed houses. and churches. And today we have a relatively simple footbridge he’s designed for nowhere in particular.
If you’re looking for a fun place to hang out and interact with data (and who isn’t?) try the Teton County Library in Jackson, Wyoming. The library has a new addition built by Gilday Architects. And inside the new entrance lobby, you’ll find a stunning installation created by E/B Office. The New York-based practice has filled the lobby with five miles of fiber optic cable cut into a thousand segments.
On the south side of Melbourne, designer Ryan Russell of Russell & George has recently completed a bright, playful space for Australian bag maker Crumpler, their twelfth store in Australia. What immediately makes the store stand out is the grid of fluorescent lights that defines the ceiling and moves down the walls of the retail space. The lights are big, looking almost like the largest and most fragile K’Nex project you’ve ever seen.
Even if they weren’t your favorite, you may have spent a portion of your childhood building things out of blocks. I loved playing with the blocks at school because they were huge; I could stack the pieces into symmetrical piles half my height and stomp around the mess durring recess. Sadly, at home I was relegated to playing with lincoln logs or Legos, neither of which are any fun to stomp on with bare feet. As it turns out, some architects grow up and never stop playing with blocks. Instead, when these architects start to work/play, the result becomes more complex than anything I made when I was little and their building blocks become much more expensive. But not always.
Here are two recent works by the Dutch firm MVRDV. To me, most of the firm’s work can appear blocky at times, but these tall white towers made for an exhibition in Cannes are especially blocky because they are made from white legos. The exhibition is called Porous City and these towers (which were made with help from the Why Factory) are investigations about how to break up the solid mass of a skyscraper. These legos are the building blocks that aren’t so expensive.