Designed by Henning Larsen Architecture and White, the newish Umeå School of Architecture building is home to one of the youngest architecture programs in Europe. The school describes itself using words like experimental and laboratory, which sounds scientific and cold, but the interior is airy and warm in a way that the Scandinavians have mastered. White describes the interior as “almost industrial” with its concrete floors, blank walls and high ceilings, but there are details (wooden exterior walls, leather-wrapped handrails and volumetric arrangements) that keep this “workshop for future architects” from looking too much like a factory.
Soon enough, the interior will start to look like something else: chaos. If this is an experimental laboratory let’s hypothesize what will happen when nearly 300 aspiring architects are combined with power tools, spraypaint and building materials. Now, deprive subjects of sleep and run the reaction in a pristine environment with an excess of adhesive. Cleanliness may be the first causality in an architecture studio, but the architecture will survive.
I generally don’t expect to find elevations penned in the Beaux-Arts style refreshing, but there is something about these illustrations from London-based Thibaud Herem, that is exactly that. Maybe it’s because computer-generated imagery has totally saturated contemporary architectural representation; maybe it’s because these straightforward illustrations use traditional notions of composition and respresentation without trying to look antique, or maybe it’s just nice to see traces of someone’s hand. Either way, the skill involved is evident and impressive.
While the illustrations alone are exciting, but I was thrilled when I found Harem’s website packed with illustration and graphic work that is largely more contemporary. I asked him how he got interested in architecture and, specifically, how he got interested in representing it this way. His response: “I always have had a general interest in architecture ,which became a real
practice one year ago; this traditionnal style just came naturally.” Below, I’ve included a few of my favorite examples from his large body of work.
Week before last, we looked at the watercolors of Steven Holl: an architect pushing architecture into art. But what about an artist pushing from art into architecture? Here are three architecture models built by Frank Stella, who gained notoriety as a minimalist painter in the late ’50s and early ’60s with several series of striped paintings including “Benjamin Moore Paintings” made with, what else, house paint. Through decades of his prolific career, Stella’s canvases became increasingly complex, colorful and dimensional. Maybe it was inevitable that his trajectory would lead him to architecture, but when the Met held an exhibition of his work called “From Painting to Architecture” in 2007 not everyone loved the results.
I’ve always liked Stella’s paintings, but I’ve always had a hard time placing his architecture. Maybe because the models he makes look more like complex sculptures or fragments of architecture. I’m not saying his work is bad, just that it doesn’t have enough plumbing (yet) to leave the realm of sculpture. I’ve worked on plenty of architecture projects that initially developed through sketch models not terribly dissimilar from these, and I know it takes a lot of work to transform such models into architecture that can be realized at scale. So it’s strange to see one of the more famous American post-war artists working toward architecture. To get there, he’ll have to give up some of the freedoms that creating sculptures allows; he’ll have to give up some of the freedoms of being an artist.
Thanks to the contrast between the Yardmasters Building (designed by architects McBride Charles Ryan) and its surroundings, the Yardmasters Building reads a bit more tedious and fragile than it might otherwise. It’s not lacy, but describing the exterior as “jewel-like” agrees with the faceted geometries and the subtle sheen of the brighter bits, but disagrees with the darker palette of the exterior. The color is dirty and gives some grit the jewelbox sitting alongside the tracks in Melbourne.
When a building’s skin has a pattern this intricate, it is hard to understand the scale without some kind of reference. Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting Jean Nouvell’s L’Institut Du Monde Arabe may have been as shocked as I was at the scale of the mechanical aperatures that cover the south face of the building. They’re huge. Back in Melbourne, you can see from the interior photo that the windows are larger than they appear from the exterior. The rich geometries that wrap the building are somewhere between optical illusion and disguise: a mechanism for creating mystery. The designers liken the project to a “jewel in a junk-heap” which seems like fitting place to begin a mystery.
Although Steven Holl isn’t the only architect that uses watercolors, he does have a unique way of using these paintings in his design process; not as a means of rendering completed design work, but as a way of generating or developing design. It’s probably the most distinguishing characteristic of his process. He makes these watercolors in the morning, when he’s still half asleep. “I start in a half-wakened state” he says, ”It’s a way of dreaming and thinking, of bridging.” Above his drafting desk, you’ll find stacks of uniform 5″x7″ books full of these watercolors that he’s been making for the past thirty years.
There’s a good article about his watercolors here, which has dozens more examples of his watercolors for the interested. The watercolors I pulled above are from other sources: Architype, Holl’s Website and the NAI.