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Pritzker Prize

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From left to right: Herzog & De Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Rafael Moneo, Alvaro Siza, Eduardo Souto de Moura, PEter Eisenman, Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Bjarke Ingels, Rem Koolhaas, Zvi Hecker, myself, Preston Scott Cohen, Michael Meredith, and Hilary Sample. Missing are Reyner Banham and François Dallegret, who were edited out because of space constraints. You can still see a portion of one of Fraçois’ ‘Automobiles Astrologiques¡ at each end, though.

Woa. It’s been 5 months, already? It seems so, so (cacophony alert) before this blog is officially declared dead, I’m going to throw in some stuff that’s old enough to deserve some recovery. In February 2016, Uncube Magazine published an issue that had been in the works for quite some time at that point, ‘Walk the Line’, focusing on architectural representation and drawing in general. The issue featured an assorted group of interesting names, such as Wes Jones, Moon Hoon, William Chyr (of Manifold Garden fame), Sergei Tchoban,  Raumlabor Berlin, and some others. At that point I had been the house cartoonist ithe magazine for some three years, so Sophie Lovell, editor-in-chief, thought it might be worth having a little chat, illustrated with some ad-hoc cartoons. As usual, this happened at a point where I was swamped by work, which, adding to my proverbial sluggishness meant I ended up producing much less original work than I would have wished. It was a real shame, because by that time we knew the magazine’s run was coming to an end, and I would have loved to go out with a bang. Still, I’m glad we did it. Oh, and that first page with the line-up of starchitects was a hoot to make. I think it would work great as wallpaper material. So, here’s the full interview.

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The architecture cartoonist Klaus has had a regular slot with Uncube since issue no: 7. His work and approach parallels much of what the magazine stands for in terms of going “beyond” the traditional parameters of the discipline. Uncube’s editor-in-chief Sophie Lovell chews the fat with him about elastic boundaries and the hyperbolic distortion machine.

First things first: You’re an architect, aren’t you? Or at least you studied architecture at some point.

Yes, I’ve been a registered architect for about 15 years now. I’m getting over it, though.

I’m well aware that there are very elastic boundaries between architecture and (let’s say) beyond, but how does cartooning fit into your practice?

It started when I was at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD).I was about to start my PhD dissertation, which meant I was desperately looking for excuses that kept me away for it, and the GSD was a great provider of those: you had all these vedettes walking around, lots of stressed students living in their pods, loads of models piling up… it was eminently cartoon-isable. Then, one day Preston Scott Cohen had a hilarious conversation/argument with Ben Van Berkel, and I thought: “ok, I have to make a cartoon of this”. And that was that. Thanks, Preston.

But, going back to the elasticity you pointed out: Yes, there is definitely a lot of disciplinary promiscuity nowadays, due to the decrease in – let’s call it – “traditional architect” work. However, I think that the 2008 crisis [SL1] exposed something that has always been there. Historically,if you had drawing skills and were good at maths, you were often automatically directed towards architecture, so over time, many learnt to vent their artistic urges through architectural design… some times more successfully than others. I think that nowadays, many people with an architectural background are just exploring the intersections between architecture and passions they sublimated through architecture, or some other ones they discovered at architecture school.

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A montage with some of the cartoons I did for Uncube during its 4-year run. There were about 30 of them, which makes it my longest collaboration to date. You can have a look at them by clicking the Uncube tag in this blog, or you can check the magazine’s website, of course. 

What does it mean to be an architect, then?

Many things. Many different things, that’s the point. And you don’t necessarily have to be all of them. In fact, you cannot be all of them. Whenever someone brings in that idyllic metaphor of “the architect as an orchestra conductor”, I feel the urge to ask the speaker to point me towards all these orchestras waiting to be conducted. The profession – and even the discipline – is changing and we need architects specialized in different fields, or people with an architectural background in other professions. And architectural cartoonists as well of course – but not many. Back off, it’s my pie.

Is that the reason why starchitecture is usually the target of your satire? Because it represents this malign understanding of the architect?

Well, yes, but also because it’s so easy to make fun of… egocentric characters have great comedic potential, and architecture education teaches you about narcissism. Also, we love trashing those who are more successful than us at  – what we’ve been told is – our own game.

So you believe in the idea of the architect as critical thinker or provocateur?

There are cases we all know where the simple ability to think would be asking too much. But yes, I do believe in the architect as an intellectual. The main problem here is that we are usually taught to work with evocations[SL2] : architects are great at appropriating concepts, images, strategies from other disciplines and turning them into architectural form or discourse. But this is an attitude that many of us take into whatever we do, so our approach to everything tends to be very superficial: just a hint at the surface and we begin to extrapolate. That’s why architects usually make mediocre poets and terrible philosophers (I think I’m making many friends today…).

I remember listening to Peter Eisenman ranting once about the lack of “close attention” paid by today’s students; however, I think that’s something endemic to the profession. Derrida himself thought that Eisenman’s approach to deconstruction had nothing to do his own understanding of the concept. I like architects thinking out loud, but most of the time they’re just posturing, and bleating the same archibabble -or re-combinations of it- again and again.

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What you do in your role as a cartoonist, or caricaturist,is a quite blatant form of criticism, so are you not just hoisting yourself with you own petard?

There’s a critical attitude behind it, that’s obvious. However, I’m not trying to provide constructive criticism. I’m not even trying to be fair. There is no consistent attitude, or overall unifying discourse: I’ll criticize one thing and then its opposite. It’s all about having fun. I think you mentioned the word “jester”, at some point, and I think it’s pretty accurate, because jesters’ humor could be self-deprecating, if needed, but they were also great pranksters. Anything but mindless good taste.

So, anything goes in your view including offence, if necessary?

Sure, although I think my cartoons are very tame, usually. Of course, I come up with much harsher stuff, but I don’t have the time anymore. My current collaborations take up most of my spare time, so I have to choose. And, believe me, you wouldn’t want to publish the things that creep inside my head. So, there: I sold out. I’ve always been very partial to money.

A colleague of yours, Jimenez Lai, said that humour, parody and exaggeration can also be very productive as form-givers, that one can tread new paths through exaggeration.

Oh, absolutely. We are no born as abstract thinkers, so we obviously learn through imitation, by copying. Some people may have abstract minds, but most of us rely on reactive mental processes, so we react to what we are shown either by copying it, negating it, twisting it (that’s when caricature enters the equation). What’s interesting to me is that, if you copy something sufficiently poorly, or you take exaggeration too far, it becomes something different. Double meanings work very in much the same way: humour is mostly based on twisting words, or looking at things from a deliberately twisted angle, which may, if done mindlessly enough provide with new, interesting perspectives that you would not come upon through realistic, or fair thinking.

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I see: the hyperbolic distortion machine, architectural caricature and distortion as a design force. You’ve spoken elsewhere about the “suspended reality of the cartoon” as a freeing design environment. You certainly have a penchant for fantastic architecture / architecture of fantasy. In contrast, in your architect persona, do you experience designing actual buildings as a straight jacket?

Not a straight jacket so much as a task that requires too much effort in my case. Designing on a paper – or through a model – and getting to build something are related but not they’re not the same thing and you have to be willing to invest a lot of energy. I’m less and less interested in it as time passes. However, built architecture can compensate for all the things you lose when not working in the free reign of theoretical design. That said, non-build, or even non-buildable architecture, paper architecture, visionary architecture… whatever you want to call it, does encapsulate a inexhaustible capability for fascination. Many of us have a penchant for the visionary (not utopian, please) proposals of the 1960s, and the megastructural scene, in general. And, of course, it has to do with the fact that it was never (supposed to be) built. Almost 20 years ago I remember drooling over Zaha Hadid’s book The Complete Buildings and Projects. Each of those crowded drawings suggested so many possibiities… Then she started building, then AutoCad entered her office, and that was that. Well, except for her ill-fated stadium in Qatar –that was excellent cartoon-fodder.

What is the role of drawing in architecture /architectural design, then? Does being a great draughtsman make you a better architect?

No, I don’t think it does necessarily. Obviously, you need certain graphic skills to represent architecture. Also, sketching is a great way to organize and visualize your thoughts. However, I don’t think you need to be a great draughtsman to be a good architect, and having impressive graphic abilities doesn’t guarantee an equal capacity to design impressive architecture. Being too enthusiastic about drawing can even be counter-productive: a beautiful plan does not necessarily produce a good building, and if you’re too focused on making the drawing look good you may take decisions that work good for the plan as a drawing, but not for the building itself.

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Not my office. I wish I had a backlit drafting table. Or an office, actually.

You have been working under the Klaus moniker for about 12 years now. Why the pen name? Does this anonymity simply give you freedom to be more critical? Or is it a way to ensure a multifaceted approach?

Both, actually. “Klaus” is an anagram of my given name. When I started publishing comic strips in a local architecture magazine, I thought it would be a good way to avoid compromising my real name with less-than-serious stuff, because I was also starting to produce academic work. Years later, when I took it up again and went online, people started contacting me as Klaus, and I started writing under the Klaus persona. I enjoyed the freedom it gave me, but also the fact that it had a very distinct voice from my official, academic fare. So I kept both personalities. We get on pretty well, as a matter of fact. And it provides nice threesomes, too.

What does Klaus’ “old castle in Europe”, where he lives, look like?

Oh, when the crisis struck, the bank took it from me. I think they’re selling it to install an Apple store.

One last question: Are you Rem Koolhaas?

No. He’s much taller.

Sophie Lovell: “The [not so] Fine Line: A Conversation Thread about this and that with architecture cartoonist Klaus”.  Uncube Magazine nº 42, February 2016.

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NK 23 -Pritzker 2015

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Back in March The Pritzker Award Committee announced that this year’s laureate would be Frei Otto. This was excellent news, especially for all megastructural-age nostalgics such as myself… if not for the unfortunate coincidence that Mr. Otto had sadly passed away a coupla days before that. Michael Graves, who passed away almost simultaneously, was not so lucky (I felt dirty I had done this some years earlier). Now, I’m not saying that Mr. (excuse me: Lord) Palumbo & friends changed their minds and tried to fix the mistake not to have awarded him a Pritzker in all these past occasions where they chose to reward today’s more popular and ‘kewl’ megastars… (I’m not saying it because I had actually drawn another cartoon just doing that -don’t look for it, it rests in one of my drawers). However, it would be nice if the Pritzker committee avoided pulling a Spencer Tracy and rushed a little to distribute those ones still missing. You’re running out of time, guys.

Here you have a few comments from other laureates praising Frei Otto. Please, try not to laugh at some of them.

Of course, the title is a pun on this.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #33: Frei Otto, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. Worth checking, really.

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Limited and traditional definitions of architecture and its means have lost their validity. Today the environment as a whole is the goal of our activities—and all the media of its determination: TV or artificial climate, transportation or clothing, telecommunication or shelter. The extension of the human sphere and the means of its determination go far beyond a built statement. Today everything becomes architecture. “Architecture” is just one of many means, is just one possibility. […] Architecture is a medium of communication.

[…] For thousands of years, artificial transformation and determination of man’s world, as well as sheltering from weather and climate, was accomplished by means of building. The building was the essential manifestation and expression of man. Building was understood as the creation of a three-dimensional image of the necessary as spatial definition, protective shell, mechanism and instrument, psychic means and symbol. The development of science and technology, as well as changing society and its needs and demands, has confronted us with entirely different realities. Other and new media of environmental determination emerge. […] Obviously it no longer occurs to anyone to wall-in sewage canals or erect astronomical instruments of stone (Jaipur). New communications media like telephone, radio. TV, etc. are of far more import. Today a museum or a school can be replaced by a TV set. Architects must cease to think only in terms of buildings.

[…] Thus a building might be simulated only. An early example of the extension of buildings through media of communication is the telephone booth —a building of minimal size extended into global dimensions. Environments of this kind more directly related to the human body and even more concentrated in form are, for example, the helmets of jet pilots who, through telecommunication, expand their senses and bring vast areas into direct relation with themselves. Toward a synthesis and to an extreme formulation of a contemporary architecture leads the development of space capsules and space suits. Here is a “house”—far more perfect than any building—with a complete control of bodily functions, provision of food and disposal of waste, coupled with a maximum mobility. […] A true architecture of our time will have to redefine itself and expand its means. Many areas outside traditional building will enter the realm of architecture, as architecture and “architects” will have to enter new fields.

All are architects. Everything is architecture.

Hans Hollein: “Alles Ist Architektur”. Bau 1/2, 1968

[Full text and original article at Socks’ blog]

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #24: Hans Hollein, edited by Sophie Lovell, Floriaon Heilmeyer, Elvia Wilk et al, which deals entirely with Hollein’s work with some help of Madalena Boavida, Susie S. Lee, Wilfried Kuehn, Marlies Wirth, Oliver Elser, Rob Wilsonet al. Highly recommended reading.

For some further reading on a man who made the world a more interesting place, check Dezeen’s April 2014 obituary, or some words on him by Charles Holland  ( ), who echoes Hollein in more aspects than his name. I know: there’s a ‘Numerus Klausus’ issue missing. It’ll come later.

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“In all of my architectural design activities I have constantly asked myself the following questions: How can an architecture founded on craftsmanship survive in today’s world? What is the relevance of the traditional Chinese landscape system in a world filled with gigantic artificial structures? In a society undergoing massive city-building campaigns, how should urban development be handled without resorting to major demolition and reconstruction? How can new urban buildings connect with memories of the past–that might be otherwise lost as structures are demolished–and re-establish their cultural identities? What can be done in the realm of architecture to overcome the stark contrast between urban and rural areas in China? Is it possible to ensure that alongside the top-down professional system of modern architecture, ordinary people’s right to initiate their own building activities is also protected? Is it possible to find smarter ways for addressing environmental and ecological challenges by drawing on the wisdom found in traditional architecture and grassroots building activities? Is there a way for us to express our architectural pursuit with stories and feelings without resorting to gigantic, symbolic and iconic structures? How can an independent architect maintain the attitude and work style against the background of a powerful modern system?”

Excerpt from Wang Shu’s Acceptance Speech at the Pritzker Prize Ceremony 2012. The full speech is available at the Pritzker Prize Website. The video of the ceremony can be checked at ArchDaily.

Strolling the Architectural Zoo: Eisenmanis Infuribus (click to enlarge)

Later today (in my time zone), the jury of the Pritzker Prize will reveal the name of the laureate for the 2012 edition of the award. This year, the 9-member jury integrated by Lord Peter Palumbo, Alejandro Aravena, Stephen Breyer, Yung Ho Chang, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Karen Stein, and Martha Thorne will decide the name of the architect who will be invested as the 34th laureate in a ceremony that will take place in Beijing. Thomas J. Pritzker, in reference to his city being selected as this year’s host, commented that “over the three decades of prize-giving, we have held ceremonies in fourteen different countries, in venues ranging from the white house in Washington DC to Todai-Ji temple in Nara, Japan. the tradition of moving the event to world sites of architectural significance was established to emphasize that the prize is international, the laureates having been chosen from 16 different nations to date. This will be our 34th event marking the first time we have gone to China.” Inevitably, China and Beijing have also hosted an increasing number of projects built by past Pritzker Prize laureates, such as Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Herzog&de Meuron, and I.M. Pei, winner of the 1983 edition.

Over the years, the Pritzker organization has featured a combination of total predictability, submitting to the architectural status quo by awarding its prize to the decreasing members of the star(chitectural) system who are left -and the Oscar-like custom to reward old-timers in not particularly moments of their careers before it’s too late-, and a penchant for alternating those with lesser-known names, usually artisans from the outside of the anglo-saxon market. In 2011, Eduardo Souto de Moura came (at least for me), as a pleasant surprise, and this year there seems to be a consensus -as there was last year- on Steven Holl’s or Toyo Ito’s likeability to become laureated. However, the web resounds with many other names, from David Chipperfield to Kengo Kuma and Ben Van Berkel, or even the recently deceased Luis Moreno Mansilla, among other more extravagant proposals. There seems to be also a big consensus on the unlikeability of both Daniel Libeskind and Peter Eisenman, who I think would qualify to reprise the equivalent of Martin Scorsese’s role in  the Oscars of 2006.

Anyone wanna bet?

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UPDATE: Finally, Chinese architect Wang Shu, from “Amateur Architecture Studio” received this year’s Pritzker Prize.

From Chigago Tribune’s Cityscapes: Wang Shu, 49 (left), deftly melds tradition and modernity, often by reusing bricks and tiles from demolished buildings in such bold new designs as a history museum in the Chinese city of Ningbo. Wang calls his office the “Amateur Architecture Studio,” yet that name is far too modest, the jury that selected him said in its citation. His work “is that of a virtuoso in full command of the instruments of architecture—form, scale, material, space and light,” said the jury, which mainly consists of architectural experts. This year, it included for the first time U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who has a keen interest in the field.

In a telephone interview from Los Angeles on Saturday, Wang said the award was “big surprise.” He was sharply critical of the tabula rasa development practices that are transforming the cities of the world’s most populous nation.  “Originally, Chinese had many beautiful cities,” Wang said in his clear but imperfect English. “They demolish everything. They called it modern city. They build a very wide road system. Then every block they give to a development company to build a high-rise apartment building. Suddenly we let every Chinese city become big suburb. (…) New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas combined together (…) is Shanghai.”
 
Wang and his wife, Lu Wenyu, founded their practice in 1997 in the southeastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. Their portolio spans a broad range of scales, from museums, high-rise apartments and college buildings to single-family houses whose curving roofs subtly evoke ancient Chinese pagodas. The Pritzker jury singled out Wang’s Ningbo history museum as a superbly-functioning icon that presents a powerful alternative to the twin extremes of architectural nostalgia and shock-of-the-new modernity. “In this world, people like to talk about science, technology, computer,” Wang said. I like to talk about architecture by hand–hand-drawing to hand-making.”  
 
“His buildings have the unique ability to evoke the past, without making direct references to history,” the jury said in its citation.  Although jury members knew the presentation would be made in Beijing when they deliberated earlier this year, the location of the ceremonies did not influence their decision, according to administrators of the prize. “The jury does not speak about geography. They never portion out between countries. The only concern they have is architectural quality,” said Martha Thorne, the prize’s executive director.
 
More at Cityscapes and EdgarGonzalez.com.

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A fistful of useful links: The official announcement can be found at the Pritzker official site here, along with a -not that- short bio of the architect. An architectural tour through Wang Shu’s different works can be found in this post by Edgar González, and this other one in Domus, while Los Vacíos Urbanos offers a nice set of the Ningbo Museum with photgraphs by Iwan Baan (more here). Another impressive set by Evan Chakroff  can be found in Archinect (more in Evan’s own blog, Tenuous Resilience), and A Weekly Dose of Architecture already featured a stroll through the China Academy of Art third campus in Zhuantang Town in this nice old post from 2008. Designboom has a couple of posts dedicated to Wang Shu’s installations in the Venice Bienale and the 2011 Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in Shenzen/Hong Kong. Finally, Archdaily offers a review of Shu’s figure by Pritzker member of the jury Alejandro Aravena.

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LAST UPDATES: Why Wang Shu? An article by Brendan McGetrick at Domus Web. Domus also recovered a quite complete article on the  Ningbo History Museum from their archive here.

Also, the nice people in METALOCUS decided to translate part of this post and publish it, along with the illustration, on their website.

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“Porto-based architect Eduardo Souto de Moura has been named the 2011 Pritzker Prize laureate for his considerable achievements in the field of architecture and the built environment. The selection of Souto de Moura as this year’s recipient of the world’s most sought-after architectural prize marks a noticeable step away from a developing pattern of so-called ‘starchitects’. Over the last few years, the laureates have been internationally recognised figures, both in professional and public circles, such as Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry and Peter Zumthor.

This year’s winner, the Portuguese designer Souto de Moura works largely within his native country, although his 2005 Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Kensington Gardens with Alvaro Siza (the 1992 Pritzker Prize laureate) was internationally well received. In their selection of Souto de Moura the Pritzker Prize jury panel cited numerous projects of his within Portugal, including the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Estádio Municipal de Braga and the Burgo Office Tower in Porto.

Chairman of the jury, Lord Palumbo said: “During the past three decades, Eduardo Souto de Moura has produced a body of work that is of our time but also carries echoes of architectural traditions. His buildings have a unique ability to convey seemingly conflicting characteristics – power and modesty, bravado and subtlety, bold public authority and a sense of intimacy – at the same time.”

Over the years, 58-year-old Souto de Moura has completed more than 60 buildings in a variety of sectors from commercial to leisure, entertainment to public art, in a choice selection of European countries.The 2011 recipient’s tough, assertive style may be highly recognisable to practicing architects yet his work remains relatively unknown to those outside the field, suggesting a move away from the ‘iconic’ architecture of recent Pritzker Prize winners and the celebration of the more local, humble practitioner. One may view this diversion as a reflection on the tough economic times of late.”

(Via World Architecture News)

As a former student of his (even if just for a short period) I fealt really happy to read, through last week’s leak, that this year’s Pritzker Prize had been awarded to Eduardo Souto de Moura. As an architect, I’ve always admired the mixture of straightforwardness and poetics, of tradition and abstraction,  of texture and ethereality he imbues his buildings with. As a human being, I couldn’t help being moved by the fact that he went through a personal and professional crisis  when he realized that he could design a project over a weekend, because his practicing had evolved into a style, hence, each project was less unique.

Announcement in Archdaily, a short analysis in The Architects’ Journal, a longer one in John Hill’s  A Daily Dose of Architecture, a nice interview in Floornature, and somewhere in  the Spanish site Tectonica Blog you should find the original leak that rushed up things.


Now that’s been a couple of weeks after the Pritzker Ceremony, and following my policy of never publishing anything when it’s due, I decided to finish the month with a little recap. This is the way the cartoon was supposed to be on the first place, but I felt that the in-joke departed too much from the real message, and that it might be misleading. But Zumthor is always so funny (I may be one of the twoo or three people in the World that think this, I know). Now that I look at it, I’m a little bit intrigued by the metonymic Popeye connection that arose spontaneously on the right. I’ll have to explore that in the future.

If you don’t know what this is all about, check here

And now, a few links:

Plataforma Arquitectura reviewed the ceremony and kindly uploaded some photos, which can also be found in their mirror site in English Archdaily.

Also, The New York Times offers its own set of pictures, along with insightful statements both about and by some of the assistants:

Frank Gehry (’89), whose own Pritzker ceremony took place in Nara, Japan — “As a student, I learned how to make tatami mats and was in a gagaku orchestra,” he reminisced — could be spotted in head-to-toe black and, at 81, looking slimmer than before. “I go up and down,” he shrugged.’

Such a pity we weren’t invited.

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