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AKA: ‘I want to post something to pretend this blog’s still active, but I don’t feel like producing real content today’.

A quick glimpse of the process of penciling the poster for last year’s Hyde Lecture Series, at the request of the über-nice Karles: Sarah and David Karle, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. You can check the finished poster here.

Tomorrow, new content. Honest.

UNL-Hyde Lecture Series

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Many (count me as one of those) seemed to think this blog was dead, but, alas, we were all wrong and here I am, back for my now customary -it seems- biannual update. There have been some other works waiting the line in the last two years, but, since they’re late already, I thought it might be worth sharing something hot off the presses. A little backstory for this one: A few months ago, Sarah and David Karle, from the University of Nebraska Lincoln contacted me, asking if I’d join this year’s Hyde Lecture Series, a question whose answer is, by default, ‘Yes, of course’.

They also asked if I would like to design this year’s poster. Unfortunately, I’ve been swamped by work this term, and I would hardly be able to fit it in my schedule. So I said the only thing I could: ‘Sure, I’ll do it!’. Of course, since I was in a very tight schedule, I decided to make the drawing as complicated as possible. I’m not sure this is the most crowded cartoon I’ve produced so far, but it’s certainly up there in the Top Ten.

Thanks, guys, I’ll see you in February!

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Bonus peek #1: I rarely (as in ‘never’) produce preliminary mock-ups for my drawings, just some random sketches. But they asked, so as to get an idea of what they would be getting, and in this case I thought it was more than fair. It was also very useful, because the poster needed to be bigger than my usual drawing size, so making sure it worked in advance took some anxiety away. In fact, I later blew it up and drew the pencils on top of it, which made the process of adding the details a pretty zen experience.

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Bonus peek #2: The final drawing for the poster, from pencils, to inks, to colors. See if you can spot all the referents (no Trump, sorry).

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Summer vacation is unfortunately over, so let’s catch up with published work that hasn’t made it to the blog yet. Today’s post belongs in the series of illustrations I did for the ‘Interchange’ interviews published in A10 magazine over the last 2 years. As you may know, A10 went out of business last Spring. So, whether this is something permanent or -hopefully- it is not (read announcement here), these posts will remain, for the time being, as the only available peek at the A10 archives. Except, of course, for our Forty and Famous bookwhich compiles 10 of them. There are still some copies left, I believe. Contact @IndiraS if interested.

Today’s post features ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles], a practice led by Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman that ‘researches and intervenes in the contemporary urban landscape with productions ranging from urban plans and architecture to installations and fashion.’

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When I first interviewed ZUS in 2006, the office had only existed for three years. At the time, principals Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman wondered, ‘Often we ask ourselves which challenges are solvable with good design, and which can really only be solved through politics. After the tsunami in Asia or the hurricane in New Orleans, the question arises to what degree human influence has on our surroundings. What means are still tangible for a designer at larger scales?’ In 2014, ZUS won a major design competition in New York that deals with this exact question. Now they are in America, having just founded ZUS NY.

Since Katrina (2004) and hurricane Sandy (2012), the American awareness of the need for a more inclusive way to solve its climate problems gained ground. After Sandy hit New York it was with amazing speed that Rebuild by Design was founded. The competition’s formula to bring stakeholders to the heart of effective resilience planning has been very successful ever since. Designs were issued (and won) by big firms like OMA and BIG. But among the six finalists was also the team of MIT CAU, de Urbanisten and ZUS Architects, with Deltares, 75B and Volker Infra Design. They received 150 million dollar (of a total 930 million dollar) to realize their proposal for the Meadowlands in New Jersey. The aim is to work with local governments and communities to ensure that the design is incorporated into the lives of everyone involved.

Like in the Netherlands, you deal with communities and stakeholders, with a focus on ecology, community, culture, and landscape design – an inclusive way of working that influences spatial planning and peoples’ lives. Thus, your projects are usually also political. Is working in the US different from here?

If interdisciplinary and proactive work is an ambition in Europe and the Netherlands, it is a necessity in America. To get a project done, you have to work proactively through all the political layers, and you automatically come up against economic and environmental factors. These must somehow be integrated in the plans. You will have to create support from top to bottom. In that sense, working in America is fundamentally integrated and always political. It sometimes takes a little longer, but it’s very valuable.

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Excerpts from: Indira van’t Klooster: Inclusive archipolitics – An Interview with ZUS Architects.  A10 Magazine #64. Jul/Aug 2015

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ALA is one of Finland’s success stories, winning a major competition at the age of 30, heading a 40+ employees’ office at 40 and now looking abroad for new opportunities. Besides redoing the Finnish embassy in New Delhi they are also working on the high profile new library in Helsinki. Still, they participate in both open and invited competitions. And now there looking for opportunities in America. But did they enter the Guggenheim competition? ‘That one did not meet our standards.’’

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Mahlamäki said that he appreciates the echo of Finnish Modernism in your work “with a touch of internationalism, mixing the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas with the Finnish Design-orientated approach.” Sounds like Kilden?

 We certainly like to rigorously analyze every situation we’re thrown into, still leaving room for intuitive results.

You have won several important commissions after Kilden, like Kuopio (A10#61) and the Helsinki New Library. Competitions are still an important part of your business strategy. How do you decide which competitions to take on and which you don’t?

We like competitions, both invited and open, that keep our minds and our presentational skills sharp. We set tight criteria as to which competitions to enter and which not (…).

Did you enter the Guggenheim competition?

No, it didn’t meet our criteria. […]

Mahlamäki also said, when I asked him: “I believe their skills and their ambition will carry them far. The Finns are normally shy, but ALA is not – they boldly show their passion and goals.” Do you?

I think we couldn’t possibly hide them if we tried.

What do you think about the younger generation of architects?

We are in a way old fashioned and middle aged. Who designs an opera building today or a metro station like we did? There are still competitions in Finland and abroad that can shape new offices. But the collaborative non-permanent approach of the younger generation is at odds with the more master plan-like projects coming up. We’ll see if it’s the architects shaping the system, or the other way around. Soon a competition for a large school will open and the winner will start a new office from that for sure, if they don’t already have it. It will be interesting to see whether it will be won by architects from a younger generation or by the older guys.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: Competitive spirit An Interview with ALA. A10 Magazine #62. March-April 2015

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(*) They aren’t really that laconic, these guys, as I made them look here. So, if you want to get a sense of what they sound like, I guess you’ll have no other option but buying the magazine (or googling other online interviews with them).

They still owe me a photo, though.

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Yes, unfortunately, this year’s scholarly life and my increasing committments with real publishing (aaahhh… money…) and its dreadful deadlines (ahhh…. my weekends…) has resulted in an almost total neglection of the blog. So, in order to catch up a little, let’s move on with the series of illustrations I’ve been doing for A10 magazine (@A10magazine) this past year. All of them were done to illustrate a still ongoing series of interviews with ‘young’ architects or architectural teams (because if you’re an architect under 40, you’re still young, you know? -suck that up, engineers!) conducted by A10’s editor, Indira van ‘t Klooster (@IndiraS). This one, from December 2014, featured NY-based firm SO-IL, run by Florian Idenburg, Jing Liu, and an old colleague from my Cambridge days, Ilias Papageorgoulias Papageorgiou. Dang, has it been so long already??

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Unlike most architects in Europe, you mainly work for private clients. Why is that?

In Europe, one thinks that governments take care of public space, but outside Europe it’s usually different. (…) It’s very usual for an architect there to be part of the funding efforts for his own design. To arrange for your own fee calls for a different mentality. (…) Personal contact with your client is more important, mutual appreciation is crucial. Also, with public funding, the most important thing is to deliver a building on time and within budget. Once those demands are secured, there is little debate about the design any longer. 

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What do you think would have happened if you had stayed in Europe?

My career would have been entirely different. It would have been harder, I believe, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I learned the most by leaving the Netherlands, but I never intended to ‘escape’. We seek commissions in Europe (…).As an office, we are much more European than an average American practice, for example, when it comes to our attitude toward public space.

What would be your advice for young architects?

We are six years old now and have set the office on a track that currently allows us to work on a range of exciting projects around the world that engage culture and the public realm. The path of an architecture firm is inherently rocky. The people in our office are even younger than us. The new generation is much more flexible; it’s a more fluid generation. Traditional buildings will always be needed, but I think architects will find a wide range of new fields in which to work. Their skill set is ultimately suited for the demands of our time. Americans are unbeatable in their knowledge of computer coding, which is essential if you want to remain in control of your design. That’s something European architects should be concerned about—they know how to make a model, but very few have a clue about writing computer scripts.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: Reflections from overseas An Interview with SO-IL. A10 MAgazine #61. Jan-Feb 2015

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(*) For the rest you’ll have to buy the magazine. That’s the way it works. Toughen up.

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[…] The Polish pavilion in Shanghai is probably the most famous and also most evocative project of WWAA. How would you describe it? How does it relate to your other work?

I came through several different phases with this project; first is was like with your first newborn, a strange feeling of being in some movie, with a complete stranger sucking life from you 🙂 Afterwards, I was briefly in love, proud that it had grown into such big and strong being. Then, I was for a few years a little bit ashamed of it, before finally, not long ago, being able to embrace this project fully, as a not perfect but most important achievement. I think also that it might be our big luck, that this very first project was temporary and does not have to stand the test of time – in terms of functionality and durability, because the aesthetics where meant to work in this very moment.

Expo Pavilion was no doubt very defining for the profile of our practice; many investors where expecting copy-cats of this project. I hope we managed to find a cross of what was expected of us and what felt genuine and inspired at the moment. I would like to say that our approach to each project is completely different, but obviously that would be completely false and naive; we do follow some well recognized paths and use shortcuts. (…)

What do you think about the position and attitude of young practices at the moment?

When we where at the starting point, there where many practices having nice websites with many impressive projects – but only in renderings. It felt somehow phony/artificial, and now I’m really happy to see that many young architects start with small scale projects, having them realized, thus showing through their work some special skills, such as being socially sensitive or having nice touch with materials, details, or any other. Of course I’m not opposed to doing competitions or study projects, but just feel that in our job it is so important to have frequent reality checks.

Indira van ‘t Klooster: Freedom of Flexibility – An Interview with Natalia Paszkowska, from WWAA Architects. A10 MAgazine #59. Sept-Oct 2014

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WWAA stands for Warsaw Architects, but a lot of their work currently takes place in Qatar. The office itself is located in KOMIN 73 (‘Factory Chimney 73’), a revitalized post-industrial complex, where activities ranging from design, graphic art, photography and fashion, to web and parametric design, 3D mapping and animation also reside. In the summer, an outdoor terrace hosts informal events. For a glimpse of what WWAA are producing, take a look at their website.

A10 Piano Player Number Two - Joost Moolhuijzen

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Something a little bit different this time. A couple months ago, Indira van ‘t Klooster, editor-in-chief of A10 magazine contacted me asking if I would be interested in making some cartoons for a series of interviews with different architects they were featuring this year. Yes, A10 is that magazine founded a decade ago by Arjan Groot and Hans Ibelings, the man who not only wrote Supermodernism, but also a series of articles on comics and architecture back in the 90s), so, how could I say no?. It was a little thight for me to get to the first one, with Jürgen Mayer H (been there already, in any case), so we skipped ahead directly to Joost Moolhuijzen, the partner at Renzo Oiano’s workshop who was in charge of the Shard (yes, Piano and the Shard have also been guest stars here , thanks to Uncube . For those of you who want to check on the real thing, here’s a video of Joost himself speaking about the Shard at the BBC. Below, you have a taste of the interview itself. For the rest, you’ll have to buy the magazine (what are you waiting for?).

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It’s rare that an architect gets to explain his own project on CNN, but just that happened to Joost Moolhuijzen in 2012. You may not remember his name, but the name of his latest project is certainly familiar: The Shard. As senior partner at Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), Moolhuijzen was responsible for this remarkable London skyscraper. Despite not having his own practice, it seems his being willing to pay the price of never becoming well known publicly has its benefits.

While many young architects dream of creating famous buildings the world over following graduation, some of them actually do it. Joost Moolhuijzen joined RPBW at the age of 30 and became partner at the age of 37, after he had successfully headed the Debis Building, part of the Daimler-Benz project at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz. We meet in a café on a rainy day in Amsterdam. He and his wife, who also works at RPBW, are in town for a short family visit. Moolhuijzen begins explaining how the ideas of Piano have gradually become his own. Also, we’re talking different scales than are usually seen in A10. ‘Once we were 150 people, but our natural size is 100, like we are now,’ says Moolhuijzen. ‘That means we’re still small enough to be picky in the projects we accept, and big enough to deal with the larger projects.’

So RPBW is critical in which projects to take on, or not?

‘Definitely,’ assures Moolhuijzen, ‘we do not simply follow the money in Dubai, China or Korea. We seek jobs that contribute to urban sustainability. We once had a job just outside Paris, but gradually it became clear that the project had too little in terms of urban capacity. New buildings should improve the existing situation with regard to public transport, housing and public space.’The Shard, sometimes criticized as an autistic high-rise funded by sheikhs from Qatar, he actually finds to be an improvement for the district. ‘The underlying station was rebuilt, while more and varied functions appeared on the ground floor. People have benefited from it. We preferably build on brownfields rather than greenfields. That is ultimately more sustainable.’ […]

Joost Moolhuijzen :  ‘The Piano Player’,  A10 magazine #57. May-June 2014.

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