Sunday, November 19, 2017

Carme Pinós' Massana Arts School, Barcelona

La Massana Fine Arts School
Photo © Iñigo Bujedo Aguirre

For Architecture Record's issue on college and university buildings this month, I cover Carme Pinós' Massana School of the Arts and Design in Barcelona, located behind the Boqueria Market in the Raval, on a plaza Pinós also has designed.

"Pinós’s compositional technique involves syncopated openings, overlapping angles, large cantilevers, and fragmented, dynamic massing. For the school, she used these strategies to lighten the impact of the 120,000-square-foot building on the neighborhood, tailoring it to the narrow streets on three sides."

La Massana Fine Arts School
© Duccio Malagamba

"The atrium is an architectural tour-de force at the heart of the building. Sky bridges at various levels, staggered in position and rippling upward in groups of steps from the classroom wing to the workshops, crisscross it–spanning a 5-foot rise in grade from the back of the site to the plaza, which Pinós has carried up through every floor."

"Up on the sky bridges, view corridors pierce through the entire building, ending at the large balconies on the main facade, an idea that Pinós says was inspired by the building cuttings of artist Gordon Matta-Clark."

Cathleen McGuigan calls the building "elegantly tough" in her editorial for the issue.

I managed to call it, "powerful, though hardly solemn". I wish I could find a better way to talk about Pinós' uncompromising dedication combined with her capacity to surprise and delight. Her star turns are, in all seriousness, for the fun of it, a sign perhaps of true mastery.

Catalonian Catalyst
Massana School for the Arts and Design, Barcelona, by Carme Pinós
Architectural Record, November 2017, pages 80 - 85.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vázquez Consuegra's CaixaForum Sevilla

Photo courtesy Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra
The theme of my latest article in architektur.aktuell is "the limits of  even the best architecture in the face of an inappropriate site." Excerpts from the text:

"The story of how the CaixaForum ... ended up in a basement is a tortuous one. In 2009, Vázquez Consuegra won a limited competition to install the Forum in the dramatically-vaulted medieval ship-building halls of the Atarazanas Reales. The proposal provoked concerns for the historic integrity of the building, a dispute abetted by political infighting among local administrations. Apparently unhappy with the controversy and the lack of progress, La Caixa pulled out of the deal in 2012, and announced instead a plan to install the center in the Pelli tower. (The Atarazanas is currently being converted into a city-run cultural center, also designed by Vázquez Consuegra, and with a 10 million euro donation from the Caixa Foundation)."

"The Pelli tower had fallen into the hands of La Caixa in the same year, when it took over Cajasol, a local savings bank that had initiated the project in the boom years of the 2000s and had collapsed with the crash."

The existing buildings are clad in glass and terra-cotta-colored metallic elements, and the plaza between them is finished with rather vulgar cement pavers. Vázquez Consuegra responds with his characteristically cool, silvery surfaces. He clads the entry canopy in panels of  Stabilized Aluminum Foam (SAF), spongy and lightweight in appearance. For his addition to the finger, he uses elements of galvanized aluminum, breaking the horizontal lines of the Pelli building with vertical shading fins.

"The canopy's forms are redolent of all the qualities that neither it nor the spaces below it possess: an excavated, carved solid, vaulted and heavy, references that may also remind us of the vaults of the Atarazanas Reales. And yet the canopy is clearly nothing of the sort. It is a ghostly evocation of tectonic muscle, rendered in a space-age material for a junkspace setting: a true architectonic poetics for our time."

In Search of Place
CaixaForum Sevilla by Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra
architektur.aktuell 449, July - August 2017, pages 66 - 77

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Restoration Degree Zero

All photos © JesúsGranada
In the July 14th issue of Bauwelt I write about a minimalist restoration job in Sevilla, the consolidation of the ruined 16th century Convent of Santa María de los Reyes.

"Rem Koolhaas has contemplated the concept of the restoration project as a semi-ruin in an exhibit at the 2005 Venice Biennial, in relation to his work at the Hermitage Museum. He asks, "Can a certain amount of  inaction, a certain resistance to change, actually be instrumental in maintaining a degree of  the authenticity so frequently erased during the process of  modernization?" (1) "

"At another extreme, the artist Gordon Matta-Clark, chain saw in hand, appropriated abandoned New York buildings in the 1970s as a free field of transgressive action. For him, a ruined building was an inert corpse that he could redeem and transform, like a pioneer in a wasteland, forging a new utopian community of fellow artists in action."

"With their intervention at Santa Maria de los Reyes, Morales and De Giles fall somewhere between these approaches. The building's long abandon has resulted in a degree of deterioration that, one senses, has become a state in its own right, as far from an "authentic" window into the past as it is from a false resurrection. In their intervention in the garden, the architects assume some of the liberty of Matta-Clark – in this sense, their reference to his contemporary Michael Heizer is no coincidence. In the building itself, however, they allow the "bare bones" of the structure to speak for themselves: the traditional sequence of spaces, seen in similar historic structures in Seville, from the narrow confines of the medieval street to the private realm of the

Restaurieren am Nullpunkt
"Restoration Degree Zero"
Consolidation of the Convent of Santa María de los Reyes, Sevilla, by José Morales and Sara de Giles of MGM
Bauwelt 17.2017, July 14, 2017, pages 40 - 45

(Sorry, article not available on the web)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

AEG-Stadt, Berlin

Photos by DC unless noted

This past May, we went with our friends Emily Pütter and Michael Neil to the industrial district of Schöneweide, along the Spree, in the far east of Berlin. Emily and Michael had studios here and lived here for several years, until they were forced out by gentrification (among the players now is Eric Olafsson).

This was the heart of the AEG industrial empire, much of which I had thought was designed by Peter Behrens. But I searched in vain for his famous Turbine Hall (1909) – it turns out to be located in the neighborhood of Moabit, in the west (Huttenstraße 12-16, for next time).

Museum of Technology, Berlin

I didn't see anything as architecturally smashing as the Turbine Hall, but the overall impact of the two-kilometer stretch of massive factory complexes along the river is very powerful: block after block of multi-story, substantially-built yellow-brick buildings, with high floors, tall windows and multiple courtyards, many with a myriad of small businesses, studios, artists lofts and so on inside.

One block, now called the "Rathenau Halle", features a large vaulted space with a double-angled gable like the Turbine Hall. It is the Neue Montagehalle, built a few years later (1915–16) by the industrial designer Paul Tropp.
Neu Montague Halle. From Wikipedia

One of the buildings is still functioning as a cable factory, and several others belong to the
University of Applied Sciences for Engineering and Economics.

It turns out that Behrens' only major building there, and not one of his best I would say, is the factory and administrative offices for the AEG automobile plant, the Nationale Automobil-Gesellschaft (NAG, 1913-17).

Peter Behrensm NAG Administrative offices. From Wikipedia

A Wikipedia page listing the architecture of the area brings up another surprise: this "Bootshaus Elektra" or "Electric Boathouse" (1910-12) by Behrens "with Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris", aka Le Corbusier . It can be found a bit downriver at An der Wuhlheide 236/23.

Behrens with Le Corbusier, Boathouse, from Wikipedia

For the full Wikipedia listing of architecture in the area:

Meanwhile, the AEG had factories and other buildings designed by Behrens all over Berlin. See: "PeterBehrens - AEG Electricity Company Buildings":


AEG Small Motors Factory, Berlin-Wedding (1910-13); photo: Emil Leitner, ca. 1925

AEG Workers’ Housing, Hennigsdorf (1918-19)

AEG Locomotive Factory, Hennigsdorf (1913)
Here is the edited Google translation of a webpage about the Schöneweide district:

"The industrial estate in Oberschöneweide is one of the most important monuments of Berlin industry and is regarded as the largest connected industrial monument in Europe. The rise began around 1895, when the AEG under Emil Rathenau moved to the still-undeveloped Spreeufer in the southeast of the city in search for a suitable location for their constantly expanding production sites. Within a few years Schöneweide became one of the largest sites of the Berlin electrical industry and, at the same time, the world's largest location for AEG."

"Since the beginning of the twentieth century, no industrial branch has shaped the economy and everyday life as decisively as the electro-technical industry. The unique concentration of this innovative industry helped the German capital rise to become the "Elektropolis" of Germany, and made Berlin an industrial city of the first rank in the following decades."

"The "General Electricity Society" … was a modern company that shaped the structure and the cityscape of Oberschöneweide. Schöneweide is therefore also called "AEG-Stadt" or "AEG City". "

Ernst Ziesel, Building A 8 (AEG Telecommunication Cable Factory), 1927-28, demolished 2006. Wikipedia
"In the Wilhelminenhofstraße, AEG erected a long corridor of factory plants, which with their yellow brick façades still characterize the almost two-kilometer-long industrial area between the Spree and Wilhelminenhofstraße today. AEG commissioned the most famous architects of the time, such as Franz Schwechten and later Peter Behrens, as well as the industrial building specialists Paul Tropp and Ernst Ziesel. This unique ensemble of factories, production halls, administrative buildings and residential buildings embodies the beginnings of architectural modernism."

The AEG empire was built by Emil Rathenau and his son, Walther. The original family estate in Schöneweide still stands; in Walther's time the family moved to the wealthy suburb of Grunemwald in the west. For a quick portrait of Walther and the AEG, see the following, quoted below:

Nigel Jones
"The Assasination of Walther Ratenau"
History Today

"(Walther) Rathenau was one of the most formidable figures in early 20th century Germany. A Jewish industrialist, thinker and diplomat, he built the enormous AEG electronics and engineering conglomerate into a powerhouse of the German economy. During the First World War, when Britain’s naval blockade was starving Germany of vital raw material imports, Rathenau became his nation’s economic overlord."

"Playing a role similar to Albert Speer in the Second World War, Rathenau husbanded Germany’s dwindling resources and directed its industrial production, brilliantly improvising to give a lease of life to its failing war effort. His work, according to some historians, prolonged German resistance by months or even years. It also sowed the seeds of hatred in the minds of Germany’s anti-semitic nationalists, who saw in Rathenau, not a great patriot brilliantly managing scarcity, but a rich Jew cornering markets."

"After the war the infant Weimar Republic sought out the talented Rathenau, making him foreign minister. ... Rathenau duly stoked the Right’s rage in 1922 by negotiating the Treaty of Rapallo with the nascent Soviet Union, while insisting that Germany had to fulfill the provisions of the deeply unpopular Treaty of Versailles."

The crane now houses a riverside cafe

Photo: Eniily Püetter and Michael Neil

Mary Dreyer took some terrific pictures too:

Same view as my first shot, better exposed. Michael, myself and Emily are otherwise engaged...

Moments later....
Moments later still...
A courtyard

More broken gables

Behrens' NAG offices

Back to the bar...

Solid! Tectonic! Shadow-molding!

Finally, my friend, the artist Angela Bonanni, offers the following video work with images of the district in 2000-2001, when she had a studio there, and when it was far more deteriorated:

Liste der Kulturdenkmale in Berlin-Oberschöneweide 

Peter Behrens - AEG Electricity Company Buildings 

Startseite Schöneweide Historie Die AEG-Stadt  

Nigel Jones  
"The Assasination of Walther Ratenau" 
History Today
Vol. 63, Issue 7, July 2003