Archive for the ‘Steven Holl’ Category

If Barack Obama were a building…


what building would Barack Obama be?

I was inspired to ask this after appearing on Frances Anderton’s Design and Architecture on KCRW radio to talk about Barack Obama and design. Since, well, you know, this.

One Beautiful! reader suggested

Steven Holl’s addition to the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City.
I like the comparison. This is contemporary, yet well rooted. Shining forth. Full of culture. Energy efficient. Holds many ideas and is capable of doing many things at once. Works with nature. Very open.
Another reader suggested something like this

If so, I hope it’s high-speed rail, well-designed infrastructure, plus broadband and alternative energies.

Would he be

a Louis Sullivan? Every inch “a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation” as Sullivan wanted his tall buildings to be? Sullivan, a transplant to Chicago, like Obama, certainly gave us optimism and the highest American democratic ideals. But his late nineteenth-century work came at a time of prosperity; and he wanted his tall buildings “without a single dissenting line.” Not sure that’s Obama.

How about

Unity Temple
Frank Lloyd Wright
Oak Park, Illinois

Historic, new, original. A hybrid of two cultures, east and west. Tall, looks outward, radiates energy outward across the land. Radical, yet rooted. Modern yet traditional. Like Sullivan, Wright proclaims Emersonian American ideals. Seems to keep a lot to itself, kind of cool on the outside, a heck of a lot going on in the inside.

Let’s compare Obama to a more contemporary building.

What building do you think Barack Obama would be?

— Read part two here. —

A few months ago, I wrote about Obama and columns.


Upscale China


There it is, through the grey Beijing dust and smog, Steven Holl’s “Linked Hybrid.” Housing for Chinese, or anyone, who can drop about a million bucks on a place in the Chinese capitol.

Through the construction gate you see a typical Chinese construction site. Teeming with activity, messy, dusty, and a combination of the latest technologies and underpaid, (very) manual laborers. They often live on or near the site. In cramped, and worse conditions. The developer will pay a penalty if many units are not ready for people to move in in two months! Hire more low-paid workers. Holl’s office says the units will be ready.

The colors are going up in the window frames. That’ll look good even from the highway – look for “Linked Hybrid” when you drive in from Beijing airport – it’s on your right, about three-quarters of the way into town. Beijing’s smog makes everything look dirty quickly, but Holl’s office says these panels will be washed frequently, and automatically. The colors, he says, are based on the bright yellows and reds and blues at Chinese temples- (do watch this video. of Steven Holl talking about this project. It’s really great.) -such as the newly repainted for Olympic visitors Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

The palette may be based on those temples, but it also bears strong resemblance to a previous Holl project, one I very much admire, Simmons Hall, a dormitory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Still, the colors should look nice and open and close and change and merge as you move past the building on bicycle, or more likely for now until China comes to its senses- by car.

The skybridges are supposed to be for the public. With cafes, a pool, etc. I wonder how long public accessibility will last there, in this project for the wealthy?

When Holl was given the project, he was told to design for a previous scheme of eight towers, eight being lucky for the Chinese. He added the skybridges. His office says they showed the Chinese developers their designs and expected some “dumbing-down” or cost-cutting, instead they were told that construction would start quickly, and if Holl could make his moves any more radical to go ahead and do so. China – the land of ‘anything goes.’ Also in this high-end multi-use project are cinemas, a Montessori school, public parks, and more. Steven Holl already has more work in China, bigger projects than this one. Four of his are planned to open between now and 2010. The mixed-use “Linked Hybrid” in Beijing, “Chengdu Project” in Sichuan, and “Vanke Center” in Shenzen (near Hong Kong), and the Nanjing Museum of Art & Architecture. And he’s gone green in the land of grey air. He incorporates green roofs, natural light, high-performance glass, energy-efficient technologies, geothermal energy and large ponds to harvest recycled rainwater. Grasses and lily pads create a natural cooling effect.

But don’t count on the wealthy residents using much natural ventilation since the Beijing air is so bad- polluted, dusty, windy, hot and cold. What more could you ask for?

While I think these projects are exciting, and I applaud the green features, it must be said that China ought to preserve more of its traditional housing forms. The lower, courtyard buildings. Some preservation is going on, but more could be saved rather than all the bulldozing of them that I see. The remaining ones should be renovated. And then, some new, profitable, grand-scale model for housing is needed, rather than towers; something closer to traditional Chinese life.

A very thin man I met in this Shanghai courtyard

took me into his home,

proud of his original tile floor.

“Why would you take anyone into this dump?” his wife scolded him.

While not romanticizing, I think I’d rather look out from their terrace than out a window at “Linked Hybrid,” even onto the planted roofs than Holl’s firm is designing.

Maybe the early German modernists were right,

and the world, like Beijing, will become

That’s from a pedestrian and bicycle overpass right near “Linked Hybrid.”

Clearly Steven Holl is putting a lot more art into his project than you find in most of what’s going up in China. As usual, it’s not the “starchitects” we should criticize, but the Banal Builders.

In the end, we are like cockroachs. We adapt. A man, on that same overpass.

Would he wish to trade places with his kite?

Will the people who inhabit the new tower blocks of China alter them to make them more hospitable?

Why don’t megaprojects provide places, as in the old courtyards

Looks like they’re designing a Steven Holl project, doesn’t it?

What will the children of today’s Chinese ‘boomers’ will think about living in the sky, loss of community, anonymity, isolation…. lack of true color

For today’s Chinese, Holl’s project may be the new “Temple of Heaven.” I’m curious to see the backlash, as China continues on its riotous run.


June 8 Update: The New York Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff on “The New, New City” such as those in China. Of Holl’s “Linked Hybrid” Ouroussof says,

“In America, I could never do work like I do here,” Steven Holl, a New York architect with several large projects in China, recently told me, referring to his latest complex in Beijing. “We’ve become too backward-looking. In China,
they want to make everything look new. This is their moment in time. They want to make the 21st century their century. For some reason, our society wants to make everything old. I think we somehow lost our nerve.”

Holl has reason to be exhilarated. His Beijing project, “Linked Hybrid,” is one of the most innovative housing complexes anywhere in the world: eight asymmetrical towers joined by a network of enclosed bridges that create a pedestrian zone in the
sky. Yet this exhilaration also comes at a price: only the wealthiest of Beijing’s residents can afford to live here. Climbing to the top of one of Holl’s towers, I looked out through a haze of smog at the acres of luxury-housing towers that surround his own, the kind of alienating subdivisions that are so often cited as a symptom of the city’s unbridled, dehumanizing development. Protected by armed guards, these residential high-rises stood on what was until quite recently a working-class neighborhood, even though the poor quality of their construction makes them seem decades old. Nearby, a new freeway cut through the neighborhood, further disfiguring an area that, however modest, was once bursting with life.

If you take Venturi’s ideas about the city,” Holl said, referring to Robert Venturi’s groundbreaking work, “Learning From Las Vegas,” which called on architects to reconsider the importance of the everyday (strip malls, billboards, storefronts), “and put them in Beijing or Tokyo, they don’t hold any water at all. When you get into this scale, the rules have to be rewritten. The density is so incredible.” Because of this density, cities like Beijing have few of the features we associate with a traditional metropolis. They do not radiate from a historic center as Paris and New York do. Instead, their vast size means that they function primarily as a series of decentralized neighborhoods, something closer in spirit to Los Angeles. The breathtaking speed of their construction means that they usually lack the layers — the mix of architectural styles and intricately related social strata — that give a city its complexity and from which architects have typically drawn inspiration.

Steven Holl – Simmons Hall at MIT


See it if you visit Boston next month for the AIA convention.

Steven Holl takes you around the Bloch.

Click here for an enlightening video.
It gets really good as it goes along.


Steven Holl takes you around the Bloch.

Click here for an enlightening video.
It gets really good as it goes along.


The secret history of American modernism


Full book review here.

“Gwendolyn Wright’s excellent new book on modern architecture in the USA, may kick off with images of star architects on the covers of Time Magazine but hers is not an account that centers on iconic buildings or the careers of major stars.

Wright, professor at Columbia University in New York City, intends to give pointers to today’s practitioners. …

Wright doesn’t emphasise the importance of European precursors, and looks for American modernism’s roots in the 19th century. She traces it back to the aftermath of the American Civil War, when America, or the northern states at least, was transformed by better infrastructure, corporate business systems and a flourishing consumer culture. …

She also recognises the positive contribution of African-Americans and women — as architects, and as critics and curators — and she points out the inherent racism in many aspects of policy and practice, especially in urban renewal.”

From the blurbs:

“Gwendolyn Wright’s splendid book updates, revises and enriches everything we know about the development and influence of American architecture with new material, brilliant insights, and the perspective of a new century. She makes the story so new and compelling and writes it so well that it will supplant older versions to become the standard reference.”—Ada Louise Huxtable

“I am always amazed at Gwendolyn Wright’s ability to bring excitement and positive joy to urbanism and architecture in a rare way. Her enthusiasm for historical examples surely inspires others to take a deeper look and to reflect. In this moment of rapid urbanization worldwide, that reflection is needed more than ever.”–Steven Holl