Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Swimming Pool

I was fascinated by Leanodro Erlich's Swimming Pool at PS1. Conceived almost 10 years ago, it still looks amazing to me. The main reason, I guess, is that I found it very architectural.

The ordinary and the extraordinary
It is a swimming pool. But it is more than a swimming pool. The "hidden" space underneath has turned a mundane household object into magic. The surreal unexpectedness shakes our understandings of reality. What we take for granted in our everyday life is challenged, defamiliarized, and given another layer of meanings. Oh, I almost forgot, the "reality" we see is mostly constructed anyways.

The object and the non-object
What are we seeing here? The beautifully crafted wood deck? The shiny stainless steel ladder? Or the elegant rounded corners?
None. The art is not the object itself - it is just a stage. It is a stage for a play of participation and interaction. The artist becomes the director. Surprise as an experience, is the result of physical and emotional involvements of the viewer.

The viewer and the viewed
When you think you are watching people on the other side of the thin layer of water, they are watching you as well. This is not a classic case of voyeurism. As a spatial result, what is in and what is out becomes a dialectical question.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Art patronage now

Jenny Holzer turned the Guggenheim into a giant screen for her projection work. It looks pretty cool. I also found it very funny to read about the real intention behind this commission - the museum wants to show how smooth the newly restored concrete facade is!
OK, maybe this is not funny...


Psychedelia returns

Remember those images from the 60s and the 70s? Exploding Plastic Inevitable? Phantasy Landscape? Pipilotti Rist's Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) at MoMA kind of reminds of those. Yet, the viewers behave differently now - they are just lying down or sitting on the comfortable donut in the middle, no LSD, no sex...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

REX's Calvin Klein Dollhouse

A "miniature residence" to display Calvin Klein's spring collection (clothes and furniture).
It will be there at the Calvin Klein Madison Ave store (at 60th St) through Jan 5, 2008.

New International Style

Sanlitun Village, Beijing

Walking in some parts of Beijing, I really don't know where I am. The buildings look so generic that it could be any place in the world. Oddly, this sense of genericity does not come from homogeneity or standardization. Rather, it is the wide range or variations within the same category that makes it look like the same thing repeated over and over again. There is a new type of International Style going on right now. But it's not the same as the International Style we know from the 1920s and 30s.

What is this new style then? I would give you this formular:
no matter how they are justified.
"Skyline of Icons," caricature by OMA

A funny shape can be the result of programmatic thinking, contextual considerations, and/or purely formal intuitions. The most convenient excuse may be the site - oh yea, the building envelope just looks like that. Another popular reason is programmatic connections. It may result in a bridge, a loop (including Mobius strip) , or an entirely warped form. Not many people are satisfied with just boxes nowadays, especially when they don't have fancy skins. When you are making boxes, they must be stacked in a funny way (different types of spaces) or carved out with a funny void (to engage urban activities).

A fancy skin implies ornament and decoration. It's ultimately a pattern no matter how you want to theorize it. It can be 2D or 3D, structural or cladding, hard or soft, transparent or translucent or opaque, black or white or color... It's like fashion design - an endless game of fetishization.

The power of rumor

You were told that Marie Antoinette suggested the starving Parisians to eat cake if they have no bread. That was just a rumor. In fact, it could be Marie Therese, or any of the numerous 18th-century ladies who would have said that. The story could even be entirely made up for propaganda purposes against the royal court.

People like to gossip about things. During this process, guesses become certain, and fabrications become true. The Chinese are pretty sure that the Bird's Nest was conceived to appear like a bird's nest. Some people start from there and criticize: "Why do we have to use 45,000 tons of steel and build a stadium that looks like a bird's nest?"

Even so, people in general are still very proud of the Bird's Nest - it has created such a spectacular stage for the Olympics. Also in Beijing, the new CCTV tower is not so lucky. "That building looks so strange... Don't know what it looks like..." OK, a building must look like something. "Boxer shorts" becomes the nickname of CCTV. Nobody cares about the "coherent loop of TV-making" sh*t - it just looks like a giant pair of boxer shorts. Some people even say that this weird form comes from the original intention of this foreign architect to make fun of the twisted Chinese media...

Architecture becomes merely images for the general public, and it has to be figural. If you are lucky, your design looks like a dragon, a jewel box, or a cloud. If not, it could become a tomb (National Opera), some cofins (Guangzhou Baiyun convention center), or genitals. But hey, look at the bright side! At least right now, architecture is a gossip-worthy subject for them!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New tkts

After 9 years, the 1999 competition winner (by Australians John Choi and Tai Ropiha) of the new tkts booth at Time Square was finally open last week.
The 27-step glowing red staircase is absolutely a great contribution to the public spectacles of New York. It easily fits 1,000 people. I can totally see people coming one day in advance to get the perfect seat for the ball drop! As New York Times says, "The best seats on Broadway are now absolutely free."
The glass pieces on the sides are structural, rising neatly above the stairs and becoming guardrails. The fiberglass shell under the stairs houses the office space and 12 windows for ticketing. At first glance, the shell looks a little redundant. But when I saw the mechanical equipments, I found it rather intriguing - usually you'll build a pod to hide the MEP and make the rest usable space, but here, a pod is built to house functional space (which in fact may need a little privacy in a glass structure at Time Sq.) and the guts are exhibited to the public! Yes, it's inside out. What's wrong with that? Strawberries are like that too!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Structural patterning

Jesse Reiser claimed at his lecture that the exoskeleton of the O-14 Tower in Dubai is partly designed according to forces, which give the facade a pattern of holes in various sizes. I am not sure whether that's exactly how they designed it. But at least it made me think deeper on structural patterning. The pattern here is basically a dia-grid. Different size holes yield different size members. Hmm... seems too trendy and I am tired of it.

He said what they did is the opposite of World Trade Center, of which the pattern is constant but the alloy is changing to accomodate different strength requirements. But to me, O-14 and WTC belong to the same family - changing members in a rigid pattern. Just Reiser chose to express the difference with the various thickness, thus the various holes, as opposed to change the mix of the concrete. It's like the MIT dorm where Holl decided to express the changing steel reinforcements with color coding from the stress diagram.

The real opposite, I think, should be the same members with changing density. This is way more interesting! Use the same thing over and over again, and just put more when it needs to be stronger. I think this is a great idea! Don't really know which building actually does that (please comment if you think of any), but I guess CCTV started doing it. Not quite the same members though...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

On "maybe," or similarly, no answer

Why would people respond to invites with a "maybe"? Or even worse, not responding at all? I think they are trying to escape from certain things...

1. Escape from commitment.
Typical excuse: "I like to be more flexible. There are so many things happening. What if I find out later I can have better plans?"
Most of the invites are just throwing out an idea. Saying "yes" doesn't lead to rigidity. I would rather see a loud "yes" as a sign of passion. If you care about it, you will know it's a must-do, and you will plan other things around it. So I think those who say "maybe" just don't care.

2. Escape from responsibility.
Typical excuse: "I would rather not make promises than breaking them."
True, when you say "yes" to things, you become responsible. But if you have to miss out, an apology with sound reasons will always be accepted. It's just too hard for some people to be responsible and take things seriously.

3. Escape from being judged.
Typical excuse: "Well, it's cool to be mysterious. I don't want to be too predictable."
What's wrong with letting people know you are keen on certain things? A big problem these days is most of the people don't have a clear stance. They don't want to make a decision even on obvious choices. I think that's far from being cool. "I am who I am" sounds way cooler.

OK, MAYBE I am thinking too much... MAYBE, they just simply don't know what they want. I suggest to go the App Store and download "iChoose" for the iPhone. It's free.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Touch screen beauty contest

With Verizon announcing it's Blackberry Storm, all four major candidates are ready. (Photos are more or less in the same scale.)
Apple iPhone / AT&T
Samsung Instinct / Sprint
Blackberry Storm / Verizon
Google Android G1 / T-Mobile

And the winner is... you know what I'll say. Look at the order of the post, although I'll call it a tie for the last two...
(Sorry, this is purely a beauty contest. No talent portion - too much work...)

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Per discussion with Dong and Ish...

Is consistency a good thing or a bad thing? It depends.

Some firms have the "consistency" through all their projects. Every project is the same: same way of thinking, same type of form... How lame is that!? But sadly, there are still people who believe in this type of "consistency." They call it "identity," or, more recently, "brand."
Other firms believe in variety - every project is unique. But within each project they are consistent from the central concept to it manifestation - form follows idea. This is interesting, but perhaps confusing at the end... Looking at the big picture and comparing the projects, people may ask: What are you thinking? Why are you jumping around? Do you really know what you wanna do?
Hmm... seems some sort of threat through the projects is important... I think the best consistency is to have a clear trajectory of thinking. You have a certain range of interests, but at the same time you honor the diversity of approaches, trying to explore different possibilities of manifestation. As a result, you will have a systematic variety of projects under certain theme(s). And btw, being consistent in this case doesn't mean the ideas are not evolving.
This last one, perhaps should not be called "consistency." Good that it has different ways of thinking, but the end form is always the same. People who are doing this may have a critical and analytical eye, but they only know one way to express themselves. I'll call that a limitation of imagination.