I recently had the opportunity to visit the Broad Museum, a contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles, during its first few weeks of opening. I suppose it is only in our youth that we consider actions that require us to leave the comfort of our beds, drive for six hours, and arrive in a city at 5:00 AM for the sole reason of visiting a museum.
With no tickets, our only recourse was to wait in line. We thought we had arrived early. We also thought it was autumn. We were wrong on both counts. People actually cheered when an attendant emerged from the building pushing a cart full of water bottles.
Standing outside, it struck me that the museum’s building will inevitably draw its context from the neighboring Walt Disney Concert Hall. The contrasts seem clearly intentional: containment vs accumulation, repetition vs fragmentation.
Within the museum, there is a very simple, but experientially, very strong differentiation between the lower and upper floors. I would liken it to the Titanic: the dark, subterranean underbelly of the engine room almost defies belief that just a few floors above, people are dancing in a sparkling, luminous ballroom.
In the lobby, the dark walls have been molded perfectly smooth. And within this polished surface, the gentle slopes and curves of the wall give way to a singular void, where people are swallowed whole to be led upward. It’s not merely a simple change in elevation; one quite literally emerges from the cave below into a place of light.
A quick report from my visit of “Sou Fujimoto: FUTURE OF THE FUTURE” exhibit at Gallery-Ma in Tokyo.
You can see the rigor/seriousness for the exploration of new and unconventional ideas in these models, but you can also see that there is a sense of humor and curiosity in his approach, and I really enjoyed that duality. Some of the models looked like ideas only kids would come up with: a pine cone as a shelter?
You also saw ideas being recycled/reimagined/reinvestigated. In some instances, parts of models were literally repurposed and reincorporated into the subsequent iteration of the study models. Forms were derived from these explorations, but the explorations were never just for the sake of form-making.
I have seen a number of great exhibits in this space over the years but I found this one to be extra special. It helped that they had amazing contents to work with, but I was really impressed with the presentation. The two rooms and the courtyard were filled with a series of study models. The scales of the models worked really well with the scales of the spaces, and the models were curated to tell a very concise visual story of the Sou Fujimoto’s philosophy through the evolution in his design.
Earlier this summer, I had the chance to visit Japan and traveled to many Zen Buddhist temples in Kyoto. Kyoto is located in an inland river valley and is surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges. Many of the temples I visited are situated on the outskirts of the city at the base of the mountains where the city ends and the forest begins making for an incredible contrast between urban and rural space. In a way, these temples are a transitory space with one foot in nature and the other in setting is perhaps best described in the Japanese concept of ma, which can mean blankness or distance. Ma is a transitory experiential concept; for example, it is the silence between sounds which gives shape to music.
The focal point of many of these temples is a garden with a large open space and meandering paths. The temples themselves surround these open spaces, which can consist of ponds or dry landscape gardens, or karesansui , and are highly manicured. While these gardens are essentially courtyard spaces, they are never seen in isolation from nature. Often, a view from the engawa, or veranda, of a temple will extend from the garden to the mountains or city beyond which demonstrates the concept of shakkei or borrowed scenery. The karesansui are so detailed that attention is paid to the scale and coloration of the millions of tiny white rocks and sculpted moss that resonate when seen against the fine backdrop of the trees or buildings beyond.
These gardens cultivate an appreciation of ma and therefore an awareness of one’s own consciousness. Like viewing a painting, they are meant to be viewed from afar and are physically inaccessible. Walking through the temple grounds, the emptiness of the gardens heightens one’s awareness of the physicality of the structures themselves and the details of construction in the same way the color blue when placed against the color red highlights the redness of red and vice versa. In this way, the ma of these gardens makes nature more natural and the cities more concrete.
In September, London hosted its 10th annual Design Festival, an event and exhibition showcasing the country’s best and most inspirations designs, designers, retailers, manufacturers, educators – anyone and anything having to do with design. There were events held all over the city, including massive installations by some of the world’s most exciting and inspiring designers. I love to see art installed off of museum walls, so, although I didn’t actually go to London to see these in person (sigh), the most exciting new designs for me were the installations that took over whole spaces. Two project in particular looked truly transformational: Benjamin Hubert’s Amass screen for the trade show auditorium and Najla El Zein’s windmill gate.
Our office has loved Benjamin Hubert’s lights all year (stay tuned a bio-type post on him soon), so it’s no surprise that I’m a fan of his take on a partition for the Festival’s trade show auditorium. Hubert’s Amass partition is a series of branches delicately hanging from top supports. The result is an ethereal screen in an organic form which both defines the space but also provides enough transparency to let passers-by get a glimpse of the activity within.
The branches actually are injection-moulded polypropylene, assembled from a kit of parts. After the event is over, the branches can be taken apart and reassembled for another event or venue. Hubert’s plan is to sell Amass as screen/partition/wall for other commercial and contract projects. Amass comes as a kit of parts which allows for many variations in assembly. To get a better idea of how these parts come together, check out this video taken of the Amass installation at the Festival.
Like Hubert’s Amass, Najla El Zein Studio’s The Wind Portal also blurs the definition of wall, partition, and door. The portal is a transition element between the Festival’s trade show and the outside, but one that charmingly interacts with those walking by.
The gate is a series of 5,000 windmills precisely placed to and controlled by a computerized wind system, which spins different windmills at different times and at different speeds. The installation isn’t completely about control, as the movement of air caused by passers-by also causes the windmills to turn. It’s thrilling when you can see how your actions directly affect your surroundings and Najla El Zein created a lovely way for that to happen.
Zein says that “the installation aims to make visitors feel and hear that they are transitioning between two spaces. It defines an exaggeration of a specific sensorial movement that each of us experiences throughout our daily lives.” Watch the video to see how people react – it’s wonderful.
There are often many reasons to embrace the chance of a long weekend. This spring after a yearlong effort, and a dozen design iterations, I happily packed up the truck and headed to the Eastern Sierras to enjoy one of the last waning weekends of spring. With me I packed my newly created 15.25 lbs of custom carbon awesomeness; each screw, painted line, and individual piece of technology researched, scrutinized and ultimately selected/designed by me.
Much like building a home, the process of building a bike like this is collaborative effort, with each person adding his or her expertise, technology and refinement. For this bike I enlisted the efforts of two separate frame-building companies, a paint shop, a mechanic, and over 10 individual component manufacturers.
My destination, Bishop, CA, lies in the Owens River Valley halfway between Mammoth Mountain and Mt. Whitney. Bounded to the west by the dramatic Eastern Sierras and to the east by the White Mountains (boundary between California & Nevada), this beautiful area of high desert has only a few offerings in the way of flat roads. Head off in any direction and you are quickly greeted by miles of climbing. Hopefully you have plenty of time to take in the traffic free roads and the scenery.
On one of my riding days, I headed north from Bishop for 30 miles and after 4000 feet of climbing was stopped by the snow line. I stretched my neck and shoulders, tucked in behind the handlebars, and enjoyed my well earned 20+ mile mountain descent back towards town, a mix of moderate to steep pitches, with open and technical curves. White-knuckle speeds in excess of 50 mph were moderated only by my mind looking down at 23 mm tires and my not so protective lycra suit. Balanced, predictable and well equipped, the bike was only limited by my nerves and ever-fatiguing arms.
Wow… looking forward to summer!
This is the first post in a new series about different efforts to reclaim unused spaces in urban areas.
A rendering of the future Bloomingdale Trail.
Chicago is on the verge of something big. The Windy City is working hard to redefine itself into an urban oasis. Ideas for parks and green areas are popping up left and right. Two that stand out are Bloomingdale Trail and Northerly Island Park. Both projects focus on reusing previously vacated civic space; Bloomingdale Trail will take over a former rail line, while Northerly Island Park reclaims a bygone airstrip on Lake Michigan. These projects are indicative of a larger movement that we are noticing in cities across the globe to convert underused areas into functional destinations that people will revitalize urban centers. (more…)