Let me say first of all, as editor and publisher of New York Arts, how fortunate I consider myself that I was able to spend a few minutes chatting with Jefe Anglesdottir, the renowned Danish architect, familiar to anyone who has so much as glanced through Metropolis or The New York Times’s T Magazine for his malls, museum car parks, and the cutting-edge houses of worship he has designed for what he calls “oddball sects,” for example the Positivist Temple in Częstochowa and the South Beach Rosicrucian Center. In recent years his restless creativity has led him into other art forms, most recently opera production. His first effort in the field is ambitious, nothing less than Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen for the Launceston Opera in Tasmania. For this interview I flew to Abu Dhabi, where I met with Mr. Anglesdottir in the Al Dar Lounge, said to be the most luxurious VIP lounge in the world.
Architecture | Urban Design
OFFICE MELNIKOV is the world’s preeminent bihemispherical atelier for the repositioning of post-architectonic, post-spatial contemporary urban outcomes. We aim to monetize underutilized urban problematics through such interventions as active frontages, hot-desking, mandatory wifi corridors, vectored elegification, meMORALization, bespoke damage control, pop-up interventionalism, pre-conceptualized ‘just in time’ consumer harmonics, inspirational value engineering, demographic smoothing, fact-based ironification, storytelling, nuancement, guided flânerie, n+1ism, Big Data, Smart Data, cloud-based bricks and mortar and maximalized floor space envelopes. We also celebrate heritage and ecological values, where practicable.
Disqualification: I haven’t been to MoMA in at least fifteen years and after this week hesitate to ever go again. If this disqualifies me from commenting on the museum’s latest expansion plans then adieu, dear reader and happy days. The planned demolition of the former American Folk Art Museum is scandalous and, after MoMA seemed ready to reconsider earlier in the year, surprising as news rarely is. It is one of those demolitions, not on the order of the old Penn Station, but similar to the extent that thought of a wrecking ball piercing that facade, the actual moment of impact which now seems so likely to happen, makes one wince. Absent ideas and evocations, architecture can fall into this particular etiolation of the imagination, a kind of dime store minimalism whose effects are indistinguishable from the property developer’s philistinism. It is also self-punitive; if the former AFAM needs MoMA as an earthworm washed up onto the sidewalk needs a kind rescuer with a leaf, MoMA needs AFAM just as much, for a child needs to eat more than white bread and margarine for dinner. You can’t just dress up in glass and call yourself modern.
In its shopfronts cashmere sweaters the colors of macaroons. Behind their digicodes its reposing hameaux. In its ballot boxes three out of every four votes for Sarkozy. Hidden in their Maseratis its children dressed in black. The sixteenth arrondissement of Paris is a peninsula between the Bois de Boulogne (which belongs to it) and the Seine; there is the slight feeling of a border crossing, of breaching a feeble forcefield, upon entering or leaving. One can find here the works of Perret, Sauvage and, soon, Gehry, but it is the section of the Earth’s surface with the greatest concentration of buildings by Hector Guimard (1867-1942). The seizième is to Guimard as Oak Park is to Frank Lloyd Wright, except that it contains works from all periods of the architect’s career, from 1891 to 1927. Along the way one passes other buildings which support the contention, inherently arguable and worth arguing, that the sixteenth is the most architecturally interesting arrondissement. Annexed to the city in 1860, the seizième grew up in what we might call, with light apologies to Robert Caro, The Years of Hector Guimard, a complex, under-appreciated and richly contested period in the history of modern architecture. A new eclecticism began to rebel against the last moments of a played-out Haussmannization. Many modernisms were in play. Art Nouveau, which seems barely able to contain Guimard’s work, let alone the output of the entire period, may now seem the stuff of coffee table books, a particularly beautiful dead end, a fashion, a decorative style, but its surviving remnants hint of an influence more spiritual than physical.
À ses devantures les pulls en cachemire aux couleurs des macarons. Derrière leurs digicodes ses hameaux reposants. Dans ses urnes les trois-quarts des votes pour Sarkozy. Cachés dans leurs Maseratis ses enfants habillés en noir. Le seizième arrondissement de Paris est en effet une péninsule entre le bois de Boulogne (qui lui appartient) et la Seine. Une frontière invisible le cerne, une petite résistance entre l’arrondissement et sa ville. On peut y retrouver les bâtiments de Perret, de Sauvage et (bientôt) de Gehry mais le seizième est le lieu de notre planète avec la plus grande concentration des bâtiments de Hector Guimard (1867-1942). Le seizième est à Guimard ce que Oak Park est à Frank Lloyd Wright, mais on peut y voir les bâtiments de toutes les périodes de sa carrière, de 1891 à 1927. Parmi ces bâtiments il y a bien des autres qui soutient la proposition, discutable j’espère, que le seizième soit l’arrondissement le plus intéressant sur le plan architectural. Après sa annexion à Paris en 1860, l’urbanisation arrivait au seizième pendant les années de Hector Guimard, une époque de plusieurs modernismes. À Paris un nouveau éclectisme architectural a commencé à résister l’Haussmannization épuisée. L’Art nouveau ne peut pas décrire l’ensemble de l’architecture de ces années, ou même l’architecture de Guimard lui-même, qui changeait au fil du temps. Puisque sa architecture n’était pas influente par rapport aux modernismes des années suivantes, l’oeuvre de Guimard vive trop souvent aux musées plutôt que dans les rues. Bien qu’il était une impasse dans l’histoire de l’architecture, qui ne veut pas habiter une telle ruelle.
A true story: one day at the New South Wales Department of Planning two planners are talking about different theories of urban planning. ‘Neoliberal planning,’ the first says, “that’s what we do.” “No kidding,” the other replies.
“No kidding” might be replaced by “yer darn tootin” after the release of the NSW Government’s A New Planning System for New South Wales – Green Paper. If the title doesn’t quite grab you, a new planning system, however boring, will have a far greater impact on people’s lives than more juicy topics like a new Museum of Contemporary Art or a new pavilion for the Venice Biennale. Planning is the most visible juncture at which architecture meets politics, and what the Government is proposing is interesting for the way that it reveals urban planning as the point where conservatism begins to conflict with itself, where a libertarian sensibility runs counter to pro-business economic rationalist conservatism. The development industry is not quite a friend of the invisible hand; it does best when certain freedoms are curtailed. This was shown most clearly in the US by the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which expanded the Constitution’s “Takings Clause” (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) to allow governments to claim eminent domain for purposes of private redevelopment.
Circular Quay is Sydney’s great public space, but it is no Piazza San Marco. The presence of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge at opposite ends of the magnet is powerful enough to allow the eye to glide around the curve past the decent, mediocre and bad architecture in between. In such an enchanted context even the Cahill Expressway, an elevated freeway which runs along the southern foreshore, is somehow not as egregious as Boston’s Central Artery was before it was chopped down. Instead of ancient stones, there is water, the one inlet out of the harbor’s dozens chosen for European settlement, now teeming with ferries and tourist boats promising varying doses of adrenaline. However unrepresentative of the unruly metropolis which spreads from here in all directions, Circular Quay hints at the dream of its city, the city’s best version of itself, the city Sydney could one day be.