Friday, February 27, 2009

BIENAL X blog just opened

Friday, February 20, 2009


The external apperance of the CICCM is given by a skin which functions as a parasol and is separated from the glass enclosure, thus leaving outdoor space on the upper floors of the building. The outermost layer of the building is formed by an array of flat hexagonal-shaped aluminum panels that form a bee-hive pattern across its surface, each with different dimensions and angles, according to the position on the global geometry. These panels range from 1.50x0.60m to 4.00x1.50m approx in size and add up to around 21.000 in total, all of them 15mm thick and with a shiny polished finish. In between these hexagons there is a matrix of L.E.D. lights that will be able to change intensity and give a dynamic image to the facade. Each hexagon is held in place through a fixing that is shaped as a cross with four telescopically-expandable arms that meet at a central point in the axis which links them, through a cylindrical bar, to the support structure. These fixings allow, through a hinge in the middle of the joint, a vertical rotation to meet the angle of tangency of the surface for the specific location of each hexagon. The support for these elements is a spatial structure, following the bee-hive pattern as well, built with flat aluminum plates that join together at each vertex around the whole exterior of the building. This hexagonal pattern can be subdivided into triangular shaped individual elements, each holding a single hexagonal parasol at it topmost vertex. Adjoining five of these triangles (each with its hexagon fixed in its place) side by side forming a row, an assembly module is obtained. These modules are composed in the factory and are positioned on site with a crane, speeding up the construction process. Joining together these modules, one on top of the previous level, the whole skin is achieved, therefore enclosing the building’s facade. The joint between assembly modules consists of sections of a tubular element which leaves a hollow center that is filled with a cylinder once the connecting modules are positioned in their correct locations and with the exact angles. This structure bears its weight at the encounter with the horizontal slabs that form the floors of the building, passing its load to the main structure through a system of joints that allow thermal expansion and permit a tolerance correction that will absorb any measurement disagreement beetween the factory preassembled parts and the on-site built structure.

FACADE ENGINEERING BY Envolventes Arquitectonicas ENAR S.L.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Villa 08 in Nanjing

The house is imagined as a clearing in the forest, a clearing delimited by two perimeters. The interior perimeter, continuous and transparent, holds the structure. The exterior one, sited at varying distances just beyond the first, is formed from a screen of bamboo.

The space is defined by this double presence, a border that exists as two spaces, fluid and gentle. Instead of presenting an architecture of physical constraints, the design creates intermediacy, a threshold where interior and exterior can be mistaken.

The house exists inside a band of space that varies in width and in the quality of light it receives. In this way, the house is ambiguous – even from inside it you can enjoy the attributes of the outside, pretend that you are living outdoors and thereby feel closer to nature.

Its shape is that of a breath exhaled into the air, always variable and continuous. The entrance to the house operates like a glass funnel, giving you the impression of being inside when actually you are still outside. The eye perceives spaces that are alternately compressed and dilated, an intimation of the act of respiration itself, of a living, breathing organism. In the proximity of such splendorous nature, the house is a space that rolls around itself, that can, like clothing, turn itself inside out. It is a space defined by the changing band that softens the summer sunlight and directs the points of view.

The interior is fluid and continuous, a concrete slab on which the spaces for living have been drawn by an innocent hand, like chalk on a chalkboard. The technical instruments are arrayed like furniture, like people sitting in a forest clearing.

The concrete slab rests on the laminated steel pillars of the inner, glass perimeter; these pillars, placed approximately a meter and a half apart from each other, allow minimum sections of 6x10 cm. The glass is fitted between the pillars, using the steel structure for window frames. This structure at once materializes the glass perimeter and diffuses its structural appearance, emphasizing the linear continuity of the band.

The spatial understanding of the house as a whole permits flexible and versatile functioning. Common spaces, such as the kitchen and the living room, are near the entrance – open spaces with a transparent perimeter that allows for abundant ventilation and natural lighting. Next to the entrance is a small toilet room and wardrobe. The bedroom program has been thought out in such a way as to suit either a family unit or a more loosely associated group of individuals. Four bathrooms serve four rooms, which can be arranged equally as four bedrooms, two studios and two bedrooms and other combinations in between.

The independent structure, sited some meters beyond the perimeter, serves as a utility and storage room. A paved area at the end of the pathway serves as a car park. The rest of the site is split into gardens and gravel walking paths.


In the year 2006, British industrial designer Jasper Morrison presents his ‘museum pieces’ as part of a solo show in Kreo Gallery, Paris. The show consists of a series of minimal cabinets, made of oak and glass, containing bowls, vases and vessels of different shapes and sizes, all rendered in a white material. Under close inspection, these seemingly simple pieces become intriguing. Due to their enigmatic materiality and formal simplicity they distill a sense of consistency, but we can deduce by their profiles and the title of the exhibition itself that the pieces belong to different time periods and cultures. In fact, the objects we observe share a certain essential quality in their volumes that grants them a calm and silent character, further reinforced by the arrangement of the pieces and the starkness of the cabinets that contain them.

In each of these amphorae, bowls and vases, in their succinct geometries based on revolved profiles, we reckon a search for beauty, the kind of quest that runs through generations. In the mute perfection of these objects, in their proportions and curvatures perfected through time –just like the water shapes the stones in the river bed- we are humbled by the works of men with no concept of authorship; men who just intended to continue the trade learnt form their elders with dignity.

The pieces in the exhibition are indeed resin-cast reproductions of works photographed by the designer in his visits to ethnographic museums through the years. The spotless material of the reproductions, with no visible trace of its fabrication process, collapses the different temporal specificities of the original objects and turns them into symbols, out of time. All of these individual quests for beauty then collapse into a single one: the human being’s timeless search for beauty.

This humanistic emphasis and sensitivity towards the epics of the everyday, both unlikely traces of our time, have become in recent years Morrison’s trademark. In the same year of this exhibition Morrison coins the term supernormal[i] as both his corporate motto and design strategy. According to Morrison, design has passed in a short period of time from being an anonymous profession whose effects were meant to go unnoticed to becoming the rowdy accomplice to the marketing departments that flood our lives with objects as garrulous as they are unsatisfactory[ii]. While giving up on generating lasting quality, design focuses today in increasing the visibility of a product, producing objects that destroy through visual pollution the atmosphere of the spaces and rooms which they occupy.

In fact, no matter how desirable the recovery of the normal may seem as a counterweight to the visual culture in which we are immersed, this is highly unlikely to happen. The normal, fruit of a former, less self-conscious age can not be rescued, given that contemporary designers do not count with the innocence which distinguished the artisans and makers of other times. Morrison then introduces the supernormal as a synthetic substitute of normality, as a condensed summary of the formal evolution of the everyday object. Good examples for this are his Plywood Chair for Vitra or the objects designed for Japanese firm Muji. All of these works are attempts at distilling the formal history of an object, which after undergoing exhaustive depuration of its shapes and construction techniques emerges charged with an aura of simultaneous familiarity and otherness.

Parallel to Morrison’s experiments with industrial design, we find architects in his generation who seem to be involved in similar research. In the work of Tony Fretton, Caruso StJohn and Sergison Bates, (all part of the Sudgen House group[iii]), we discover a similar effort to rework an anonymous architecture, chasing the creation of moments of greater intensity within an urban tissue which they strive to leave uninterrupted. It is especially in the work of Sergison Bates in which we find an approximation to building that strongly resonates with Morrison’s ideas. Not only in their rereading of the Georgian terraces in their project in Hackney but also in their subtle manipulation of the industrial types in their house-study project in Bethnal Green, we find what we could consider the distilling of a formal history, an image reprocessed without the slightest irony and an end result that is moving in its domestic and light monumentality.

When observing these works of architecture and others such as the Fulgsang Art Museum by Tony Fretton, we realize that these architects share with Morrison not only a design strategy and an idiosyncrasy, but also that these points of departure manage to find their way into generating similar effects in their works. From the careful reinterpretation of previous images and the strong self-imposed limitations on what can be done in a project, emerge free anonymous objects imbued with great intensity. These objects, loaded with references to our formal culture, but distant from the failed codifications of postmodernism, establish a dialog with us, in a low voice. The greatest achievement of this generation of Brits is the displacement of the effort formerly devoted to author-memorability towards the object itself, which seems to have had a liberating effect on both.

It will be easy for the cognizant reader of architecture to trace the origin of the ideas in this article back to the English postwar, when Wittkowers’s humanism[iv] is filtered through the Smithson’s romantic emphasis in authenticity and the everyday, resulting in the writings of a young Scott Brown[v], who would complete the basic literature for this generation before going astray in the dangerous waters of the seventies and eighties. Nevertheless, it is the potential in these ideas more than its lineage that is relevant for us today. During the last ten years, we, the spectators of architecture, have grown increasingly startled as we witnessed how the star-system’s pyrotechnical muscle increased exponentially, parallel to the swollen benefits of its clients. The current economic crisis seems to point out the end of a way of understanding architecture as spectacle and demands a more mature attitude from all of us.

We can acknowledge that either the concept of supernormal or the Sudgen group’s approximations to a synthetic vernacular derive from a monolithic culture such as the British, and that they may not be directly transposable to other more heterogeneous cultures, without a defined heritage to be revisited. Nevertheless, it seems desirable, today more than ever, to walk this less travelled road which promises at least new and different preoccupations. We have recently seen how the future of the profession seemed to be deposited in the last algorithm of the last animation software, or in the obscure hybridization with this or that other discipline. Now, on the contrary, it feels encouraging to think that perhaps the future of architecture was in itself all along, in the constant remaking of its forms and images. There is an urgency for a new realism.

Jesús Vassallo is a Spanish architect and critic. He obtained his Professional degree from Madrid Polytechnic University ETSAM and a Masters degree from Harvard University GSD.

[i] The term Springs from the title of another exhibition curated by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison in 2006.

[ii] See Morrison, Jasper and Fukasawa, Naoto, Super Normal, Sensations of the Ordinary, Baden, Lars Müller Publishers, 2006.

[iii] British Group of architects named after the Sudgen House by Alison and Peter Smithson, where they used to meet with certain periodicity in the early nineties.

[iv] Wittkover’s influence on the Smithsons is well documented. Peter Smithson’s first written piece was a defense of Wittkover’s Architectural Principles in the age of Humanism. Also in their main theoretical work, Without Rhetoric, an Architectural Aesthetic, we find them attempting to reconcile Wittkover’s humanistic ideas with the production processes of their time.

[v] Denise Scott-Brown was a student of the Smithsons in the Architectural Association in London, in the mid-fifties.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Spring Semester M+T Studio. Princeton University SoA

Presentation Monday, February 2nd

La Convivencia (711-1492) - A time of tolerance and relatively peaceful coexistence among the monotheistic religions of Al-Andalus (the Islamic ruled Iberian Peninsula). This period saw an intensive increase in intellectual activity and cultural production through the widespread translation of written texts and cross-cultural, philosophical debate.

Alliance of Civilizations (2005- ) - An initiative proposed to the United Nations by Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero calling for the international community to respond to extremism by actively facilitating a dialogue between various cultural, religious, and ethnic groups. The goal of the initiative is to create a sense of tolerance, understanding, and respect for the values and beliefs of others in the hope of realizing greater global stability and sustained peaceful coexistence (

La Convivencia Nueva:
This studio will explore ceaseless programmatic use as a model for sustainability, with 24 hour use cycles describing a potentially new normative condition. The challenge throughout the semester will be how to design with less built matter while simultaneously accommodating greater programmatic demands (sustainability through an economy of means). This will require the designing of spaces that are not only able to facilitate numerous intensities and relations within a larger system, but are also able to adapt to multiple programmatic requirements at various temporal scales. The use cycles will therefore be articulated not only through differences in degree, but differences in kind. This programmatic desire will inevitably lead to a concomitant negotiation between the demands of universal space and particular space (generic/specific), and further question how one can articulate difference in relation to the parameters of space and time. The metaphorical significance of this negotiation, as through the rhetorical framework of globalization, should also be taken into consideration – such as the pairing of equality and diversity, or temperance and extremism. The central program for this studio will be an Embassy of Civilizations – an institutional vessel that will serve as a physical as well as symbolic platform for the continued dialogue of diverse cultural, religious, and ethnic groups. The ambassadorial role of an embassy, as both incubator and facilitator (an island with projective capacity), will be accounted for in relation to the global political environment, with its institutional identity having a potentially transformative character that is in keeping with the transformational capacity of its own built form.