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By Philip Jodidio, published by Prestel Verlag, Munich, Berlin, London, New York, 2005, pp. 224, 300 illustrations, $65

Spectacular projects by Jaume Plensa, Erick van Egeraat and Peter Eisenman

Book cover

Cover of book showing Crown Fountain, Millennium Park, Chicago, photograph by David B. Seide

By Carter B. Horsley

Philip Jodidio is one of the best and most prolific writers on architecture (see The City Review article on his book, "New Forms, Architecture in the 1990s") and from 1979 to 2002 he was the editor in chief of Connaissance des Arts.

In this handsome and very well illustrated book, he provides an excellent essay on the historical relationship between architecture and art and a close look at 64 recent projects and artworks, many of which are spectacular and all of which are very interesting.

The illustration on the cover, for instance, is a marvelous installation known as the Crown Fountain in the Millennium Park in Chicago that was created in 2004 by Jaume Plensa.

Jodidio provides the following commentary:

"Boen in Barcelona in 1955, Jaume Plensa is known as a conceptual artist, and yet he has contributed what can only be described as an architectural artework to Chicago's new Millennium Park. two 15-meter-high glass block towers are set at eigther end of a 70-meter-long relecting pool made of black granite. The water is only about a third of a centimeter deep, so people are encouraged to walk on it. 'I was dreaming on walking on water,' says the artist. 'That's problem because I don't know how to swim. I was always dreaming...of where to find the right sea for me....It's not a pool, just a very thin skin of water. I think cities need spaces where people can do everything they like, and on the water. It seems that everything is possible. In a way, it's like going back to the origin of life. The Greeks said water was the true symbol of transformation.' The originality of Plensa's Crown Fountain project is also that both towers have enormous LED video screens on which the faces of 300 Chicagoans (eventually 1,000) picked at random are projected in high resolution. At the end of these video sequences, the faces on the screens unexpectedly begin to spout water into the pond from their mouths. 'I worked very hard,' says Plensa, on the idea that all of us have two sides...the daylight side, and the freak side. We are also freaks. and these huge faces, or gargoyles, become the grotesque part of ourselves. That is also the most beautiful part of art, when we are out of control. When they spout water from their mouths, they are giving us life, and that is very beautiful for me.' Water also cascades down the sides of the towers, built at a cost of US $17 million with the assistance of Chciago architects Krueck & Sexton. Plensa won this commission over two architects, Robert Venturi Venture and Maya Lin....Enlarging the faces of ordinary people puts the scale of architecture into question and exerts a humanizing influence, even if the size of the images does turn the subjects into 'freaks' of a kind. The concept of walking on water appeals to anyone, just as the spouting video screens involve a humorous inconsistency. The Buckingham Fountain, a 1927 concoction that stood in Chicago's Grant Park, precursor of the Millennium Park, featured horses spouting water, so Plensa's video gargoyles may not be all that much out of place here."

Plensa's project is terrific and should be adopted for use at the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site in New York, perhaps with videos by Bill Viola, the world's foremost video artist.

Plensa's project is a marvelous concept even if it relies heavily on the latest billboard technology that has transformed Times Square in recent years.

Yakimanka Residential Complex in Moscow

Two of the five towers of the Yakimanka Residential Complex in Moscow by (EEA) Erick van Egeraat associated architects

The book's most spectacular, pure architecture project is the Yakimanka Residential Complex in Moscow by (EEA) Erick van Egeraat associated architects. Mr. Jodidio described Erick van Egeraat as "one of the more flamboyant architects in the Netherlands" and notes that he was a co-founder in 1983 of the firm Mecanoo. The Yakimanka complex across from the New Tretyakov Museum, which has an important collection of Russian Avant-garde painting. "Seizing on this fact, van Egeraat decided that each of the towers would refer to a specific painting: Wassily Kandinsky's Yellow-Red-Blue (1925); Alexander Rodchenko's Linear Construction (1929); Ljubov Popova's Painterly Architectonic with Three Stripes (1916); Kasimir Malevich's White on White (1918); and Alexandra Exter's Sketch for Costume of Salome (1921). Van Egeraat obviously opens himself to a great deal of criticism in putting forward the idea that a specific relationship can exist between a given painting and a building, although he emphasizes his wish to interpret rather than imitate the works, and that the correspondence will be more than a matter of facade decoration. 'Most of our buildings are designed from the inside,' he says, 'they are not simple facades - we work a enormous amount to create the interiors. We spend more time on what happens inside than what happens outside. There are four hundred different apartments in the Moscow Avant-garde project, and I need those differences. The interiors will be as much about Kandinsky as the exteriors.' Although he keeps his feet firmly enough on the ground to have work in several countries, Erick van Egeraat is an unabashed sensualist and in this he stands quite far apart from many other architects of his generation, or older figures like the much drier Rem Koolhaas.. 'Architecture is more than a matter of absolutes,' he says enthusiastically, 'more than a case of being one thing rather than another. Architecture is both/and and not either/or. Architecture is inclusive, ot exclusive.' ...This inclusive approach to architecture leads him toward what he calls a 'modern Barqoue' approach. When asked what his specific interest is in the Russian Avant-garde, the architect reponds: 'Throughout the 20th century, Modernism based on primitive architecture forms took the lead. Now is the time to switch from plain to complex, multilevel and multfarious volumes, which make the Russian Avant-garde so dynamic and saturated. Instead of seeking simplicity, Avant-garde artists experimented with new forms. The five painters I chose were famous for an exceptionally rich color palette and a multitude of artistic techniques....."

Yakimanka Residential Complex in Moscow

Two more of the five towers of the Yakimanka Residential Complex in Moscow by (EEA) Erck van Egeraat associated architects

The Russian artists, who were generally known as Constructivists, are the precursors of Deconstructivist architecture that began to surface in the late 1980s and which remains an important force today. The Yakimanka complex promises to be one of the foremost Deconstructivist projects in the world, and its vivid palette is both distinctive and wonderful and quite apart from most Deconstructivist projects. The notion of used a specific painting as inspiration for a specific building need not be derided as long as it is interesting on its own merits. Russia has been quiescent architecturally for too long and this project certainly resuscitates its rich heritage.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin by Peter Eisenman

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, Peter Eisenman, 1997-2004

Peter Eisenman has long been the intellectual dean of American architects whose works have often been obstruse albeit very intriguing. His finest achievement may well be his Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, which consists of 2,751 concrete monoliths of varying heights. Completed in 2004, it is a brilliant and moving counterpart to Daniel Libeskind's more famous Jewish Museum in Berlin. Libeskind's zig-zag structure is bold and impressive. Eisenman's memorial is hard to comprehend fully. Both are extremely poetic.

Noting that it conjures both a graveyard and an urban plan, Mr. Jodidio provides the following description:

"Located close to the Brandenburg Gate and the Pariser Platz, the memorial covers two hectares with blocks varying in height from a few centimeters to about four meters. walkways between the monoliths are barefy wide enough for one person to pass. Originally subbmitted in 1997 as a collaborative effort with the sculptor Richard Serra, the project was ratified in June 1999 in a 314-209 vote in the German Parliament. By that time, Serra had withrawn for 'personal and professional reasons' and Eisenman had become embroiled in other controversies. The architect Daniel Libeskind suggested that the idea might well have been his, and Berlin politicians forced Eisenman to scale down the design, criticized as being too imposing for a site in the heart of a reunited Berlin....[Eisenman] calls the Memorial 'the Field' and frequently cites an unexpected source of inspiration. Speaking of a cornfield he visited in Iowa some time ago, he says, 'I walked 100 yards in and couldn't see my way out. That moment was very scary. There are moments in time when you feel lost in space. I was trying to create the possibility of that experience, that frisson, something that you don't forget.'"

It is remarkable that Berlin now has two very great Holocaust memorials.

Interior of Yokohama International Port Terminal

Interior of Yokohama International Port Terminal, Yokohama, Japan, by FOA Foreign Office Architects, 2002

Exterior of Yokohama International Port Terminal

Exterior of Yokohama International Port Terminal, Yokohama, Japan, by FOA Foreign Office Architects, 2002

In recent years some of the most exciting architectural projects have been airports. The Yokohama (Japan) International Port Terminal is considerably smaller than most airports, but it backs a wallop of exciting design. Both alien and abstract, high-tech and hybrid, it has monumentality but also intimacy.

It was completed in 2002 to designs by FOA Foreign Office Architects, of which Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera Polo, are the principals, who were the winners of a competition in 1995 to build a 81,000-square-meter facility. Noting that the project "is one of the most frequently published works of contemporary architecture," Mr. Jodidio observes that the architects "used sophisticated computer techniques that had to be adapted to actual use in the case of such a complex and large project. He provides the following quotation from the architects about the project:

"Rather than developing the building as an object or figure on the pier, the project is produced as an extension of the urban ground, constructed as a systematic transormation of the lines of the circulation diagram into a folded and bifurcated surace...the folded ground distributes the loads through the surfaces themselves, moving them diagonally to the ground. This structure is also expecially adequate in coping with the lateral forces generated by seismic movements that affect Japan. The result is the hybridization of given types of space and program through a distinct tectonic system, in this case, a folded source."

Shin Minamata Station in Japan

Shin Minamata Station and Shin Minamata Mon in Minamata, Japan by Makoto Sei Watanabe, 2005

Shin Minamata Station is a new station for the Shinkansen "Bullet train" in Miamata, Japan. Shin Minamata Mon is a "monument," or sculpture," at the station. Both were designed by Makota Sei Watanabe. For the railroad station, Mr. Jodidio notes that Watanable "imagined that 'the roofs and walls of the station consist of a collection of retangular unit pieces which continue into each other withiout distinction. The design process began by imagining that the number of the unit pieces were gliding past and then frogzen at a particular moment,' like a blurred train coming to a halt."

Mr. Jodidio notes that the monument, or gate, "may look like a tree, but its shape is derived from rules similar to those that govern any naturally growing form, says Watanable. The form-generation aspect of Watanabe's program is completed by a structural optimization that governs the thickness and disposition of the elements. He insists that although the sculpture is entirely computer-generated, its starting point, based on the rules of growth in nature, is his interpretation."

Loisium Visitors' Center by Holl

Loisium Visitors' Center, Langenlois, Austria, Steven Holl, 2003

The Loisium Visitors' Center in Langenlois, Austria, is a splendid, small structure that is part of a vineyard. It was built in 2003 and designed by Steven Holl, who is also designing a hotel nearby for the vineyard. This structure is spiritually very related to Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin in terms of its slits and rakish angles, "Essentially a cubic volume with 25-centimeter-thick load-bearing, poured concrete walls, the structure leans approximately 5 degrees to the south, as does the vineyard....One third of the building is sunk into the ground to form a basement, which is connected to an existing wine vault system by a 80-meter-long concrete tunnel that rises at some points to the height of five meters. this historic subterranean network, which includes stone passages that are 900 yuears old, underlies the urban plan of the town. The exterior of theVisitors' Center is clad in 'marine' aluminium....Although Holl's architectural forms are strong, he is rightfully seen as a subtle architect, one for whom a delicate watercolor still has meaning. Holl has given a great deal of thought to the visual and tactile qualities of architecture and is proud to point out that his architecture is very difficult to photograph. 'Architecture,' he writes, 'intertwines the perception of time, space, light and materials, exising on a 'pre-theoretical ground.' The phenomena which occur within the space of a room like sunlight entering through a window, or the color and reflection of matierals on a surface, all have integral relations in the realm of perception.....the experience of material transformations is immersed in the human dimension and the necessity for beauty....the joy of living and the enhanced quality of everyday life is argued in a quality architecture. It is whispered in material and detail and chanted in space.'"

Holl, obviously, is both a fine intellectual and a poet, as Jodidio is quick to observe.

La Défense in The Netherlands

La Défense, Almere, The Netherlands, UN Studio, 2004

La Défense is a medium-size, low-rise office complex in Almere, The Netherlands, that was completed in 2004 and designed by UN Studio, of which Ben Van Berkel is a principal. From the exterior, the complex is generally unremarkable but its facades facing its interior courts is fabulous. "The facade adjacent to the courtyard is built up of glass panels in which a multicolored dichroide foil (also called Radiant Color Film) is integrated. depending on the time and the day and the angle of incidence of light, the facade changes from yellow to blue to red or from purple to green and back again," according to a quotation in the book by the architect. "Usually used for perfume bottles," Mr. Jodidio adds, "the foil, manufactured by 3M, had to be specially produced for such large surfaces."

DG Bank in Berlin by Gehry

DG Bank, Berlin, Frank O. Gehry, 2001

Frank Gehry (see The City Review article), Mr. Jodidio maintains, "has been both criticized and praised for liberating architecture from some of its formal Modernist constraints. His Guggenheim Bilbao, is, of course, the most often-cited example of his artistic penchant, and yet on occasion he has come even closer to the realm of art in his own work. In April of 1999 he exhibited a remarkable sculpture at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills that approached architectural scale without any suggestion of function other than its esthetic presense. Measuring 5 meters high, 7.5 meters wide and a full 12 meters long, his wood-and-lead sculpture surely resembled a horse's head, even if the architect described it as abstract. As is often the case in Gehry's work, such ideas have a tendency to return in different forms. He insists himelf on the intimate connection between his architecture and sculpture.....The horse's head sculpture first seen in Beverly Hills returned in Gehry's DG Bank (1995-2001), located at number 3 Pariser Platz, close to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Actually quite bland as seen from the square, the DG Bank's interior is an astonishing study in contrasts. A very large free-form conference center, clad in 4mm-thick stainless-steel panels, is visible as soon as visitors step through the main doors. In the same way that he used fish forms in earlier buildings, Gehry has come full circle, creating a sculpture object that he transforms into architecture....Visibually exciting, the conference room at the DG Bank raises the question of exactly what Gehry's interest in sculpture forms has brought to architecture. ...There is surely something to be said for expressive fredom, but does this injection of art into the built form really improve the architecture?...Had the interior of the DG Bank been as bland as its facade, the building would have been forgotten quickly, no matter how famous its architect. As it stands, it will long be an object of curiosity and interest."

Gehry is the most famous and influential architect in the world. The Guggenheim Bilbao's curves and shiny skin ushered in a new era of exoteric, esoteric and sensual architecture that transcended the intellectuality of Deconstructivism and the simplistic purity of Modernism. Gehry, however, is human, and therefore probably fallible and his preoccupation with animalistic figuration is not always successful. The DG Bank interior is a handsome womb for Alien. Definitely dramatic, it is also rather preposterous, indulgent and superfluous and not particularly beautiful. Gehry, of course, has long been edgy and genius is entitled to a few excesses.

Among the other interesting projects in the book at The Umbrella in Culver City, California, by Eric Owen Moss, Son-O-House in the Netherlands by NOX Lars Spuybroek, the Portuguese Pavilion at Expo '98 in Lisbon by Alvaro Siza, The Broken Jug by Frank Stella, Shard Houses by Lebbeus Words, House by Rachel Whiteread, the Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima, Japan by Tadao Ando, and Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor.

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