2006 Annual Design Review Environments Honorable Mention

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Expanded Alliances: Industry and BeyondFor a new slide library for Columbia University’s Department of Art History and Archaeology, the New York firm Marble Fairbanks both explored the cutting-edge technologies of CNC milling and proposed a model for working collaboratively with the university’s resident architects. Jurors were drawn to the project’s east wall, a striated collection of more than 400 layers of inch-thick lightweight MDF notched by a series of thin, punch-card-like slots of glass. Opposing walls are marked with perforations that represent the east wall’s tooling paths. “It’s punched out like good old model-airplane kits,” Arad enthused. “There’s a rigor and a method to it.” “It’s a really simple strategy to make a wall,” added Diller, “probably the densest wall ever made, as if it were a log cabin.” (She expressed disappointment, however, that the wall went between the “normal wood studs” of standard frame construction.) Roy, who found the effect “kind of beautiful in and of itself,” noted that “there’s something very didactic about the process and technology, and its context in an academic institution would lend itself to that degree of explaining.”

Moet Chandon MarqueeMelbourne-based PTW Architects’ swirling celebration of “bubble-ism,” designed for champagne maker Moet Chandon for the 2005 Melbourne Cup, drew comparisons to everyone from Anish Kapoor to Zaha Hadid to Adolph Loos. Fashioned out of nylon Lycra, the walls curve and flare into shapes resembling champagne flutes, while cut transparencies in the ceiling allow dapples of light to filter into the space below. The fabric components break down into a container the size of a large backpack. For the jury, however, the power of the marquee’s aesthetics and portability were diminished by the fact that the entire structure, which might seem to be rather wondrously supported by its own organic purity, was actually bolstered by a steel frame. “In terms of environment, this is perfect; it makes a great atmosphere,” Diller said. “You’re in the carafe, you’re in the bubble.” But in the end, she lamented, “It’s a dumb shed with a cool elastic liner.”

Billboard BuildingWedged into a minuscule urban cavity that seems created more by accident than intent (one of those awkward fragments the artist Gordon Matta-Clark termed “gutterspace”), Tokyo’s Billboard Building, designed by the local architecture firm Klein Dytham, is virtually all facade, an “inhabitable billboard” that goes from a narrow 8.2-foot width at one end to a 2-foot-wide vanishing point at the other. Images of a bamboo forest etched onto the glass wall eventually give way to a solid white wall; a green backdrop enhances the arboreal illusion. The building, which serves as workshop for a jewelry designer, changes like a gem with the light, going from a crisp whiteness during the day to a soft green luminescence at night. “I like the abstractionist nature here,” Arad declared. “I love the way that its opacity is breaking up into transparency,” added Roy. “It’s well detailed-look at those panes of glass,” Diller concluded.

Bloomberg LP Corporate HeadquartersThe jury was impressed less by the building than by the environmental graphics and kinetic information displays designed by Pentagram New York’s Paula Scher and Lisa Strausfeld for Bloomberg’s headquarters, that Manhattan cathedral of 24-7 information. “They’ve done it without a singular form,” said Arad of the building’s panoply of coursing data streams. “It’s not as if there are big squares of information; it’s much more independent and creates its own coherent route through the building.” Diller marveled at the displays’ intelligence: “The system is actually thinking. If it’s 29 degrees and it’s 12:49 p.m.—it’s a real-time matrix where it’s making decisions about the atmosphere produced.” While the jury praised the brand-building theatrics of the pulsing data torrents, they also cited the design for creating something more warmly engaging than might have been imagined from a cold flow of digits. “It’s interesting that data could produce an environment. Normally we think of it as dry and not very expressive. But, as we’ve learned through Tufte and others, it’s emotive, it has effects,” Diller said. Concluded Roy: “They’ve created an environment that’s different from the environment of the architecture.”

Hot White OrangeThe jurors were amused and more than a little enchanted by San Francisco-based Anderson Anderson Architecture’s Hot White Orange, described by its designers as a “solar-heated, portable amphitheater sized to comfortably accommodate 30 people.” Looking a bit like an advanced safety flotation device or perhaps an alternate landing apparatus for the Mars Pathfinder, this project for the University of California at Berkeley comprises a ring of bladder-like pods inspired by the unfolding wedges of a California navel orange. Hydronic heating coils surround “ballast blankets” beneath the structure’s skin, circulating hot water. Arad was impressed by the heating and cooling technology, but was left to wonder: “How can it fit 30 people?” Diller thought it looked like a “big conversation space” that could perhaps be deployed at raves. “It’s fantastic,” was Roy’s final assessment.

Marmol Radziner Prefab“This looks like a Jean Nouvel project,” said Roy as she gazed upon a photograph of the low-slung Marmol Radziner Prefab house, which appeared sleek and shiny in the desert twilight. Clad in zincalume metal siding and featuring an array of flexible layouts, the house is built in the factory of the Los Angeles architects and delivered virtually completed to the site (with prices starting at $215,000, minus the land). “The idea that you can have an affordable and well-designed prefabricated home is still fairly remarkable,” said Arad. Roy cautioned that such houses were “not tried and tested, and what does it cost in the end?” Diller wanted to see the prefab aesthetics pushed a bit more. “I think that the aspiration is great, I just wish there was some next-generation of strategy—it’s too connected to a reverence for a certain kind of architecture.” “It’s too conservative,” concluded Arad.

DefibrillatorFor an installation at New York’s Morsel Gallery, Sand_box, a multidisciplinary firm based in New York and Chicago, took a pair of walls from an abandoned home in rural New Hampshire and gave them new electronic life in a white-cube environment, rendering them as interfaces controlling lighting and video projection. (When the walls meet, or “kiss,” as the designers describe it, they exchange their respective control properties.) Diller dubbed the Defibrillator “Gordon Matta-Clark meets Media Lab,” while for Arad it evoked a high-tech haunted house. “This is not a happy house,” he continued. “Why are they dissecting it?” Roy suggested: “Maybe it was simply available.” For all the epistemological debate the project spurred—were the house’s walls a message or simply a medium?—the jurors found it hard to discern meaning in the bright glow of its technological brilliance. “The part that is really unclear,” said Diller, “is what the responsiveness actually produces.” In terms of marrying craft to mechanical process, however, the jury declared it a success.

New York A/VIn 2001, the South Carolina-based firm Fieldoffice recorded images of New York City as its members walked the length of Broadway. Four years later, they deployed a mobile container—a camera obscura of sorts—through the city, showing the images at various parks along the same street. Arad was intrigued by what he called the “derive wagon,” after the Situationist practice of “drifting” through the city without recogniz
ing boundaries. “It feels very personal, a subjective way of reconstructing memory,” he said. “There’s something intriguing about inanimate objects in the city changing while you yourself remain unchanged.” Roy saw the entry as one of a host of Calvino-and-Borges-fueled mapping projects, “but what’s remarkable about this one is that it was actually produced.” However, the jury was uncertain about whether the duration was sufficient to produce noteworthy effects and questioned what the project might yield. “Mapping for its own sake is not terribly interesting,” said Diller. “Unless one is discovering something that’s been previously unmappable, or has a new instrument for recording and identifying it, it’s an incomplete project—what’s the revelation?”

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