Jogger, check. Tree-planting plan, check. Holy light, check.
But seriously, I’ve never seen such a hallelujah effect over a corporate HQ.
I just Tweeted this, and I know that Tweeting things like this is incredibly marmish. But! It is a missed opportunity. Anthony Lane spends a good quarter of his profile of Pixar on the Emeryville environs, using the architecture as a metaphor for the whole enterprise. Identifying the architects seems like common good manners. If Pixar movies don’t just happen (and that’s what the other three-quarters of the profile are about) neither does the building.
Plus! The story of that building is interesting! It was designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, whose principal Peter Bohlin I profiled last year. After BCJ designed the Pixar headquarters Steve Jobs liked it so much he hired them to design the Apple design studio, and then the Apple stores. If there is a piece of retail architecture from the last decade that has been transforming, it is the Apple stores.
So a profiler of Pixar that was interested in the design of the enterprise might want to consider what the Apple store and, say, EVE from Wall-E have in common. Especially one who bothers to mention the humiliating cubicles of Bob’s office in The Incredibles (image above via The Mid-Century Modernist). Ignoring the minds behind the design, or selectively highlighting only those you’ve been asked to pay attention to, limits the depth of the resulting journalism.
P.S. I would also have spent much more time on John Lasseter’s Hawaiian shirts. If you have watched his curious, charisma-free introductions to Hayao Miyazaki’s films a hundred times with your toddler, as I have, you have a lot of questions about the shirts.
Last week Slate ran an example of the design criticism I am missing: “I hate my iPad,” by John Swansburg.
Swansburg disusses the tablet’s browsability and readability, distractions of the internet and requests for payment from iTunes. Then he gets into an IM duscussion with his tech-loving colleagues, and wins a few points.
Last semester I was looking for examples of interaction design criticism for my D-Crit class and came up short. Reviews I read were either in love with the idea of the app, never mind the execution; or too technical for the lay reader; or too focused on the device and not the experience. I’ve seen the iPad reviewed as fetish object and as tech advance, but never before the whole user experience. What Swansburg provided was what I have been missing: a walk-through of how a regular person might use the device. It is sidewalk criticism for the digital world, and we need more (a lot more) of it.
Read the rest, including some great, thought-provoking comments, here.
D/R’s founder, architect Benjamin Thompson, wanted to turn shopping into less of a chore, more of a creative enterprise. Thompson wrote in the Boston Globe in 1971, 18 months after his glass-walled, concrete-framed new D/R headquarters opened in Cambridge: “Just as Harvard Yard is an agora and Washington Street a fair, D/R lives in the tradition of the marketplace. Because good markets and fairs thrive on movement and action, they don’t happen in architectural “masterpieces” but in lively spaces that mix people and functions.”
Thompson’s thinking about “lively spaces that mix people and functions” led him to a second career, during and after D/R, as the joint inventor, designer and planner of the “festival marketplace” with wife Jane Thompson. As in the D/R stores, their idea at Faneuil Hall (and later Harbor Place and South Street Seaport) was to enliven old buildings with new shopping, eating and mingling experiences, curating (to appropriate a trendy word) the stores as he had curated the D/R merchandize for a mix of price points and audiences, and adding lots of free performances, classes, and good smells. However sad the festival marketplaces now seem, overrun with chain stores and tourist restaurants, the Thompsons’ ideas about retail — hand-selecting the goods, maximizing the sidewalk display, re-using past architecture — are still at work today.
If you like what you read, please buy my new book, written with Jane Thompson, Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes.
Look at this photo. This is an actual building. Or at least, James Russell’s review of the new Apple Store in The Architect’s Newspaper tells me it is. Since I try to avoid going to the Upper West Side, I may never know that for a fact. My eyes aren’t telling me this building exists.
More and more I find myself squinting at the tiny credits on pictures of architecture. If it says DBox I know it hasn’t happened yet. If it says Esto, as this does, it has. But the two images look practically the same. Esto’s may have the dirt on the pavement, the ugly Ollie’s sign next door, but other than that, the same. If you look at the other photos in this story, the child approaching the glass staircase (and I would be chasing down my child at this point) could be PhotoShop: pink is just the sweater color I would have chosen, a spot of pop in a purposely austere environment.
I think this confusion is a problem. The concerns I have about most architecture being judged from afar in rendering form is a subject for another post. But the confluence of architectural photography and renderings is the subject of this one. Esto, which dominates the architectural photography market, is a company founded by Ezra Stoller, the mid-century photographer who, along with Hedrich-Blessing, Joseph Molitor, Julius Shulman, created the style of photographing architecture we now call architectural photography: crystalline, weightless, with endless linear recession and crisp intersection of planes. I think the endless reproduction of Stoller’s images in black-and-white (though he often shot alternates in color) has helped to repress the history of decorating in modern architecture. Who knew the sofa was vermilion? When digital renderings became part of the sales pitch, who else were renderers to imitate? They made new Stollers of buildings that weren’t there. But since Esto (and Hedrich-Blessing too) still has a stable of photographers working in the Stoller manner, real and fake, built and unbuilt all started to look the same.
Alan Rapp (whom I taught in D-Crit, and who acquired my D/R book at Chronicle) has a post on his blog Critical Terrain today asking whether architectural photography is art. He showcases the work of Tim Griffith, whose photographs definitely look like art to me. But they don’t look like architectural photography, not as thought of by the profession. No architect wants to see his (or her, sometimes) building as a ruin. And there are plenty of other art photographers (especially all those Germans) who do the opposite, and make architecture look like candy.
The split between the photographers for architects, and the photographers of architecture goes way back. There were plenty of photographers taking art images of mid-century architecture. W. Eugene Smith, of all people, did a series for the AIA in the mid-1950s that included misty bucolic visions of the Connecticut General headquarters by SOM. Charles Eames photographed the work of his friends in a jaunty, apparently casual and experiential manner that would be perfect on a blog. Andre Kertesz shot for House & Home. I’ve always wanted to write a book on architectural photography that included this work in.
I guess what I am trying to say is, the two sides need to come together. Otherwise architects may discover they never need their buildings photographed. Photography needs to prove itself again as an interpretive medium for architecture (there was always a debate about this in regards to Stoller’s work) somewhere this side of art. I think I should be able to tell what’s real and what’s still a dream.