Jan '12 - Aug '13
After a great night of viewing some fantastic work, its time for the main event, the Whither Installation Symposium. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a strong showing of students or faculty for the event, but I have an odd feeling thats a combination of the 9am start, last night's snow, and the long-standing tradition at the school of "Michigan time". I'm going to enjoy my complimentary coffee and bagel but we'll starting shortly.
9:07am - People are starting to roll in, turns out Michigan time also applies to symposiums with guest lecturers. As a east coast guy the whole things still confuses me. The crowd is primarily faculty and presenters with a dash of students for good measure, but I guess thats part of the reason why I'm doing this.
9:10am - Introduction from John McMorrough. Standard "thank-yous" to all the individuals involved with the organizing. It seems like my earlier interview with him might have been a rough draft for the intro so its worth while going back and reading that if you want a complete text.
PANEL ONE: POLEMIC
9:18am - Henry Urbach, curator, is our first presenter. A self-confessed "installation junkie" that has operated as a curator and director of installations through his professional practice, work as a curator at SF MOMA and author on an in-progress book on the topic. He's focusing on the emergence of the format starting in the 70's through its current trend.
9:24am - International Style exhibition in 1932 provides a starting point when architecture was allowed to enter into the museum condition with all the attached benefits, but had to give up the "architectureness" of the project. For the first time drawings became art and models became sculpture.
9:28am - Urbach is powering through examples of how installation was first expunged from the gallery as they began to explore the boundary between public and private space, and then in the 70's moved into the landscape with the work of Ant Farm and others. I hope the school is recording this...
9:32am - PS1 and the Serpentine Pavilion as established venues of architectural exploration in contrast to the emerging DIY trend in which intervention predominantly used to directly transform the way existing spaces are used. Its not a means of evaluating the value of one over the other, but just part of a larger overview of the various scales that installation have been occurring at in their contemporary context.
9:35am - Now Urbach's narrative is moving back into the museum and the privilege it entails. So far all the images have been of projects everyone is familiar with so there's a certain comfort amongst the audience with the content.
9:43am - Assuming this presentation is a by-product of Urbach's research thats gone into his book, its going to be quite the document. Going to have to add that one to my Amazon wish-list.
9:46am - Urbach is going to his own work now, which started through his participation in numerous art fairs. Eventually he opened a small gallery in Chelsea, working with a number of installation artist that identified themselves as architects.
9:53am - Right now I'm learning that I need to read photo captions more often. So many installations I had kicking around my desk as eye-candy came from Urbach's gallery.
9:56am - Moving into Urbach's curatorial work at SF MOMA, including one of my personal favorites, Andrew Kudless's "P-Wall". His last exhibit, Para-Design, focused on pieces that wouldn't be categorized by galleries, architects, and the public as architecture or design even though those were the individuals presenting them.
10:01am - Anne Rieselbach from the Architectural League of New York is taking the podium now. She immediately categorized her work as dealing with the "haiku" of installations - the smaller works of emerging professionals addressed through the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers.
10:06am - Rieselbach is going through the history of the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers program. As she has already pointed out, the projects that were put forward in the 80's could have easily been written as a project this year.
10:10am - Reading through the list of past recipients is like viewing a who's-who of contemporary architects (note to self - include as career goal) and, to a lesser extent, Michigan faculty. Also interesting to see the radical effect on the installations by both size of the gallery space and funding provided by the League.
10:20am - The survey of projects continues, ending up (as one can easily imagine) with the most recent 2011 installations at Parsons. I've got a little bit of investment in these as I was a fabrication consultant on William O'Brien Jr.'s piece that year.
10:26am - Panel discussion with Urbach, Rieselbach and McMorrough: two curators and a theorist. McMorrough is posing the question of audience, questioning who they envision the audience for their curations as and how that informs their selection process.
Rieselbach's reply is that with the change in location has come a change in audience. What started as an insider exhibit by architects for architects has quickly become something that needs to address the larger audience. Urbach has always considered the architecture crowd as a given condition and has tried to "lure" people to the exhibits. A driving force behind this has been keeping children in mind as they don't yet "know that they don't like architecture."
10:36am - Question posed to Rieselbach about how they frame the League's work knowing that its an announcement of rising designers. The competition portion is run by a panel of previous recipients, so Rieselbach and the League then need to act as "ringmasters" coordinating the efforts of everyone involved to tell a cohesive story about the work and the exhibit itself.
10:40am - Conversation initiated by McMorrough about the emergence of the "installationist" and the categorical anxiety it provides to both curators and designers. Urbach asks if anyone in the audience feels that installation is an inappropriate model for architects. The only person that raises their hand? Ben Ball from Ball-Nogues. He qualifies this position by posing the question of if we (architects working in installation) are avoiding the sheer quantity of challenges implicit in architecture itself. He's also the only person in the room not wearing the architect's predominantly black/white/grey uniform.
10:46am - Rieselbach is going into what she's as the difference between architect's installations and artist's installations, primarily in how they interpret and work with the concept of "site".
10:48am - Time for only one audience question: Does the use of installation as a catch-all for everything "architectural" that isn't drawing, writing, etc., does that hurt or help the profession? Urbach feels that there's a very defined ground for installation architecture thats being continually defined, which is a good thing. Rieselbach feels the answer is "yes and..." as its something that still needs to be addressed.
10:51am - Time for a break between panels. I'm going to have to plug in my wall charger for the next one...
PANEL TWO: PEDAGOGY
11:07am - More student have shown up for the second panel, filling out the auditorium. Catie Newell is leading the second panel which intends to address the role of the installation as an academic tool that addresses both the practical aspects of design and its "otherness". Teaching in such a manner "moves from framing discourse to framing structure."
11:12am - Chris Romano is up first, presenting his work from University of Buffalo. He'll be discussing "The Living Wall", a freshmen design studio. Based on the typical task of transforming a volumetric cube, the project addressed both the standard tasks of a fundamental studio (geometry and representation) and the more complex issues of full-scale production.
11:19am - Lots of process models and diagrams couple with framing models. In hindsight I wish this was something I had to deal with as a freshmen. In addition to fabrication constraints, faculty also establish other limits equivalent to building codes. The use of construction logics as a basis of representational drawings is reminiscent of early Office dA drawings.
11:25am - Romano is talking about the role of the shipping process. Each project was constructed at the school in their fab shop and then shipped via flatbed truck to site. DOT limitations and other shipping constraints played heavily into the formation of the projects. As limitations they're formative in the project itself (the volume the students need to transform, etc), rather than as another level of transformation to be applied after the project has been developed to a certain point.
11:29am - "Vertical slippage" would be my contribution to archispeak bingo, which would probably also make an interesting drinking game. There's no way I'm the first person to think of this, I'm willing to bet it exists somewhere in the Archinect forum.
11:36am - Ahh, an image of the completed assembly from 2010. The 14 units form a linear geometry that shifts across the landscape of a very rural sculpture park. At the end the students stay in their projects for 24 hours, after which the objects are left in the landscape for the public to enjoy. I can imagine that that this project has a HUGE impact of the studio culture at Buffalo.
11:41am - "Logistically it's trying to get a team of 150 people to work as one."
11:43am - Quick transition to Kristy Balliet from Ohio State University. Her personal intro is playing on the symposium's sub-title, "The End of Small-Scale Architectural Work Today", and talking about "End" in both of a result of explicit goals and as the termination of lineage.
11:49am - Disclaimer: most of the work she's going to be showing is from the Greg Lynn studio at the University of Applied Arts of Vienna. The first is an exploration between the ground and outer space through task of dealing with a rotational horizon. The outcome had to be presented in the form of a hanging, dog-sized (breed not specified) model and a single concept image.
11:55am - The studio got to travel to Star City, Russia's equivalent to Cape Canaveral. Once again I'm forced to lament my own studio experiences.
11:57am - Some images of the student work. I hate saying things like this, but its aesthetically what you would expect from a Greg Lynn studio. Framed in a site of zero-gravity they make more sense both tectonically and atmospheric then their "grounded" counterparts might.
12:00pm - The second projects are "Hypostyle Halls", looking at how fields of structure are spatially and aesthetically formulated. While the relationship to pedagogy is clear, I'm yet to see any investigation to the specificities of installation that exist outside of the realm of typical architectural speculation.
12:07pm - FInally, something dealing with installation - a couple images of a series of projects from student Peter Vikar and a token image of the Technicolor Bloom installation that students assembled at the school.
12:10pm - Eric Nulman from University of Souther California is up now after a quick intro from Newell. Titled "Pedagogy at Full-Scale & Studio 481" it sounds like this one is going to cover a range of full-scale exercises at a variety of academic levels... fingers crossed.
12:14pm - "The traditional studio working model limits the students material sensibilities." Nulman uses hands on experiments counter this while introducing the standard questions of contemporary fabrication technique. While not talking directly to the images on screen, the student work being shown are exploring these topics without being tied to any recurring aesthetic language - what Nulman coins as "conjoined visualization and realization."
12:21pm - Nulman is moving from general pedagogic discussion onto the specificities of his Studio 481 at USC, highlighting the work of three students through their design research process. Turns out these projects are those that were being shown earlier. They're much more focused on material affect, contrasting the strong tectonic language of the Buffalo project.
12:26pm - Arduino, architect's favorite new toy (myself included).
12:30pm - Student project "Fog Bank" is beautiful. A non-literal interpretation of San Francisco's notorious fog, its evening lighting scheme cause it to glow a soft purple/red. Damn my inability to take photos while typing - hopefully I can find a link to this project for everyone.
12:33pm - "Poker Face" (another student project) was a suspended field of posters presenting the thesis content of an entire graduating class. Formally it reminds me of Marta Male-Alemany's installation at an airport in the early 2000's - details escape me.
12:38pm - Nulman concludes his presentation by talking about the relationship of these installations to the more architectural thesis work of the students behind them. Its nice to see a closing of the academic loop as often installations seem to have minimal impact beyond their creation.
12:40pm - Panel discussion time. Newell jumps into the ends of the model as far as delivering information to students and if the format should be a mandatory curriculum item. Romano goes first, explaining that the course he presented evolved out of a desire to introduce the comprehensive studio earlier in undergraduate curriculum. It gets slipped in during their freshmen year and then carried further later at the end of the degree program. Balliet explains that their gesture was not towards that of installation, but an attempt to "go big" as far as the scale of how ideas are explored. She's unsure if the "full-scale installation" needs to be part of the studio experience, but that students do need to have their comfort zones pushed. She also brings up the question of where funding comes from since there needs to be sufficient financial support for installations to reach an appropriate level of refinement. Nulman is on board with Romano as far as introducing it earlier in the foundation studio.
12:47pm - The conversation has shifted towards why we're seeing installations so much right now. Newell postulates that it may be because people don't have buildings to work on - the two previous panel members jump into things from the audience proposing that it is a reinvestigation into the concept of craft as enabled through digital fabrication. This is something that Balliet is vocally uncomfortable with.
12:50pm - Ben Ball, from the audience, questions how one defines "craft". Another audience member brings up Richard Sennett's "The Craftsman" in that craft is attention paid beyond the mere accomplishment of a task. McMorrough asks if craft is a question of quality or one's own active realization of their work. Rieselbach then leads into the roles of iteration. The lack of microphone is making the conversation at the front of the room difficult to follow.
12:53pm - A microphone is produced for the new non-panel panel members.
12:54pm - Balliet brings up the point that its not about the actual making, but the act forcing students be explicit about what they're doing. Be it large scale model or installation, the focus should be on providing a means for them to understand the implications of their design decisions.
12:57pm - Jimenez Lai and Ben Ball are having a loaded discussion that started off being about craft vs. novel tectonics. Ball defines a boundary between craft and fine art as a fine level of control over material affect. Another instance where I'm going to have to go back to the video.
1:02pm - Panel is over, lunch break time. We'll be back at 1:30 for the final panel on Practice.
PANEL THREE: PRACTICE
1:36pm - Michigan time is in full effect with next to no one in the auditorium, including the panel members. The third panel has all the heavy-hitters and should prove interesting. Plus Monica Ponce de Leon is presenting, which always pulls a lot of the students out of the studio.
1:41pm - PhD pre-candidate Benjamin Smith is moderating the third panel. Smith is currently working on a dissertation on the topic of installations in architecture, an interesting signifier itself in their increased value to the profession.
1:45pm - "Good art doesn't necessarily make good architecture, and bad art doesn't necessarily make bad architecture... installations are one manifestation of what architecture could be if it didn't need to be anything else."
1:51pm - After technical difficulties Ben Ball from Ball-Nogues Studio is up with "Spaces Between the Hammer and the Mouse." Ball starts off with the history of the practice as being a "feedback between the craftsperson and the image maker", assuming the role of builder and designer. Lots of faculty members taking notes on this presentation.
1:57pm - The first aspect of their office: the designers of production. This was codified through a number of their projects, best articulated by 2009's "Feathered Edge".
2:03pm - Ball has been going over the lineage of craft technique that they needed to develop for "Feathered Edge" and the similar suspended string projects that came before it.
2:06pm - Process porn of the string-dying machine made for "Feathered Edge". Lots of talk on "new forms of craft," two of my favorite things. I'm sold.
2:12pm - Now for the "Design of Disappearance": creating installations comprised of useful objects with a specific place in an installation but with value in its state post-installation. They've named this "Cross Manufacturing".
2:22pm - Returning to "Design of Production", Ball has been discussing the lineage between computational sphere packing, the "Craft" project, the "Talus Dome" and "Yucca Crater".
2:24pm - Having done much smaller installations than anything Ball is presenting, the amount of logistics they must deal with to realized these projects is mind-numbing.
2:27pm - As the work being presented gets more and more interesting, its becoming equally challenging to keep up with the blogging. Up next we have Elena Manferdini of Atelier Manferdini and I'll do my best to keep the pace up.
2:30pm - "Surfaces now exhibit a new depth-less-ness. Flatness is not associated with a defined status or scale; it has no depth, no 'camera eye', no perspective."
2:35pm - Manferdini has been talking about her in-progress project "Painted Canvas." The research aspect of the installation began with detailing the shift from realism to atmospheric representation in art. Laser scanning was used to explore the translation from visual representation to manufactured effect.
2:38pm - The second project deals with geometric abstraction and panelization. Its refreshing to see a problem that has been perhaps overdone in design computation being manifest in an aesthetic that doesn't heavily imply the tool set.
2:42pm - More process porn, but the soundtrack to this one has some bass. Am I about to witness dubstep's architectural debut?
2:47pm - <sigh> Nope. Maybe next time.
2:49pm - On to Manferdini's hung ceiling piece at the SCI-Arc Gallery. Quickly going through the "glossy magazine" photos and now onto more process porn. A more industrial soundtrack to this one.
2:53pm - Straight into video number three, this time focusing on the dress that accompanied the ceiling. I'd describe the track as techno-meet-flamenco.
2:56pm - The next installation was a hung catenary crystal system. Manferdini is running out of time so she's flipping through images quickly to get to "Sensorium: Lucid Dreams", an installation in NYC's Meatpacking District. Manferdini teamed up with a perfume house to tie the sense of smell into larger experiential narratives.
2:58pm - Another quick video, but no process this time. Nick Gelpi from MIT is coming up next.
3:02pm - "Installations are useful to architects in the way that experiments are useful to scientist... or that concept cars are to automotive designers."
3:06pm - Gelpi is talking about couplings between venues of abstraction and those of hyper-realism. He gives Frank Lloyd Wright's column testing for the Johnson building and Mies's mock-up of the Kroller-Muller Villa as an example. Just realized that I've seen Gelpi's work when I covered the MIT FAST projects this past summer for Archinect.
3:10pm - Now walking the audience through the lineage of cutting projects that started with the Riddled furniture series. These led Gelpi to develop patterns that couldn't be cut into any material, but instead were a result of a conversation between pattern and material property. The first was "Screening", one in a series of several proposed component typologies. "Leaning", "Floating" and "Hovering" were the other two. All were perforated skin conditions in which the pattern/material relationship performed the function the name describes.
3:16pm - Now we're onto the MIT installation and Gelpi is walking us through the fabrication process. The project used the previously mentioned component techniques in the realization of a full-scale pavilion: the Unflat Pavilion.
3:18pm - Its always nice to see pictures of your friends doing work in presentations.
3:21pm - A fair amount of discussion of the detailing that was required when the gestures of the originating small scale components were scaled up for a full-sized project. Steel gussets, connections for Cambridge wind-loads, etc. So far he's the only presenter to touch on the inherent difficulties in these shifts.
3:24pm - Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular is up. When talking to him earlier during the lunch break he seemed surprised that I was familiar with his work. Oddly enough its from when his work was mentioned on Archinect back in the day. I've always been a fan of his comic-book styling.
3:26pm - Mentions that he's glad to finally not be known as "the comic-book guy." <palm slap>
3:29pm - Lai is giving an incredibly honest critique of his earlier work "Point Clouds" as a naive exploration into installations. Moving onwards from there he realized that the material affects he was interested in weren't scalable so he returned to drawing.
3:34pm - Discussing the "Noah's Ark" comics that debated the value of plan and section as the generator of perspective. This then became the rotation room that was built at Materials & Applications in LA which led Lai to acknowledge his comprehension of zero-gravity space was axial.
3:40pm - "White Elephant" was next chronologically, and exploration of the value of the sphere as a non-axial experiment of spacial variation.
3:42pm - To me, Lai's drawings are architectural story-telling at its finest. I'd love to witness a conversation between Lai and Scott McCloud.
3:49pm - "I built it because I want to be exceptional at what I love." - Lai's commentary on his "Briefcase House", the latest in his super-furniture pieces. In a project on the boards Lai will be living a storefront space: in the front of the space he'll be on public display, when he moves to the back he'll retreat into dream-like space.
3:52pm - Comic of a man getting arrested for having sex with an ugly building. Enough said.
3:55pm - Monica Ponce de Leon is going to the final speaker. I'm not going to lie - after 6.5 hours of live blogging, I'm glad we're getting towards the end.
3:57pm - Installations as "the cool cousin" to architecture - somehow either more critical or more technical than its boring cousin.
4:00pm - So far its an overview of a number of Office dA project I'm guessing everyone is familiar with, the MOMA bleachers, the hooka den at Mantra (a restaurant) in Boston and the Upper Crust pizzeria in Boston. All are framed as projects that exist between architecture and installation.
4:07pm - Covering the Harvard GSD milled cabinets, the RISD library and now her the student projects that came out of her fellowship at Georgia Tech.
4:13pm - Now Banq (recently demolished) and the voronoi-based surface that was installed on an island in the Boston harbor for the ICA. The ICA project was a means to continue the research that had gone into the Office dA conference center that was proposed for a client in Kuwait.
4:23pm - Now Monica is talking about using the installation project as an alibi for architectural exploration. Currently she has an project thats situated in a hotel atrium the aims to "veil and unveil" a Sol LeWitt piece also located in the space. The veiling and unveiling manifests literally with suspended fiber pieces. Kind of like white Janet Echelman pieces. Her presentation is probably the most "architectural" of all so far.
4:26pm - The practice panel is starting, by far the most populated panel so far. Its always awkward when someone's response to the presentations are read rather than presented more candidly.
4:29pm - Smith asks the reoccurring question of if installation is architecture. Ball's response hits the nail on the head (in my opinion): "Architecture is a discussion. Its not a thing, its a discussion. Installation can be used in that discussion." So far everyone agrees.
4:33pm - Smith: "In all of your work, I'm curious as to how methods of communication are addressed in the work you're doing?"
Manferdini: "It depends on the installation." She elaborates that the communication aspect is embedded by architect based on who the work is meant for as often the work is internal and meant as a means for explore their practice.
4:36pm - Ball asks everyone for their thoughts on how installations work in the diaspora of images that occur online - that the parallel timing between the rise of the internet and the rise of the installation is too coincidental to ignore (I swear a couple panel members looked at me typing as he asked that). Ball points to the use of Youtube to explore means of fabrication that one would have access to otherwise.
4:42pm - Conversation has quickly returned to the nature of craft in architecture, with a bevy of rhetorical questions and comments posed across the panel.
4:46pm - Audience question asking about the nature of aesthetics of installation. Ball responds that aesthetic languages are explored quicker in installation than in architecture, moving "at the speed of the blogosphere." There's talk of certain visual languages being out of fashion in installation before they can even really make it to architecture. I really want that to be jab at panelized surfaces.
4:52pm - Another audience question asking if there's any attempt to control the images and documentation of their work since the works are overly public. Ball brings up that once again it comes down to the nature of the project - Yucca Crater focused on the creation of space and event for a single weekend, not the creation of single image thats meant to last beyond the weekend.
4:56pm - Last question, again from the audience, questioning the assembly means and their relationship to labor, i.e. why not craft projects that require an equal level of craft for assembly rather than those that can be assembled by anyone. Monica responses with "it depends", saying that the context of where labor is coming from (students, paid, etc.) needs to be considered. Manferdini, someone with perhaps the most 'up close' work that we've seen today, agrees that this deserves more thought and would love to aspire for seamless assembly rather than the current trend of tectonic assembly.
5:05pm - McMorrough steps in to wrap up the symposium as a whole, complimenting the panel members for engaging in a discussion that hadn't really taken place until now.
So thats a wrap everyone. Time for me to go schmooze!
An in-the-trenches view of digital fabrication, academic research, post-hardcore music and whiskey. Not necessarily in that order and often in combination.