Archinect

Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still live-blog here once in a while.

  • Live Blog: Preston Scott Cohen speaks with Nicolai Ouroussoff about his new Herta and Paul Amir Building, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

    Hi Archinect!

    We're in "full Piper" with a full house for the GSD's first public event of 2012, called "Museum as Genealogy"--and it's all Scott.

    [Added note as of Jan 29]: For many of us as GSD architecture students, this kind of event is anticipated as a moment when some of the most important ideas that have guided our education are tested.

    In this case, the ideas are those of Preston Scott Cohen, who teaches in the first (very formative) semester of the M.Arch.I core program. This is his practice and his project, to borrow a distinction that Peter Eisenman insisted on last year. For those of us heading into our M.Arch.I theses, this is Scott's thesis; it's an example of how a design can comprehensively address a complex range of requirements while remaining focused on certain set of questions. We see the work pinned up in the lobby; we hear its author present it in his own terms; and we witness as he vigorously defends and interrogates his own work under the questioning of an outside critic.

    Some of the excitement around these events is specific to being a part of this particular institution: this is our education, after all. We have been shaped by the critiques these professors have given us on our own work. We also know many of the personalities involved, and anticipate the spectacle of seeing our familiar professors and mentors joust and jest with their peers--some known to us personally, some known only through their work and reputation, or not yet known not at all.

    These conversations are part of a wider architectural discourse, and I hope that the content makes this clear. But my point is that these events (and my blogging of them) are the way that they are because they take on a personal significance for us at this school. In no way is this a neutral examination of some remote historical circumstance--whatever that might mean. It is the act of an institution, made of many different people and agendas, representing and assessing itself. Celebrating the achievements of its own people and being critically self-aware of its own agendas are two tasks that define the work of an institution, and this is what we are up to in this event. [end of added note]

    I've never seen Ouroussoff live and am very curious to see how this will go--there aren't that many people who can match wits with the chair of our department when he's on.

    First, here are some images from the exhibition, whose opening this event marks:

    [Nader Tehrani contemplates a model of Lightfall, the building's central, tortuous atrium]

    6:40pm: Mohsen is making introductions. PSC will speak for a few minutes, then NO, then they'll talk to each other, then the rest of us can ask questions.

    "I must admit that I feel very unprepared for introducing Scott Cohen. Those of you who know Scott are fully aware that his introductions are beautifully written, very precise, quite long--and often more precise than the lectures. So I am unprepared."

    "But it was pleasure, a few weeks ago, to be in Tel Aviv to see the museum...it was part of a trip with several people from Harvard [and he mentions the Dean of HBS (business), the Dean of HGSE (education), and several other deans]."

    He's talking about how important it was to see the building in person and close-up, on the site. "It's very interesting how the building deals with compression, and other phenomena that Scott is interested in, such as distortion. ...and the compression happens in the context of the near-normalcy of the galleries, and also sets up a relational condition between the galleries."

    "And I also feel a little nostalgic tonight. Seeing Scott's drawings (etc.) is a reminder of an earlier moment in the school when I witnessed Scott's development, and his friendship with Robin Evans. ...And we both miss Robin Evans very much, as he died so young." [Scott is nodding.]

    "The third thing is pedagogy." Scott has been very precise in his relationship with pedagogy [yep]. "There's something incredibly didactic about this exhibition...and it's very rare to find this kind of tour de force of a relationship between pedagogy and practice."

    "It's also an incredible opportunity as Nicolai is here. As you know, for many years Nicolai was the architecture critic for the NYT and has on many occasions been nominated for the Pulitzer."

    Scott takes the podium and starts by thanking all involved, too many for me to transcribe here.

    PSC: "...I'll start with the dialectic between the museum and architecture. If the museum tries to be anything other than neutral, it runs into difficulties. We can look to the founding of the museum and realize that neutral spaces, of one form of the other, become the only option." When art objects become torn from their original contexts, they move into a neutral context of the art museum, which is like every other neutral art museum in the world. 

    "There are a few exceptions: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and the Guggenheim in NYC."

    PSC: "The site makes the building practically invisible."

    "It may be useful to think back to eight years ago, when this project started. We were still feeling the shocks of two competing visions." One was the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and the other was the MoMA in New York, about which, as PSC notes, Ouroussoff wrote: "museums are as much about the stamp of legitimacy as about aesthetic pleasure.'"

    "This opposition was on my mind," and made PSC think that the museum should be both: an inversion of the Guggenheim, "but not in the way that the MoMA is."

    6:57pm: PSC is now analyzing the Guggenheim. "It is essentially an extremely tall picture gallery." And he sets it in a lineage with dioramas and cabinets of curiosities. "The cabinet of curiosity inhabited a curious scale: larger than an object, smaller than a room." Similarly, the Guggenheim, is caught in-between, larger than a room. It both invites people in for a private viewing, and puts these people on display, like on a shelf. "It is this model, the cornucopic microcosm, that corresponds to the cabinet of curiosities." It is, given its exterior form, also an object of curiosity within the city.

    7:03pm: Comparison of the 19th century enfilade type museum with the Guggenheim, as an "enfilade in half."

    7:04pm: "The Tel Aviv museum (TAMA) works like the cabinet, but differently. First, TAMA's interior can be seen as the two shells of a Renaissance domes: one coarse and the other smooth. The inner represents the infinity of the heavens and the outside represents itself to the city. In TAMA, Lightfall "formally enacts the contortion necessary to bring about a series of galleries on a constrained site." "Lightfall amplifies each to opposite extremes, exhibiting what was once called 'perverse functionalism.'"

    "TAMA's facade behaves like the Guggenheim ramp, as if it were turned inside out. ..It's anamorphic form intensifies a series of movements to and past the building. A complicated reading complicates this, however. ...The Lightfall and the facade are two equivalent surfaces; and the walls of the surrounding buildings constitute a third set of surfaces."

    "The contemporary museum does not try to bring in and organize the world, subjecting it to a teleological directory; it no longer follows its earlier didactic impulse but explores a wider range of subjectivities."

    Another subject: "the way that interiors and exteriors are related to each other in large institutional buildings." "The systems for control and organization for such buildings" [conflicts with] the need for the building to actually function as more than one building, each independent of the other (and each program with its own entrance).

    TAMA has two functions: it is both a museum and a library. Yet a library in a museum, without its own entrance, just becomes a room in the museum.

    Now there is a great animated sequence of views of the model and drawings, talking about these tensions, as retroactively theorized--check these out in the video. [Scott acknowledges that this part of his argument was developed as a collaboration with Carl d'Apolito-Dworkin, my studio TA from last semester! Woot!]

    "But...the library fails to...match the power of its nemesis, the Lightfall." The Lightfall eludes particular association with any one space.

    "The contest would now seem to be between horizontality and verticality..."

    7:17pm: PSC is comparing this kind of tension and hybridity with a similar condition in his Los Gatos house.

    7:19pm: "TAMA is a multi-program building that cannot be isomorphic between its interior and exterior, but in which each program tries to dominate the exterior, making it isomorphic with itself."

    "One of the most rewarding elements of this has been to witness that which could never [be predicted]," that is, how the curators have inhabited the building with various art installations. "...And I hope this may represent the beginning of another genealogy."

    7:20pm: Applause. Ouroussoff and PSC sit down.

    NO: "First, I'd like to say how refreshing it is to hear an architect talk about genealogy, which most architects don't want to acknowledge."

    "When I think of the Guggenheim Bilbao in the mid and late 90s, we think about the fall of the Berlin Wall, [various political and economic circumstances], brand art, etc. For the first time, the architect put himself on an equal footing with the artist." "That was a huge shift for architects, because for a long time they felt that their voices had been suppressed."

    MoMA is different.  It was reacting to Bilbao as well as anxieties of modernism. "Trying to figure out a new narrative without letting go of the old one." "And yours comes out as a response to both buildings."

    "The third historical, and hysterical, moment was the competition at Ground Zero."

    NO: "The second issue" is the lack of a middle ground in thinking about what makes an appropriate space for viewing art. NO discloses that he's married to an artist.

    "And the third thing to talk about is execution. Both in terms of issues such as entry...and in the most pragmatic way, gallery spaces--and how it is we look at art, and how gallery spaces reflect our understanding of that."

    "So let's talk about what it was...you were trying to avoid, when you got the competition."

    PSC: "I was probably trying to avoid...something about the will of the architect." Ambivalence. "It's a sublimation, in a way, that needs to be deployed through techniques."

    There's a discipline in the building that marks it off from buildings [like Bilbao] that are born in gesture.

    "I enjoy--and I think many at the GSD do--there's a culture here of enjoying how the constraints of architecture will bring us into new solutions. And to discover constraints as a source of invention. You've seen the site, but the most important constraint was the curator who tragically passed away months before the opening of the building. He was very protective of the way that lighting worked; we went to many galleries so he could show me what kind of light he didn't want. He didn't let me have natural light. He didn't like any of the museums in Boston, by the way, mostly because of lighting. He showed me how light hit objects...from three different directions, casting shadows..."

    "We saw the new ICA which was under construction--I won't tell you what he said about it."

    NO: "You restrained yourself to rectangular galleries, then distort them by ripping them open. ...Was the rectangular requirement from the curator?"

    PSC: "He did say that, and he knew given the site that it was a problem. ...And the building ultimately betrays some of its principles, because of the way [it deals with its various constraints.] But those were not volunteered from the outset."

    "I'd like to talk about material choices, and how political and cultural those choices are. It was mandated almost from the beginning that this building be stone, and thus be identified as a civic building, identified with Jerusalmen more than Tel Aviv. So the panelization was dedicated to the problem of making it stone." That eventually became impossible because they were hanging upside down, etc., so it had to become concrete in the end. "But it recalled either the bad brutalist architecture, or military interventions. ...But the form overcomes it; the potential to see it alive."

    "...It looks almost metal, because of their size and how smooth they are. But this internationalizes the building; it's somewhat alien [to its site], in that sense, even though its so tightly knit into it."

    "He did invite a foreign architect--and I never got to the bottom of that--because he was so dedicated to this being an Israeli project, but hired a foreign architect."

    "One day he did explain his vision to me, which had to do with bringing a foreign [representation of Israel to itself]."

    PSC: "There was a point in the process when he looked at the project and said 'What are all these cockamamie shapes?' And he was lost. But he trusted me. So this makes the difference between whether you're going to make a great building or not--whether you are trusted."

    "At one point, people didn't like [that PSC and the curator had so much control over the design]," but now people are really excited, seeing how many ways there are for art to inhabit the building."

    NO: "The entry sequence is very interesting: you lose control [when people enter and can decide to go various ways]. It's a problem at Bilbao, where you have to choose where to go, and then always return to the atrium."

    PSC: "Yes, there are moments of multiple choice. It almost killed me in the competition when a juror said 'I'm lost and everyone's going to be lost.'"

    "But there are multiple collections, different kinds of galleries for different things. The building is small enough, with a centralized focus, and the section [motivates you to move up and down through it]."

    Questions from the audience.

    Q: "All of this brings to mind a cinematic process. Is the building the last frame in the sequence of negotiation, or is an intermediate frame catching the negotiation as it is taking place?"

    PSC: "I wouldn't say it's the last, but it might be all the frames, or the optimal compression of the whole stories. I don't think of it as a fragment of the process, as if we picked a place to stop." "And it could have gone forward. Lightfall is a mature space, in the way that it occupies the building; but there's another space in the library, that could have gone on [if it were not for other contingencies]." [Fancy way of saying that there were spaces that he'd liked to have developed more?]

    Q: "Could you explain more what the aesthetic is based on? Some of the imagery reminded me of the beauty of a glacier, despite all its complex geometries--but the geometries of a glacier are natural."

    PSC: "I might not be so refreshing when I say that I'm not willing to admit, or I don't know why, I want the building to look this way." [laughter] "I know what I want the building to do, in terms of epistemological subjects [etc.], but I can't quite say why I want it to look that way."

    [end.] Scott thanks Nicolai Ouroussoff.

    [After the softball game pitched by Ouroussoff: Mohsen Mostafavi, Nicolai Ouroussoff, Preston Scott Cohen, and Ben Prosky.]


  • final work...finally!

    Oh hello there, Archinect! Finals were a blur and vacation was the best, and here we are back in the trays yet again. Oh, I have so many things to tell you. But first, my project from last semester! A twelve lane highway runs under the entire site. I was building on air-rights over this highway...


  • one week left!

    Hi Archinect! We have one week left before our final review and the plan is to finish my model today. Actually, the plan was to finish it yesterday, but this morning I realized that this was unrealistic. If I can finish the model today, then I'll have six days for drawings, which is still tight...


  • Finals...

    Hi Archinect! This is just a quick update as we head into our last few weeks before studio finals. Things are going well and I'm just buckling down to focus on representation techniques and the specifics of my design, so that things don't become a complete shit-show in December. I'm gonna hold...


  • Live Blog: Wang Shu, Geometry and Narrative of Natural Form

    Hi Archinect! It's Open House day at the GSD, so we're in "full Piper" (using the entire auditorium) for a lecture by Wang Shu from Amateur Architecture Studio. The video is now viewable at the GSD website and the GSD's YouTube channel. 4:05 pm: A long and laudatory introduction from Scott. He's...



  • Midterm work: systems, not forms.

    Hi Archinect! We had our midterm last Wednesday and I am finally rousing myself out of my post-review sloth and pleasure-chasing (and yes, it was glorious) in order to post some images. I've already posted photos of our site. And you may have seen the video of my critics' public lecture at the...


  • Live Blog: Stan Allen and Preston Scott Cohen

    Hi Archinect! Stan Allen, Dean of Princeton University School of Architecture and Principal of SAA/Stan Allen Architect, is going at it tonight with Preston Scott Cohen, Chair of Architecture at Harvard GSD and Principal at Preston Scott Cohen Inc. The video is also posted at the GSD's YouTube...


  • Live Blog: The Core of Architecture’s Discourse Now: A New Generation of Scholar Critics Speak Out

    Hi Archinect! William S. Saunders, Timothy Hyde, George P. Dodds, David Gissen, Simon Sadler, and Meredith TenHoor are in the house tonight in front of the golden curtain. The topic is theory and writing. [Update: you can now view the full video at the GSD's YouTube channel.] 6:40: William...


  • Kinesthesia - M.Arch.I first year project

    Hi Archinect! The kids did good. Here is the final project from a group of students in the first-year M.Arch.I. Materials and Construction course. They were working with fabric hinges and a geometry that allows for their full-scale mockup to be transformed and configured in a multitude of ways...



  • Happy Birthday, GSD! And you too, Harvard.

    [Harvard's Birthday Cake. Graphic from The Harvard Crimson.] Hi Archinect! Well, this year the GSD turns 75 years old, and Harvard turns 375. Big parties all around, pecha kucha lectures from alumni and faculty, and lots of alumni in town for the weekend of events. Yo-Yo Ma performed in the yard...


  • Live Blog: Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi / Evolutionary Infrastructure

    Hello Archinect! My current studio critics, Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, are lecturing in front of the gold curtain tonight. You can also watch the whole thing on the GSD's YouTube channel. 6:36: Scott Cohen is making introductions. Lots of awards, great projects, Ivy League educations and...


  • On Making and Learning Architecture: a conversation with Danielle Etzler (video)

    Hi Archinect! My first semester studio critic and assistant professor of architecture, Danielle Etzler, has been building buildings for fifteen years, teaching architecture for a few, and thinking throughout about connections between these. Over the summer, I sat down with her to talk about the...



  • Live Blog: Why Latin America, Why now?

    Hi Archinect! Okay, I've been sick all week, and I've missed so very many things.  (Note: if you're ever told that it's OK to get a flu shot while you have a cold without a fever, don't believe it! Flu shots are powerful.) On Monday, Asia GSD invited Erwin Lui, a senior designer at Toyota...


  • The Bridge Towers at the I-95/George Washington Bridge in NYC (Site Visit)

    Hello Archinect! Last week our studio (led by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi) went to NYC to visit our site, which is the area around the "Bridge Towers" that are built directly over the I-95 highway in northern Manhattan. [This image from Weiss/Manfredi. All other images are mine.] Our site...


  • Flatland: an installation at Gund Hall by Casey Hughes with Hiroshi Jacobs

    Hi Archinect! Like most schools of architecture, the GSD has a tradition of students installing projects in and around the building. Some of these last longer than others, and some are better thought-out and executed than others. Some are not installations at all, but just crumbling pieces of...


  • Weiss/Manfredi studio at the BMW Guggenheim Lab

    Hi Archinect, Just a quick note to say that my studio, led by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, will be running a workshop on "Evolutionary Infrastructure: An Unfinished Utopia" at the BMW Guggenheim Lab this Friday, September 23, from 3 to 5 pm. If you're in New York and have a moment to stop...


  • Live Blog: Janette Sadik-Khan, Comissioner of NYC Department of Trasportation

    Hi Archinect,Janette Sadik-Khan, the New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner, is speaking in Piper as part of the 'Roadmap to Sustainable Infrastructures & Green Cities Conference.' [Photo from Esquire.com] 6:38: It's a pretty full house in Piper tonight. Sadik-Khan is as...


  • Live Blog: Naginski, Jarzombek, Savage, and Wodiczko on Memory, Vision, and Practice

    Hi Archinect! Live-blogging tonight from Piper Auditorium, where we somewhat inexplicably (and to my endless fascination) have a new gold lamé curtain. Krzysztof Wodiczko, Erika Naginski, Mark Jarzombek, and Kirk Savage are talking in an event marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The...


  • Tennis, not architecture.

    Hi Archinect! This post is as advertised. "Site visit" on Saturday, September 3, 2011 to our site from last semester's studio project--Flushing Meadows. [I was crouched in the bushes like a pervert to take this photo. Tennis fans, you know that I know that you know who this is.] Now I'm back at my...


  • Schmancy new website for the GSD

    Hello Archinect! Just a quick note to say that it looks like the GSD's new website, which has been in the works for the past few years, is live! I haven't even looked through it yet, but you can check it out here. The site is designed by Lisa Strausfeld's team at Pentagram. Thanks for looking!...


  • Arigatou gozaimasu, Mohsen-sama!

    Hello Archinect!!! I was very happy to wake up to this email from Dean Mostafavi this morning:Dear Students, Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to this semester’s Paris studio offering, we have made plans to continue the Study Abroad Program in Tokyo for the Spring 2012 term. Toyo...


  • Gund Hall is Naked

    Hello Archinect! Like everyone else who's heading back to school this fall, I'm not yet prepared to let go of summer. There are so many things I wanted to do but haven't yet done! I just need a bit more time. I'm not ready yet! Apparently, Gund Hall feels the same way: The GSD's 75th anniversary...


  • Slow summer...slummer

    Hello Archinect, All good things must come to an end. This summer, for me, has brought a little bit of work and a lot of rest, with plenty of time to rehab my ankle, to catch up with friends, and to neurotically develop and re-develop my five-year plan reconnect with what really matters to me...


  • The long road

    Hi Archinect! You may have seen from an earlier post that I broke my ankle at the end of May. Here is an update on my recovery, and also my first Archinect video blog! Thanks for watching, Lian



  • On Loyalties Divided (re: sacking of Michael Jemtrud at McGill)

    Hello Archinect, This past Thursday, Michael Jemtrud was forced to resign as Director of McGill University School of Architecture. My response to this news is not unbiased. It is entirely biased because this is entirely personal. I want to tell you why this, for me, is the only possible response...


  • things of unusual beauty (x rays of my broken bones)

    Hello Archinect! So, I had a bicycle accident almost three weeks ago now, in which I broke three bones and dislocated my tibia. Yesterday I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and got copies of my x-rays and the radiologist's descriptions of them. Here is...


  • Live Blog: Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron

    Hello Archinect! Live-Blogging Herzog and de Meuron's lecture at the GSD this afternoon, after their directed thesis studio had their final reviews. Introduction by Dean Mohsen Mostafavi. 4:08 pm: JH: I don't believe in books on architecture; they're bound to fail and disappear even sooner than...


  • Korean Dance-Off and Cory Booker

    Hello Archinect! Korea GSD hosts one of the very best Beer and Dogs* events of the year because they prepare Korean food and a dance performance. This year, the Graduate School of Education (GSE) also sent a group to perform. The GSE team. I wish I could dance. The GSD team. They did us proud...


  • In which I question David Brooks on his support of the GOP budget. Read Brooks' reply.

    Hi Archinect! David Brooks, conservative columnist for the New York Times, spoke at the GSD this evening as part of the Kennedy School's 'Science and Democracy' series. The talk was called “Politics, the Brain, & Human Nature,” and covered many of the talking points from Brooks'...


  • Letter from "Harvard Design School" re: Ai Weiwei

    Hello Archinect! Thanks for looking. Lian


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About this Blog

Lectures and exhibitions, news and events, now primarily from the Bay Area! Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in many cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts.

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