Written by Bob Yori.
Sessions were grouped into six sub-themes. The first of which, entitled Craft and Design, began with the speakers addressing the notions of each. James Carpenter, Klaus Bollinger, Scott Marble, and Branko Kolarevic each presented their positions. I was unmoved by any of them, probably because I couldn’t hear them from the traffic jam we were sitting in on I-95. We did, however, manage to make it in time for Kevin Rotheroe’s response, as well as the Q&A session that followed.
The Q&A session reinforced themes that many of us have heard before: the manifesto to reintegrate the notion of material knowledge, creation of new materials, exploration of contemporary material limits, etc. Ensuing dialogue addressed the need to “own” risk to take control of the design process once again.
What isn’t heard as often is a discussion of the reinterpretation of craft itself. Phil Bernstein and Paul Seletsky both posed questions about it. Phil asked what happens when the tools are used in a way to evaluate something beyond form, and Paul gave an example of some of the work being done at SOM (disclosure: I work at SOM with Paul). Their line of questioning was prescient, as we would learn on Sunday when John Nastasi presented his work in developing a program at the Stevens Institute of Technology. More on that later.
The evening continued with Kenneth Frampton giving his keynote address, entitled “Intention, Craft, and Reality in Contemporary Architectural Form.” Basically, what he said, was that there wasn’t any. He often cited Renzo Piano’s Building workshop as an exemplary firm, and praised the “no-name” architects that “one doesn’t remember, because big names take up all the space.” I point out that he failed to mention any of the architects so deserving and so denied of that very recognition in favor of talking about Renzo, Rogers, Corbusier, and Mies.
Lobbing verbal incendiaries such as “formalistic obsessiveness” and “promethean technoscience”, he felt that architecture’s anachronism is its virtue. He proceeded to critically ravage firms such as SHoP, in that they dare merge design, fabrication, and development. The ‘classic’ notion of architecture being the “gentleman’s profession” (also alluded to later by Reinhold Martin) was upheld in his criticism of Greg Pasquarelli’s desire to “want a piece of the action” when it came to development. I wonder if Dean Stern’s office doesn’t have a piece of his new 15 Central Park West development going up right now? I don’t say that as accusatory, I simply wonder why it’s considered to be an immoral act of sorts by Mr. Frampton. Several friends of mine had a discussion about this when the Central Park West building was first going up some months ago. We thought it would have been only natural for Mr. Stern to negotiate it into his agreement with the developers.
After riling the crowd, Frampton left town, under the legitimate excuse of having to attend Columbia’s 250th birthday festivities. We were all left to mill about the “Some Assembly Required” exhibit in the school’s gallery and react to all that he had offered in his keynote.
I quite enjoyed the exhibit, as it focused on the current trends in prefabricated housing, and this is a hobby of sorts. If you want to see a catalog of the exhibit, your best bet is to pick up this month’s issue of Dwell Magazine. With some notable exceptions, most of what’s in this month’s issue was on the walls (and podiums) in the gallery. Steven Holl’s Turbulence House, works by Pinc House, and Alchemy Architect’s WeeHouse aren’t in the magazine. I was particularly struck by Pinc House’s work – perhaps because I hadn’t seen it before, perhaps because it began to broaden the aesthetics of modern prefab housing. Dean Stern observed later in the symposium that he felt all the current prefab housing looks alike. While there’s quite a lot of truth to that, Pinc House begins to combine traditional forms and points of inspiration to the body of work.