In architecture, the 20th century in America was the era of the suburban tract house, the anonymous office tower, the strip mall, and the big box store. Crank ‘em out, rake it in. Though today we’re moving back to city centers in droves, the big-box typology in particular remains as powerful as ever—even in the age of Amazon, one-stop discount shopping flanked by ample parking remains among the most fortuitous retail innovations of all time. From the explosive growth of companies like K-Mart in the 1960s, it didn’t take long before the US—and later most every industrialized country—was covered with them. By the 1970s, though, it had become abundantly clear that these non-places were a scourge on the urban landscape and an affront to intangibles like beauty, urban vibrancy, and quality of life.
Architect Bernard Tschumi lectures at Carnegie Lecture Hall, Oakland, on Friday, February 27. Organized by the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University and co-sponsored by the Heinz Architectural Center at Carnegie Museum of Art, Tschumi’s lecture promises to be a stimulating presentation of work in the forefront of architectural culture.
Bernard Tschumi is today perhaps best known for his New Acropolis Museum, completed in 2009 close to the historic Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Born and educated in Switzerland, Tschumi is truly a transatlantic architect, operating his practice from offices in Paris and New York. Here at the Heinz Architectural Center, we are lucky to have four drawings or montages from Tschumi’s early Manhattan Transcripts series, a theoretical project from the late 1970s in which architecture is defined as much by event or narrative as by traditional building form.
This is a love story about two women looking for the right match. For months, Pittsburgh artists Joey Behrens and Haylee Ebersole have been on the hunt for a commercial building they could transform into an artist residency and home. It is an ambitious plan fraught with bureaucratic and financial hurdles. Considering the guts and gumption of these two protagonists, this story is worth hearing from the beginning.
Artistic dreams that trump the nightmare of bureaucratic and financial obstacles are infectious and inspiring. There are many interesting and quirky success stories in Pittsburgh to emulate, starting with Jennifer Beals’s industrial-sized single gal apartment and rehearsal space in Flashdance (1983). Haylee Ebersole’s former studio was located in the Mine Factory, an art collective and exhibition space housed in a 4,000 square foot former mine safety equipment factory in the Homewood/North Point Breeze area. The Mine Factory opened last year after a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, a cultural phenomenon that in the last half decade has offered ebullient hope for making pie-in-the-sky projects a reality. Brick and mortar banks now seem imposing, old fashioned, and sluggish by comparison.
Piers Gough is an eminently English architect responsible for many witty, eclectic buildings across the UK. Based in London, he designed Maggie’s Nottingham, completed in 2011, in collaboration with fashion designer Paul Smith and landscape practice Envert. Raised above the ground, this vivid green pavilion with four oval facades is included in Maggie’s Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care on view in the Heinz Architectural Center, Carnegie Museum of Art through January 5.
In 1975, as Swinging London morphed into the home of punk and New Wave, Gough formed the practice now known as CZWG (the G is for Gough). He had studied at London’s Architectural Association where he first met historian Charles Jencks and his wife Maggie Keswick. Early projects such as offices for Time Out offset existing built fabric with new Pop aesthetics. In the 1980s, CZWG were pioneers in London’s former docklands with eye-catching residential projects like China Wharf, with its signature red façade, and Circle with its distinctive cobalt blue gables. For many a favorite CZWG building is the triangular, celadon-tiled pavilion accommodating a florist’s kiosk and a public lavatory in tony Notting Hill.
Maggie Keswick’s personal experience with cancer led to the founding of Maggie’s Centres in Edinburgh now two decades ago. Of Scottish origin, the Keswick family has been involved in trading and business ventures in Southeast Asia since the mid-nineteenth century. Raised in both Britain and Hong Kong, where her father was chairman of Jardine Matheson, Maggie was one of those rare Europeans able to visit the historic sites of mainland China after the rise of communism.
This hybrid and privileged background informs the wonderful book that brought Maggie Keswick to the attention of architects, historians, and landscape enthusiasts in the late 1970s. The Chinese Garden was for many a revelatory exploration of the landscapes and pleasure grounds constructed across China for emperors and traders, traditions that are millennia-old yet then little known in the West. “Like the plans of Gothic cathedrals,” Maggie wrote in her preface, “Chinese gardens are cosmic diagrams, revealing a profound and ancient view of the world, and of man’s place in it.”