Better than Worst

Better than Worst
Better than Worst
Better than Worst
Better than Worst
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Critique of Ron Witte’s 'LOOP' building, as presented at the home of Pollari-Somol. + memories of the star-chitect napkin auction at SCI-Arc.

Transcript of Better than Worst

  • Working 9-5, at...

    WA/SA, Aloha8, and Working 9 to 5, at...

    are fictions of fen-om:[]

    WA/SA[waldrip architects/ s.a.][architecture- los angeles]

    The worst architecture in the world, I think. Is one allowed to say that? It was presented at one of A+UDs lectures for the current academic quarter (and comes bundled with an exhibit that will over-exalt this and more over the course of 46 days). Via Denari-esque introduction, the project was presented as systemic (affecting the entire system, rather than a single part). And there was something of the continuous supple movement in this definition. But the difference

    between what was here being defined as synthesizing and continuous, seems different from my own expectation (different in the same sense that Sanford Quinters writings at one time seem to advocate the disjunction of multiple and co-existing elements, and at another allow for encroaching soft tyrannies, an intimate and necessary complement to the so-called advances being prepared for us.) Systemic, like any other adjective, is a matter of interpretation. The following description, printed last year by the Mercury News (San Jose, CA), echoed at the A+UD review, is a good starting point to grasp at the raison dtre of the project:

    The ribbons of laminated glass have a constrained, almost mannered, mechanical regularity about them The terrazzo-like panels have the smooth sheen and manufactured proportions of sheets of Formica

    If the project does not seem to blend, to coalesce, to synthesize in a continuum, it is because it has no intent to do so. There is a purpose to the constraint, the distance, the artificiality. A metropolitan purpose that looks back to the mid-70s, before the explosion of deconstruction, before phenomenology, the theatrical-literary, or the historical-imaginary. A fragmented purpose already well exposed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (Rem Koolhaas), based on ambivalent life in the metropolis:

    In metropolitan contexts such as the high-rise, the vast urban grid and the elevator couple to produce previously unimaginable experiential effects (eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the 9th floor) This machine (the grid-elevator-skyscraper combination) came into being without a single architects intention It is an avant-garde without a manifesto, which must then be written retroactively [K. Michael Hays; Architecture Theory since 1968; 2000]

    The 1970s (1977, actually) were not only the time of Koolhaas Life in the Metropolis (full of floors that are not allowed to interact with each other in order to maintain

    Alberti, SandroBetter than Worst; 7 November, 2004 [text43]

    The basic diagram works, especially when inhabited.

  • hermetic fantasies), but also of other restricted interpretations on the relationship between vertical and horizontal. The Dynamics of Architectural Form (Rudolph Arnheim; 1977), now a classic, discredits volumetric conceptualization as being too difficult, and proposes that the plan has a completeness that no upright section can boast (it covers the total range of the space in which man moves, [and] shows a buildings particular place in the environment) The absent 3rd dimension is not experienced as a missing component. This might be true in a world (a time?; before 2004) where men are not allowed to climb or burrow (and women are not allowed at all), and people cannot utilize volumetric representations to perceive contextual relationships. It is fragmentary and isolating thoughts that lead to certain architecture (and the reason why it might be ill-classified).

    The architecture in question, exemplified by a project titled LOOP, is not Mr. Denaris, by the way. Although it looks like Denaris (toppled over onto the XY plane), it is Ron Wittes (Witte-Whiting Architects): the new School of Art and Design at San Jose State University. Where Denaris forms, as is known, fold up and down, Ron Wittes fold sideways. What happens when this seemingly-simple change is enacted? (apart from being called systemic; when the folds shift orientation) It seems that, in both cases, the resultant spaces are simultaneously figural and relational. In the original case, vertical and horizontal are connected, spaces flow into each other, and there is the opportunity to slip horizontally. Wittes spaces, however, would be left crippled, flattened, exposed on top Spaces do flow into each other, but all the play occurs upright, separate from the horizontal; and any real opportunity of vertical slippage is kept in check by flat floor-ceiling plates (a tell-tale image is an interior perspective of the LOOP, where, even though our vision is allowed to puncture through all of the layers, it is only to bring renewed emphasis to these same stepping strata, and to the greater delight of a kinetic Calder-mobile). If Witte beseeches us to believe that the project highlights in-between space, we can only return to all of the aforementioned. There is little opportunity for in-between in this project (except to make it terribly obvious when one has transitioned, either between floors or between inside and outside; both tweening experiences are truncated by the imposing floor plates; in vertical directions, most spaces are simply mis-aligned at the plate line, and when exiting, well, you definitely will know it, when the ceiling suddenly ends).

    Quoted from the official project description:Historically, architecture has always controlled geometry, using it to define forms and functions. In LOOP, geometry has been let loose to bounce, ricochet, and slide its way through space, coalescing and releasing relationships among forms, functions, and people

    The bad historical example provided at the lecture (already victimized by a Witte-Whiting Massachusetts residence) was the malcontent Italian Villa (traditional determinate scapegoat). And the good, indeterminate example would be Berlins Neue National Galerie (which makes sense when Miesian reflections and extensions are approached as Stan Allen has in his book titled Practice, or Robin Evans in one of his compiled essays, but not when it is a determinate plan-based approach that is extracted from Mies van der Rohes architecture). The LOOP bounces, ricochets, and slides, but only on flat horizontal planes. And, as Jos Quetglas once text-expressed fully, the imposition of planes builds a segregated and enclosed space where every inhabitant will be excluded. Ron Witte remains unimpressed by any precedent. He extols the virtues of a plan-based architectural approach. He considers that program is founded on plates Program resides really well on plates

    Denaris Massey Residence folds on XZ or YZ.

    The LOOP and its context, determined from 3d.

    Notice how the building spills out.

  • [The] circulation connects with the existing art building at several points Well, yes, because the building is just the same old box (see all the sections and elevations).

    On the ground floor, the ribbons escape, forming overlapping landscapes of outdoor spacesEven here, at the climax of release, one does not feel a sense of escape. Even without a ceiling plate at hand, the ribbons continue to support the field.

    The moving dots on Ron Wittes video projections were nice; entities circulating through his architectural plans. A bit of Pacman, a bit of tech. I think Ill apply something similar to forthcoming interactive design.

    A week or two later, SCI-Arc hosted its fourth Main Event, auctioning off star-architect napkin sketches. I seem to remember one in the past, when I had visited Dagmar Richter, back in the day when there was a Form Zero bookstore (see Fluid Types). It was next door to the SCI-Arc epicenter (the bookstore and the incident), where that particular Event had been heavily publicized. A memory formed, then, a combinatory of the latest Richter project (Strategic Landscapes) and horizontal SCI-Arc publicity imagery (maybe they were actually subtractive in effect, because the recollection is merely one of addictive-nostalgia for SoCal swimming pools and garden parties). And garden party is also the operative term to describe the first one of these I ever attended (back in 1997, starchitect chairs would be auctioned at the garden of Schindlers Kings Road house, pro-UCLA). And this is why I was so excited to attend Main Event IV, the dreamy expectation of a Southern California garden-party something. But, just like the Thursday Night Things (held by the MCA- San Diego), my confused and hyperactive dreams only lead to disappointment when reality is confronted. In the case of San Diego, after years of trying, I now have finally managed to sneak into town (that town) on the Thursdays in question, only, inevitably, to take a look at pictures from the previous gathering and decide that it will be 90% empty, shallow, overbearing. Back in LA, for me, it was just about getting a nice sketch. I love collecting these things. And there would be (was) Corzo tequila being served (they had the same leechee elixir that had premiered earlier, Mexican Independence, at the UCLA Hammer). And so it was good to pass time, and make a study of it.

    Empty: Of the thirty-something sketches being auctioned, people barely bid on half. Of the 100+ people there, only a dozen of us were bidding on anything. Shallow: Two very different attractors were at play: craft and fame (we loved those pieces that had a strong sense of craft and authorship, but we would first and second wonder: how famous is this author?; I myself focused on a beautifully crafted piece by Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, and was happy to pump the price up beyond the mediocrity of many other secondary pieces, but when it came to a similar price opportunity, I opted for the queen, an Eric-Owen-Moss 3d-napkin).Overbearing: It was a delight to snatch the Queens Museum o