02 May 2013

Takaharu Tezuka: Notes from Memory

Last Sunday, 28 April 2013, I met with the Tokyo architect Takaharu Tezuka, one-half of a partnership with his wife, Yui Tezuka. They practice as Tezuka Architects in the Todoroki area in Setagaya, across the road from a Buddhist temple and park, Todoroki-Fudoson. These are notes from memory of my conversation, so they are ordered as things came back to me.

Tezuka used the phrase "nostalgic future," which means trying to get what we could get as human beings as opposed to imagining that the future will continue to be mainly about technology. Mentions "Brush," an iPad app, and shows me sketches and drawings. ("Tezuka Transfer" as a title for a TraceSF.com article.) 

Scale isn't an issue. Interest in wood, but integration of the newest technologies. (Example - indoor/outdoor exhibit space with inverted crocheted sculpture.) 

Primary school with circular roof: theory of no boundaries = no hierarchies. (Looking at apes.) Slight pitch makes children run naturally. Diagram of the running boy. Kept trees - nets to keep children safe. 

Wood play structure (separate project) designed to encourage risk-taking.

Highrise tower with outdoor space "cut out."

Opening of TraceSF.com article: When I left off (Japan Society conference: roof house and snow museum).

Work in Istanbul: "farmhouse/barn" on a huge site for a wealth client (Bono at the birthday party). 

Kindergarten at Buddhist monastery in tsunami zone - a tsunami every 400 years, replant the trees to provide wood for the next time, to rebuild. Government intervened, harvesting the trees, but temple was able to save its trees. Analyzed the grain to ensure the trees would reshape correctly as they dried, as usually they're dried for 10 years, but no time. Attracted master builders, carpenters, from all over Japan who considered it an honor to work on the project - simple, almost Miesian scheme with deep overhangs.

Mountainside outdoor exhibit space designed on the computer to work out the loads and stresses. Fitted together with joinery. 

Tezuka is from an old ceramics/porcelain family in Kyushu. Had a branch in San Francisco in the 1870s, traded with China and Europe. Grandfather fled Japan with his young wife - an unarranged marriage - for Dallas, then lives in Shanghai, in the silk business. Kept in contact with people in his Shanghai neighborhood, so Tezuka found an old woman who remembered him, had letters and photos.

Tezuka is restoring the house of Reischauer's concubine in Tokyo. 

Round-roof school: Ambient noise is important - sounds in the vicinity help students concentrate. Easier to do so than in a quiet space. (Wouldn't this apply to the workplace, also? Counter-theory to demand for "quiet.") Signal/noise: children hear much higher frequencies, but our brains hear what they need to hear. Played a concert film, making a sound of which he was unaware when actually listening, because his brain excluded it - becomes "noise," that is, background. (Drawings of the school and film.)

Fujinori or Fujimore is the architect who designed Hashimoto's teahouse.

Highrise with cut-out spaces for recreation and for refuge in an earthquake.

Tezuka is a graduate of Penn, 49 years old, with a daughter, 10, and a son. He and his wife had the daughter with them in New York during the Japan Society conference. 

Old people's revival: Big percentage of old people in Japan are bedridden because of muscle loss. Tezuka is working on an assisted living program that rehabilitates through protein, amino acid, and weight training. 

Kindergarten "ring" is designed with a low height - 2.5 meters - between the roof and the ground. By regulation, it should be 3 meters. The school has changed the standard. Voted the best school in an OECD competition in which the schools are nominated by different countries. 

Illustrations: kids running on the school roof; trees lining entry road to Buddhist temple; overhang photo of tsunami kindergarten.

Mentioned that regular incandescent lights that children/people can turn on and off are more energy efficient than LED and fluorescent lights because the latter accustomize people to a higher lumen standard and are left on longer, since people believe they're more efficient.

07 April 2013


My efforts to write fiction have produced some interesting beginnings. I've thought of collecting them, because each points to a world that might yet unfold. One draws on the diary and papers of an overseas Chinese from Vietnam who ends up in the suburbs of New York City. He's "Mad Men" vintage, like my father. Another is placed in the 2600s - the Berkeley of the 2600s, which I foresee as an outpost of the global matriarchy, not without its enemies. Another is set in Christiana, as Oslo was known, in the early 20th century. A fourth charts two characters from medieval Japan who travel through time, changing sex but maintaining a complicated relationship.

Fiction is a different animal than whatever it is I write more readily. (Figuring that out is a question in itself, but "short, polemical or ruminative essays" best describes my path of least resistance.) Oddly, the beginnings of fiction come quickly, but then I'm unsure where to go next. I can picture the world visually, which is a clue perhaps that I should proceed "as in film." (Someone once described my poems as "filmic.")

Poems are the other thing I write fairly readily, especially when I keep to a form, like sonnets. I used to write poems only when they appeared, but poetic structure prompts them, I find.

The "pic-collage" below, as the artist Karen LeGault called others like it, is something new, the result of "sketching" on the iPad on which I'm writing this. The iPad has a bit of the quality of my old Olivetti - less formal than even a laptop. (Usually I write a text separately and then put it into the blog "machinery," but today, I'm writing this firsthand, using the Blogger app.) When I finished this three-tower image, it reminded me of "Embassytown," a science-fiction novel by China Mieville that I read recently - the first science fiction I'd read in decades. The book pulled me in, but it bogs down when the action lands in the city itself, an outpost of empire, and shifts gears, laboring to make certain points about language that Mieville must have found interesting. That bogging down is the problem with fiction. It's partly the apparent need to fill the requisite space.

The writers I admire, like Robert Musil and Witold Gombrowicz (among current ones I'm reading), build up their great works from remarkable parts that cohere memorably as one reads. I pick them up and put them down, the reading of them stretching out over years, like a friendship that's mercifully unbounded by time and space.

25 March 2013

Bay Area Design Mags: A Personal History

Princeton Architectural Press's collection of Pamphlet Architecture 1-10.
When I first arrived in the Bay Area, local followers of Guy de Bord and Raoul Vaneigem, theorists of the May 1968 movement in Paris, were selling translations of their books and handing out small Situationiste pamphlets on the streets. Using doctored comic art, these booklets lampooned the work ethic of the postwar era. Pamphlet Architecture, started by Steve Holl, Bill Stout, and William Zimmermann, may owe something to these political one-offs. While it wasn’t strictly speaking a magazine, the Pamphlet Architecture series—rooted in San Francisco and New York—spoke immediately to a bicoastal audience.

Archetype issue on "The Presence of the Past."
Archetype, started by Andrew Batey, Henry Bowles, Diane Ghirardo, and Mark Mack in the late 1970s, redefined this audience as also including Asia and Europe. At the time, Sunset magazine’s Western Home Awards were still taken seriously in some quarters. One reason for Archetype was to draw attention to a new generation of Bay Area architects with wider horizons. It signaled a break with a Bay Regionalism that was seen as stale and defensively provincial.

In this same era, Concrete was launched at UC Berkeley's CED by Richard Ingersoll and others. It had two incarnations, starting up again in 10 years later. When I was in Eindhoven in 1977, an issue that included a debate between Chris Alexander and Jean-Pierre Protzen was passed from hand to hand by my colleagues, a big deal for Alexander's numerous Dutch fans. I was struck by its distant influence, proof that good copy, especially if viewed as coming from the source, will find an audience. 

DBR's "Orientalism" issue.
In the early 1980s, Oppositions and Skyline started in New York, Arts+ Architecture was revived in LA, and Elizabeth L. Snowden and I started Design Book Review with Richard Ingersoll as editor. Amazingly, DBR outlived all three, remaining in print until 2002. As the internecine warfare in NYC grew more bitter, our cottage-industry image, and Richard’s prescience as an editor, kept us out of the fray. He and our managing editor, Cathy Lang Ho, took on topics like “gender” and constantly experimented with virtual symposia and other innovations. Cathy's shepherding of the "Other Americas" issue, guest edited by John Loomis, won DBR a national award from the AIA. She also oversaw the "Humanism" and "Anti-Humanism" issues in which Liane Lefaivre and Alexander Tzonis were involved. 

DBR was co-published in the 1990s by MIT Press, an arrangement which ended badly. Laurie Snowden and I gave it to California College of the Arts, CCA, in 1999. With Bill Littman as managing editor and Mitchell Schwarzer, Barry Katz, and John Loomis as editors, CCA published three more issues (for a total of 35). A "California" issue edited by Loomis was in preparation when then-CCA President Michael Roth pulled the plug, saying that it had outlived its usefulness. Not his project was my take, but at the time it was also probably more money to run than CCA could afford.

I learned from publishing DBR that quality matters more in the long run than quantity, and that independence is preferable to dependence. These lessons are contradicted, of course, by Places, which Donlyn Lyndon and other started at CED around the same time as DBR.  

Place's "Future of Metropolitan Landscape" issue.
Places was initially an academic journal, with contributions reviewed by anonymous readers. Converted convincingly as a blog journal by Nancy Levinson, it has kept some that apparatus and a coterie of academic sponsors. Tied now to Design Observer and its family of blogs, it's arguably the one online design journal that counts with academic writers. (Places followed Landscape, a terrific journal founded in 1961 and initially edited by the notable landscape writer J.B. Jackson, and edited by Bonnie Loyd when DBR started.)

A still-extant journal that resembles DBR closely in spirit is Arcade, the Seattle quarterly. Although it has a different focus—more specifically regional—Arcade has always been really well done. Detached fromthe profession, academia, and single-issue non-profits, it’s still in print. Like Places, but unlike DBR, Arcade has a fundraising arm. It also enjoys significant local support—financial and otherwise—in part because it hosts numerous live events for the Seattle design community. Its readership is correspondingly local and regional, but the magazine itself is not the least bit insular.

Professional Publications
The profession in the Bay Area and California began publishing, too, in the 1980s. Architecture California began unpromisingly until Tim Culvahouse took it over and turned into arcCA. AIA/SF started a print magazine, Bay Architects’ Review, in this period, led by the San Francisco architect Michael Stanton, but couldn’t sustain it. 

LINE's parking issue, edited by Yosh Asato.
In the late 1990s, AIA/SF launched another magazine, _line, with Yosh Asato, Eric Fang, and Bryant Rice as the moving force. The dotcom crash led Asato, Kenneth Caldwell, Sharon Tucker, and me to move to _line online. With no printing costs, the editors started a real magazine. Several issues, including Asato’s on parking and Caldwell's on social architecture, drew a wider audience and re-posts and reprints by others

Prompted by a lack of local criticism of a questionable set of condo towers proposed for SF's Rincon district, _line hired  Canadian critic Trevor Boddy to review them. Its forays into criticism led to conflicts with the chapter board, especially after the architect of the towers, Jeffrey Heller, complained. (He argued that since the members' dues paid for _line, it shouldn't criticize them.) While _line survived, even winning a chapter award, the chapter declined to pay to convert to a blog. (It also apparently failed to pay the hosting site, so the _line archive is gone.)

Three of _line's editors—Asato, Mallory Cusenbery, and metook the initial lead in developing TraceSF. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it was and what it would do. A site concept was designed, but then the world of blogs blew wide open: WordPress released a new generation of templates that were more compelling and a lot more flexible. Yuki Bowman and Brad Leibin joined Asato and Parman as founding editors and, with Brooklyn-based web developer Jonathan Butterick, gave TraceSF a new look using WordPress's Tanzaku template.

TraceSF, designed by Jonathan Butterick.

We wanted to do a blog journal for several reasons. One, ironically, was to cover local events in a more timely way. (We sometimes do, but more often don’t.) We were impressed by what Nancy Levinson did with Places, but were quite sure we couldn't replicate her full-time involvement with it. We thought about possible sponsors, including SPUR, but concluded they had their own fish to fry. (I’ve been impressed by the efforts of Allison Arieff and Julie Kim to remake SPUR’s newsletter as a print magazine, The Urbanist, but sense that SPUR's real focus is advocacy rather than criticism—a bias shared by AIA/SF. One of the oddities of San Francisco is that, despite a culture of "popular opposition" that sees Hayes Valley neighbors battling a new Starbucks, for example, there's a reluctance to engage in criticism. The closest organizations like SPUR get to it is to sponsor debates. The aim tends to be "balance" and "giving both sides a voice." This works up to a point, but breaks down when the issue in question—the Saltworks project in Redwood City is an example—is egregious but involves actors [like Peter Calthorpe in that instance] whose ties to the organization rule out the kind of criticism that would make a difference.)

The leisurely pace of TraceSF reflects the time demands on the people involved, yet, five quarters after its launch, it’s visibly taking shape. It uses its Bay Area focus as the platform for a wider view. Independent, it doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Although deliberately open to different voices and viewpoints, it’s not open source—the editors are pretty involved, which works against speed but ensures the quality of what appears. Slow has its own connotations, the opposite of the fast that’s seen as the hallmark of the digital world. TraceSF.com is slow in that sense, too.

19 February 2013

Studio One Raw Notes

Evening Session

Raw notes from the Studio One Symposium 2013, held at Wurster Hall, College of Environmental Design (CED) on 1-2 February 2013. Studio One is a year-long interdisciplinary, experimental, and post-professional (i.e., post-M.Arch.) design studio. The theme, set out by Ronald Rael, who runs the studio and introduced the program, is the necessary dialogue of craft and technology in design.

Meejin Yoon (Boston architect in practice on her own and with her partner, Eric Höweler; also teaches at MIT). Her work, which ranges in scale from a pop-up library to the linking up of a megalopolis, is remarkable for its willingness to explore and equally to simplify and make workable what could otherwise appear complex and impractical - without losing anything in the process.  Yoon is more interested and directly engaged in craft - including the actual making as well as guiding that process - than many architects.  Some notes: Yoon: "Make a work so clear you can't screw it up." A project she did called "Shareway," a "movement commons" (my phrase) linking up the BosWash corridor, sparked the quote, "Freedom from ownership" (because you don't need to own a car, bike, etc.) She showed a Japanese clothing pattern, cited by Bernard Rudofsky, which I'd like to post, but can't find - an example of their characteristic economy of means, applied in two and three dimensions. Respondent (Nicholas de Monchaux, who teaches at the CED): quotes Walter Benjamin and cites the religious philosopher James Carse, author of Finite and Infinite Games. He refers to a Benjamin essay on "the nature of a work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction." Another quote: "Architecture is only ever experienced in a state of distraction." James Carse, he said, pointed past our zero-sum games, which we seem to be losing, toward something more open-ended, like play. (Carse’s book is called Finite & Infinite Games.) 

Morning Session

Mike Silver (Pamphlet Architecture #19 author, digital fabricator and robotics, fellow at Ball State University and with Rafael Vinoly): The aerospace industry is the go-to source on composites, which are strong in one direction (the direction of the fibers), weak in the other. Working with plane manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft and Vinoly, he patented a new high-strength, long-span composite truss. His interest is in developing low-cost tooling and then mass-customizing it, so composite components can be cost-competitive with steel and concrete. He's also interested in the next-gen robotics discourse. He cited a critique of robotics that Bill Gates wrote for Scientific American, bemoaning the field's primitive state. He's interested in robots' transfer to domestic space and their role in lifestyle transformation relative to town planning. This led to ABRAMS - automated building moving machines, a response to the US RV community, which has the same number of people as Chicago. Could robots move them around? He showed a prototype of one. He referenced a real-time air-quality model in Albuquerque and Bill Dietz's related work on artificial intelligence at the University of Tennessee. Respondent (Michael Swain, inventor, designer, and artist): The first use of robot was in Karel Capek's 1921 play RUR, playing on the word robota, "labor you're forced to give back" or "forced drudgery." His brother Joseph Capek coined the word in 1908. RUR is published by Penguin. 

Jimenez Lai (graduate of the University of Toronto, assistant professor, University of Illinois, Chicago, author of the graphic novel, Citizens of No Place, published by Princeton Architectural Press, principal of Bureau Spectacular): Felt there's a misunderstanding of "experimental," "paper," or "avant-garde" architecture. Question for him is, "How do I go about being not normal?" Architectural effects can't be translated and aren't scalable, so he explores them in other realities such as spaceships - for example, a kind of Noah's Ark in space, in which he showed gravity being turned on and off (as an exercise) and two men arguing for the relative advantages of plan and section. (The section advocate argues that when cities are extruded plans, they're less interesting than the forms that result from sectional analyses.) This led to a work, "White Elephant," that's hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and can tumble like a jack. It's also a "third object" that's almost too big for the room it occupies - not furniture, but not architecture, either. He calls it "super-furniture." Another vignette from Citizens of No Place has a developer proposing that a young man live in the penthouse of a tower, rising from the entirety of Central Park, that goes to the limit of atmosphere (7.6 miles) and can house 87 million people. The penthouse is above the limit. Like the young man on his return, Lai is interested in projects that serve as "obsession accelerators" - "I hope one day, when architecture winks back at me, that I made a nice journey." Respondent (Irene Cheng of Cheng & Snyder, San Francisco; an historian of utopias who teaches at CCA): Utopias like Corbusier's Radiant City were supplanted in 1978 by Colin Rowe's Collage City, and we've entered an anti-utopian time, with utopia a code word today for socialism. Like Lai, Frederic Jameson explores utopias through the medium of literary science fiction, the traits of which, appearing in Lai's work, include: (1) elements of the fantastic (Lai isn't techno-fetishistic, however; he uses technology as a literary device); (2) highly conventional; (3) self-circling/self-referential, (4) critical (an archeologist from 10,000 years in the future, since to pose a world of the future is also to comment on the present world); (5) have an indeterminate, ambivalent quality, so you don't know if it's freedom or imprisonment. 

Afternoon Session

Andrew Kudless (his firm, Matsys, is based in Oakland; teaches at CCA): Doing projects provides retroactive guidance. "It's the things I do wrong that drive the next project." Topics: (1) craftsmanship, (2) geometric theory, (3) parametric thinking, (4) intensive prototyping, (5) synthetic processes. Craftsmanship is rigorous play: the rules of the game. Geometric theory is a forgotten topic. Parametric thinking has informed his own thinking, removed from tools. His work is a continuum - projects flow into each other. Intensive prototyping: "get something out of the computer." Synthetic processes: honeycomb methodologies, done at the AA in London (Darcy Thompson). An algorithm = an updated process. Parametric thinking = working with parameters, literally. "Voronoi morphologies": Frei Otto: (1) not confined to a fixed topology, (2) think of each cell as a brick. Worked with water balloons for fun. Chrysalis III, Paris: for a Centre Pompidou department, Industrial Perspectives, focused not on things with immediate use, but on the future of making. "My work produces complexity when out of the computer." P-Wall, Columbus, Ohio: Drew on Otto, Candelas, Isler - not a school, but working independently - form, material, and performance considered rigorously. Miguel Fisac (1913-2006) also an example: a church wall using heart and cross motifs. Instead of starting with a preconceived idea about the form, letting the making make the form. Learned through trial and error that he could drape mylar between supports 2" to 8" apart. Shorter or longer, it would fail. (A human is also an elastic skin with a liquid interior.) He didn't like the horizontal span of the Columbus piece. New concrete walls are too acidic for plants to grow. A Spanish materials engineer has developed a more neutral PH concrete that will accept plants right away. First installation revealed major problems: pieces weighed too much, got dirty easily, and showed a horizontal seam. Natural Discourses Initiative (?): printed out in concrete. Roku Wall. Shells: EDES, Portland, OR. Brief from a choreographer/dancer to build an environment: (1) wants to dance in an iceberg, (2) iceberg becomes an airplane, (3) $500 budget. Ant Farm's Clean Air Pad Inflatable Cookbook (available as a DVD) involved $13 in materials. The environment combines iciness with the look of a plane fuselage. (Mentions Sol Le Wit re: improving the look, I believe. See photo below of the completed project..) Catalyst Catenary, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis,"Catalyst Week": designers work for four days, then review. Shells only support themselves when fully erected Heinz Isler: experiments with shells. Shellslow Pavilion, Hong Kong. Anything under three meters doesn't require engineering, he was told. Not true. Respondent (Paz Gutierrez, CED Professor): Relationship of production - how is it materialized through craft? Unpredictability of materials under certain conditions. Revolutionizing materials and craft (?) = Matsys. P-Wall is an example. Finding ways that force growth, allows for the qualities - "negotiation of forces," not defining the script as production. 

Scott Robertson (industrial designer involved in developing concept art for games and films, and also in car and product design; his talk focused on techniques that allow rapid prototyping or visualization): Uses Modo for 3d modeling, foundation of drawing and painting. Uses Vue, which allows him to mirror an image. (Shows how this technique can be used to turn a car into a spaceship - see lower image). Shows how he can layer an image sample, like the front of truck, onto a 3d model of a man to give him a Samurai like suit of armor.) These techniques reverse the usual process: instead of simple to complex, they start with complex and simplify. Mentions a free program (al.chemy.org) - brush, map, render. (Alchemy is an open drawing program.) Mentions Photo Booth and shows the use of its effects, like pinching, to create "alien" heads. Mentions zoom blur ("blurred streaks and lines," per Google) and other techniques. Makes the point that generating new forms quickly and randomly (by sampling objects that don't relate to them, for example) can disrupt the preconceptions of, for example, car designers, who tend through repetitive drawing arrive at the same limited set of forms. Shows how he quickly models a range of shoes using texture binding in Modo. Has a blog (drawthrough.blogpost.com) from which his other sites are linked. Respondent: (Randolph Ruiz, teaches at CCA, founder of AAArchitecture): Asked himself, how does this apply to architecture? Thinking about science fiction, modernism, the urge to reinvent, hacking: in the 1960s, it was Sid Mead (see below) and Archigram; more recently, it's Lebbeus Woods and Neil Denari. Drawing used to be central to architecture. Now it's CAD, not hands. Enter the machine: engineers defined the material culture of the modern era. (Are we cuddling up to the machine?) Automobiles are transcendent, but buildings are not. Macbook (as object): what can be written that's worthy of it? Philip K. Dick: specious realities. We have to ask what's real. Carbon: prefer drawing to talking.

Dwayne Oyler (Oyler Wu Collaborative, Los Angeles, with Jenny Wu): Will talk about work in broad cross-section: how and why. Moved in LA in 2004. Changed his/their outlook to practice. Working with problems over a long period of time. "Muscle memory" - is it good or bad? (Refers to comment by Scott Robertson in his presentation, in reference to car designers getting in a visual rut.) Frei Otto, Enrique Morales, Eero Saarinen, and Gaudi: recognize nuanced architectural effects that come out of their work, how people experienced it, etc. - evident in their work. Focus: line. Evident in their work. Immersing in line, play of light and shadow, and (Jenny Wu) line as a spatial construct. Sometimes the smallest detail - understanding one detail makes the drawing seem convincing. Working within the architectural tradition of projection. (Shows a staircase): line as structural idea (stair is not efficient) [Like the stairs in Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase."] People wanted to touch the work, like an instrument. Line has material behaviors. Use physical models to test simulations. Used to talk about fabrications. On the one hand, don't care about it, except that the work is built incredibly well. As we're building work, there's an intimate relationship that makes the work better - living with the material. So, I do care about craft. Not the "making it" per se, but the intimacy of the relationship. Keep that with bigger projects, too. Build jigs to build the pieces. Bent tubes. Dwell on Design - early piece: line in space, not structural. Work at larger scale in the last 2-3 years changed the way we thought about line. Sci-Arc graduation pavilion: phase 2 involved turning the audience around. Taipei Towers: the city presents a lot of variation, so wanted to capture a variety of textures. [Discussed how a new project devolved into a smaller, temporary one, making a marketing space for the bigger and using an animation to explain how to build its complex volumetric moves.] Respondent (Julia Bryan-Wilson sick, so Ronald Rael responded instead): Discussion of architectural monograph: very few that are highly influential. Culture of technology has changed the idea of the book. Vector toward the library: line has moved into the fourth dimension: second, third, and fourth through representation of the work through video. Challenge: rather than think of it as a body of work - question the monograph as "real" - loose fit - history of line - to a real. In thinking about a collection of work - representation of design work. 

Final Discussion

Q. How do you deal with cost? 

Meejin Yoon: Prototype first, because the cost premium often reflects risk. Show contractors videos or simulated process to help minimize this. 

Q. How do you put yourself into a parametric/digital design process? How do you know you've got what you want? 

Mike Silver: Getting more deeply involved in the making of software. Every school should have a software developer. Becomes the producer of tools. Craft shapes the making of the tools.