skyscraper talk at IIT

October 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

IMG_0770Many thanks to Michelangelo Sabatino, newly installed as director of IIT’s Ph.D. program, for the invite to speak as part of their Cloud Lecture Series yesterday.  A rare thrill, indeed, to talk skyscrapers in the immaculately restored Crown Hall, and a lunch discussion about skyscraper heights with CTBUH’s Antony Wood and Dan Safarik was icing on the cake.

Shameless promotion–as previously noted, I’ll be back in Chicago next week to take part in a discussion about design in Chicago from the 1920s and 1930s at the Art Institute on Tuesday afternoon.  Details here, very much looking forward to that.  Between lectures and weddings, it sort of feels like the Iowa/Chicago thing is a regular commute…happily so.

thomas kelley at isu

October 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

IMG_0725Look now, indeed… Honored to have Thomas Kelley, one of last year’s Rome Prize Fellows in Architecture, come lecture this week at Iowa State.  Thomas’ work with his office, Norman Kelley, is consistently provocative, dealing with the gulf between representation and experience through illusion, allusion, irony, and intentional missteps, among others.  In our all-grad seminar on Tuesday, Kelley talked about the difference between “bad” and “wrong,” noting that the former is irredeemable, while the latter often leads us in to new territory.  Their recent project, Wrong Chairsengages viewers by introducing errors into otherwise easily recognizable Windsor chairs, giving our minds a buzz of discontinuity while we figure out what the problem is with each one.  In other work, drawing itself becomes the material for finding inherent contradictions in the way we represent space on a plane, or the way our mind jumps to regular or perfect patterns when in fact the world presents us with anything but.

Students, of course, ate this up.  But Norman Kelley’s work goes well beyond provocation–Kelley cites references in his work ranging from Aldo Rossi and Sebastian Serlio to Peter Eisenman and John Hejduk.  And these figures are mined both as raw material–student work that blew up line weights in Hejduk’s classic Wall House drawings were transformative and honorific at the same time–and as conceptual inspiration.  Kelley was careful to point out that one can slice a Serlio drawing (digitally, of course…) into pieces for a collage and at the same time engage it to uncover deeper content than lines and patterns.  Paying attention, in other words, rather than mere sampling.

At some point in Rome last year, I mentioned to Thomas that hearing him speak was like watching a street magician who, at the end when you reach into your pocket for a tip, pulls your wallet out of his sleeve and hands it back to you with a smile; the trick you were watching wasn’t, in fact, the piece de resistance, but rather the setup for the real head scratcher.  This week, it felt like the wallet was bursting full when it got handed back…Their forthcoming monograph/manifesto, eyecon, is worth looking for…

‘native modernism’ at the art institute

October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

8_18I’ll be sharing the stage with Robert Bruegmann next month at the Art Institute to discuss Chicago’s most underrated skyscraper period–between the wars, long after the alleged decline of the “Chicago School” but before the arrival of Mies.  As readers know, I think this generation deserves better–the classical and art deco structures of the 1920s and 1930s were often just as technically rigorous and expressive as those of the earlier generation, but the architects of the period were dealt a far different hand in terms of materials and systems.  In an era of electric lighting, powered elevators, riveted construction, and  natural ventilation, the solid skins and pyramidal massing of these towers responded precisely to the palette of materials and the functional desires that inspired and focused skyscraper design and construction.

Sponsored by the Architecture & Design Society of The Art Institute of Chicago and AIA Chicago, the event will take place in Fullerton Hall on Tuesday, 4 November from 6:30-7:30pm.  $10 A&D Society and AIA Chicago members; $15 general public; free to students with a valid ID.  More info here…

arch 603 selfie

October 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Back in Ames in time for field trips to the University’s major performance spaces.  We’re lucky to have a couple of acoustically amazing rooms on campus–the 2700-seat Stephens Auditorium, where the building staff let us wander around for a couple of hours and speak (or sing!) from the stage to hear what a finely tuned space sounds like, and the Martha Ellen Tye Recital Hall, which at 300 seats is less impressive on the inside, but does have a roof that’s part of the tour.  Fun bunch, this..


chicago river tour, nu version

October 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

IMG_0696Some of my best days on the job have involved unusual vehicles.  Helicopters?  Top notch day.  Chicago River tour boat?  Not quite as speedy or as vertigo-inducing, but this was a pretty good day this week.

Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering offers a three-course sequence in architecture for students who want to explore design.  In 2010 I chipped in, helping Larry Booth with a few lectures and desk crits, and they’ve very generously invited me back every year or so to talk about skyscrapers or to sit on reviews. This year, the School offered a two-hour boat tour to its students as a way of highlighting the architecture course, and they asked me to be part of an all-star tour guide team.  That’s structural engineering professor David Corr talking about lift bridges and concrete counterweights there, and we were joined by historian extraordinaire David Van Zanten.  Between the three of us, we covered what we could–the tour flies past given the density of stuff to talk about.

IMG_0691I got to spend a bit of time with students in the architecture program as well.  Prof. Booth is using the Du Sable Park site–the same one my studio at ISU is using this semester–but they’re putting a 200-story tower on it, a suitable scale for engineers.  It’s always interesting to see how the discipline can be approached from a strong technical background.  Usually, we worry about beefing up students technical knowledge without putting the brakes on their creativity or energy.  The challenge in these courses is to get students to think beyond structure and construction, which they’ve done with striking success.

The weather was spectacular, the drive back the next morning included the lunar eclipse and blood moon in the windshield most of the way home, and I’m sure I learned more from the boat tour than I taught anyone…for sure.  Thanks to all involved for a great day out on the water…


big and tall

October 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

posterSo, this is happening…My new position as graduate director is going to keep me from the design studio next term, but I will be teaching a lecture course on Construction History.  Big and Tall will look at the economic, social, and technical contexts of building through history, starting with the ancients and running up to today (or as close as we can get in fifteen weeks).


shameless boosterism…

September 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 9.30.30 AM

Des Moines Municipal Services Center, Neumann Monson (

A great evening last night as I got to host the AIA Iowa’s annual awards banquet and remind myself about just how good things get here.  The local NPR station is running a series this week on how surprising Iowa is to visitors–what, you didn’t know that Des Moines regularly gets ranked as the best city in the country for young professionals?  That Ames and Iowa City both regularly make top five and ten lists for best college towns in the country?  But to those of us who live here, these things are never surprising–the state is a great place to live and work, and the architecture community here isn’t so much small as it is intense.  And the work that gets done here is consistently good, inspired both by place and by the times.

This year’s Honor Award for Design went to Iowa City/Des Moines firm Neumann Monson for their Des Moines Municipal Services Building.  This is a classic Iowa project, a public facility, done on a municipal budget, with no dramatic forms or flying object but instead a simply conceived, well-diagrammed, and immaculately detailed volume that is full of good spaces for people.  It’s facade reminds me (of course) of Nervi’s Palazzo Lavoro, but it’s really just a nicely designed solar screen that Neumann Monson’s designers realized held the potential as a signature for the building and thus for the city.  Marlon Blackwell, the Awards program’s outside juror (also a great speaker and, thank goodness, a good sport about being called upon to spontaneously talk about the winning projects) described it as “resolute” at all three scales he found important–urban, architectural, and that of “the hand.”  Couldn’t agree more.

That building, though, was just one of a number of projects recognized for design excellence and sustainability.  Not to mention three national recognitions this year for Young Architect, CACE Executive, and a COTE award for BNIM’s Iowa Utilities Board, which has proven itself over the first two years of its life as a genuinely efficient building that is also an extraordinary place to work.  Only fitting, too, that BNIM’s Des Moines leader, Rod Kruse, won this year’s state medal of honor.

There is in all of these projects an ethic that may not be uniquely Iowan, but is nevertheless characteristic.  Kruse talked about the state’s architectural forefathers–Chick Herbert in particular–whose careers continue to set the tone here for practice based on a profoundly ethical approach, an attention to detail and to people, and a genuine sense of collaboration.  Walking in to the dinner last night, I realized that even as a peripheral member of the practice community, I knew most of the people in the room one way or another.  ISU is the only architecture program in the state, so our alumni make up a huge percentage of the practice here.  But it’s also true that the profession is profoundly engaged in what we do in Ames, sitting in on reviews, hiring our students, attending alumni meetings and being involved in all kinds of more casual ways.  It’s a great community with which to be involved, and I was honored to be present to help hand out recognitions to the most remarkable examples of the last year or two.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 206 other followers