As a decade or so of digitally-fueled formal investigation draws to a close it is an excellent time to ask again, what can form do? The seeming exhaustion of this question - the sense that everything has been done and the concomitant suspicion that the question itself is irrelevant in the face of more obviously pressing concerns - might in fact have a clarifying effect on our collective ability to discern and make use of any powers that form might retain. Of all the territory that has been exhausted by the introduction of computation to the discipline of architecture, perhaps none has been more worked-over and abused than the brick, which is now so spent after its recent exertions that it has lost its status as a brick altogether and emerged re-naturalized as the digital "unit." So what could possibly be left to say? Bricks: I think they're like you. And I think they like you.
Architects Sheila O'Donnell and John Tuomey, design critics in architecture, have taught for many years at University College Dublin and maintained a practice with a particular interest in cultural, social, and educational projects. Their recent projects include the Glucksman Gallery in Cork, Timberyard Social Housing in Dublin, Lyric Theatre in Belfast, and Photographers' Gallery in London. Current work includes the Central European University in Budapest and the New Students Centre at the London School of Economics. O'Donnell + Tuomey has won the RIAI Gold Medal and the AAI Downes Medal, exhibited at the 2012 Venice Biennale, and been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize.
Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey | O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects
Recorded: October 28, 2014
Founded in 1988, Dublin-based O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects has developed an international reputation for cultural, social, and educational buildings. The firm is particularly recognized for adeptness at weaving extraordinary new structures into constrained urban sites and attentiveness to the civic function and public life of their buildings.
The title of their Current Work lecture, “In Conversation,” describes the “tactic or method of our life’s work,” in Tuomey’s words. The two present the genesis of four recent projects — the Glucksman Gallery at University College Cork, the Irish Language Cultural Centre in Derry, Budapest’s Central European University, and the Lyric Theatre in Belfast — to illustrate design principles including continuity between interior and exterior, sense of movement, natural lighting, and weaving old and new.
They then turn their attention to the recently opened Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics, winner of the 2014 RIBA London Building of the Year Award, among numerous accolades. With canted brick walls of 175,000 handmade English bricks, the building has a striking form within a tight medieval street pattern — a singular, continuous form to house a wide diversity of university programs. The recessed entry allows for a new public space and exchange between inside and outside, creating a “sense of the neighboring buildings working with the new building to make a kind of revised context.”
The Current Work series invites significant international figures who powerfully influence contemporary architectural practice and shape the future of the built environment to present their work and ideas to a public audience.
Solano Benitez, Asuncion, Paraguay
Asuncion, Paraguay-based architect Solano Benitez presents the work of his Gabinete de Arquitectura to build upon Louis Kahn's famous question "What does a building want to be?" By critically addressing the parts that create the whole, Benitez tests the limits and motives of his choice material: brick. #wood101211
Marcelyn Gow introduces Neil Denari, currently acting as special B. Arch thesis advisor, as an designer whose work engages architecture as part of a larger cultural project.
Denari challenges the B.Arch thesis students to re-examine what’s behind their interest in architecture. Is it architecture as a material and spatial thing, or architecture as social medium? He proposes to show projects currently in progress, all of which originated with developers.
He begins with an office building, 9000 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills (2019). Then Denari discusses three tower projects in Vancouver: a 37-story glass tower, West Broadway Towers (2020), and a white brick tower originally planned as condominiums, now to be apartments.
Denari discusses Los Angeles-area projects: an office building with retail space in green-glazed brick, a hybrid building in terms of form and structure, elevated on columns above a parking lot, a medical research/Wellness center, Santa Monica, and a 8-unit apartment building in the West Adams district.
Denari concludes with a discussion of the Sotoak Pavilion in El Paso.
This event did not take place at SCI-Arc. It probably took place at the 1972 International Design Conference of Aspen (IDCA).
Louis I. Kahn defines architecture in terms of beauty, wonder, and expression. He characterizes material as a manifestation of spent light. He argues that there is no such thing as architecture, but only the spirit of architecture which can not be broken into categories for the marketplace.
Kahn talks about knowing order. He uses the example of the brick wanting to be an arch to demonstrate the brick's inherent nature and order. He relates an allegorical narrative reflecting on art and science, and he explains his efforts to discover the nature around which design is possible.
Kahn discusses his work on the Salk Institute and his collaboration with Jonas Salk and Luis Barragán. He talks about various alternative designs and he poetically describes all process and program. He concludes by remarking that desire is the real motivating force for living and expressing.
John Chase introduces Reyner Banham, listing his educational background as well as some of his publications.
Banham describes how around the time of the First World War, European architects discovered American non-architecture, not for the first and not for the last time. He goes on to claim that the discoveries of the American factories and grain elevators that captivated European modernists not new or radical, but in fact part of a long history. Banham explains the transition of masonry wall to brick pier structure as the first in a move toward a frame type. He claims this shift to be entirely economically motivated. He continues with a description of the detailing integrated into masonry and brick pier factories to begin his speculation on the transition from a connectivity of parts to a monolithic frame.
Banham starts by demonstrating the massive difference in daylighting between masonry and concrete frame construction and states this as the motivating factor for the material transition. But the technology as well as the architectural intent followed a much longer path, and Banham describes this in detail while evaluating projects based on their architectural proximity to a true expression of a reinforced concrete frame type.
Banham concludes his lecture with a discussion of concrete frame projects with the truest expression of their type and the most impact on European modernism. Albert Kahn’s Packard Plant serves as Banham’s example of the concrete frame that throws out the “architecture” by eliminating vestigial elements such as classical cornices and arched windows. While this project was poorly constructed and eliminated the unnecessary elements for economic purposes, it led to projects which were closer in both structure and planimetric organization to the desires of the then emerging European modernists.