Sunday, 24 June 2012

Landscape Architecture Now!

What exactly is landscape architecture? I asked myself when spending time looking at the exquisite pictures in this tome. It is, the publisher informs me, "one of the hottest areas of contemporary design" and its objects are "the green areas around houses, stadiums, or corporate headquarters." Wikipedia calls it "the design of outdoor public areas, landmarks, and structures to achieve environmental, social-behavioral, or aesthetic outcomes."  This means that landscape architecture includes urban design, site planning, town planning, parks and recreation planning ... in short, pretty much anything that surrounds us and can be an object of design, planning and management.

Maya Lin: Eleven Minute Line, Wanäs, Sweden

"For the purpose of this book," writes Philip Jodidio, "landscape architecture is defined not only as the formation of gardens but also of buildings that have an intimate relation to nature, that in some sense spring from the earth and give meaning to space and materials." I'm not really sure in what sense gardens and buildings can "spring from the earth and give meaning to space and materials," but the examples found in this work are more than just extraordinary, they also make one admire the creativity and skills of their creators.
The list of contributors is impressive and includes (my selection is rather arbitrary) Zaha Hadid (Eleftheria Square Redesign, Nicosia, Cyprus), Steven Holl (Vanke Center / Horizontal Skyscraper, Shenzhen, China), and Yoshiaki Nakamura (Miho Museum Gardens, Shigaraki, Shiga, Japan).

John Pawson: Sackler Crossing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London

For somebody like me, who isn't familiar with landscape architecture, this book offers discoveries abound. One of my favourites is the work of the Officina del Paesaggio, run by Sophie Agata Ambroise, and especially her Community Gardens in Chiasso, Switzerland - a space, as she points out, not only for cultivation but also a place to meet and relax. I'm sure, one of my next trips will be to Chiasso ...

Philip Jodidio 
Landscape Architecture Now! 
(English, German, French) 
Taschen, Cologne 2012

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Tomas van Houtryve

Copyright @ Tomas van Houtryve

Der allererste Eindruck beim Durchblättern: ganz wunderbar, diese Farben. Der Eindruck bleibt auch nach mehrmaligem Verweilen bei den einzelnen Aufnahmen bestehen - es sind vor allem die Farben (und nicht etwa die Motive), die mich in diesem Werk überzeugen, an denen sich meine Gefühle orientieren, die mir im Gedächtnis bleiben.

Tomas van Houtryves "Geschlossene Gesellschaften" zeigt als erstes Bild einen Mann, der durch einen Vorhang in einen Saal hinein blickt. Man merkt die Absicht - ein Blick hinter die Kulissen - und ist etwas verstimmt ob dem allzu Offensichtlichen. Dem Bild ist übrigens keine Legende beigegeben, diese findet sich auf Seite 58 und lautet: Ho-Chi-Minh-Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam 2009.

Die Unsitte, Fotos, die soziale Gegebenheiten dokumentieren sollen, ohne Bildlegenden zu präsentieren, ist leider weit verbreitet. "Geschlossene Gesellschaften" macht dabei keine Ausnahme, hier finden sich die sehr klein geschriebenen Legenden jeweils zusammengenommen auf der letzten Seite des porträtierten Landes (Nepal, Nordkorea, Kuba, Moldawien, Laos, Vietnam).

Copyright @ Tomas van Houtryve

Wie gesagt, es sind die Farben, die diesen Band für mich speziell machen. Van Houtryve bringt es fertig, das farbenprächtige (ich war oft dort, ich weiss, wovon ich rede) Kuba düster und trostlos wirken zu lassen. Doch der kubanische Alltag ist beileibe nicht so trist, wie uns diese Aufnahmen glauben machen wollen. Die Vermutung, van Houtryve habe die Bilder in seinem Kopf fotografiert, drängt sich auf. Andrerseits: tut das nicht jeder Fotograf? Sicher, doch nicht immer so einseitig.

"Geschlossene Gesellschaften" enthält nicht nur Fotografien, sondern auch gute und informative Texte (die jedoch keinen direkten Bezug zu den Bildern haben); zudem eine gelungene Einführung von Tzvetan Todorov, der fragt: "Warum lässt die Vision von Gerechtigkeit und Gleichheit, für die jedermann spontan empfänglich ist, sich nicht auf dem Wege freiwilliger Zustimmung umsetzen?" Seine Antwort: "Weil der Entwurf eine ganze Reihe von menschlichen Eigenschaften nicht berücksichtigt, nämlich den Wunsch nach Macht und Reichtum, nach Ehrungen und Auszeichnungen, nach Glaubens- und anderen Freiheiten, nach Verweigerung und Ausbruch."

PS: Wenn man denn schon meint, in einem deutschen Text fremdsprachige Ausdrücke verwenden zu müssen, sollte man diese auch richtig zitieren: die Kubanerinnen, die ihren Körper an Touristen verkaufen, heissen nicht jinateras, sondern jineteras.

Tomas van Houtryve
Geschlossene Gesellschaften
Eine fotografische Reise durch kommunistische Länder
Vorwort von Tzvetan Todorov
Benteli Verlags AG, Bern 2012

Sunday, 10 June 2012

In La Chaux-de-Fonds

Recently, I went to see again the city of La Chaux-de-Fonds. It was my third visit, I wanted to check whether some of my mental pictures of the place were accurate. They were, well, more or less - I remembered a glass cupola of the Migros, for instance, discovered however that it wasn't really a cupola, and not exactly of the Migros but the very special glass-roof of a shopping center with lots of different stores.

I do not know another Swiss town in which streets run at right angles to each other - and that surely is part of what I like about La Chaux-de-Fonds. And, although I'm perfectly aware that I'm in Switzerland, I do not really have the feeling that I am.

Near the train station, I came across a building on which was written "Stadtmission" and in the city centre there was a market where I saw fruit and vegetables and smelled fish. I also spent some time in a park but apart from that I was simply walking up and down some streets, concentrated on my body, let my eyes wander and enjoyed the sunny day.

Back home again, I began to wonder where I had actually been. Wikipedia informed me that La Chaux-de-Fonds is located at an altitude of 1000 m, a few kilometres south of the French border and the third largest city of the French-speaking part of the country, with a population of (as of December 2010) of 37,523.
"The city was founded in 1656. Its growth and prosperity is mainly bound up with the watch making industry. It is the most important centre of the watch making industry in the area known as the Watch Valley. Completely destroyed by a fire in 1794 La Chaux-de-Fonds was rebuilt following a grid street plan, which was and is still original among Swiss cities."

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Tadao Ando

Tadao Ando, I learn from the book jacket, is the only architect to have won the discipline's four most prestigious prizes: the Pritzker, Carlsberg, Premium Imperiale, and Kyoto Prize. He has designed award-winning private homes, churches, museums, apartment complexes, and cultural spaces throughout Japan, and in France, Italy, Spain, and the USA. This book brings together his complete works to date.

Lee Ufam Museum, Naoshima, Kagawa © Shigeo Ogawa 

Among the private homes that Ando built is the studio and private residence of the Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld in Biarritz. It is divided into a private residence, and a guest area and atelier; a pond is set between the two elements. What we get to see, however, is not the real building but the design. "The Invisible House" is another private residence by Ando, it is located in Treviso, Northern Italy. Ando explains: "The only request presented by the client was the total protection of privacy, from adjacent streets as well as from the perimeter of the site. I have explored the image of a house connected to mother earth and responding to the surrounding environment, in keeping at maximum with his modest wish, and have come up with the idea of an 'invisble house' half buried underground." Fortunately, this time we get to see not only the (from the outside) visible part of the house but also photos of the interior.

Serenity Coast Art Museum and Performing Arts Center

I have virtually no knowledge of architecture and thought it rather peculiar to be told (from the introduction by Philip Jodidio, a former Editor-in-Chief of the French art journal 'Connaissance des Arts') that Ando, who was born in Osaka in 1941, "was self-educated as an architect, largely through travels in the United States, Europe, and Africa (1962-1969)." I still do not know how exactly he did do that and, unfortunately, the book doesn't really give an answer. Anyway, his works are unique and truly stunning, and the fact that he was self-taught might have quite a bit to do with that.

In what way do I consider Ando's buildings unique and stunning? It has to do with his handling of space that I find very Japanese cleverly organised, that is. Words that come to mind: pure, simple, unadorned, geometric but varied.

Moreover, Ando is a true master when it comes to combining the old and new. The renovation of the Punta della Dogana in Venice illustrates this perfectly: his subtle intervention (an example: brick walls that contrast perfectly with an elegant steel-and-glass stairway) makes one sense a very modern atmosphere in this old (a 15th-century old structure renovated in the second half of the 17th century) building.

PS: As interesting and fascinating as the designs are, the photographs of the finished constructions are simply fabulous and merit alone the acquisition of this beautifully done tome.

Philip Jodidio
Complete Works 1975-2012
Taschen, Cologne 2012