Modern Architecture Goes Global, Local

Event: Architecture in the Age of Globalization: A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton
Speaker: Kenneth Frampton — Ware Professor of Architecture, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation & author, Modern Architecture: A Critical History
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.10. 08
Organizer: AIANY International Committee

Modern Architecture


The practice of architecture is both global and local, Kenneth Frampton states in the latest section of Modern Architecture: A Critical History (Thames & Hudson, 4th ed., 2007): “Architecture in the age of Globalization: topography, morphology, sustainability, materiality, habitat and civic form 1975-2007.” The six subsections focuses on the globalization of architectural practice due to the “ever-escalating rate of telematic communication and the constant increase of transcontinental air travel.”

Whether discussing topography or morphology, Frampton argues that true architecture responds to contextual and programmatic realities by creating a tectonic form. For example, landscaping based on topographic and forestation patterns determined the master plan of IBM Solana (1992) near Dallas/Fort Worth, designed by Peter Walker and Partners Landscape Architects, in collaboration with Barton Myers Associates, Mitchell/Giurgola Architects, and Legorreta + Legorreta Architects. In another instance, Foreign Office Architect’s Yokohama International Terminal (2002) derived the building’s form from horizontal circulation patterns.

Frampton acknowledges architecture’s great impact on the environment in this new section, as well. It is only in recent years that architects have begun to incorporate sustainable approaches to housing and urbanism. Addressing the exponential population increase, designers are reintegrating the individual dwelling into a collective development. The challenge, Frampton argues, is in creating a sense of “home” and individualization in high-density urban areas. As a result of densification, especially in underdeveloped countries, architecture must address its public appearance or civic form.

Shifting Planes Clarify Clutter

Event: Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, and Sir John Soane
Location: The Union Club, 03.03.08
Speakers: Tod Williams, FAIA, & Billie Tsien, AIA — Partners, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
Organizers: Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation; Architectural Record

American Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum exhibition wall with surface-mounted weathervanes.

Photo by Michael Moran, 2002, courtesy American Folk Art Museum.

Like architect Sir John Soane, Tod Williams, FAIA, and Billie Tsien, AIA, partners of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, prefer buildings’ interiors to their exteriors, since “the enclosed environment,” as Williams put it, is where people spend most of their time. They use “complex plans” and “shifting sections” as methods to strengthen their designs. For example, the American Folk Art Museum is only 30,000 square feet with a 40-foot by 106-foot floor plate. The stair and piano nobile generated the architecture. By manipulating the section, Williams and Tsien opened the plan to wash the galleries in natural light. By shifting planes, the building becomes an experience and journey of discovery, and the space unfolds as visitors move through the museum.

13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a home designed and inhabited by Soane, may be cluttered, but the intricate plan and shifting sections enhance the interiors. “The complexity makes the experience at every level of the interior memorable,” said Williams, who spoke recently with Tsien about the influence of Soane on their work.

The most recent challenge for Williams and Tsien is designing a new home for the Barnes Foundation museum in downtown Philadelphia (a still-controversial move from Merion, PA), dedicated to fine arts education advocate Albert C. Barnes. This project has strict design parameters, including Barnes’ meticulously cluttered arrangement of art and his mandate to not change anything. The interior is the most important element of the architecture, but the rules prevent the architects from conceptualizing the building from scratch. Perhaps once the design is complete, they will take cue from Soane by invigorating the building through the in-between spaces and voids as they have done before.

Local History is Dubai’s Only Hope

Event: Globalization and Local Essences in Dubai
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.07.08
Speakers: Frank Farrokh Sabouri, AIA — Architect, Consultant, Urban Design Guidelines for Jebel Ali (Dubai)
Organizers: AIANY International Committee

Sheikh Zayed Road

Dubai’s desert scarred by skyscrapers and a manmade shoreline.

Lucas Correa-Sevilla

Architect Frank Farrokh Sabouri, AIA, describes architecture in Dubai using the words of Vincent Van Gogh: “Exaggerate the essential and leave the obvious vague.” The “essential,” in this case, is urban development that reflects local culture, while the “obvious” is design based on disconnected western models, says Sabouri. The continual construction of skyscrapers alongside desert highways and the various figurative islands along Dubai’s coast are elements of social seclusion and environmental devastation, and they are not true to the city’s nature.

Architects must have their own social agendas, in addition to clients’ wants, that enhance the inherent conditions and characteristics of a place and its heritage to create meaning, argues Sabouri. This trend is occurring in other places, such as South Korea and Spain. Coop Himmelb(l)au went beyond the client’s program and incorporated a public plaza for the Busan Cinema Complex, for example. The Madrid Public Housing Project by Morphosis is a contemporary take on the traditional Spanish house because it incorporates private courtyards into the design.

In the case of Dubai, a city that has boomed in less than 17 years due to globalization, Sabouri sees hope in its future if architects move away from un-contextual westernized models, and instead focus on the city’s innate characteristics — the desert with a history of trade and nomadic culture. Through the careful study and respect of place, he believes “Dubai can replace absurdity with responsibility.”