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Entries in monuments (8)

Thursday
Jun122014

Maracaña: O jogo bonito

Maracaña, 1950. Reinforced concrete stadium built for the 1950 World Cup, Rio de Janeiro.

In his 2004 book, Stades du Monde: sport & architecture, Angelo Spampinato listed the Maracaña stadium in Rio de Janeiro as one of the legendary temples of football. Built between 1948 and 1950 for the 1950 World Cup, it was deliberately designed to be the largest stadium in the world, seating 183,000 with standing room for 220,000.  The World Cup that year opened with Brazil-Mexico (4-0) and ended calamitously with Uruguay-Brazil (2-1).  

For 2014 the bottom tier was rebuilt, a new roof added and seating has been reduced to 79,000 with the loss of the Geral, the standing terraces. This took $735 million of Brazilian public money and then the running of the Maracaña was effectively privatised, turned over to AEG, owners of LA Galaxy and the O2 arena in London, on a 35-year contract.  A bit of controversy there.  An adjacent indigenous museum and a school were demolished.

The Maracaña is heroic in volume and history: Pele's first and thousandth career goals, thousands of match upsets, despair, elation, rock concerts, two masses by Pope John Paul.  Its original engineer was Paulo Phiheiro Guedes, working with a team of architects.  Evidently, as stadia go, it is very flat, just five storeys from pitch to the top of the top ring.  Most of the renovations are hidden: new media centre, locker rooms, auditorium, boxes. There are 1000 new parking spaces under the stadium, another 13,000 spread about the neighbourhood. Visible are new seats and the extended roof which now covers all the seats and is fitted with photovoltaic panels.  

Estadio Maracaña, opening after three years of renovations, April 2013Estadio Maracaña is one of twelve FIFA World Cup stadia, but of course its expansion is also part of the preparation for the 2016 Olympics. The World Cup is the preliminary scrubbing of Rio, which will continue for the next two years.  China was able to remove great chunks of old housing and historic infrastructure as it gives itself licence to do so.  Brazil is doing the same, without the licence.  The people are becoming obstructive, there will be delays. 

Thursday
Mar062014

Jonas Dahlberg: memory wound, 2014

Jonas Dahlberg. Memory Wound, winning competition entry to Memorial Sites After 22 July. image: Jonas Dahlberg Studio

Memory Wound, above, is one of three memorials to the victims of the massacre at Utøya, Norway in 2011.  The rock cut out of the Sørbråten peninsula to make the channel will be used to make another memorial in Oslo on the site of a car bomb, also Anders Breivik's responsibility.  

According to The Guardian, Dahlberg has spoken of poetic rupture, beauty indissolubly linked to loss. One wall of the cut is inscribed with the names of the children killed, the other is carved out into a ledge from which to view the names.  The cut is aligned with Utøya – it doesn't eradicate Utøya by being placed literally on the site of the massacre itself.

This is how such massively inexplicable deaths are memorialised these days, by massive land art.  There is little else that we feel is significant enough to approach the scale of war, for this was an act of war between a race-based fundamentalism and an unwitting, wealthy, liberal and secular populace.  It seems to be too difficult to explain how Anders Breivik came to be, the best we can do is to set up sites where we can contemplate what he did.  Memory Wound is a powerful place to do this; does it address the rise of anti-islamic fundamentalism in Europe? Not really, it addresses the children, their absence – the effect of a cause that remains active, not absent.

Land art puts human activities into the context of the earth as a planet, the sun as a star, time measured in light years – things almost beyond comprehension for all we have been taught how geology and astronomy works.  These things have become our ineffable, things so detached from the development of the human race that they absorb human failings.  It's cosmic and all, but there are other Breiviks out there, and they are unmoved.  

Wednesday
Nov272013

Terror Háza, Budapest, 2002

Attila F Kovacs, Architeckton RT, architects. House of Terror Museum, Budapest, Hungary, 2002. photographer: Janos Szentivani.

The Terror Háza in Budapest, where 'terror' is the same word in Hungarian.  The building was used by the Arrow Cross Party (National Socialist) in WWII, then in the postwar soviet sphere, headquarters of the State Security Department, ÁVO.  With both, the windows were either covered, blocked or painted over: a literal signalling of secrecy and opacity. Is this the first necessity of security systems – that detention, interrogation, torture and homicide be conducted without windows?  Evidently.  

The colour black is indubitably connected to such darkness, and not for nothing is there a whole collection of associated sites and actions: black ops, black sites of secret extraordinary rendition, black projects – rogue, but sanctioned, secret but documented, somewhere.

The Terror Háza, a museum about fascist and communist regimes, is a member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience; the building was bought by the Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History; the exhibition hall and the treatment of the outside is by Attila F Kovács, who painted it black, embedded ceramic miniatures of victims at eye height around the base and added the cornice — what?  brise-soleil?  an extended plane that casts the word terror over each façade: a complex reading because it uses sunlight, light, enlightenment to cast an inverted shadow over something already historically shadowed. The word cast is not hopeful, despite the sunlight, it too is dark.  

There is ongoing protest and negotiation in Hungary about the proportion of exhibits and thus blame given to communism over fascism.  Which was worse?  It depends on who you are.  Or were.  Similar debates, angry and hurt, are conducted in our War Museum in Ottawa and the Imperial War Museum in London: was Bomber Harris a war criminal or a successful strategist?  Terror is a tool of war, whether hot or cold, civil or revolutionary, used by all sides.

Sunday
Apr282013

Vancouver Art Gallery

Much dismay that the Vancouver Art Gallery is going to move out of its present location, the classical Rattenbury court house on Georgia Street, and into a new building on the site of the old bus depot on Cambie.  The streets don't mean much to those who don't know Vancouver well, but the bus depot site is at the end of Georgia that is accumulating large cultural edifices: the CBC building, Vancouver Public Library, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and now the art gallery.  

The QE Theatre — an opera and ballet hall – is in its original 1959 Affleck building, the library moved from its 1957 Burrard Street location and building into the 1995 Safdie coliseum-referenced library on Georgia: Library Square with huge public spaces in and out, often used by the CBC as performance space.  The CBC is in a 1975 Merrick building on Georgia, expanded in 2009 (Dialog and Bakker) to include a 4000 square-foot performance studio and a glassy public face on the street.  The 1958 McCarter Nairne Post Office building, also on Georgia, its future very much in danger, has been discussed as a possible home for the Vancouver Art Gallery: right location, large industrial spaces, although its massive structure would make changes almost prohibitively expensive, plus it was sold in March for $159 million to a developer.

The Vancouver Art Gallery's first building was built in 1931 on a 66'-wide lot (the original CPR survey grid based on chains for residential plots) a couple of blocks away on Georgia from the Hotel Vancouver.  It looked like a bank vault, which says something about the way art was perceived, as a precious commodity meant to be safeguarded.
Vancouver Art Gallery under construction, 1931. Art Deco single storey gallery on a 66' lot in a residential area - 1145 W. Georgia Street. CIty of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Bu P401.1McCarter Naire Architects, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1931The building was given an International Style renovation and expansion in 1950 by Ross Lort: a part plate glass front wall, part slab, all offset planes and classic white gallery space behind.  It had become a small, exceptionally accommodating gallery that under the direction of Doris Shadbolt and Tony Emery, was at the centre of the explosion of art and performance, from N.E. Thing Co to Gathie Falk, in Vancouver in the 1960s and early 1970s. 

Ross Lort, architect. Vancouver Art Gallery, 1950.

Then, in 1983, the Vancouver Art Gallery moved to the Erickson-renovated 1911 court house building, made redundant by the 1980 Erickson-designed Law Courts complex and Robson Square which filled the two blocks to the west behind the court house.  It seemed appropriate in the ghastly post-modern 1980s when protests on the Court House steps were over, and museums, opera companies and symphonies turned to block-buster shows for survival, that the VAG be housed in the pomposity of a building shouting out its authority.

Vancouver Art Gallery, 1983-present.

Art goes on no matter what the official gallery is, artists challenge and change; where they do it and where you see it is worthy of attention.  In the 1980s artists were like the punk scene occupying marginal and arcane spaces, they certainly weren't in the main spaces of the new Vancouver Art Gallery in the way that they had fluidly slipped in and out of the old modernist unpretentious gallery down the street.  The more we pull access to art out of the everyday, the more inexplicable it becomes to the everyday.  Much like the original 1931 vault-like gallery, the court house gallery demanded, simply by the architecture itself, reverence for the exceptionalism of art.

I'm not unhappy to see the Vancouver Art Gallery leave the court house building, but one does worry about the current civic support, all over the country, for Bilbao-effect galleries and museums.  By their very spectacularity they become objects rather than fabric, appropriate one would think perhaps for programs such as justice, or health, or governance.  Historically, art is deemed to be one of these important conditions requiring separation in a significant architecture.

Might we have something more wabi-sabi: a necessary anchor for history, retrospectives, biennials and curation, plus the infiltration of the rest of the city, starting from that block, with a rootless, opportunistic, transient architecture that reflects the kind of programming most major galleries are engaged with today.  There must be some place for a gallery architecture to constantly renew and reconstruct itself if it is to be an embedded part of the processes of cultural renewal and reconstruction, and not just the place where, after the fact, such changes are displayed.

Monday
Feb272012

Thibault's Rousseau project

Jean-Thomas Thibault. Project, a monument for Jean-Jacques Rousseau at the Jardin des Tuileries, watercolour 340x492 mm. Galerie Heim, Paris.

Found this image on Vulgare.  Thibault, 1757-1826, was a landscape painter and architect, trained under Boullée, went to Rome, built la Petite Malmaison for Josephine and restored the Palais de l'Elysée.  He taught at the Beaux-Arts from 1819 to 1827.  The monument itself is the sculpture in the centre of this small islet, but today we see the formal circle of trees first, the near druidic ceremony of the enclosed field.  Of course I see Alesia, again.

Thursday
Mar102011

curtain walls and liberty

Assemblage of the Statue of Liberty in Paris. NYPL Digital Gallery, image 1161037Dan Cruikshank danced around Mexican pyramids and an 1851 Colt 6-shooter last night in his Round the World in 80 Very Very Special Places and Things, ending with the Statue of Liberty, which was unfortunately closed to both visitors and potential terrorists.    It reminded me of several of the peripheral features of the statue often forgotten in the glare of its iconograpy.  The broken chain at her foot, the Emma Lazarus poem inviting the poor huddled masses to leave their countries of birth and oppression and come to America, where all are free.   Just before Liberty, Dan went to Monticello, the dark side of which is that Jefferson had 5,000 slaves while writing the constitution that said that all men shall be free.  Dan's taxi-driver was very explicit about what he thought about that.

In Yasmin Khan's book about the Statue of Liberty she describes the skin as a curtain wall in theory, attached to an iron structure which has, built within it, a certain flexibility between structure and skin that protects the skin from stress.  Eiffel and Koechlin designed the structure, rigid enough, and a system of straps that connect the copper skin to the iron armature.  It is this system that allowed the statue to be built in France, disassembled and sent to New York and then reassembled there. 

There is an element of the fairground and the exposition about the making of this statue, a kind of political hucksterism between France and the US that involves the building of the Panama Canal, the revolutionary identification between France and the US, the potential for the US to be a military ally of France in its war with Prussia.  Perhaps it is always this way, but what remains, with this particular project, is a reminder of the deep contradictions at the heart of the USA.

Tuesday
Sep212010

PLANT: fallen firefighters

Proposed Memorial to Canadian Fallen Firefighters. PLANT + Douglas Coupland, 2010

from PLANT's website:  PLANT and Douglas Coupland have been awarded the commission for the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa. The competition jury selected from among five collaborative teams. The project will begin design development this fall, with a projected completion date of Autumn 2012. 

One of the sticking points with the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington is the obligatory presence of over-sized bronze soldiers nearby, something insisted on by Vietnam veterans themselves, not sufficiently versed in the power of the abstract statement.  Such statues, of soldiers, or flyers, or seamen, or firefighters, or nurses are either shown engaged in battle, or are standing exhausted after it.  Leaders are shown in dress uniform standing tall and stern, untouched, as in real life, by the grit of fighting.

PLANT+Coupland's proposal clearly refers to Maya Lin's Vietnam project: also a wall, also engraved with names, also shaped in some meaningful way, although from this one press release image it isn't quite clear what the shape refers to.  It also refers to the controversy over memorials and the degree of representation needed to show effectively the collective individual tragedies that constitute natural and man-made disaster.

In this firefighters memorial, the naturalistic bronze statue points at the abstract list of names.  We are admonished. We are not out for a pleasant day on LeBreton Flats looking at the increasing array of national monuments and memorials, we are being told to go and look at this particular sacrifice.  We are being instructed.  It is quite exhausting. 

Friday
Nov272009

Gehry's skins

Statue of Liberty under construction. | Linda Smeins. Experience Music Project, Seattle, 2002.

Açalya Klyak wrote in On Site 9: surface about the similarities between the construction of the Statue of Liberty and Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project [Rock and Liberty].  Both use sheet material to cover curved volumes: in Bartholdy's statue, copper was hammered into shape (repoussé), and in Gehry's project, sheet material is cut into shapes small enough that they can smooth over a curve, rather like fish scales. 

Klyak notices the historic relationship between drapery and wealth – there is an extravagance to drapery not found in other kinds of clothing.  Drapery, compared to tailoring, cannot be standardised, or even repeated.  It is fluid and slippery and depends on the structure beneath; it is not structure itself as is the tailored hunting jacket.  In her article Klyak felt Gehry's draped surface was entirely appropriate to the expense of the project, even calling it 'Versace for buildings'. 

It is interesting that after the publication of Diderot's Encyclopédie which revealed to all hithertofore arcane and guarded methods of manufacture, and after the revolution, which the Encyclopédie had philosophically anticipated, complicated garments fell completely out of fashion, in favour of drapery.  It is the way of fashion, once anyone can have it, it is no longer very interesting.  It has taken twenty-five years for the odd angles and diverted planes of Gehry's early work to become de rigeur for almost all new not-very-expensive commerical buildings: the meaning and reference for shifting off axis, for bending skin away from structure has long been lost and we are faced with style. And thoroughy tiresome has it become. 

Anyway, back to the Encyclopédie and the French revolution, the Statue of Liberty as a gift from liberated France to liberated America, the liberation of skin from structure – Eiffel engineered the iron framework of the Statue of Liberty, le Corbusier's second point in Vers une architecture – the free façade.  There's a thread here.