Nov 1, 2016

'IJhal, Amsterdam', Domus #1007, Nov 2016

Domus Magazine
Publisher: Editoriale Domus Spa, Rozzano
ISSN: 0012-5377

The IJhal is the newly finished extension, complete with pedestrian passages and bicycle paths, of Amsterdam’s central train station on the northern side along the IJ River, after which the wing is named. The central station has been under continuous construction during the last decade or so, as the city undertook a total transformation of the original 19th-century building. The station has been expanded underground, aboveground, and at the rear in order to accommodate the city’s growing population and increasing number of tourists. A major portion of the station’s renovation and expansion is related to the upcoming North-South metro line, which will service that axis of the city. For the first time, one of the city’s metro lines will cross under the IJ River that flows behind the city’s train station. This spot sees a confluence of taxis, metro lines, trams, trains and infinite cyclists, in addition to being a loading point for the IJ’s ferryboat traffic. It is a major node of pedestrian and public transportation in Amsterdam.

Enormous LED screens offer a continual mix of immersive, calming scenes of the city and advertising. The floor is paved with gold, yellow and tan terrazzo. This multifaceted interior passage is meant to encourage constant pedestrian movement and simultaneously remain durable under the daily foot traffic of tens of thousands of travelers. A system of modular, rounded mirrored elements adorns the IJhal’s ceiling, arranged in a playful grid that introduces a sense of movement to the ever-shifting reflections from below. These elements communicate with mirrors wrapped around the load-bearing columns that dot the IJhal’s main axis. All of these mirrored elements cast the radiating, undulating fluctuations of the IJ’s surface reflections into the IJhal, where they refract into the adjacent passageways in a nod to Amsterdam’s historically profound relationship with water.

Shops line the IJhal’s southern edge, while the northern edge hosts a series of restaurants. The latter’s position on the waterside offers views of the IJ while dining, and the observation of a constant stream of cyclists passing by on the new “bike highway” that runs parallel to the IJ. Staircases inside rectangular voids connect the IJhal to the regional bus terminal above. Waves of winter-hardy ivy spill over into the voids from above, introducing a gentle natural element to this highly chiseled and extremely durable area. Escalators below every bus staircase will eventually lead to the train station’s metro stop and platforms for the North-South line that runs under the station perpendicular to the IJ.This metro will allow visitors and residents to use the subway instead of the tram system when venturing south from the station into the city.

In addition to its use on the floor, terrazzo was also chosen for the custom way-finding signage holders and the many photo-booths that line the IJhal’s main pedestrian axis, resulting in a cohesive visual language. By the same token, the signage of each shop and restaurant has been integrated into the walls of glass that front all such interior spaces in the IJhal. Each is lit from behind, bringing further unity to this otherwise frantically busy location within the station. A series of secondary passageways perpendicular to the IJhal offers direct views of the waterfront throughout the entire station. Notions of transparency and reflection in the IJhal seek to re-establish Amsterdam’s connection to its northern neighborhoods, which were severed from the city centre when the train station was built in 1889.

Oct 1, 2016

'Cool Under the Pool', MARK #64, Oct/Nov 2016

Mark Magazine
Publisher: Frame Publishers, Amsterdam
ISSN: 1574-6453

Misleadingly interlocked, ostensibly cantilevered and sumptuously textured; Cerrado House is the 320-m2 weekend and holiday oasis of a journalist couple, on Belo Horizonte’s outer edge–only 10 km from the small village of Moeda–in the Brazilian state Minas Gerais. The house is surrounded by vistas towards the Cerrado, a tropical savanna defined by its sparse, rolling and humid landscape. The isolated location ensures a night-time welkin illuminated by only the moon and stars.

What initially appears to be an abandoned bunker, hunched down in a desolate setting, is instead an exemplar of local craftsmanship. Carlos Teixeira of the architecture firm Vazio to leave unabashedly evident, the house’s hand-made methods of creation. Poured-in-place concrete composes the house’s structure; elongated floor-to-ceiling mullions define the glazing, in concrete’s absence; louvers of eucalyptus wood, sourced from nearby plantations, shade the façades. Just under 400 new, native Vochysia thyrsoidea trees dot the house’s 3-ha plot, and three logs of Schinopsis brasiliensis are stacked to create the kitchen table. Local craftsman João do Ponto created the interior’s woven-leather benches.

The interior is centered on the core communal spaces of living room and kitchen, surrounded by terraces, the largest of which extends toward the west and is exposed to the exterior, below the shallow end of the roof-top pool–which, explains Teixeira, ‘also works as a passive cooling system for the interior rooms right under it’. The floors of the interior are finished in the same concrete, though treated with an amber infused colorant. Perhaps the most tactile aspects of the house are its concrete walls and ceilings–its exposed structure. Planes of concrete appear ‘wrinkled’, as ripples undulating atop water. ‘New plywood panels rendered smooth concrete surfaces; old, used ones were reemployed, irrespective of their shape and condition,’ Teixeira explains. ‘The house’s workforce, including bricklayers and a carpenter, is from a nearby village, and is quite rough, compared to that of Belo Horizonte. And so some errors and contingencies of the materials were accepted.’ The amateur-infused building process unpredictably enriched, and refined, its result.


Jul 1, 2016

'Future on Demand', Platea #2 Summer 2016

Publisher: Platea Media GmbH, Ismaning
ISSN: 2365-9297

Branding, desire, and design combine each year at Salone del Mobile in Milan. Started in 1961, the ‘furniture’ trade fair turned into something of a spectacle in the mid-2000’s, as scores of companies, designers, and manufacturers competed for the attention of those who descend upon the city for this annual event. Ranging in taste from the ostentatious to the refined, the presentation offers up the new to those eternally searching for that quality in pieces of furniture, or other products for the home and office–as essentially, this event seems to be nothing more than a delicious cacophony of consumerism; a temple for those designers whose eponymously christened companies churn out one product after the other. Or is it? While true that the event was dominated by flash-and-bling in the prior decade–perhaps most notably by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, his Amsterdam-based studio, and his firm Moooi–the Great Recession changed all that as the pendulum of focus in the world of design shifted toward the use of natural materials, local production, and a renewed appreciation for handcraft, often interwoven with increasing amounts of technology. While the one-name designers who have dominated this fair remain a presence, a crescendoing cascade of young designers are pushing against them, and their values–which has had the effect of forcing manufacturers to adapt to their new production processes, and reconsider the marketing tools for their newest of wares.

So much of what fuels human desire, are the narratives created within our minds, of our individual, idealized worlds, as they could one day be–often embodied by the domestic; such as the perfect house, with its perfect kitchen, Viking range included. Yet the world of products and consumerism is only one piece of the equation when considering ‘Salone’–as those who’ve come for years fondly refer to this Milanese gathering. SaloneSatellite was started in 1998 to showcase the work of emerging designers–specifically those under the age of 35–and was this year, held at the city’s fairground. And it’s within this corner of the event, where some of the most new and inspiring creations, are to be found. Immersion, experience, and intimacy have in the last few years steadily increased in importance at trade-shows such as these; and Salone de Mobile 2016 is no exception. David Chipperfield, Daniel Libeskind, Nendo, and Mario Trimarchi all showed their faces, products, and sometimes spaces. Yet fashion is getting into the mix too; ‘Don't miss the Fondazione Prada,’ says Jeannette Altherr of Barcelona-based Lievore Altherr Molina. Having been coming to Salone for the past 25 years, the designer is hyper-aware of the changes that have taken place within it, and within the world of design itself. ‘All areas are blurring, and there are no longer clear boundaries between home and office, in and out, formal and relaxed, industry and craft, refined and popular.’ Presenting an array of products in collaboration with numerous companies, the studio’s work also extends to creative direction and presentation design; ‘the full circle,’ she explains. Though, how has technology changed the nature of the studio’s work, and the fair itself? ‘More than injection molds and other industrial production tools, working with clients and other creative teams around the globe wouldn’t be possible without computers and the internet.’ Yet not all studios are as established, and not all are so holistic in their outlook. Chipperfleld and Libeskind are among the growing number of architects whose work has steadily crept into the fair’s stands, alongside veteran interior designers.

‘I have been coming to Salone on and off for many years’, remarks Libeskind. ‘It was about four years ago, with the creation of the product design division within our Milan office, that I starting coming regularly.’ Originally based in New York City, and now firmly established in Europe–which is also his continent of birth–the architect and designer last summer celebrated a soft opening of his Milan ‘City Life’ housing complex, which is set to be complete in 2017. The rigid yet fluidly formed project epitomizes the angular forms for which his firm is known. ‘Technology has made it possible for us to realize complex forms using age-old methods while working with master craftsmen in Italy, Germany, and beyond. And it gives us the freedom to experiment and test materials in ways that were never possible before,’ he explains. Working along side and array of brands such as Alessi, Antrax, Citco, Moroso, Loloey, and Swarovski, Libeskind this year presented products that ranged from, respectively, ‘a labyrinthine, stainless steel Alessi clock; a sculptural, origami-like radiator; a dynamic marble shelving system; a gemstone-inspired seating collection; a collection of sumptuously patterned silk rugs; and a playful, crystal chess set.’ And all allow those for whom his Milan housing complex is out of reach, to ‘take home’ a piece of the Libeskind brand; much in the way perfumes and sunglasses allow those who could only dream of a Chanel suit, to claim a piece of that brand as their own.

However, it’s perhaps the youngest designers, at SaloneSatellite, whose work is the least exposed–how are designers under 35 to compete with Prada’s budgets?–yet for that reason, are perhaps also the most interesting of note, at least at this year’s fair. The ‘digital-natives’ of the world, that is, those who have grown up using computers and the internet as an integral part of their everyday life, are now at most, about 35. And it’s this generation, who so often lack the financial support of larger brands and manufacturers, who seem to be leading the way toward the future of product design. Jiwon Kim, based in South Korea, Antti Tuomi and Anna Lampinen, both of Finland, Ini Archibong of the USA, Muca Design Lab–which consists of Laxmi Nazabal and Lucas Abajo–of Spain, Nadja Stäubli’s Schönstaub, who exhibited with Daniel Wehrli, both of Switzerland, and German Maximilian Moosleitner–are all fresh faces on the SaloneSatellite scene. Some have been coming for years, and others are fledgling first time stars; either way, all have one thing in common: they’ve been christened by the event’s organizers. Meaning that they and their works are all but destined for instantaneous fame. Though in an age where designers’ names have now replaced once personal, intimate relationships which, even a century earlier, occurred between artisan and purchaser–consuming today is rarely about such symbiotic relationships. Today’s consumer is not driven by an urge to establish a relationship between them self and an artisan; rather, the act of consuming is turning toward the display of social status, as the accumulation of material goods reflecting refinement, luxury, timeless craft–even increased privacy.

But where is the future of the event heading, and where exactly will those who choose to purchase the products on display be located? And which region of the globe is leading the way, in terms of the market, as well as new ideas? ‘I think design is heading in two different directions,’ explains Kim. ‘One is fast, cheap, and pretty, while the other is toward the slow and exquisite.’ Her Satellite debut entails a series of wool rugs–‘Salamandrian’–all depicting little-encountered creatures. Mounted to the wall, they resemble paintings more than carpets; the better to confront fair-goers, while immersing them within the textiles. ‘In my case, technology has been helpful in the marketing and presentation of works. Digital documents and emails enable prompt interaction wherever I am, and a website is a key portal to promote work while connecting with people around the world. Digital content is also rising in importance, in terms of presentation, because it is both fast and effective. On the other hand,’ she continues, ‘slow and exquisite design has also been growing everywhere, and I think a focus on each individual region’s rationality will be also important, in order to understand exclusive design.’ Further praising the internet’s importance for global exposure is Muka Design Lab, who, also inaugurally exhibiting at Satellite, presented a collection of ‘slow design furniture’. Even though emotion is rarely discussed within design, it’s involved in nearly every aspect of it–and most certainly its marketing. How else does one create desire? Nazabal and Abajo’s studio acknowledge just that. ‘Nowadays, and in the future, design will revolve around privacy, and how people differentiate themselves from others. People will crave spaces where there is no mobile signal, or oppositely, spaces where we can interact with those on the other side of the world,’ they explain. ‘It’s a paradox in itself: we need to isolate ourselves from others close to us, in order to communicate with those from the other side of the world. We try to work between technology and tradition, using all new technologies available; we create warm products that make people feel comfortable, such as with textiles–colorful, though without being garish.’

‘This was my first time at Salone del Mobile,’ remarks Tuomi, ‘whereas Lampinen presented her work at the SaloneSatellite last year, together with Aalto University. This year I had my own stand, where I presented two seats, a table, a pendant lamp, and a bench. I designed the bench with Tuomi, as well as the stand’s design.’ Both designers were recipients of a 2013 grant from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and are currently researching the contrasts between materials and technology, ‘in an efficiency driven world’, they explain. ‘We use a combination of handcraft, industrial methods, and materials; something we have been studying for some time.’ They expound further that, ‘in our opinion, the most important aspect of technology is to use it in a responsible way. Which for us means trying to investigate long-term impacts and applications of new technologies, from an environmental and social point of view–before rushing toward short-term economic gain. New inventions should in our view, be carefully blended with existing techniques and traditions.’ They’re representative of a small set of designers straddling academia and design; meaning that the full extent of their research, relating to their work, is yet to come. While certainly European in focus, even as the reach of its participants is truly global, Salone and its Satellite extension have, in recent years, seen a steady trickle of designers originating from beyond Europe’s borders. Sou Fujimoto, for instance, is a Japanese architect, who this year directed columns of light to pierce Cos’ installation, creating a ‘forest of light’ rays, fronted by drapery–and little more.

Another non-European designer is Ini Archibong. Hailing from California, and of a Nigerian background by way of his parents, Archibong made his debut at this year’s Satellite. ‘I really wanted my debut to fully represent me, without restraint, and was lucky to find a patron named Terry Crews, who just started a label called Amen&Amen. With his support, I had the funds to really reach for the stars, and worked with the best Swiss craftsmen to create a collection of handcrafted products in colored glass and sculpted marble. I met the craftsmen, Matteo Gonet and Vincent Dubois, while I was studying at ÉCAL in Lausanne, and now feel I can be seen as more than a furniture designer for commerce, and more as a designer with a clear artistic perspective and philosophy,’ he explains. This global citizen, and digital native, has ‘always relied on technology heavily to achieve my visions. I thrive on utilizing the most advanced programs and production methods and see technology as a necessary means for optimizing workflow and production.’ Perhaps going against the grain, technology wise, he continues, ‘for my Satellite collection this year, I made it a point to minimize the influence of technology. Instead it was all about learning from the generations of craftsmen’s knowledge, and “feeling” my way to the right solutions. Even in the production process, I opted to execute some aspects by hand, which may have been done more “perfectly” and efficiently by machines; it gave the pieces a certain character and soul, which could only have come from the “imperfections” of the handmade.’ Where does he consider design to be headed? ‘There’s been a huge rise from the Central and South America recently, and a lot of attention directing back toward West Africa,’ he states. One only hopes that those designers are invited next year.

Among those who’ve passed their ‘Salone’ initiation, and are now exhibiting for a second time, are Stäubli and Wehrli, who shared a booth at last year’s Satellite, and who this year teamed up to collaborate on the design of their stand, with both showing their own work. ‘I’m exhibiting my recent furniture prototypes, in a shared exhibition with the carpets by Schönstaub. A collaboration which takes advantage of the rather different businesses we run,’ says Wehrli. ‘Her rich carpets are a great environment for my reflecting side tables. A concept of furniture that interacts with its surrounding. I also run a second exhibition with the Swiss furniture brand "Zoom by Mobimex”, where I launched a wooden, upholstered dinning bench.’ However, some cynicism was also evident in the event, he explains. ‘There was a tendency to celebrate a certain kind of luxury. In this field progress is not much of a topic, as opposed to collaging luxurious connotated material, as gold, brass and marble.’ Chiming in, Stäubli adds, ‘there was a lot of luxury themed design. And I think design should head toward pieces people really love to live with, for many years, instead of those that are exchanged every year. The biggest thing missing for me, is the link between the young designers looking for producers, and the huge labels exhibiting.’ Schönstaub is presenting, ‘a new collections of designs of woven carpets,’ states Stäubli, who with Wehrli, ‘built a rack in the back of the booth so we could hang six carpets, moving them back and forth, so that we could have a different set up, every day.’ Sometimes stand design innovations, really can be so simple. And yet, it’s the opposite approach of Kim. What about technology in terms of her work? ‘It makes our products possible; as we weave with over 1.6 million knots per square meter, on the most advanced weaving machines. A product’s entire design is transformed with a special carpet weaving preparation system so it can be translated to the machine where it will be weaved with rich colors. Regarding marketing and presentation, I’m really incredibly grateful for social media, as without it our label would not exist.’ It is yet another trend among these digital natives. Even Archibong, ‘recently learned how to use Instagram, to be able to document and share my design processes. And I think it’s going to become an even more important tool to master, in order to stay relevant as a designer.’ Social media, the internet, websites, and new production processes, now and in the future, in whatever form, are here to stay, in terms of their relative importance. It’s this generation who uses these digital tools the best.

While lacking the glitter and deep pockets of the big brands that dominated this year’s Salone–such as Nike, B&B Italia, Nendo, Cos, and Prada–SaloneSatellite will keep presenting design’s younger generation, for years to come. As its participants age with the passing of time, there is no doubt that those who make careful use of the latest material research, advances in production processes, and the connectivity of the internet to further expose their ideas, works, and selves to the world, will move into the main arena of Salone itself, bypassing its ‘Satellite’ sister. All of the above designers are so clearly on their way up, that it would surprise few editors of the world’s print and digital, design-centered publications, if some were appointed creative directors of the big brands that they’re now competing with, or working for.

Apr 1, 2016

'Views to Volumes', MARK #61, Apr/May 2016:

Mark Magazine
Publisher: Frame Publishers, Amsterdam
ISSN: 1574-6453

A Dutch city abundant in uniformity, families with children and suburban housing, Almere is nevertheless a place where, every now and then, a gem of a private home appears among otherwise ordinary developments. Its latest jewel is a new house by Marc Koehler Architects (MKA) from nearby Amsterdam, a growing practice noted for its compact yet voluminous private housing.

‘Almere is known for its Dutch light,’ says office founder Marc Koehler, ‘a low daylight glow that occurs because of the vast expanses of flat horizon.’ We’re on our way to see his recently completed House with 11 Views, driving along seemingly endless roads before arriving rather suddenly in a densely planned Dutch suburb. Situated on an island, the rectangular house is surrounded by 15 other single-family homes. Four storeys tall, the 240-m2 building has corrugated aluminum cladding on its main façade and, on the opposite side, panels of black siding that enable passive solar heating. Angled northwest on its narrow site, the ‘extruded box’ of a house has few openings at the front, where a lone window looks down on a large sliding door and stairs that descend from the main level to a quirky front garden.

Inside, all floors are made of matte-grey polyurethane and most walls are white; an exception is the slate-grey wall next to the staircase on every floor. Windows are omnipresent. The lack of openings on the south façade is overcompensated for on the north façade, which features 11 big picture windows. Some are more playful than others, with sills lowered to floor level or built-in benches for sky gazing and afternoon reading. The dimensions of the windows, so the story goes, were derived from those of famous landscape paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, including works by Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan van Goyen, and Cornelis Vroom. The idea was that each window would be a living painting.

As a student of Dutch Golden Age painting, I’m skeptical about these dimensions, not wanting to see such Haarlem-specific landscapes geographically misappropriated in Almere. Yet I become half-convinced by MKA’s inventive application of cultural heritage during our late-afternoon midwinter visit to the Almere house. As dusk falls, the sunset is nothing short of spectacular. Crepuscular rays cast columns of sunlight throughout the main living area, streaming through the windows and the door that connects kitchen to terrace.

The owners boast that they have complete energy efficiency (and no bills) thanks to the solar panels. They clearly take pride in their expansive residence. Its lowest level opens onto a private dock with direct access to the adjacent canal and opportunities for swimming, lounging and boating. The top floor of the house is a free-for-all space where most of the painting-inspired windows are to be found. Overlooking a lake to the north and a flat barren field to the east, four windows on the uppermost level–some with reading benches–encourage relaxation, as does the canal below. In fact, most of the windows prove worthy of time spent unwinding, which is precisely what the architects had in mind. In some rooms, including the cosy nursery, a singular window defines the space. Elsewhere, they work in tandem to produce elongated views of low, billowing clouds. There are no actual paintings, of course. A Ruisdael landscape might cost as much or more than the entire house. ‘The windows let in as much light as possible,’ says Koehler, ‘and the front façade provides privacy, together with the garden.’

If Koehler looked to the façade of the Almere project for creative freedom, he looked to another of the firm’s single-family homes, recently erected in Amsterdam, for cleverly considered circulation. Lofthouse 1 occupies a south-facing corner site, which predetermined its envelope. ‘I don’t have one style or a singular design trademark,’ says Koehler. ‘I am still finding my way with each new project.’ Materiality, circulation, daylight: his work is not about an isolated quality but about a carefully nuanced balance of the three. His earlier Dune House and House in a House (both in Mark 54) also revealed differences in aim, materials and, therefore, feel.

The same diversity is apparent in Lofthouse 1, a single-family timber-clad home in Amsterdam North, where a former urban harbour has been converted to a residential neighbourhood, in sharp contrast to suburban Almere. Both steel-framed houses offer unobstructed views of the surroundings, yet in Amsterdam MKA opted for an atrium that is divided by crisscrossing sets of staircases and positioned living areas on higher levels. A subtle integration of site, an empathetic adherence to the client’s brief and a willingness to place detail above material luxury are elements incorporated into Koehler’s projects. Surely in time one of them–site, form or materiality–will emerge as the firm’s signature characteristic.

Until then, MKA’s output, especially the single-family houses in its portfolio, can be seen as whimsical experiments in volumetric exploration and division–with a focus on cleverly choreographed converging staircases, oversized picture windows seeking to resemble 17th-century landscape paintings, or a sly enmeshing of building and site. Koehler’s private residential projects recall the material twists and interlocking spaces that define the houses of the mid-1990s building boom in Amsterdam’s Eastern Harbour District. Perhaps they’re a more appropriate national legacy to reference than old master paintings.

Marc Koehler Architects

Jan 1, 2016

'The Smart of Everlasting DNA of Frank Lloyd Wright', Platea #1 Winter 2015

Publisher: Platea Media GmbH, Ismaning
ISSN: 2365-9297

When Frank Lloyd Wright, the early- and mid-twentieth century architect, first came to Europe in 1909, he did so with the explicit purpose of procuring a publisher for his many projects, mostly housing, at the time. After an abrupt attempt to establish a home in Italy, he retuned to his native USA in 1910, and immediately set out designing and constructing what would soon become his summer home, and sometimes studio, Taliesin. As his personal empire expanded, he built a second studio, Taliesin West, in Arizona, where he would summer, from 1937 onward. In 1867, when Wright was an infant, the world functioned dramatically different than it does today; France retained its monarchy, and Victoria sat on England's throne. By the time Wright traveled to Europe, first crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1909, he did so by ocean liner, and not by airplane. And it was such early-twentieth century technologies, as trans-Atlantic ocean liners, the telephone, and the mass-produced automobile, which inspired, and enthralled, Wright. He saw such technologies as progressive for architecture and drew-upon the era’s then new innovations: he made use of patterned block systems, for façades of his 1920s California houses, which referenced Aztec motifs, and frequently incorporated the use of steel-reinforced cantilevers. While in Europe, Wright had met with Ernst Wassmuth of Berlin, who published two volumes of his work and an accompanying monograph; they have since become known as the ‘Wassmuth Portfolio’, and included drawings of his many American housing projects. It captured his philosophy for an organic architecture, which advocated for a harmonious relationship between man-made dwellings and the natural world, and served to disseminate his then new ideas throughout Europe. Wright’s legacy has since spread beyond Europe and the USA, and his design philosophy was continued by his successors, notably John Lautner. Today, more than ever, those practicing an extension of Wright’s organic architecture ethics, such as the material researcher Neri Oxman, embrace his advocated symbiosis of human and nature, and amplify its intent with twenty-first century technologies.

If Wright pioneered the concept of an organic architecture, it was the seemingly infinite, and unspoiled natural landscape of the North American continent, which allowed it to flourish. Wright had trained with and worked alongside the Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, who is perhaps best remembered today for his famous proclamation that, ‘form ever follow function.’ It was this adage that mid-century modernist architects, as the Swiss Le Corbusier and German Mies van der Rohe, both from a generation of successive to Wright, adopted and expanded. Whereas those architects, and their contemporaries, were often burdened by the urban restraints of their European sites, Wright was oppositely unbridled by any Old World limitations, though the technologies available to him did have their limitations. Glass, steel, and expansive spaces define Le Corbusier’s and Mies’ oeuvres; a penchant for finely crafted woodwork, sensitivity toward handmade, and affection for the horizontal–rather than vertical–define the oeuvre of Wright. He embraced the building materials of his own time, as he attempted to merge landscape and site by integrating both: such materials, whether wood or glass, thus appear to be seamlessly combined, even as their joints are always exposed. Wright’s buildings are deeply integrated within their sites, as is the case with his Fallingwater–the famed 1936 vacation home of the Kaufmann family situated atop of a waterfall, along a bucolic Pennsylvania creek. Even when Wright did design for more urbane settings, such as with his single-family house ‘Jacob 1’, in Madison, Wisconsin, for instance, he followed his architectural philosophy and constructed an earthed-berm along its northern wall, to protect from wind and sunlight. Wright was certain his buildings would be open to future scrutiny, and interpretation: by way of his own writing, lectures, and his legacy of built works. His architecture captured the zeitgeist of early twentieth-century USA. Perhaps more than his legacy of actually built buildings, it is Wright’s philosophy of the ‘organic’ within architecture that resounds with contemporary society, though, beyond only architectural limitations, as it infiltrates those of fashion and design.

Extending Wright’s organic legacy was one of his most adamantly supportive pupils, the architect John Lautner, who is today perhaps most celebrated for his series of mid-twentieth century houses, most of which are in California. Notable of all his built work–which is perhaps due to its historical saturation in both the architecture and popular media–is his 1964 Sheats Goldstein Residence, perched on the edge of a steep hillside in Beverley Crest, Los Angeles. ‘Lautner was crazy about Wright,’ explains the home’s current owner, since 1972, James Goldstein., who has continually worked to restore, renovate, and recently, reinterpret the house. Collaborating with Lautner, who, according to Goldstein, ‘worshipped and believed in everything Wright did,’ the house remained under his guidance until his passing in 1994. Thereafter, Goldstein turned to architect Duncan Nichols; similar to Lautner’s relationship with Wright, Nichols was once Lautner’s pupil. Goldstein–who acquired the home due to his predilection for the abundant work of Wright present in his childhood, spent in prairie-like Wisconsin–has continued work on the house since Nichols’ passing, in January 2015. They were both responsible for two additions to the property: a site-specific light installation, with James Turell, completed in 2004, and the more recent, and nearly complete, entertainment complex, which rivals the main house in its sheer volume, and when finished will include a lap pool, offices, and lounge with panoramic view of the city’s skyline, all bedecked by an outdoor tennis court. It dissolves into the sloping site. The new complex was designed, says Goldstein, ‘in the same way Launter would have, had be been alive–making use of wood, concrete, and glass.’

As technologies progress, fashion, architecture, and design will see a continual appreciation for the raw, natural, and textured–as screens proliferate daily life. What this means for these fields in the future is being defined today; Neri Oxman, a materials researcher at MIT in Boston has, since 2008, been searching for ways to create buildings, ‘without joints.’ To her, an organic piece of architecture would not be 3-D printed, but instead grown, organically, from its site; walls would clean themselves, both inside and out, and no repairs are ever needed. Such a future is possible for architecture–what does this, then, mean for design? Whereas architectural practices are limited by the constraints and budgets of their clients–and technology–fashion cycles fade faster than those of design, due to their seasonal turnout and, relative to architecture, lower production costs. The Amsterdam-based fashion designer Iris van Herpen was recently catapulted onto the world’s catwalks–most ostensibly for her 3D printed creations. Her technology-entwined working process entails a continual collaboration with an array of artists and programmers, and in this way, she has extended the bounds of fashion practice, by making such a working process permanent–it is integral, rather than regulated to limited items of her collections. Her arguably organic fashion is derived from natural influences, though is limited to the definition of biomimicry; her materials do not breathe or grow, yet. Rather than trying to decipher natural material behaviors, to recreate them, as does Oxman, Herpen is concentrated on form, which mimics the organic, in a much similar manner, as did Wright; her skeletal creations are frenetically embraced, for their newness. Oxman–unlike both Wright and Herpen–researches with an explicit purpose of understanding actual organic materials, capable of self-repair and reproduction.

A recent architectural project that enthralled the architectural media, with its sensational and seemingly organic design approach–which is in all actuality, only an organic illusion–is the Parkroyal Hotel in Singapore, by WOHA; cascading layers of greenery dramatically inhabit its tropically overgrown, and thus jungle-like front façade. Yet, it was Edouard François’s 2004 Tower Flower, in Paris, which perhaps best epitomized this early-twenty-first century trend–of placing endless plants on buildings–with verdant clusters of bamboo planters strung along its exterior corridors, which in turn cloak its silhouette with lusciousness. Coincidently, Bosco Verticale in Milan, by Stefano Boeri, is incredibly similar to it. Another, more recent example of seemingly organic architecture, is the vertical garden designed by Patrick Blanc that adorns Jean Novel’s Central Park housing tower, in Sydney. There, an integration of site and architecture is achieved with today’s technology, notably by an obtrusively large heliostat, which reflects light down to a portion of its site–a park–that is otherwise always in shade. Only time will tell if such architectural innovations are only gimmicks, or genuine additions to a seamless merging of exterior environments, and architecture. Though, are such technologies integral to the future of organic architectural developments, or do they instead serve as afterthoughts to complex design problems, which perhaps were capable of being resolved earlier in the design process? How will future architecture integrate itself, with its site? Such a holistic approach to the creation of the new, through consciousness of the design process, is the domain of biomimicry; rather than wrap buildings with infinite potted plants, buildings may one day instead grow, in the same way most plants tend to: from their site.

Architecture will need more time and experimentation, before it blends Wright’s organic approach, with materials that technology now enables humans to create. Vertically grown gardens are welcomed additions to cities around the world; though they are only the first publicly visible signs of a renewed environmental sensitivity currently being embraced within the architecture profession; some architects even specialize in such architectural elements, as vertical gardens. Others, as New York-based Marc Fornes, combine ‘systematic research’ with digital fabrication to create site-specific installations and spatial-interventions; his design solutions are algorithmically determined, as are his materials and their joints’ connections. Yet Fornes’ materials do not breathe, reproduce, or repair by reacting to their context. And so architecture–currently involved in a self-induced debate about its future–has ahead of it two possibilities: a material-interconnectivity and technologically enabled flexibility, today locally, and next century, globally; or the trusted stacking of natural materials–such as bricks–that connect their joints at the most inorganic angle of 90-degrees. Wright went to extreme measures to ensure that his horizontal, rather than vertical masonry joints gained prominence within his housing designs. And his organic outlook required him to remain near the ground, literally through horizontality, and materially, through his predilection for brick, stone, and concrete. Through thought and construction, Wright created, sustained, and legacized his organic architecture philosophy; that legacy, of integrating architecture with the natural world, is today amplified, and was, more recently, adopted by fashion and design.