Architecture Myths #18: Popular Culture

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) lived through Impressionism but, rather than taking the delicate play of light upon whatever as the subject for his art, is best known for his graphic paintings and illustrations of people in their working environments. Much of his work was for advertising. This particular poster is from 1891. Lautrec_moulin_rouge,_la_goulue_(poster)_1891 This next image is possibly the first instance of a household brand being used in art. Still life no longer had to be about artfully arranged flowers, vases, wine bottles, wineglasses, guitars… Thank you, Futurists.

Gino Severini, Cubist Still Life (1917)

Gino Severini, Cubist Still Life (1917)

The Futurists, or at least Fortunate Depero, followed Lautrec’s lead and his work for Campari appeared as advertising posters in public places. 2012 11_58 AM Constructivist artists also did this as part of their quest for a socially useful art. We don’t know how popular these posters were but, if advertising’s involved, it’s not good for them not to be.

Textile design was another field of Constructivist artist endeavour. People could at least have nice curtains. Well done, Varvara Stepanova! d0b2d0b0d180d0b2d0b0d180d0b0-d181d182d0b5d0bfd0b0d0bdd0bed0b2d0b0-d0bfd0bbd0b0d182d18cd0b5-d181d188d0b8d182d0be-d0b8d0b7-d182d0bad0b0

Curtains and the idea of art for the people is the link between 1920s Russia and 1950s America. The idea of soft furnishings as art for the people driving the economy before the war, crossed the ocean and transmuted into idea of soft furnishings as consumer goods for the people driving the economy after the war, later being reimported to the UK and Scandinavia. 001055

The 1950s were the decade when the culture of the people became the dominant culture in America. Befitting the magpie instincts of artists, collage was an appropriate medium to represent it as a subject. The following collage is not meant to be a popular form of art, it merely appropriates aspects of popular culture as subject matter and represents them to those who can afford it and/or appreciate it.


Richard Hamilton “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” (1956)

Roy Lichtenstein‘s take on this was to represent popular culture using meticulously handprinted dots to reproduce frames from comic books. Roy_Lichtenstein_Whaam Andy Warhol was the most adept at exploiting popular culture for artistic ends. dollar-sign andy-warhol While all this was going on, many people who knew nothing about Hamilton, Lichtenstein or Warhol were finding joy in LP covers

Artist: Pedro Bell

Artist: Pedro Bell

and (admittedly, not the same people) black-light posters such as this on their walls. 20140617144641-Beatles_poster Jeff Koons mined popular culture to new heights/depths by taking kitcsh as his subject matter, discovering an entire new universe of found objects in the process. This next sculpture is popular in the sense that it engages people who have travelled to see an art gallery for entertainment. It is not however, popular art in the sense that it satisfies any art-for-the-people need. Koons has done well. (In passing, it’s been noticed he’s assembling a possible development site on W52nd St.) Bilbao.Koons02 jeff koons yacht luxury culture dot com All this art is the result of the observation, appropriation and representation of popular culture. It is not and never was generated for it, or an expression of it. This finally brings us to architecture. The observation-appropriation-representation cycle in architecture is even longer so it’s no wonder architecture is always behind the curve. “Hey – we just passed by the Bilbao Guggenheim! Let’s go back and take a look.” The Bilbao Guggenheim is nothing more than googie architecture to attract people in planes, not cars.  holiday_in_bilbao_attractions

In Easter Hill, Haskell identified characteristics new urbanists were to claim for their own. 

  • Winning government approval proved difficult because what they wanted to build broke the mold for public housing. “We started out from the beginning to plan a village,” Hardison [one of the original architects] says. They wanted units to feel like individual homes. “What we were trying to design violated some standards of the time,” he says. It was low-rise, not high, curved roads, not straight, and with varied textures and colors to avoid a barracks look. Hardison fought for amenities ignored in other projects — front yards, fenced backyards.
  • Easter Hill was a dream of a better future for people who live in public housing.
  • It was a dream shared by socially conscious post-World War II architects — that good design could produce livable neighbourhoods, even for poor people.

In 2003, fifty-six years later, Easter Hill, was in bad need of repair, and is probably gone by now.920x920 Instead of this useful thinking from 1954 being put to better use to provide more people with more real housing with more dignity, that thinking made its way into the Post-Modern retro-smalltown-themed holiday village known as Seaside, Florida. seaside Seaside Florida is a pretend town often invoked in discussions of New Urbanism – the new mantra more attuned to speculative property development than social housing. Like Philip Johnson and Henry-Russel Hitchcock before him, Charles Jenck’s agenda was to discredit the social aspirations of Modern(ism) architecture and

You can make your booking here. “There’s something to suit every budget.” seaside_florida_-_the_first_new_urbanist_development What Haskell saw as something of genuine value to people was quickly turned into a representation of something of genuine value to people. Instead of actually being the kind of person who sits on porches and says howdy to strangers passing by, people get to go on holiday and pretend they’re the the kind of person who sits on porches and says howdy to strangers passing by. Segueing backwards, Pruitt-Igoe was a theoretical smokescreen. If it were really the alleged death of Modernism, then the onus would have been on Post-Modernism to replace it with something more suitable? Or at least a better maintenance plan. It didn’t. The site remains empty. 



Metaphorically it did, or at least that was the claim, but the actual housing was never replaced. The destruction was real but the replacement theoretical. The conceit was that a representation of an idea of housing should be, could replace some something as useful as real housing, however flawed. Guild House at least provided some socially useful shelter behind its popularesque facade. 35079

But those were early days. Before too long, all facades would be brought into play, concealing all evidence of a building as even a carrier for representation and making it that much easier for representation to come to be mistaken for architecture. portlandia


Architecture Misfit #16: Douglas Haskell


Douglas Putnam Haskell (1899 –1979)

  • For much of the mid 20th century, Douglas Haskell had a voice in the major architectural and urban debates of the day.
  • As writer and editor, he weighed in on events and issues ranging from the 1932 International Style exhibition at MOMA to Expo ‘67 in Montreal, from public housing to suburban communities, from pre-war highway beautification to postwar freeway revolts.
  • He corresponded personally and professionally with leading thinkers and makers, including Catherine Bauer, Walter Gropius, Victor Gruen, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Lewis Mumford, Richard Neutra, Clarence Stein, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • As lecturer and critic, he taught at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Pratt.
  • From successive positions at Architectural Record and then Architectural Forum and through essays in Architectural ReviewLandscape, and L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, he reached an international professional readership.
  • As architecture critic for The Nation from 1930 to 1943 and occasional contributor to Life and Harper’s, and as a member of numerous civic organisations and advisory committees, including the Pennsylvania Avenue Council and Expressways Ltd., Haskell moved beyond the discipline and engaged a broad public audience.

For someone who contributed that much to architectural culture, Haskell and his thoughts remain almost completely unknown. This article, in Places Journal, goes some way to redressing that situation, and suggests the reason why Haskell is little known is because all of his output was pre-internet. I don’t think so. We know much more about many people who lived and died before the internet. Haskell’s been actively forgotten. I suspect the answer lies in that last part of the quote: Haskell moved beyond the discipline and engaged a broad public audience.” Being actively forgotten was his punishment for going against how architecture works.

This does not bode well for misfits.

Haskell had been paying close attention to the emerging American roadscape since at least 1937, when, after a 10,000-mile car trip, he published, in the British journal Architectural Review, “Architecture on Routes US 40 and 66” in May 1937. In that early piece he explored what designers could learn “in the country of the automobile,” by studying places that “are growing with the people themselves. 

Haskell identified what he called “googie” architecture. 

Googie architecture: Between the end of World War II and, let’s say, the invention of the internet, there arose an architecture that existed to be seen, enjoyed and used by ordinary people driving around. It made sense. Most buildings are next to roads. Googie architecture was about buildings being signs saying “look at me, come in, and spend your money!”.

Googie architecture found its perfect expression in gas stations and drive-in restaurants

in various lesser retail outlets seen from roads,

and airport terminals, as seen from parking lots.

As Haskell saw it, Googie “brought modern architecture down from the mountains” and “set ordinary clients, ordinary people, free.”

Saying things like this was never going to win Haskell any friends. His famous essay “Architecture and Popular Taste” appeared in Forum magazine in 1958.

In “Architecture and Popular Taste” he took seriously what “know nothing” man said he liked — from decoration to romance to unabashed symbolism — and he examined the parallels between various popular styles and the contemporary work of prominent architects.


You can read the full article here, in Places Journal and from where I’ve taken all the quotes in this post.

In his essay, Haskell praised the US Pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair.


“What Stone achieved in this fine popular expression of American statecraft has been carried by other architects, in the same spirit, into that stronghold of functionalism, the American factory.”

He praised European factories such as Olivetti’s 1958 factory in Ivrea. (Adriano Olivetti believed the factory could be the focus for a new ideal community that could counteract the fragmentation of modern society.)


Nor is America alone in this; witness the new factories in Italy of Olivetti and his architects.

He praised Vernon DeMars’s Easter Hill 1954 public housing development on the east side of San Francisco Bay. In 1957, the American Institute of Architects called the project, designed by Don Hardison, Vernon DeMars and Lawrence Halprin, one of “10 Buildings in America’s Future.” “American architecture at its best,” the organization said. In a picture spread, Life magazine called Easter Hill, “ideal low-cost housing.”


DeMars has done everything possible at Easter Hill to make the houses seem homelike, pretty, unpretentious, colorful, less like a fiat of design from above and more like a growth that might spring directly from the people. (You can read more about Easter Hill here.)

Haskell identified three important trends.

The first seems to be a popular demand for more decorativeness and romance than a highly intellectual architecture has been delivering: the desire is for what architectural draftsmen gruffly call “schmaltz” and what a more sophisticated critic might christen “the new Alhambra.”

The second popular need seems to be for more drama: a “good show,” symbolism, even fairy tales: what draftsmen might term “googie” and a critic might describe as the “new baroque.”

And, finally, there are indications of a growing popular desire for an architectural counterpart to jazz — that new art form, popular in origin, which has grown into a highly demanding discipline and has greatly affected “serious” music. Its architectural analogue reflects a comparable need for free improvisation in building design, newer rhythms, freshness and readiness in adaptation. 

Call it a trio of schmaltz, googie, and honky-tonk; call it the new romanticism, the new baroque, and the new improvisation; call it sweetness, symbolism, and the happy note; call it the new Alhambra, the greater googie, and the new Times Square — in any of these triads describing new trends it is possible to find evidence of the coming rapprochement between modern architecture and popular taste.

He wrote this in 1958, remember. Timeline time.

1937–: Haskell observed the architecture of popular culture
1952: Haskell identified Googie architecture
1958: Haskell claimed Times Square was all right
1966: Robert Venturi claimed “Main Street is almost all right” in C&CiA
1972: RV (now with Denise Scott-Brown) claimed things could be learned from Las Vegas.

Venturi and Scott-Brown learning from Las Vegas

Venturi and Scott-Brown learning from Las Vegas

If only Haskell had mentioned~ The Big Duck in his 1937 travels.


Big Duck featured in the New York Times of 11 October, 1931 soon after its completion.

Venturi’s duck makes exactly the same point as Haskell’s hot dog stand. Venturi’s Las Vegas makes. exactly the same point as Haskell’s Times Square. V&SB’s most significant contribution to architecture was to take this naïvely simple, vibrant and inclusive visual culture and represent its naïve simplicity, vibrance and inclusion as Post Modernism. They killed googie. The only thing they didn’t like about Main Street was that architects hadn’t designed it.


1977: Charles Jencks’ “The Language of Post-Modern Architecture” was first published. As we know, Jencks used the dynamiting of Pruitt-Igoe to claim Modernism had failed people and that we could all do with a decent dose of architecture that meant things to people, thereby perverting what Haskell had already stated in 1958, even using the same hot-dog stand to make the same point.


It gets worse. In 1958, Haskell identified what Jencks was to market in 2005 as the “iconic” building. 

on with the showiconic building

In 1958 it may have been okay to ask “why should a building show its construction?” but in 2015 it’s okay to ask why a building should need to pretend it’s not a building? It’s dysfunctional, delusional, “bad faith” even. But that’s not my point.

Haskell has received no recognition for forecasting these two large architectural trends of the past 50 years. He is not credited in Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction or in Venturi and Scott-Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas. (If you have a copy of the latter, be amazed at the number of pages referencing their own writings and things other people wrote about them.)

Similarly, you won’t find Jencks acknowledging any intellectual debt in at least these three books.

This is not right.

The objectives of a popular architecture Haskell first observed with googie were quickly given architectural representation as Post Modernism and, in doing so, were no longer “popular” taste but representations of it. This was not what Haskell had in mind. 

Haskell’s identification of what were to come to be called “iconic” buildings did not lead to a more approachable architecture. There once might have been the potential for a more popular architecture but Jencks invented the vile aesthetic apartheid of double-coding which took from popular culture but gave back no more than non-intellectuals could be expected to process. This too, was not what Haskell had in mind.   

• • •


Douglas Putnam Haskell

For trying to bridge the gap between architectural “geniuses” on the one side and the so-called ordinary people who had neither “education nor leaders” to guide them, 

for moving “architectural criticism away from the respectful stroking of architectural ego to by-lined commentary that would challenge the status quo” and

for having a definition of architecture as “man working upon the whole of his environment to put it into habitable, workable, agreeable and friendly shape.

None of these were ever going to make you popular with the architectural establishment but you fought the good fight and for that

misfits salutes you!


Building Bridges

Bridges between buildings are a useful way of going over something to get people or things to a different building more quickly or conveniently. They’re like long corridors that make two or more buildings into one. This is most useful for certain types of factory.

The Gosprom building opened in Kharkiv in the Ukraine in 1928 after a local architect, Viktor Trotsenko, won a public competition in 1925. The buildings housed the Ukrainian Soviet Republic’s central committee, various commissariats, planning commissions and industrial enterprises, a library and a hotel.


Bridges between buildings are a convenient way to link different buildings in places where going outside means overcoats and different shoes.

1920s Russian architecture used them as a way for residents to get to shared facilities such as canteens, childminding, gymnasiums and other recreational spaces.

The two examples above are examples of Constructivist architecture employing the concept of a social condenser in which shared spaces were designed without a sense of hierarchy. This made them more socially accessible.


In Dubai, less inclusively, you’ll see many bridges linking apartment buildings and hotels with separate buildings that contain car parking and, more often than not, shared facilities such as cafés, childminding centres, swimming pools and gyms on their rooftops. It saves going outside.


The users of this science and technology centre in central Siberia’s Novosibirsk can probably relate to that.



One bridged building that’s entered our consciousness lately is Steven Holl’s Linked Hybrid in Beijing. It may be to avoid contact with the outside air.

1252359914-steven-holl-lh-09-06-8692SH’s website is unlikely to tell us.


There’s that term, “social condenser” again. We can’t say if it’s being used disingenuously or naïvely but, when amenities in contemporary mixed use complexes are involved, there’s certain to be a hierarchy of residents, residents’  guests, guest, and public membership privileges.

In Linked Hybrid, bridges connect the residential buildings with communal facilities such as the gym and swimming pool, and also enable residents and their guests to access the hotel facilities. This phenomena has been covered in Fun!tionalism and The Well-Serviced Apartment.  Holl’s site has some nice pictures but no plans or sections so it’s difficult to evaluate the actual convenience and amenity offered. A website quote by Paul Goldberger offers a different angle.


Not so sure about that. One person’s “sense of isolation” is another person’s “comfortable distance”. But hey, would that be the same Paul Goldberger seen (in Charles Jenck’s The Language of Post Modern Architecture, 1984 edition, p23) deriding buildings with “streets in the sky”.

paul goldberger

We need more information about his change of heart. Is it the maturity of being 30 years older? or is it a case of “The Smithsons bad, Holl good”? Or “1970’s London bad, 2009 Beijing good”? Maybe it’s “poor people bad, rich people good”? Or “Social housing bad, Capitalist exploitation good”? We may never know.

One thing we do know about bridges between buildings is that they’re a good idea. And one thing we know about architects is that they tend to take good ideas and represent them – something akin to a kiss of death.

With Linked Hybrid, it’s all about the getting there rather than what you do once you have. In this sense, the bridge is the communal facilities rather than a means of accessing them.


Ditto Linked Hybrid, Beijing (Steven Holl)

This is more so with SHoP’s 626 First Ave. The bridge is now the architectural focus of the building.  It enables sharing of communal facilities but its primary architectural function is to represent it.


SHoP Architects’ 626 First Avenue apartments

These next examples have the bridge at the top of the building. The Address Sky View Towers is one of those twin hotel and apartment buildings mentioned in The Well Serviced Apartment.


Marina Bay Sands is all-hotel with the value-added amenities similarly up top where they don’t encroach upon the business bits of the building.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore (Rafael Viñoly Architects)

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore (Rafael Viñoly Architects)

Once it’s established that a bridge can be value-added space, it can then be marketed as premium space. Designed by Arquitectonica, Gate Towers in Abu Dhabi takes the bridge full-circle with premium double-storey “sky penthouses”.


Rising over 250 metres in the air and occupying the 64th & 65th Floor, the stunning Penthouse Collection at Gate Towers is the world’s highest penthouse bridge structure on a residential space

I think that should be “the world’s highest residential penthouses on a bridge structure.”

The Collection is home to 21 luxurious penthouses comprising at least 430 square metres each and with their own private swimming pools and, in a limited number of units, an ‘internal garden’.

The quotation marks are there for a (legal) reason.

And there we have it. Bridges have gone

  1. from being something that connects shared amenities,
  2. to being something that represents shared amenities,
  3. to being something that is a value-adding shared amenity, and finally
  4. to being something that contains value-adding unshared amenities (in the form of swimming pools) and
  5. to something that provides value-adding shared but unusable amenity (in the form of ‘internal gardens’).

What’s happened is that bridges between buildings have become a new form of property. This is indeed the first time enclosed space unsupported from below has been marketed as penthouse space (or should we say ‘penthouse’ space?) Cheekily, the value-adding feature is a view up and down a lightwell.

This makes sense. To give those lightwells a base would make them into conventional courtyards on a conventional bridge. There would be no views down but, more importantly, no views up. Representing a communal space (even if it’s a void) has higher architectural priority than providing useable space. This principle gave us buildings like MVRDV’s 2005 Mirador. Its media package disingenuously invoked LC’s 1949 Ud’H but by 2005, representing a thing had already become more important than the thing being represented. It made no sense to put communal space on a rooftop where no-one could see it.


Arquitectonica have their place in void history. Currently reprised in the Abu Dhabi development,

their 1982 Atlantis was groundbreaking in giving architectural representation to void space as communal space.

The Atlantis Condominium, Miami, Florida, 8007

The residents at least got a hot tub and a palm tree out of it.



1928: The Meeting

Moissei Ginzburg

“Hello. I’m Moisei Ginzburg and I’d like to thank you for allowing my team and I to give this preliminary presentation on the analysis of apartment types that we’ve been conducting over the past three months. We can’t claim to have finished but are presenting it to you today in order to discuss its methods and methodology.”

When Moisei Ginzburg and his team met at STROYKOM [Building Committee of the Economic Council of what’s now the Russian Federation] to present the preliminary findings of The Types Study, there was one unspoken yet strongly felt presence at the meeting – History. It was not on their side of the table.

  • March~September 1928: The most likely period for the three-month Types Study.
  • 16 May 1928: The Central Committee of The Communist Party issued a formal directive: “On the Work Concerning The Restructuring Of Everyday Life”: WE WARN AGAINST ATTEMPTS OF CERTAIN COMRADES TO CONSTRUCT NEW MODES OF EVERYDAY LIFE BY FORCING MEANS SUCH AS SEPARATE CHILDMINDING , COMMUNAL DINING, ETC. New modes of everyday life must be built by taking into full account existing material conditions. IN NO INSTANCE MUST THEY PROCEED TO CONSTRUCT PLANS FOR WHICH THERE IS NEITHER MEANS NOR POSSIBILITY OF REALISING THEM. 

It’s clear someone at the top was upset. Ginzburg and his team had been working to achieve exactly what was now being strongly warned against. Worse, that work had been done under the support and protection of a government agency. The project needed to die and it needed to look like it died of natural causes.

  • November 1928: The Meeting

The Meeting was a feature of the entire CA (Contemporary Architecture, OSA crew’s mouthpiece) issue #1 of 1929. Misfits wouldn’t have been able to bring you this post if it weren’t for this coverage.


“In a country of emerging socialism, problems of lowering the cost of housing are connected to problems of improving housing to increase labor productivity, facilitate cultural revolution and to shift to more socially complex modes of housekeeping. Thorough rationalization of pre-revolution apartment plan, analysis of household activity and in the rooms and kitchen in particular could lead to 10% savings.”

Ginzburg began by emphasising that his team pursued building economy in order to better use building resources to supply millions of people with housing. He linked housing improvement to broader questions of the national economy, cultural revolution and changes in the household itself. He recognised that full socialism was still not achieved, and that interim solutions were required.

He stated that pre-Revolution apartments were well suited to bourgeois families but, even without secondary staircases and servants’ quarters, were a poor use of space if they had to house one family per room as had become common. Here’s a modest pre-Revolutionary Moscow apartment currently for sale ( The building has two apartments per floor. It looks like the elevator has been added later. Here's a Moscow pre-revolutionary apartment (with elevator) currently for sale (

A downscaled version of such an apartment was used as the baseline for The Types Study.

“Rationalization of the pre-revolution apartment plan and an analysis of household activity in the rooms and kitchen in particular could provide savings of 10%.”

Imagining a future in which people ate in communal canteens, Ginzuburg and his team saw the kitchen as ultimately redundant. In the meantime, they settled for a drastic rationalisation.

“You may see here on the board a rationalised kitchen alongside a conventional kitchen.”

Ginzburg and the crew used the 1926 Frankfurt Kitchen as a design guideline and illustration of a rationalised kitchen.

Photographs of pre-1917 Russian kitchens are few. This next photo is a contemporary Russian kitchen that, though romanticised, probably contains a memory of what a bourgeois kitchen once was. In early 1900s Russia, wealthier houses would have had gaslight chandeliers, for example.

gorgeous-russian-interior-design-ideas-russian-classic-kitchen-design.jpg Floorplan and kitchen improvement comprise the essence of A type apartments, so that’s how they’ve been introduced. But back in 1928, “How high did an apartment room really need to be?” was a question that needed an answer. The political revolution of eleven years before still had not reached architecture.


“If surplus height in non-habitable rooms such as the hallway, bathroom, WC and kitchen is redistributed, housing economic efficiency can be further improved.”

By “economic efficiency” Ginzburg means the following.


He then showed the Type B apartment had interlocking upper and lower apartments with the non-habitable rooms having the areas of lower ceiling height.

img2943-e1430402521581“Type B has specific issues but outperforms the EKOSO norms by 17% and our own A2 type 10% in terms of volumetric ratio. Keeping in mind additional expenses such as an extra riser or extra joist, we estimated a 15% cost reduction.”

“In this non-habitable room area and height squeeze we’ve reached the extreme we can’t surpass. It’s almost the saturation limit. But for apartments below 50 sq. m. economic efficiency demands more radical measures.”

Those measures included implementing the niche kitchen and installing a shower instead of a bathtub.

“The question of economically beneficial small apartment is brought to the forefront by our social condition.”

Ginzburg began introducing the hurdle of apartment compaction and rationalisation — the internal limitations of building configuration. It was constant volumetric ratio evaluation conducted through the study that enabled them to see those. The desire to construct many small apartments was the reality of constructing habitable envelopes for a thousand stairwells – if done on a regular basis. This was the key problem the crew faced. That enabled MG to move on towards the F, with its renowned features:

  • Sleeping area and auxiliary rooms (shower, WC, lavatory) are on one side and with reduced height (2.25 m).
  • The living area is on the other side and is of greater height (3.5 m), allowing a corridor because of the accumulated surplus height differences of the portions.
  • This corridor may be totally lit.
  • Apartments have cross-ventilation and are dual-aspect.
  • The building volume to habitable area ratio is the same as in a 3-room apartment.
  • The average ceiling height in the apartment is still better than in current worker housing.
  • Adopting the kitchen element allows dual use of kitchen activity area.

F plans board

Ginzburg ended his presentation with a list of of qualities they strove to achieve through their design process.

1. Light in every place of apartment. 2. Cross-ventilation and double-aspect apartments. 3. All bedrooms having the same orientation. 4. Rooms sized according to number of inhabitants. 5. Rooms shaped and sized according to activity. 6. Top-range equipment. 7. Optimum room proportions. 8. Rational colouring of interior surfaces.


His final words were on the topic of standardised construction that was an outline of future work as well:

“Today’s directive on standardization is wrong in our opinion, because the desire to populate whole country with the frightening mediocrity of identical houses is a mistake.”

“We believe standardization should be made not via replication of only one type, but through the use of standard elements that can be combined into a multitude of types.”


Those who go first, and object to the first thing they notice:

Cde. Morosov (Head Regional Engineer) “The corridor is very ingeniously contrived but, in case of fire, would become a large ventilation shaft feeding a fire and blocking the exit. The narrow exit stairs compromise the floor area.” 


Those who don’t know what they are saying, but say it anyway:

Cde. Elaschenko (Moscow Council) “These houses must be built with elevators. It’s impossible to use such a house without one. Elevators themselves take up considerable area. [In the case of the lower Type F apartments] the residents will have to go up and then down. This is not pleasant and will have a negative psychological effect in addition to having to climb stairs to go outside.


“I don’t think the height of the kitchen can be less than the living room because it’s impossible to work in a kitchen with a ceiling lower than 2.5m. For the lavatory, a ceiling height of 2.25m would compromise the tank performance unless it is installed at ceiling level – in which case it can’t be adjusted.”


Those who don’t say much:

Cde. Prokofiev (Health Authority)

“The non-habitable area was mentioned but the height of the habitable area will also be reduced, compromising the health of the residents. Expensive mechanical ventilation would be required since the kitchen and the lavatory are so close to the living area.”


Those whose one good point gets lost: 

Cde. Serk (Health Authority) [ According to Igor Kazus’ book «Soviet Architecture of 1920s: Design Organisation», from 1922-24, Serk was head architect in the residential department of Gosstroy (State Construction institution) but by 1928 had become an architectural consultant for the Health Authority. As such, Serk would be partially responsible for issuing the sunlight directives still in force across Russia today. ] 

“Every time we get back to knowing not what we want to build – sometimes we want 3-room apartments for one family and sometimes we want 3-room apartments as dormitories!  If we build 3-room apartments for 3 families to live it doesn’t make sense to shrink the kitchen to the extent proposed by the speaker. The kitchens they have abroad are all good if used by one family but not three. It’s impossible to design a perfect 3-room apartment for both one and three families. This question must be resolved once and for all.

“The speaker mentions a range of ingenious and interesting ploys to reduce the ratio of volume to living area. Good, but how much will one cubic meter cost? A more detailed calculation is required. From what I’ve heard, designers are now considering only the volume value but not all cubic meters cost the same. Height may be reduced to give fewer cubic meters but those meters will cost more. This question of cost was not explained.

“The kitchen rationalization is great theme – but that kitchen can only be possible in Moscow and other cities with water supply, gas etc. In the provinces, it’s too early to implement the degree of rationalization seen in the West.

Those who seem reasonable:

Cde. Rukhlyadev (Tsentrogylsoyuz housing committee)

“The virtue of this design is that kitchen equipment is being taken into account for the first time. This is a complex and important problem that must be explored further for not only urban but for other types of household.

“To me, the key feature of the floor plans is a dedicated area for sleeping. This was noted in Stroykom’s proposed guidelines but never considered until now. 


“Cde. Serk is right to note that this apartment won’t probably be inhabited by one person making its mass construction unlikely. We currently have apartments housing more than one family and it’s those apartments that big cities need. 

“The corridor is crucial to residential construction, especially in cooperative housing where they are used to connect to other uses such as clubs, canteens, laundries and childminding centres. Implementing this programme by our rustic means will be difficult and the cost per unit volume will be higher than that of regular housing. Stroykom’s further work should focus on standard construction modes for buildings, but not the ones we have now. The cost of housing built with industrially produced elements should eventually become comparable to regular housing.”

Cde. Curella (Arts Sector of the Commissariat of Enlightenment) 

“We have to welcome those problems being presented to the general public. Essentially, the methodology is correct. In the report we see new modes of research on scientific organization of housekeeping. For the first time, perhaps, we see problems of new Soviet life modes included into academic architectural research. One of the best achievements is stimulating the shift towards collective housing but if we build housing only equipped with community kitchens, workers will set up kerosene stoves inside their rooms. … A lot of interesting features are seen in incremental design of F type housing. If we compare this new one-room corridor housing to the old ‘hotel type’ housing, the progress is so obvious it couldn’t be ignored. The argument regarding fire escape doesn’t hold water. I reckon we have to discuss all of these problems in a broader public forum. Workers aren’t yet part of the discussion. We need to publicise this work and perhaps go the Western way and set up a housing exhibition or show apartment or a testing station. The following year we could build a few experimental apartments based on these types and test them with real residents.”

The team’s Alexander Pasternak made a clarification at this juncture. He’d noted that people seemed to think the partial reductions in room height led to an overall reduction in room height when in fact the average room height was greater than what was typical.

Those who don’t:

Cde. Bragin (Health Authority)

“Comrades, the recent speaker claimed that volume was reduced at the expense of the dining room but isn’t it the living room where we reside the whole day? Volume reduction is undesirable. Further economies are achieved at the expense of the kitchen. Another issue is the living room and lavatory adjacency. In our conditions it’s inconvenient. How would you design where you don’t have sewers and water pipes, like in worker settlements? Have you made airflow calculation for your housing types? They say about influx ventilation but it’s overly expensive. Cooking inside the same room is a fundamental flaw that will also make the air foul. Was the aspect of children falling from the abundant staircases considered? Is it good to constantly go up or downstairs that ladder? Worker’s household modes must be changed with regard to their demands but I can’t see such consideration. The last aspect is social. I don’t think the corridor would facilitate resident communication, except for its negative aspects.

“Was noise transmission considered? Won’t the corridor facilitate sound transmission between apartments? Such effects can render any economy meaningless.”

Those who have been paying close attention:

Cde. Sadovsky (NKVD) 

getting up to speed on the NKVD

NKVD was the forerunner of the KGB

“I would say the problem posed by the speaker features three aspects. First is kitchen rationalization we have to welcome, but, bearing our situation in mind, we must think again about niche kitchenettes.

“Our situation” was a standard euphemism also used by other people at the meeting to refer to poverty, urban overcrowding and the recurring reality of three families per apartment. Sadovsky is saying that proposing niche kitchenettes is not helpful at the present time.

“In the B type, the entire non-habitable area is on one side of the plan and the habitable on the other and in the next floor they’re flipped. This creates a plumbing (and also an economic) issue since every floor will have pipes running down its full height on both sides. 

This is a valid point. 

“You would be constricted by the lighting conditions as well because if in the first floor you orient the bedroom to the east and in the second floor to the west.

It is true that similar rooms on adjacent floors are on opposite sides of the building.

“As general remarks on the author’s project, I must say the speaker anticipates a high level of servicing including sewerage and water and gas supply. We have to think about how applicable this proposal is when our cities have them only for 20%. We can’t expect elevator and gas without sewerage or water supply. The dining area and bathroom can’t be adjacent as in this design, unless there is a sewerage connection.”

This is also true. It also questions the fundamental assumptions and applicability of the proposals. It is also a direct reference to their economic viability and, as such, is a direct reference to the prohibiting directive. This could not be left without a response.

Cde. Cornfeld [of Stroykom] replied that the purpose of the work was not to find universal solutions for the entire republic and that it was too early to make detailed criticisms when more research is yet to be done. He defended the decision to do away with a dedicated kitchen on the grounds of increased equality. He also reminded everyone that research into single-room apartments is necessary as a solution to the problem of 3-room apartments being occupied by 3 families.

Cde. Voyeykov [ditto] admitted that the focus of the presentation should have been the theme of the work rather than the designs. He also pointed out the problems in designing to solve existing problems and at the same time for a future no-one knows. He restated how rationalising the floor plan was necessary and beneficial work and, with respect to universality, suggested that they could start by building these apartments in places already with  sewerage and water supply, even though the ideas they contain could be applied anywhere.

Cde. Kopelyansky [ditto] explained how the 5-year plan calls for a 40-50% reduction in the cost of construction and that they aimed to achieve this by rationalising volume and the construction process. He added that more work on structure and construction will follow in the second stage of their work, and also stated his agreement with the basic idea of achieving an affordable one-family apartment. He agreed that major decisions can’t be forced upon residents and that it was necessary to build several different test houses for people to live in for a year or so.

Those who say whatever comes into their head:

CCoC representative (Central Commitee of Carpenters)

“About the room height, the authors made it bad because air is short. We have accepted multi-storey construction the best for the city. It was proven by cooperative construction. So we must explain how we’re gonna use this weirdo [такого «чудака»] [points at model] with its many staircases, in 10-15 years time? The workers might then be asking for elevators! Will anyone want to live in it in 10-15 years time? No. Never. Because of all those stairs. This design isn’t good for anything. It won’t be suitable for life either now nor then. No equipment can improve a house built this way. You’re not going to find that apartment anywhere in 25 years. This research is no good. Sometimes people bring new pieces of furniture to our carpentry workshops. They seem promising at first but then turn out to be not worth a row of pins.”

F1 model

Those who take the opportunity to grandstand:

Cde. Lissitzky (ASNOVA  rival architectural group to Ginzburg’s OSA)

The report said all this work is only three months old, but for real it’s older: those problems were researched by ASNOVA crew, as well as at VKHUTEMAS, Leningrad Institute of Civil Engineers and in other institutions different residential proposals were designed but those were treated as academic, utopian.”

In an article a few years later for a German magazine, Lissitzky was to use the following housing as examples aiming to determine “the direction in which the housing of a Socialistic society should develop.” The Types A, E and F were also included as work of the Building Committee of the Economic Council of the R.S.F.S.R.

“It hasn’t been properly mentioned here but we have always looked up to the west.  I can talk a lot about this because I’ve studied the residential construction of Western Europe. I must point that what may suit them doesn’t suit us at all because our household customs are different. They know what they need, especially in the Netherlands where the architecture is most clearly defined. And those shivers we see in Germany are reflected in architecture as well. We are totally ignorant of what we need. We know now we have a 9 sqm norm and we know it’s not normal. It’s a ration, a temporary case. 

“If we build for 50 years on the basis of this norm it means we don’t believe things will get better. What we need to do is calculate how long we would need to live by such a norm and propose five-year plans instead etc. If we build for 50 years to a 9 sq.m norm, then we had better hang ourselves. (Laughter)”

Those who make you go “Huh?”:

Cde. Venderov (VOGI – Civil Engineer Society) “A lot of critique was said here, and I’d like to attend only one detail being the calculations. As to the design, the height here [points at blueprint] is 3 ½ meters. This height must be increased otherwise a minimum height for corridors, bedrooms and bathrooms and lavatories can’t be obtained. There a surplus comes out: instead of regular 2.8 meter height we have 3.5 meters; this makes a difference of 70 cm. If we take the area of this unit, it’s 9×5.5 meters; this makes around 50 square meters. Thus we have 35 cubic meters of surplus per every apartment per corridor.

If we compare it to the volume we might get from regular type with stairwell serving 2 apartments at its sides, having taken common stair 7 meter long and 1.2 meter wide we get something like 9 square meters. Those 9 square meters times 2.80 or 3 meter height make 27 cubic meters, and if we take your project we can’t talk profits.”

This dance of numbers deserves some disambiguation. The talk is about the F – two stacked 3.5 meter living rooms accompany 2.25 m bedroom, a corridor and another bedroom stacked onto each other. The VOGI representative saw the 3.5 meter height as being not compliant with his idea of the volume-efficiency agenda. He claimed 0.7 m excess height across the F when compared to regular 2.8 m high apartment, making an excess of 35 cubic meters over its 50 sq.m floor area, again when compared to regular apartment.

However, the median height of the Type F is 3.06 m and not 3.50. He just got lost in its sectional complexity. Not to mention messy calculation, to blame a design team for increasing the habitable volume is a weird claim in itself. Bizarrely, he then compares this excess volume to the 27 square meters of stairwell of each floor of regular 2-apartment-per-landing apartments and concludes that the Type F underperforms. Mr. Venderov seems to have lost the track somewhere in the middle of MG’s report.

Those who are last:

Cde. Kyzymov (CEKOMBANK)

“What kitchen rationalization comes to be? I suppose it’s the problem of rationalizing the hostess herself. We don’t raise such a question yet. But it’s great the author reckons necessary to rationalize the kitchen. When he approaches its volume reduction, the opposite happens. Because our hostess spends at least 4-6 hours in the kitchen. There’s absolutely different atmosphere compared to the apartment. Could kitchen size be reduced in such case? The most worker women don’t have maids so they have to bear a child to the kitchen as well. Can bedroom height be reduced as well? But in case of scarce habitable area the bedroom must be tightpacked, and you could imagine what the air would be like in winter there. So we mustn’t take the path the speaker suggests. Now about the economy. It was said it’ll be grand. Is it examined? I doubt it. I reckon approval of all these types would be hasty. Comrades who worked on those must continue their work according to preceding conclusions.

Cde. Jukeov (VSNKh RSFSR – powerful industrial and economic authority)

“The speakers made the wrong assumption to spread proposed types across whole USSR. Conditions are needed for that, now present only in big cities. It’s clear this house can’t be built in Yakutia [easternmost part of Siberia] but that doesn’t mean this house won’t suit Moscow. It is the exact answer to cultural revolution problem that is to come.

“The types presented to us have such virtue of taking not only economic, but social aspect of the problem into account. I admire the idea of horizontal corridor, because the corridor used in Moscow Council buildings is very uneconomical and uses much area and volume.

mossoviet double corridor

“We must move to practical examination of those types. All the remarks announced may be excellently resolved. We should build and show first for attitudes to change.”

The people who are last get to hear everything before it’s their turn. In all likelihood, someone has already said what they might have wanted to say. These people are thus more likely to summarise and draw preliminary and quite reasonable, if safe, conclusions. There are two conclusions rising to the surface here. One is that further economic analysis is necessary. The other is that test apartments must be built and studied further.


“Many people helped me, so my job is easier now. I’ll divide my afterword into two parts, first commenting on various objections before moving onto overall conclusions.” 

  • The Type F median floor height is 3.20 meters (crude recalculation returns 3.06, see above)
    whilst Mossoviet blocks have it at 2.85 meters, and that the aim was always to increase the media floor height.
  • Staircases take up area but so too would the corridor they function as.
  • The calculations for Type F were for a minimum 2-floor configuration. So elevator can’t be discussed.
  • The overall building depth of a three-room double sided apartment is 9.30 meters not including the wall thickness – so there’s no significant reduction.
  • The reality of 3 housewives per a kitchen doesn’t render its rationalisation inappropriate.
    “If there are three housewives, it’s three times you have to reconsider the movement graph and appliance arrangement.”
  • The 9 sq.m “ration” per person is expected to increase by the addition of more communal facilities rather than increasing the area per-se like a bourgeois apartment. 
  • The government order was to exploit all the ways of reducing the construction cost and they have preferred to achieve it at the expense of non-habitable rooms and not habitable rooms. Types promising significant volume reductions need to be seriously considered.
  • Standardisation that enables variation despite using standard elements is what is needed. 
  • A-type doesn’t increase cost (“apart from the designer’s brain energy expenditure”, he said). Kitchen rationalisation counted for most of its efficacy. The A-type 2-room apartments provided 9% building volume economy without cost increase. A-3-type (3-room apartment) provided 12-15% area economy and 15% volumetric benefit. He admitted Type B had its faults but its volumetric economy deserved consideration.

“We’ve heard unclear and messy assumptions of what’s to come in 10 or 15 years, We don’t think that everyone will have seven or eight rooms with their own servants. We envisage that in 10 to 20 years the sector we call the collective will grow and the one we call individual would shrink. What will happen to the F-type in 50 years? It’s simple. One or two persons will live there instead of three or four, and in the best case only one person. At the same time there will be expansion of communal facilities such as canteens, kitchens, kindergartens and such that serve not the individual but the community sector. With this in mind, such apartments would be even more necessary and more congruent with life in 50 years than now.”


The Plenum of RSFSR Construction committee and with the presence of scientific, construction and public organizations, starting with the difficult residential condition of USSR workers and from a need to develop and enhance residential construction to the most, decrees that:

  1. Research into economical forms of residential types and their construction methods is needed.
  2. Such research must aim to improve the quality of life and not degrade it.
  3. The construction of the presented types in large cities requires attention.
  4. Existing apartment types (Types A2, A3) should have more rational planning and surplus non-habitable area reduced to achieve a better ratio of habitable area cost to gross construction cost.
  5. There should be experimental construction of new residential types (Types B2, B3).
  6. There should be experimental construction of the compact one-room apartment (Type F)
  7. Experimental construction must examine the most economical and rational allocation of these types inside single buildings with communal facilities
  8. The Presidium of Stroykom RSFSR is to assign funds for both the experimental construction as well as their popularization.
  9. The Typization Section of Stroykom [Ginzburg and his team] will further research new methods and residential types whilst paying particular attention to structural design and inexpensive construction.
  10. Experimental construction making use of new and inexpensive construction materials should begin in the current building season.
  11. Typical structures and their elements must be designed to maximize their potential for fabrication in factories.
  12. The Stroykom Pesidium should facilitate the above by coordinating between the different institutions and organizations.

FOR: 7    AGAINST: 1


Some tactical errors were made by Ginzburg and his team.

  • It’s still the case that despite talk of dialogue, collaboration, participation and (these days) integrative design processes, the discussion only really gets started when an architect puts some drawings on the table. Once that happens, the conversation quickly turns specific. This is why it’s better to take hand sketches to preliminary meetings. The project still looks like an idea “stakeholders” feel they can input to. The architect is not seen as imposing some predetermined solution.
  • Once people have the impression of a fait accompli, it’s impossible to convince them otherwise. The mood was (and still is when their work gets resurfaced) that “the Constructivists” had designed five types of apartments for five different types of resident. Talk of standardisation becomes impossible.
  • It’s also the case that reason stops. None of the “solutions” was appropriate for an unsatisfactory existing situation or for an improved future one. People found fault in everything from maintaining a toilet cistern to walking up a flight of stairs.
  • By not pre-empting objections and explicitly stating that more work needed to be done on the economics before any definitive conclusions could be made, Ginzburg was forced to admit that “more work needs to be done on the economics …” This is never a strong position.
  • In his final comments, Ginzburg first commented upon individual objections. This was a mistake as it made him appear like the guy who had all the answers, thus confirming what people were already thinking. This is the difficult part. It’s annoying seeing one’s work misunderstood, even by the obtuse.

The Meeting was never going to be an easy one. To present work and discuss it as if it were to go ahead, whilst at the same time knowing that it was no longer what was wanted and was never going to be implemented can’t have been easy. STROYKOM’s decision to invite various external people to the meeting to give their opinions was a good call. Out of the many irrelevancies and understandings came two easy yet anodyne conclusions everyone could agree and vote upon as the “way forward” to be taken up at some unspecified time in the future by some other committee. In this sense, and given the growing political stormclouds, the meeting was a success. Not all those present at the meeting were aware of those stormclouds, of their nature, or even of their growing. It was still a year before architectural organisations were to be forbidden by a decree. Under increasingly darkening skies, Ginzburg and his team went on to design and build four buildings using the apartment types and principles he and his team had developed.

oddly imperceptible here,

14% MORE BIG!!

BIG’s design for Two World Trade Centre came online June 9 on WIRED, cascading onto YIMBY, Dezeen etc. Comments were mostly negative, clustering around the “universally reviled” end of the scale. I’m unsure why. At least it’s not a humungous number 2.

Those BIG people certainly keep the stories coming, don’t they?! I wondered what it would be this time. Vernacular 3.0? Hedonistic Placemaking? Turns out there’s no great idea, just a whole chocolate box of narratives that fail to synergise into an air of inevitable appropriateness.

The first thing that strikes me as odd is the huge disparity between the combined volume and density of the various narratives. Something’s being overstretched. Never in the history of architecture has there been a building with a different narrative for each corner and surface of its shape. The elephant in the room of course is volume that that shape defines, but let’s start with the corners and work our way around.


The south-west corner of the building is presented as a major design feature. It’s not much to hang a building off of, especially when it’s being called upon to represent an appropriate dignity, solemnity and respect at the same time. It’s too much to expect of something that is, after all, just a vertical corner.  

BIG are masters at generating reasons that, though not lies, are red herrings. This corner is presented as the z-axis that generates an angled setback at ground level the setback angle is determined by its vertex and, since sunlight is involved, that vertex happens to determine a vertical line all the way up. A wedge is a wedge, not a triangle.  


The performance condition of (symbolically laden) light penetration is thus responsible for the vertical line and not the result of it. What’s happening is that a mandatory performance criteria is being presented as clever aesthetic decision.

That single vertical links between vertical buildings on one side of the site and stepped ones on the other, “stitching two different neighbourhoods together.” Below, the image on the left is a collaged composite illustrating an assumed diversity? We’re led to believe different tenants occupy different buildings. The middle image illustrates the return-on-investment performance we associate with “boring” corporate buildings? The two good things of natural diversity and efficient enclosure of space have been reduced to aesthetic choices before being stitched together and reduced to an architectural proposition in the image on the right.


There’s some additional slight-of-media at work in these following quotes from the video release.

“The completion of the World Trade Center will finally restore the majestic skyline of Manhattan and unite the streetscapes of Tribeca with the towers downtown,” said Ingels in a video explaining the project.

This will create a visual link between the old and new districts where “the heritage city blocks of Tribeca meet the vertical towers of the World Trade Center,” Ingels added.


I don’t know who’s actually wanting the streetscapes of Tribeca united with the towers downtown, or a visual link between old and new districts. I’m wary of this sudden importance of Tribeca. My gut feeling is we’re being made to look the other way while something shifty happens elsewhere.

“From Tribeca, it will appear like a vertical village of singular buildings each tailored to their individual activities stacked on top of each other, forming parks and plazas in the sky.”


I’m also not comfortable with having to place so much trust in that vision – especially since the vision of a vertical village of singular buildings each tailored to their individual “activities” is a fiction we’re being led to believe. Two World Trade Center is not going to be let “box” by “box”.


The southeast corner is the stepped one on the right in the image below.

It's strong here,

We’re told this stepped outline is generated by the volumes allocated to the seven different volumes that allow for different types of tenant.


I’m not buying this either. Even if there were seven tenants for seven boxes, would they really have different length-to-breadth preferences for their office space floor plates? Can seven different tenants for premium Manhattan office space at this location even be regarded as diverse? Again, a false performance criteria is being claimed as the justification for the decision to step the building on the east side and overhang it on the north. A dubious diversity is being replaced by the representation of a diversity.  

The project’s redesign was warranted since financial firms had since migrated away from the Financial District, making leasing out the new buildings a struggle and further prolonging the World Trade Center’s redevelopment.

The fiction of the diversity narrative is proved in this quote from Curbed NY.

ny curbed

Half the 80-storey building (40 stories or at least three differently-sized usage blocks) is to be allocated to a single tenant.

And so we come to the south-east corner. 

“Two World Trade is almost like a vertical village of bespoke buildings within the building, that also can be seen as a single tower. It actually has an inclination towards One World Trade Center, so the two towers — even though they’re not twinning — by having a mutual relationship, the space between them is parallel, although at an incline.”[WIRED]

Parallel lines are contained in parallel planes and the only parallel plane of One World Trade Center is the isosceles triangle of the east façade. The parallel line is its southern edge. It’s shown correctly here.



The “mutual relationship” magicked by this effect will be apparent from anywhere those two lines can be seen simultaneously, but preferably against the sky. This means a maximum view angle of 225° determined by the facade angles in plan of One World Trade Center. From this, we must subtract those 90° which the “diagonal” of 2WTC can’t be seen, as well as the angle for which 2WTC obscures 1WTC. I think too much is being made of an effect that at best can only be seen from 125° out of 360°.

It ought to be strongest between the two buildings but it’s hard to tell. The right edge of the reflected triangle in the image below is the important one but if the effect is underwhelming in a publicity image then it doesn’t bode well for the reality. Perhaps we’re just being trained to see it. After all, we have to imagine this fantastic diagonal anyway.

023_2 WTC HeroShot_Image by BIG-thumb

When done right, the parallel diagonal effect is strong and compelling. The only other time I’ve seen it is the 2009 Sama Tower in Dubai. Its west facade is a partial isosceles triangle and its east facade an inverted one – making diagonally opposite corners parallel. Seen against the sky and especially from a distance, we perceive those corners more strongly than those not seen against the sky.

Sama Tower

Sama Tower works this effect across a mass but Two World Trade Centre sets it up with One World Trade Centre across a void. Whether there’s any poetry to be found in this I don’t know. What I do know is that to take One World Trade Center and appropriate it into a new visual composition involving a notion of “twinning” is a highly intrusive thing to do. But why even bother to draw our attention to an effect so weak and partial? I’d appreciate it more as a happy coincidence.

We’re reassured the footprint is the maximum permissible. Whew! In the diagram below, the red rectangle at the top is what’s left after various vertical setbacks are applied to the extruded footprint. It doesn’t tell us much other than that an infinite number of volumetric arrangements are possible. Why this one?


I’ll update this when I have more information on setbacks. An environmental impact assessment hasn’t yet been filed with the New York City Department of City Planning.

For now, the setbacks and overhangs are new surfaces created by this stepping of blocks and they too can’t be left unjustified. 

Trees are good. There’s nothing to say except “Why?”, “Why not?”, “Why now?”


There’s also some newly created undersides in need of a story. “Hey, anybody got a story for those undersides yet?” “Høld it – I’ve just had an idea! Let’s have News Corp headlines tickering over them!” News Corp headlines eh? Have you already imagined it? I have.


BIG’s team seem to have kept the same viz. people for the money shot but someone may have insisted upon this to continue the deception it’s all about looks.


The angle and foreshortening, by the way, are legit if you’re an X50 telephoto lens positioned midway along Port Jersey Boulevard. 

port jersey boulevard

As of 23/06/2015, the Two World Trade Centre Wikipedia page stated as follows:

200 Greenwich Street (Foster+Partners): The total floor space of was anticipated to include 2,400,000 square feet (220,000 sq.m) of office space and another 130,000 sq.ft (12,000 sq.m) for retail shops and access areas to the underground World Trade Centre station. That’s a total of 2,530,000 sq.ft (235,000 sq.m).

2 world trade center

Two World Trade Centre (BIG): The first three floors of the 2,800,000 sq.ft (260,000 sq.m) office building, including the ground level, will feature about 100,000 sq.ft (9,300 sq.m) of retail space. That’s a total of 2,900,000 sq.ft (270,000 sq.m).

That’s a 35,000 sq.ft (3,251 sq.m) difference or, to put it in terms a property developer can understand, the BIG proposal provides 14% more leasable space!

F+P’s website claims an area of 290,000 sq.m but gives no breakdown. On the other hand, it must be mentioned that Two World Trade Centre’s Wikipedia page has been revised five times a day since 19:38, 9 June 2015‎ (talk)‎ . . (22,748 bytes) (+480)‎ . .  (WIRED Magazine reported on 6/9/2015 at 9am, the new designs for Two WTC. The article details the exclusive first look at the designs as well as a video and interviews of all relevant parties associated with the change) (undo)”.  A few more revisions might be in order.

sky lobby onesky lobby

Here, Ingels speculates that the sky lobby in the F+P design “may have contributed to the old design not getting built”. Wikipedia presents this speculation as fact.

Financial firms were the intended occupants for Foster and Partners’ 2 World Trade Center, and the original proposal’s sky lobby design was not attractive to media tenants, who have been the leading tenants of the new WTC towers and are now expected to occupy BIG’s redesigned building.

Changing elevators is a bore for anyone, regardless of what type of company they work in. Not having a sky lobby would make the upper half of the building more attractive to any office tenant. Large and regularly shaped floor plates would also be attractive to any office tenant.


Instead of being seen as a design feature people were already attuned to by the masterplan,

000209the diamond-shaped features of the Foster+Partners design are now being presented as cramping floor plate performance. What a difference 15 years makes! Property development is like Nature in abhorring a vacuum, relentlessly working to fill empty spaces.


It must be said, F+P do have a history of highly contrived and inefficient floor plates.

We’re told the client wanted a bank-like building when it looked like one would attract a bank tenant, but changed their mind when they saw nearby buildings filling up with media types. It’s true that F+P designed 200 Greenwich as a bank building. There’s a mammoth trading floor gives it away.

The mystery is why no-one went back to F+P to redesign it in line with the changing market. In this story, it’s wrong to see UK tax-exile architect Baron Foster of Thames Bank as some sort of victim.

But Two World Trade Centre is much more than a redesign because construction of 200 Greenwich had already begun!

Many structural elements of the skyscraper came predetermined by the intricate underground architecture of the property, which was set in place by Port Authority and Libeskind’s master plan. Mechanical equipment, like air vents for Calatrava’s station, are positioned on the existing foundations and had to be incorporated into Ingels’ building. [WIRED]

two world trade center

BIG used the same engineers as F+P. I’d insist on this if I were the client-side project manager or property development manager. Continuity of structural teams is good, especially when there’s suddenly an asymmetrical loading creating a rotational moment that’s usually countered by an extra thick and heavy core. The fun of Twister is to resolve your rotational moment before it reaches your hands.


I’m no engineer but I think this means a big block of concrete resting on the foundations of another building. We’re told this is “expressive architecture” rather than something useful that stops the building twisting itself off its foundations.

The engineering is of course possible but it’s not cheap. The 14% MORE must come at an acceptable price. The WIRED article covers points ignored by other articles – namely the apparent instability thing.

Silverstein was initially skeptical of the architect’s stack-of-blocks concept. From some vantage points, such as North Brooklyn, the structure will look a little off-kilter—almost as if it is leaning. At the World Trade Center, the force of gravity is the last thing that an experienced developer like Silverstein wanted to bring to mind. 

“Rupert Murdoch, still the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to his companies’ business, initially shared the developer’s concerns. “Once it was fully explained to him how the building works so well, so efficiently—brilliantly, I would say—then he got very comfortable,” Silverstein says. “As a result, quite honestly, I became comfortable too.”

Through the eyes of a Manhattan property developer, unexploited permissible envelope must appear like translucent green boxes in the sky. The F+P site layout no doubt provided the maximum possible footprint but only as determined within the constraints of multiple symmetries based on the edge of the wedge. This fixation with symmetry created two mini-wedges of light on the south-west and north-west corners. Nobody asked for those.


Silverstein may well have approached F+P for a re-think and F+P, sensing a PR disaster, may have refused. It’s bad enough to be accused of failing to have predict the future. Enter BIG. Their design occupies these mini-wedges. The south-west one becomes that sombre vertical and the north-west one is filled with boxes tracing the imaginary diagonal.

F+P’s design was resolutely vertical apart from its large trading floors where the BIG design now begins its climb. Thisis where most of that 14% more comes from. As it rises, the building contracts in one direction but extends in another, thus maintaining that gain for longer. The overhang is a logical consequence of maximising leasable area. It’s not an aesthetic decision.



Even if the achieved areas are the same, it still makes more sense to overhang the building towards the top and achieve more premium-office space, rather than step it back from the bottom and more sub-premium office space with yet more gardens.

“My first reaction, my second reaction, and my third reaction were: ‘Will this work?’” Silverstein says. “Will it be respectful of the other buildings? Will it be respectful of the memorial below?” 

Here, Silverstein is referring to the PR aspect of the problem, not its aesthetic one and certainly not any functional one. Like Nature filling a vacuum, the building designs itself and engineers itself to fit. What’s really needed is experience in winning over public opinion.

BIG step up to the plate.

Bjarke Ingels

Much skill must have gone into redesigning this building to monetise every cubic foot of permissible envelope and then engineer it so it stands on foundations constructed for a different building. This is nothing to be ashamed of yet we’re told none of it. In the new architectural dysfunctionalism, performance is completely detached from architecture even when it’s generating it.

The media star architect is a new form of architectural ornament. Their function is to invent and present decorative yet empty narratives. The actual building is conceived of and made possible by others. The only time the media architect is of use is to divert our attention away from the sordid political and economic machinations responsible for the building in the first place.

  • Talk about shape rather than volume is a classic example of how a dysfunctional architecture disguises real performance criteria as an aesthetic decision
  • Talk about vital engineering solutions as “expressive architecture” is another example
  • Representing diversity rather than encouraging it in any real sense, is merely architecture in motion. It’s the same process by which space and light were turned into aesthetic commodities.
  • It’s now possible to identify what exactly it is architects do to sustain this situation
  • Because of this, it’s now possible to explain the mechanism by which architectural fame is created. It’s a reward, basically. This explains not only the actual function of starchitects, but why they exist. The more an architect can get away with not justifying their buildings in terms of any aspect of real performance, the more value they have to a certain type of client. This is the source of many diseases presently plaguing architecture.
  • It now makes sense why media fuss and controversy of aesthetic appropriateness and symbolism is welcomed and encouraged by media, architects and clients alike. Everyone works overtime to confine the “debate” to aesthetics.
            “it’s none of my business” (Zaha Hadid)
            “the Building of The Year Award is about architecture not politics” (Deyan Sudjic)
    The more intense the debate about how a building looks, the more attention is diverted from how buildings are used for economic gain and political prestige. Architecture of this kind is The Shock Doctrine applied to economic and political exploitation.


In his presentations, Ingels spends a disproportionate amount of time and energy talking about Tribeca. There must be translucent green boxes hovering all over it.

1. Convince people the diversity of Tribeca can be represented in a high-rise building.
2. Replace Tribeca with representations of Tribeca.


The Japanese Machiya

The machiya (町家) is a Japanese urban housing type. Their name translates as “town-house”. They’re basically rooms around a two-storey lightwell. We’re familiar with Tadao Ando’s 1976 Sumiyoshi House that’s said to be a modern interpretation.

Waro Kishi’s 1987 Kim House is less familiar. 8_102 Having the bridge on the side makes its courtyard brighter and less oppressive than the courtyard in the Ando house. The machiya is simply one of those housing typologies that works irrespective of time, materials and construction. You’d probably have to be Japanese to appreciate the “closeness to the seasons” aspects of them that we, from a warm distance, see such charm in. 432-2 Despite the Japanese tendency to over-asetheticize the beauty of seasonal change rather than add some insulation, these little houses have much embodied intelligence. The annual average humidity in the Kansai region and Kyoto in particular is around 70% but when combined with temperatures above 30°C, is extremely oppressive. Moisture doesn’t need much prompting to condense. Evaporative cooling is your friend and thus so is cross ventilation. Luckily, wind speed picks up in summer. kyoto-climate-graph These tight-packed houses work better with a central courtyard that, like courtyards around the world, contains cool night air longer into the day and generates heat-shedding convention airflow at night. TKY200907030157 This recent detached house uses those same principles on its 55 sq.m plot with 50cm setbacks on all sides to ensure ventilation around and across. 9坪の家-3 Somewhat humbly, it reminds me of one of mine from years back except, in Gravesend, Kent, I was more concerned with overlooking than cross ventilation. These houses were capable of being either row houses or cluster houses but any window on an external wall was a bonus for daylight, ventilation and view.

Even Ando’s Sumiyoshi/Azuma house has paired small windows low down on the walls of each room to facilitate airflow, if not cross ventilation. You can see two of them in this next image. Please notice that rear corner while we’re around the back. o0461026012194373986 Waro Kishi’s 1986 Kim House was rebuilt in 2011 to have a central internal void rather than a courtyard. KIMHouse2011ShigeoOgawa03

Here’s another recent incarnation of the machiya as two joined houses. It’s close to perfect. I particularly like the distinction between the habitable rooms and the non-habitable spaces on the ground floor. 13-3_gif_5000x360_upscale_q85-2 Notice how it’s possible to go in one house and out the other without passing through a habitable room? You can see it’s an updated version of this next plan. It hasn’t changed much. In fact, it’s the same. 432-1 The room on the left is a shop facing the street and with an inner room that faces another inner room across a courtyard. Many machiya have shops on the street side – it’s the reason why they’re in cities.  In this next example, the front shop and the non-babitable spaces all have earthen floors. (You only have to change shoes once.) 1011-01 This next is a house above a restaurant for maybe ten people. Family meals are cooked in the shop. The central courtyard has become a void above the kitchen, topped by a skylight opening into a third-floor courtyard/lioghtwell/airshaft. plan Common to all of these is the separation of the kitchen onto the non-habitable side of the house (a shoes thing) and some type of internal double-height space that may or may not be a courtyard. This is a new-build machiya in traditional style and with all the traditional features.

There’s the shop at the front accessed from the lobby that leads into the house proper via the kitchen. Above the kitchen is a double-height space onto which all rooms face ensuring cross ventilation. Heat from the kitchen would generate a stack effect in that double height space to induce cross ventilation even when there was no wind. Much like Arabian wind catchers, it’s not that effective, but it’s better than nothing. The principles work and for some people they’re enough – but obviously not these people, as evidenced by the disguised A/C compressors. kento_06-2 We need more typologies like this. The closest we have to such perfection in Western/European architecture is probably the corridor-accessed one-bedroom apartment. This next example is perfect. Plan2 The circulation space isn’t an extra – it’s what makes it work. You can’t have more than six doors opening into 2 sq.m. The extra 1 sq.m comes from having to walk past the bedroom wardrobe and the kitchen units to get to two of the doors. It’s beautiful. There’s other things interesting about this project but “like clouds floating across the landscape” isn’t one of them. cha130714-102_dwellings_in_carabanchel-dosmasuno3 Some of the plans in this next project for social housing in São Paulo by Vigliecca & Associates are extremely evolved.

Their type C and type D are good

but I particularly like their 2-bedroom type A not least of all because its rigour reminds me of the Type A from the 1928 Types Study by the team led by Moissei Ginzburg and whose story we shall resume shortly. A four- and five-person Type  A


Rocket Science

The Rocket Stove is the application of pure thought to solve a problem that affects the health and lives of about one third of the world’s population.

Smoke from cooking fires kills two million persons per year, mostly mothers and small children. Stoves and open fires are the primary means of cooking and heating for nearly three billion people. In India, some 400,000 people die each year from the toxic fumes. In Africa, 500,000 children under the age of five die from pneumonia attributable to indoor air pollution, according to the WHO. Most of these deaths are attributable to cooking indoors over a three-stone cooking fire.


• • •


The Aprovecho Research Center

For over 30 years, Aprovecho Research Center (ARC) consultants have been designing and implementing improved biomass cooking and heating technologies in more than 60 countries worldwide. The Center was formally established in 1976, and is dedicated to researching, developing and disseminating clean cookstove technologies for meeting the basic needs of refugees, impoverished people, and communities in the developing world. For decades, ARC has been the world’s leader in open source development of all aspects of improved cooking stoves.


Dr. Larry Winiarski works for the Aprovecho Research Centre. He’s known as the inventor of The Rocket Stove but it’s more correct to say he identified the principles that a Rocket Stove makes use of to work as efficiently and elegantly as it does .


  • Air flows in from the fuel intake and is pre-heated for better combustion
  • The fuel partially blocks the air intake, allowing for a better fuel/air ratio.
  • The intake air is preheated for more efficient combustion.
  • Fuel burns horizontally at the bottom of the combustion chamber. Any smoke is drawn upwards through a high temperature zone, ensuring more complete combustion.
  • More complete combustion means less smoke.

  • The stove can burn relatively green wood. Moisture near the surface of the wood turns to steam that, when it comes into contact with hot charcoal, forms CO and H2 which are both combustible. Their combustion reaction further increases the temperature of the high-temperature zone, to ensure even more complete combustion, and even less smokeDr. Winiarski explains the mechanisms of combustion and heat transfer in this paper.

“One of the first things to recognize is that solid or liquid material does not burn directly. It must be converted to gasses in order to burn. Most biomass is hydrocarbons which, when heated convert to oil and oil vapors of many different types. Some oils such as fragrances, turpentine are visible or smelled even before the biomass is heated. Green, wet wood may contain as much as its dry weight in water and, in order to burn water, must be evaporated. Up to about 1000 BTUs of energy is used to evaporate each pound of water. At sea level and atmospheric pressure, the temperature of boiling water is limited to 212 degrees fahrenheit.

“Similarly heat energy must be provided to evaporate or distill each of the hydrocarbons formed from the wood. The lighter hydrocarbons are easier to change to the gas phase, heavier hydrocarbons like creosote take more energy, however if too much fuel surface is heated and the gases cool before they can intermingle and ignite with hot air or oxygen they will condense back into a fog our cloud of oil droplets. This is the smoke we see. It is analogous to the fog or cloud that forms when water vapor condenses. Heat must re-evaporate the oil droplets before they can burn. After the many different types of oils are combusted only charcoal remains. The hot charcoal first reacts with oxygen to form gaseous carbon monoxide. Then the carbon monoxide burns with the air to make carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the final result of a clean burn. Smoke and carbon monoxide are wasted fuel.”

  • Twigs and other types of low-grade wood scraps not normally classed as firewood have a proportionally larger surface area to supply fuel for these reactions.
  • Low-grade scrap wood works better than high-grade firewood.

  • The horizontal burning of the wood allows for better monitoring and tending.
  • The stove can be designed to have an angled gravity feed.
  • Variations can be made to have a secondary heating “element
  • The flue can be vented through a thermal mass element that functions as a heat storage device for space heating.


  • The stove can be made for practically nothing. 

  • You can make one yourself out of three cans.


  • Four concrete blocks.
  • About 30 bricks.


  • You can make a rocket-stove inspired architectural feature if you like.


  • But, judging by the size of that air/fuel opening and the type/size/shape of fuel, it won’t function as efficiently one made of mud and using twigs for fuel.


• • •


Dr. Larry Winiarski & The Aprovecho Research Center

for having an idea for an object that’s as perfect as an object can be
and for releasing it to the world to be used wherever it brings benefit

misfits salutes you!