Photo: Visitors point to the plug-in vertical city by Tatiana Bilbao, part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s “Vertical City” exhibit. (Frances Anderton)
FROM THIS EPISODE
A visitor to Happy Place, one of LA’s many “selfie museum” pop-ups.
Over the last year or so we’ve seen a trend for “made for Instagram” museums - collections of colorful sets designed for taking flattering self-portraits.
They include the Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia, Happy Place, 14th Factory and, coming soon, a museum of optical illusions and the Museum of Selfies.
The latest was 29 Rooms, a pop-up of artist-created installations produced by the design and fashion website Refinery29, and branded by corporations -- including Toyota, Google Pixel, Marc Jacobs, Adidas and Netflix -- and nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood.
The vivid, theatrical sets were selfie heaven but according to Refinery29’s co-founder Piera Gelardi, “our events are really rooted in storytelling and the celebration of creativity and self-expression.”
But why are there so many of these selfie pop-ups right now?
It’s partly to do with unused warehouse and former retail space that can be quickly filled with art for a month or two, explains LA Downtown News reporter Nicholas Slayton. It’s also a reflection of the decline of interest in retail.
And the Selfie-taking audience is highly sought after by “high art” museums. After all, Yayoi Kusama’s “infinity mirror rooms” show at the Broad Museum is the ultimate selfie ticket.
Which raises the question: how does selfie culture coexist with the fine art world?
DnA explores the phenomenon with escape room designer Tommy Honton, co-founder of the Museum of Selfies, coming soon to Glendale.
The museum won’t be “just a hall of Kardashian selfies,” Honton said. You will be able to study selfie culture as you take selfies.
He promises a selfie-taking set of the top of a skyscraper -- echoing the real skyscrapers that some selfie-takers have fallen off; and exhibits will draw attention to the story of Narcissus and the history of self-portraiture.
Honton points out that historically only the rich could afford to pay an artist to preserve youthful images of ourselves. Now young people use selfies to achieve the same goal: to project status and show off their youthful looks.
“This selfie culture is not that different from how people have acted for 40,000 years,” he said.
Mark Lee and Sharon Johnston at the exhibition they designed for “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present” at LACMA. Photo by Frances Anderton.
Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee are partners in work and life and run the firm Johnston Marklee, designers of the far-out metallic gas station at the corner of Beverly and La Cienega as well as noted projects like the Hill House in Pacific Palisades and LACMA’s exhibition of Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy.
But their reputation was further enhanced when they became curators of this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial. They used it as a chance to explore the preoccupations of an emerging generation of architects for which, says Sharon Johnston, “history has a new relevance. I think after postmodernism and certain moments when schisms with the past were so abrupt, I think today many younger generations of architects are looking to history as a source of inspiration.”
In “Make New History,” whose title was borrowed from a book of work by Ed Ruscha, you won’t find many examples of the whirling, lacy, digitally-designed buildings that have dominated architecture for the past quarter century.
Rather you will find meditations on postmodernism, such as a collection of original models of famed postmodern buildings, curated by LA-based Sylvia Lavin, that have shaped architecture today. You’ll find an installation of models of novel tower designs including a stunning “plug-in” vertical city by Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao. It’s a redo of the 1922 design competition for the Chicago Tribune tower.
And you can see images of beautiful projects from around the world, where designers are trying to navigate past and present, like China’s ZAO/Standardarchitecture, working to breathe new life into hutongs, the courtyard house complexes that are being demolished daily in Beijing.
In a recent LA Times article the paper’s architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne claimed the work on display at the Biennial represents a departure from the more exhibitionist work of older designers like Zaha Hadid and LA’s Thom Mayne.
He wrote that these buildings -- beautifully crafted and firmly rooted to their site -- were not trying too hard for effect, and could even be described as “boring.”
That’s not the way Lee characterizes it however, telling DnA: “Actually I think a lot of the architects we've invited are very radical but they don't they don't wear the radicality on their sleeves… But I think it slowly unveils itself to those who pays attention.”
Lee and Johnston also talk about their most high-profile project to day, the Drawing Institute for the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. Their serene, white structure is designed to harmonize with the pre-war houses adjacent to the 30-acre campus and Renzo Piano’s building designed there in 1987.
“I think we'll consider the building a success if one could visit the campus for the first time and couldn't quite tell when our building was built,” says Lee.
Making history: highlights from the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial
'A biennial is not an all-star team': Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee on 'Make New History'
The architecture of everything and nothing
Chicago Architecture Biennial: Not Just Glass Towers and Ruin Porn
Blair Kamin: Biennial needs to relate better to local audience
'Make New History,' the second Chicago Architecture Biennial, brings the focus back to square one
Boring architecture? Yes, please
The inside of Chicago’s new Apple “town square.” Photo by Frances Anderton.
At a September product launch Apple announced a rebranding of its stores. They would now be called “town squares” and would serve as gathering places, not just venues for pushing product.
In October in Chicago, one of the first of these new Apple stores was unveiled. It’s designed by Norman Foster, the British architect behind Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino.
The building is an immaculate glass case -- described by Chicago architect Aric Lasher as a “horizontal hovering plane with rounded edges kind of like an Apple laptop sort of floating in the sky” -- that steps down to the riverfront in Chicago.
It gives over most of its square footage to areas for hanging out. As you enter from the top you find yourself in is a stepped seating area for presentations and screenings. Enter at riverfront level and you find yourself in a spacious lobby filled with movable wooden cubes for sitting with friends. Apple products are tucked away at the back.
So does it work as both architecture serving a brand and public space? And will it last if it works too well as fun hangout?
Aric Lasher, Architect and Author
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