[Guest Post] The Art of Traditional Wood Craft in Modern Architecture

Dichen Ding is an Architectural Designer in New York City. She was born in China, received her Master of  Architecture from Columbia University and is currently working for TEN Arqitectos.

It’s said Japan is a country “where wood has a soul,” so it’s no surprise that Japan also enjoys the most advanced wood construction techniques in the world. Their designs can range from elegantly simple to devilishly complex. These joints aren’t just beautiful decorative features but functional and vital structural elements. Moreover, they’re hardly relics of the past: they still inspire contemporary architects. This essay will explore some of the earliest and most exquisite examples of wood joinery then highlight their influence on recent architectural projects by world-famous architects.

Top Image: Yusuhara Wooden Museum Bridge by Kengo Kuma & Associates. Image courtesy of Kengo Kuma & Associates.

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Norman Foster’s Sublty-Designed Winery In Bourdeaux

Contemporary architecture can be a race to be iconic and Instragrammed, which isn’t inherently bad but certainly doesn’t make for the best guiding priority in every new building. That’s why I enjoyed covering this winery designed by Lord Norman Foster’s Foster + Partners: it’s elegant and simple, blending with the two hundred year old buildings around it. But that doesn’t stop the design from having modern features, such as intricately-detailed steel hidden under its roof.

Link to the Curbed Article

Top Image: Photograph by Nigel Young / Foster + Partners via ArchDaily


The ‘Artichair’ Is Literally ‘Green Design’

Sometimes a new material can revitalize a classic look. The Eames’ colorful fiberglass chairs used to be a staple of living rooms and classrooms alike. While that fiberglass material is durable, it’s not 100% biodegradable, unlike this new substance from Greek designer Spyros Kizis. Read on for details on how he turned wild artichoke fibers into a very “green” design.

Link to the Curbed Article

Top Image: The Artichair, Photo Courtesy Spyros Kizis.

Luca Zanier Corridors Power

Photographing The Corridors Of Power

Analyzing the architecture of power is tougher than it looks. It’s relatively easy to discern the symbolic meaning of governmental architecture – the tallest building houses the most prominent functions, Greco-Roman architecture suggests stability and timelessness, etc. However, those meanings are inflected and influenced by actual politics: a Greco-Roman government building can just as easily symbolize hypocrisy or oppression, depending on the actions of its inhabitants.

That’s what makes this collection of photography  by Luca Zanier so fascinating. Zanier has spent years photographing congresses, councils, parliaments – everywhere important decisions are made. He says the photos (now a forthcoming book, titled Corridors of Power) aim to show the public those unseen spaces that affect their lives. While grand, these rooms would be almost anonymous and inconsequential if not for a few name placards and symbols. Once you move past their stately magnificence, these empty spaces suggest that architecture is a vessel of power – not its embodiment. Read on to learn more about Zanier’s photography and crowdfunding campaign!

Link to the Curbed Article

Top Image: UN Security Council I, New York 2008, courtesy Luca Zanier.

Miya Ando at the Venice Biennale

When I last interviewed artist Miya Ando, who’s art is inspired by traditional Japanese bladesmithing, I was able to get up close to her paintings – and what I saw surprised me. Her works are laced with tiny metallic crystals – invisible in photography – that sparkle in every color. I’ve seen the same crystals before: on the master-crafted Japanese blades at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Arms and Armor hall. As I understand it (and I’ve done some bladesmithing myself) they’re evidence of steel that’s been especially hardened for cutting. They’re only visible in the right light, meaning her paintings – which range from murky to brightly reflective – are very sensitive to their surroundings.

For that reason, I can’t wait to step into her latest work – and first installation – Emptiness The Sky (Shou Sugi Ban). It immerses you in four walls of her paintings, transforming the space into an almost panoramic super-minimalist landscape. Read on to learn about the Emptiness The Sky, currently on display at the 56th Venice Biennale, and its uniquely Japanese charred-wood exterior.

Link to the Curbed Article

Top Image: Courtesy Miya Ando

Robochop Kramm Weisshaar Robotic Manufacturing Customize Design Interface

When DIY Design Goes Robotic

DIY is a funny term – from architectural renovations to child’s arts-and-crafts, a wide range of projects are simple enough to ‘Do It Yourself.’ DIY sometimes means following standard instructions –  recipes, manuals, etc –  but it also implies that you have control of the design. You’re the sole author, as compared to the identical products mass-produced in factories. Perhaps, however, new technologies are creating a middle ground between those extremes. The architects of Kram/Weisshaar are fascinated with developing software and hardware that turns the consumer into the designer. It’s called “end-to-end manufacturing” and they recently got a chance to test their theories with an installation called ROBOCHOP.

ROBOCHOP allowed internet users anywhere in the world to open a design program in their internet browser and craft a custom foam cube. These robotic armatures, used in automobile manufacturing and pictured above, would translate that design into reality using hot-wire cutters. For now, ROBOCHOP seems like a novelty, but the implications for certain products are huge: there might be no middle man between you and whoever (or whatever) makes your products. Read on to learn about Kram/Weisshaar and how they pulled it off.

Link to the Metropolis Article on ROBOCHOP

Top Image: Courtesy Kram/Weisshaar, Photographer David Levene

Metropolis April 2015 Advanced Materials Laboratories Materials Research

Designer Science

The 19th century skyscraper was made possible by the Bessemer Process, the I-Beam, and Otis elevators. The 21st century Barclays Center, which required 12,000 customized computer-fabricated steel panels, was made possible with software originally developed for fighter jet design.

When I was interviewing the leaders of six different advanced materials and fabrication labs, the results of which are the feature article of this month’s Metropolis Magazine, I was constantly reminded how technology from unexpected places re-shapes design. It’s tough to say when and how this will happen next – perhaps it will be intelligent robotics, microscopic crystals, or 3D printing. The article also reveals multiple models for connecting scientific research to everyday practice. Was each lab working closely with manufacturers? Or engaging in highly speculative thought?

I was most intrigued by the Stanford Biodesign Collaboratory, which allows doctors to walk straight from a hospital to a workshop where they can tinker with medical device parts. It’s like putting a pigment factory next to a painter’s workshop; physical proximity to practice stimulates innovation.

Top Image: Cover of Metropolis Magazine, April 2015