Model Behavior Stages Appealing Objects With Frustratingly Evasive Results – The Architect’s Newspaper | Ad On Picture

model behavior
Curated by Anybody Corporation
The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture
The Cooper Union
7 E 7th Street
New York, New York 10003
Open until 18.11

One of the self-serving quotes that taciturn architects turn to in times of expressive need is this platitude from Winston Churchill: “We design our buildings; after that they form us.”

Churchill made this remark in 1943 in relation to the old Chamber of Commons in the Palace of Westminster, which had been destroyed near the end of the Blitz two years earlier. When a replacement was planned, the owlish politician gushed about the spatial merits of the old hall – intimate (there was indeed insufficient seating for MPs) but also productively confrontational (looking the opposition in the eye). The Chamber was rebuilt in this configuration, and it is perhaps to this rebuilding that the UK owes the ‘full democracy’ it enjoys today.

This strange review comes from the economist‘s Democracy Index, which serves as the basis for an installation by Boston architects Höweler + Yoon in the Cooper Union exhibition model behavior. Indeed, there, in the upper register of Höweler + Yoon’s multi-part exhibition – housed in an arched window presenting its contents to both the street and the students – is Churchill’s aphorism. Deepened alongside studies of legislative chambers in model and drawing, it doesn’t take much to read the line as a plea for disciplinary action, or more generally for the power of architecture to effect change in the world.

The entrance to Model Behavior on display in the first floor colonnade of The Cooper Union Foundation Building. Photo: Olympia Shannon.

model behavior, curated by Cynthia Davidson with Patrick Templeton, makes a similar argument, at least implicitly. Stimulated by the current moment — “when climate change and Covid models are clearly changing social behavior,” but “themselves in question,” as the introductory text bet, Davidson and Templeton sought the implications for spatial practice by an age-old worry that has returned: the scale model. From there, the exhibition unhesitatingly interpolates architectural projects into a broad media ecology. Yet the implications of this far-reaching curation mostly go unspoken. There are perfunctory hints of politics and social justice, and a general concern that the profession’s propensity for modeling has lost its relevance. In other words, the shaping of human relationships takes place behind the architects’ backs. The power lies elsewhere, but what else is new?

Exterior of the Cooper Union building looking towards the model behavior exhibit
Sidewalk view of NEMESTUDIO, When Naked Kings All Gone, 2022. Diorama makers: Evan Chiang, Joseph Hedaya, Jasper Townsend (all Cooper Union AR’25). Photo: Olympia Shannon.

Worse, the curatorial agenda appears to be based on a categorical error. Information-dense media compete with geometric fetish objects for the viewer’s attention, as if they had something in common. Defying random taxonomy, the various models float in relational uneasiness. Favors from friends of Anybody Corporation—the umbrella organization under which Davidson occasionally produces exhibits and publishes the magazine protocol— were called in, with yesterday’s big names contributing all bits of moderately convincing ephemera they had laying around the office. Along with a helping of age-old scientific equipment and some lamely retro bits, these stubs of “progressive architecture” fill out the show and make a shaky claim to its intellectual longevity. Cooper’s Colonnade is crammed with stuff, but almost everything is pointing in different directions.

Let’s pick up a few strands. To complete the architecture’s “digital turn”, there are first several exercises in contemporary technology, including VR/AR, touchscreen prompts, GIS mapping, BIM modelling, 3D scanning and QR codes that took too long to load. While these displays of algorithmic sprezzatura, in which shapes morph into other shapes according to the odd witty script, are conceptually interesting, quite a few are also aesthetically sterile, often exceeding the reasonable bounds of tedium. (This is partly a by-product of the curators’ decision to forego wall texts and instead print them in a booklet. As a result, many pages have to be scanned and turned when walking through the exhibition.) For example, Certain Measures’ Mine the junk (2022) offers a worthwhile experiment in reuse—custom software plucks bits and pieces from the rubble stream—but the resulting object is unconvincing. Young & Ayatas Spectral Montage 22 & 55 (2020–22) transforms an image of a chipboard model by artist James Casebere into the photogrammetric equivalent of spilled milk. And you could have confused Ruy Kleins Red Mountain (Apophenia, Model #2, 2017)in which data is overlaid on a nice topographical model for a curiosity at a trade show.

Platforms and low-lying surfaces feature colorful models
Left to right: Former Dean of the Iwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, John Hejduk’s anatomical model; Office Kovacs, Supertall Superobject: Proposal for Collective Living IV, 2022. Project team: Andrew Kovacs, Kazuki Masaki, Summer Liu, Yiren Chen; Reiser + Umemoto RUR, subway entrance and kiosk “Krone”, S-Link competition Salzburg Mirabellplatz, 2021; Jennifer Bonner/MALL, Best Sandwiches, 2016. Project team: Jennifer Bonner, Justin Jiang, John Going. Production Assistance: Steven Meyer; Rendering by Kenneth Robin. Above: Caruso St John Architects, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2011. Exhibition photo: Olympia Shannon.

A second strand concludes (hopefully) a generational trend in contemporary architectural practice: miniaturism for its own sake. Perhaps this little trend culminated years ago at the 2017 Chicago Architectural Biennial, which was also dedicated to modeling and building small worlds. At their best, these projects offered tongue-in-cheek commentary on declining spatial norms. But with Cooper, Besler & Sons and Office Kovacs, who also exhibited in Chicago, there is little inclination to deepen their exploration of iconography, play and montage. NHDM Architects Interim Urbanism: Youth, Housing, City (2019) oscillates on a similar wavelength. In a conscious echo of 2001In its bedroom scene, the piece arranges totems of various ‘liquid’ domesticities (a subway turnstile, an illegal basement apartment) on a gridded, illuminated surface. Presented as such, they are literally floating signifiers that do nothing to convey the experiences of the domestic worker or homeless person, nor how they differ from the lifestyle of the executive or C-suite consumer (invoked by tiny quotes from office towers and Apple store). ). As if to mock these entries, at the end of the exhibit Davidson and Templeton snuggle up to an Easter egg – a ’60s Barbie house; it doesn’t end up as a moment of self-criticism, but as tongue-in-cheek, dry kitsch.

The best pieces in the show struggle with their topicality in the image economy. This approach often exploits hybrid representational techniques that combine the physical and the media in effective (and efficient) ways. In the case of Studio Sean Canty staging form (2022), a 3D printed model of a house augments a flat but effective composition that reproduces pictorial methods of representation. NEMESTUDIOs Naked kings, all gone (2022) cryptically mocks techno-utopias through an Instagram-friendly, color-saturated diorama. And d.esks Two scrolls (2019), a “vaguely architectural” bundle of cheap material, breaks the disinterested gaze of Thomas Demand’s photography (his Learning center 50, 2015, hangs nearby) through the medium of design (or is it sculpture?). By narrowing down their message, the models end up saying more than the show itself.

Wooden model rests on exhibition base
Exhibition design by New Affiliates (Jaffer Kolb, Ivi Diamantopoulou, Nashwah Ahmed, Ekam Singh). Foreground left: AGENCY Architecture, Multifront, 2022. Project team: Ersela Kripa, Stephen Mueller, Javier de Anda, Andres Gandara. Photo: Olympia Shannon.

Taken together, however, it’s all just white noise. While the curators’ willingness to address cross-architectural concerns is commendable, their execution only leads to confusion and fatigue. The subject alluded to in the exhibition’s title—that of behavior—is underexplored, although it may be wishful thinking that an architectural culture allergic to criticism could take the problem seriously. As model behavior shows, ponderous apposition has long supplanted opposition as the standard method of the discipline’s engagement with the world. Meanwhile, the curators’ gentle skepticism about the rationalist impulse to observe, catalog, and project betrays a tacit belief in technocratic expertise (of the right kind, of course). To what machinations should we entrust the protection of our own “faulty democracy” after the mid-term madness? Certainly not the ones who made this mess possible in the first place.

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