Friday, December 19, 2014

The City Designs

In our preview post Preserving Reminders of the Past we talk about the architectural intervention in old structures and how this can improve both the building and its context.

The city is our context and it is changing every day. It is a dynamic organization that whether we try to organize it by setting rules and laws, at the end of the day it is uncontrollable. I think that is what makes cities interesting for painters, writers and film makers.

Over the past five hundred years, urban planners tried to design what they called Ideal Cities. From Thomas Moro and his Utopia to Le Corbusier and F. L. Wright, many architects spent their lives thinking about how a city should be like. Some of those thoughts remain and a few were brought to reality. Palmanova, in the north east of Italy, is a good example of a typical renaissance concentric city. Its structure and internal organization did not change over the years so it is possible to see what these perfect cities looked like.However, if there is something we have learnt from ideal cities is that there is no such thing as perfection when talking about cities.

In the last decades, some architects started rethinking how to bind together old buildings with contemporary interventions. Some of the best examples are the Tate Mordern Gallery (London), the Morgan Library (New York), the Caixa Forum (Madrid) and the Reichstag (Berlin). These are masterpieces of linking different materials, concepts and programs, but sometimes, the city goes beyond architects and clients and does it for itself.

Designing a glass box over an industrial brick structure is a well-known strategy and it seems that the city of New York can link its own elements. Close to our office (SoHo) is the Trump Soho building, a geometric glass skyscraper that does not represent the neighborhood identity at all. However, behind this building, in the same block, rests a former industrial brick structure which has no additions or subtractions but has the typical SoHo image.

These two constructions are not related in any sense and they were not meant to be so. But the city is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Thus, while walking down the streets we change our perspectives and sometimes the city offers us more than what architects had designed. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18th, 1991 was the day that I become an architect. Today 23 years later, if I'd had to choose a path, I would still choose to become an Architect.
Being an architect is not just having a degree. It is the way you see the world, it is a way of living. In 23 years, I built more than 300,000 sf. and more than 300 families are living in homes that I created.
I did and I still continue to do my work with love, passion, and gratitude. 

On this day, I'd like to thank all of those who trusted me! 

Jorge Mastropietro.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The building does not end at the façade

When someone thinks about a building the first image that usually pops up is the façade. But what is really a façade? The simplification that we normally come across is that it's the main surface seen by the street. In many buildings it is easy to define the façade and the limit between the street and the private (or interior) space. Nevertheless, there are some other buildings that provide different perceptions to pedestrians and a closer relation to their environment.

Our cities are full of careless buildings whose only aim seems to be to impress and to sell a one-time-only idea. As we mentioned in previous posts, these constructions do not interact with their surroundings and, consequently, do not interact with people. On the other hand, some buildings set out interesting situations where the actual limits between the construction and the city get blurry.

Abteiberg Museum, Monchengladbach.

Hans Hollein

Therme Vals, Vals.
Peter Zumthor

That blurred area is what makes the difference, and the main character (usually) is the façade. Therefore, talking about the façade as a space upgrades the discussion to a three-dimension issue and architecture is sometimes represented in only two dimensions. The moment that we think of a three dimensional element, the façade turns from a plane face to real architecture. There are many examples where it is really difficult to determine the exact limit of the building, but this becomes less important when the building allows us to talk about public space, the street and the interior space as much more than a mere room.

Hans Hollein’s Abteiberg Museum, in Monchengladbach, is an excellent example of architecture breaking its own limits and improving the neighborhood. The goal of this project is far beyond the programmatic solution and the innovative interior design. The way Hollein designed the upper plaza in relation with the existing park, and the way the visitor approaches the building is fabulous, a real architectural promenade

Opera House, Oslo.


Also in Peter Zumthor’s thermes in Vals and in the Norwegian Opera House by Snohetta, it is barely impossible to say which is the main façade or even if there is a common façade. In both cases, nature (the fields and the water) is the main character and the architecture doesn't just build a shape but transforms it into a better place to be.

This does not mean that a façade should always be so complex; however, simple decisions can affect our perception of a building. All these reflections make us think that when we design a normal façade we are changing a little part of the city, and in comparison to other disciplines' interventions, ours might last longer.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Typical Fire Escape Stair, 

Sometimes stairs seem to be a problem for a good design, however, throughout history great architects made the most of them. From Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library to Asplund’s Law Court stairs, this architectural element has come to the center of discussion and design. In 2014’s Venice Biennale, curator Rem Koolhaas decided to work on the Fundamentals of architecture. Some of these elements had been forgotten by being regarded through parametric design or super modern ways of understanding life. Whether considered through religious ideas of ascension or mathematical concepts of proportion, stairs are not only used to connect two different stories but also as an aesthetic component or a story teller.

Laurentian Library, Florence.
Law Courts, Gothenburg.
Gunnar Asplund

In New York City, stairs have always been a representative element and continue to inspire architects and artists to this day. The fire escape stairs were not built for any aesthetic reason but it is impossible to imagine a hundred-year building in SoHo without them. Over the last decades, many architects have been working in this neighborhood with the same element in different and innovative ways. Heatherwick and Koolhaas designed two of the most interesting stores in the city, Longchamp (2006) and Prada (2001), respectively. In these cases, the stair is not just a mean to rise above two different levels but a component that defines the entire space and makes architecture interact with the products for sale and the visitor.

Being contemporary is not just using avant-garde materials but using them with a contemporary thought of space, living and always looking back to history to have a proper vision of the future.

Awaji yumebutai, Awaji.
Tadao Ando
Itamary Palace, Brasilia.
Oscar Niemeyer


Longchamp Store, SoHo, NYC.

Prada Store, SoHo, NYC.
Rem Koolhaas

Thursday, December 11, 2014

56 Leonard Construction

On the walk along Canal Street from the Subway to work, I have been able to watch 56 Leonard, designed by Herzog & De Meuron, as it progresses in construction.  It has about 1/3 of its height left to be built before it reaches its final 821 feet and because of its location and unique design, will be a prominently visible landmark in Lower Manhattan.  

56 Leonard from Canal St

The design features tapering boxes near the top of the building and balconies dynamically protruding from the facade.  It will feature a large public sculpture outside the lobby by Anish Kapoor, famous for the Chicago Millenium Park bean sculpture.  Each unit interior is custom designed by the famous Swiss firm and despite high price tags for the units, all but 2 have been sold. 

Interior Rendering

Exterior Rendering