03.03.09 Susanne Zottl's (E)motions of Concrete @ SCI-Arc

Vienna-based architect (and SCI-Arc grad) Susanne Zottl’s installation “A Styrofoam Lover with (E)motions of Concrete” germinated out of the question: Can issues of program and use be resolved via an efficient, formal structure (for example, the wall)? It’s not a new question, in fact, its one of the oldest in Architecture. But Zottl tackles her proposition with a fresh and unpretentious vigor and Zottl takes the piece one step further too, interrogating the issue of energy efficiency. It’s a good time to consider the “green” consequences of the problematic program-meets-form concern.

Styrofoam Lover’s tectonics and materiality are based on an idea of elasticity that is rarely afforded in energy efficient renovations of existing buildings. So it’s a pragmatic proposition too. The load-bearing walls derive their shape from membrane-lined casting moulds (also on display, thankfully). The casting medium combines a boring old concrete pour with millions and millions of little styrofoam balls (boring too in their life as banal packing), but together the concrete and foam achieve a simple yet innovative peanut butter-in-my-chocolate moment. The walls are now both load-bearing and thermally insulated.

But back to the issue of program. These concrete/styrofoam walls are populated with punctures and undulating projections into the gallery space. One can imagine that these manipulations in the form might accommodate a seat, a shelf, a closet or threshold. But that’s about all the piece really offers on the issue of program, coming up short on the promise of a transformative program-to-formal resolution. On the other hand, SCI-Arc students helped with the design, fabrication of casting materials and installation, and that reminds us that SCI-Arc – despite the tangled cyborg buildings represented in Maya-generated 3D renderings that cover the walls there – is still the best place for students to get their hands dirty in real material and construction experimentation.

Exhibit ends March 8

02.23.09 Enric Ruiz-Geli at UCLA

Enric Ruiz-Geli (head principle of Cloud 9 in Barcelona) unraveled his treasure trove of engaging, well-rounded and playfully investigative architectural creations Monday at UCLA, promoting many a post-reception attendee to ask (again): What the hell is keeping architecture like this from happening in the U.S.? In Spain it seems one could build anything the imagination allowed, a sweating expo center (with real salt water), a flickering building that moves like a whale, or a crashing wave suspended in air.

Ruiz-Geli’s presentation was a decidedly different in tone and reaction from a majority of recent architecture school lectures around town: with commonly young practitioners, contemporarily and timely in their concern for complex spatial geometries but thin on argument, stance and ideas. Fortunately, this was not the case with Ruiz-Geli, who managed to keep the restless Monday night crowd engrossed through three crashes of his laptop and sound problems. To boot, he managed to get former dean Sylvia Lavin down on her elbows in front of the crowd – to demonstrate a movement-translation software that was embedded in a cushion-like mat, of course.

Projects covered in the lecture (and the same projects that are on hand at the accompanying exhibit next door to Perloff hall in the UCLA Architecture building) included the “Villa Nurbs” house – situated in a Disney-fied, gated community in Spain that runs equal with our own O.C. – with its concrete cloud formation foundation and cladding in black ceramic thermal fins, the pool resides upstairs under bubble-eye skylights. Ruiz also highlighted his theatrical Edificio de Oficinas Media in Barcelona, an office that’s as structurally simple as it is brawny and wraps itself in a motion sensing, moveable skin.

Exhibit runs until April 24