Category: Blog

Was the countryside ever romantic?


A massive research project led by Rem Koolhaas over five years, culminated in an exhibition at the Guggenheim New York. After decades being obsessed by urbanism and megastructures, Koolhaas became fascinated by the radical development taking place in rural environments outside cities.

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas is famous for his impatience and restless intellect, reflected in the wide range of issues covered in the Guggenheim exhibition Countryside, The Future. As a research project it aims to figure out radical changes taking place outside cities, like an anthropological survey on man’s relationship to nature, technology and the new order of the rural environment. Koolhaas believes that new technologies will provide solutions to global warming. The book Countryside, A Report (Taschen 2020) published with the exhibition, consists of essays reflecting on some fascinating topics and ends with Koolhaas’ text, which is actually a list of questions, a stream of consciousness spread over 26 pages. Koolhaas starts by asking:

Where did the cows go?

And when did they leave?

Contemporary haymaking in Qatar, against an impressionist style rural scene painted by Monet.

For an architect, who was inspired by megastructures and obsessed with ’aesthetics of congestion’, this latest turn seems initially as a provocative gesture. However the exhibition explores a transformation of the posthuman condition, a discursive turn in which technological innovations could be harnessed in support of nature and the wider ecosystem. Observations collected by research teams from different corners of the planet, including Harvard GSD, University of Nairobi and Design Academy Eindhoven, bring together moral, ethical and technological questions, which Koolhaas articulates:

Will warming kill democracy?

Can it only be stopped by authority?

Could Democracy kill Warming?

Wind farms, solar farms, storage and distribution centers, factory farms, greenhouses, airports, highways, nuclear test sites, colossal art works, dams, nature reserves – is their advance a good sign?

Why are they impeccably organised while we are struck in a perpetual muddle?

Why does perfection only exist in domains to which we don’t seem to have access?

As urban life has been transformed by the pandemic, the timing of the Guggenheim exhibition seems prophetic. Open for just three weeks before all museums in New York closed, it was the second occasion for Koolhaas to showcase at the Guggenheim. First one was the 1978 show ’The Sparkling Metropolis’ with Madelon Vriesendorp. When pondering the effects of globalisation in a text from 1993 in S,M,L,XL Koolhaas listed the spread of epidemics and recognised a general expansion of possibilities ’for better or for worse’. And the effect on architecture on typical koolhaasian contradictory manner : ”exponentially depletes the architectural imagination” and then ”exponentially enriches the architectural imagination”. 

Rem Koolhaas with Guggenheim curator Troy Conrad Therrien and Samir Bantal from AMO, Image by Kristopher McKay

Koolhaas’ fascination for the rural environment is marked by the coexistence of digital technology, ecosystems, robotics and beautiful landscape, recognised as ’the new Sublime’. The massive cubic forms of data centers against an empty landscape in the Nevada desert exemplifies this form of beauty according to Koolhaas. Through an ideological rambling over a myriad of propositions for the future in the countryside, Koolhaas lyrically/cynically wonders:

Are data centers more impressive than pyramids?

Are more secrets buried in their chambers?

Are we buried alive in them?

Are our lives buried in them?

Could there ever be a new anarchy?

Can there again be art without CV, biography, context?

As in Lascaux?

Can we relearn romanticism?

Is a romantic someone who sees beauty even where it doesn’t exist?

Is the Sublime a way to combine good and bad? 

Is the contemporary countryside on its way to the Sublime?

What is more important for humankind: the Tesla GigaFactory, the Thermae de Vals, CCTV, or a refugee camp?

Countryside , The Future, Guggenheim New York

Savoy Restaurant, Helsinki

A modernist classic restored

Located in the heart of Helsinki with views over the rooftops, Savoy Restaurant belongs to the city’s 20th century design heritage. The interior was created by Finnish architects Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio-Aalto as an antidote to the avantgarde machine-aesthetic of the 1930s. The restaurant is one of the city’s iconic interiors, embodying a great sense of comfort and intimacy.

Savoy Restaurant, Helsinki
Original paneling and furnishings from the 1930s have been restored

After restoration by London-based designer Ilse Crawford and her firm Studio Ilse, the original ambiance, which had been altered by refurbishments over past decades, has been brought back and polished. Studio Ilse is known for many hotel and restaurant interiors, including the much-copied Soho House in New York. At Savoy, together with her team, she conceived one of the most subtle restoration works, which would be hard to imitate or replicate anywhere else.

Savoy Restaurant
Wooden paneling, warm, natural materials and a sense of intimacy ©Marianna Wahlsten

The idea of contemporary comfort underpins the interiors designed by Studio Ilse, which is a natural connection to the Aalto design philosophy. Working against the rigid aesthetic of the early Modern Movement, the Aaltos were looking for alternative ideas to enhance modern living environments. Instead of metal, they preferred the warmer qualities and better acoustics found in wood. At Savoy the paneling, and also smaller details, such as ceiling lights behind wooden screens, all add up to the great acoustics, further enhanced by the full carpet in 100% wool replaced during the renovation.

Savoy Restaurant, Helsinki
A subtle colour scheme of soft tones of brown and beige was discovered in the note book of Aino Marsio-Aalto ©Marianna Wahlsten

Aalto’s early projects, including their Munkkiniemi home and the Savoy, exemplify the Scandinavian turn of the Modern Movement. As an academic and magazine editor, before setting up her design studio, Crawford has a deep understanding of Aalto’s guiding principles. Her team worked closely with Finnish architect Tapani Mustonen and the Alvar Aalto Foundation, studying all the design documentation, the layouts and the materials. Photographs of the very first design were mainly black-and-white, but from archival descriptions and Aino Marsio-Aalto’s notes, a tonal range of soft browns was detected as the original colour palette for the interior.

Savoy Restaurant, Helsinki
This corner table still commemorates one of the regular guest, the war hero Marshal Mannerheim ©Marianna Wahlsten

The influence of Aino Marsio-Aalto, and how the couple worked together, was a great revelation for Crawford and her team. The textiles and material surfaces are all part of Marsio-Aalto’s design vocabulary, where an emblematic aesthetic sensibility lives on. Until her untimely death in 1949, she was also director of Artek, the furniture company co-founded by the couple. 

“We looked at both of them, also their personalities, how they approached the interiors, their use of natural materials, the timber – that was very interesting.” explains Joanna Rowlandson, one of the designers working on the project, “We saw a difference in their working processes: one is very functional and the other is much looser. And that’s so nice about their interiors, you can see a bit of both of their ways of working.”

Savoy Restaurant, Helsinki
Stripes on the back wall banquette is a new addition to the textiles

Mustonen, the chief architect of the restoration, has worked on many Aalto buildings, including the Viipuri Library. Mustonen says there is always something new to learn about Aalto’s way of thinking and why certain architectural solutions were used. The Aaltos were very dynamic and forward looking already in the 1920s with many international connections with other architects and artists of the Modern Movement. ”The way they thought is evident in the joy and passion in their buildings and interiors. These are easy places to be in,” Mustonen says about the special atmosphere, which is refined and at the same time relaxed.

Savoy Restaurant, Helsinki ©Marianna Wahlsten
Linking the inside with the city: from the glass covered terrace views expand over rooftops and the park below ©Marianna Wahlsten

During the latest restoration all wooden surfaces were stripped and brought back to show the natural character of wood. ”Aalto spoke how colours should express authentic characteristics of materials. During the 1960s and 1970s renovations all the oak and birch surfaces, all the windows and door frames, had been stained to evoke mahogany”, Mustonen explained. Each era has its own formal and aesthetic logic, which can be detected behind each renovation: “It’s has been a constant movement”. But now it seems the original design has been firmly recovered. 

Savoy Restaurant

Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus

‘More with less’ – Bauhaus on the centenary

What is the meaning of Bauhaus today, 100 years after the school was launched? The strong legacy can be discovered in the Bauhaus Museum Dessau, a new building designed by Addenda Architects. Located in the same city where the Bauhaus campus (1926) by Walter Gropius operated, it is home to the second largest Bauhaus collection.

Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
The ground floor gallery space is designed for changing exhibitions and events, photo ©Danica O. Kus

The new building adopts a creative approach to the Bauhaus legacy. “Our basic conception for the museum was to create a large flexible space so that exhibitions and workshops can take place without feeling restricted in any way by the architecture,” says architect Roberto González from Addenda Architects. They won the open architectural competition, which had 831 submissions. Their winning idea was integrated with the requirements for the museum, which needed an area of 1500 square metres for the collection. 

Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
The façade creates a play of transparency and reflection, photo ©Danica O. Kus

The structural system, where a closed concrete cube with no daylight floats above the large open-plan ground level, protects exhibits from direct sunlight. It is supported by two staircases, which are 50 meters apart. The wide open space without columns on the ground floor is designed for contemporary exhibitions, and the permanent collection is housed in the spaces above.

A glass façade surrounds the entire building. It’s transparent, although less than initially intended, because of budgetary constraints. Depending on the time of day, you can see right through the building, when daylight begins to recede. 

Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
A vast open space without columns on the ground floor, photo ©Danica O. Kus

On the ground the floor the glass walls evoke openness and a connection to the outside and the park next to it. It is a glass box in the Miesien tradition. The city and the park on the other side are reflected in the façade. “There are no limitations. Everything seems open, transparent and fluid” says González. As architects from Barcelona, González acknowledges the influence of the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Pavilion: “We are definitely a team of Mies fans”, although their maxim could be translated into “more with less”, González points out. 

Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
Architect Roberto González, photo ©Danica O. Kus

The building is about proportion, positioning and space, González explains. “It’s not so much about using the highest quality materials. The Bauhaus Museum Dessau shows that given the right combination of materials, space, colours etc. you can achieve an outstanding result with limited resources. That’s very Bauhaus.”

Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
Installation with coloured glass by Lucy Raven, photo ©Danica O. Kus

There are formal parallels with the Bauhaus Building designed by Walter Gropius, although they are not meant as direct references. “For us these decisions were all about flexibility and function. And Gropius was probably thinking the same thing with the Bauhaus Building”, González explains.

Concern for the environment can be seen as contemporary additions to the Bauhaus vocabulary. The green roof was designed for climatic reasons and for a connection between the building and the park. “Apart from the symbolic motivation there is also a practical reason for doing this: rainwater can be used to water the plants and plants help to isolate the building.” González says. His firm Addenda Architects is based in Barcelona, where architects have less restrictions and regulations about building. González says they pushed the norms with the Bauhaus Museum as far as they could: “Only with the façade did we deliberately rely on the standard requirements”.

Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
Textiles and weaving were part of the artistic production at Bauhaus, photo ©Danica O. Kus
Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
photo ©Danica O. Kus

The glass façade has triple glazing with a sunscreen protecting against heat. There is also a new system for air conditioning, where the large ground floor space is ventilated with the help of a water pipe. The ventilation echoes the system of traditional Andalusian patios in the south of Spain.

Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
Art and graphic design at Bauhaus, photo ©Danica O. Kus
Bauhaus Museum Dessau Photo Danica O. Kus
The Bauhaus collection is displayed in galleries protected from daylight, photo ©Danica O. Kus

Bauhaus Dessau Museum

Dessau, Germany

MoMA New York, photo ©Danica Kus

MoMA, New York, expanding its scope

More space and better access for viewing the greatest collection of 20th-century art at MoMA –

MoMA New York, photo © Danica Kus
 photo © Danica Kus –

Through the latest extension The Museum of Modern Art in New York has added 47,000 square feet of new exhibition spaces. Funded by the late David Rockefeller and four MoMA trustees, the extension cost $450 million. It’s the fourth significant change in the museum’s history, which opened in 1939. The first extension was designed by Philip Johnson in 1964, the second by Cesar Pelli in 1984 and the third by Yoshio Taniguchi in 2004. 

MoMA New York, photo © Danica Kus
Connected to the street, evoking openness and transparency, photo © Danica Kus

The latest by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in co-operation with Gensler, exemplifies sleek international style, high-tech engineering and minimalistic modernism. A new double-height entrance on 53rd Street has transformed the spatial experience of the museum, adding a sense of openness and transparency. The clear glass façade aims to bring art closer to people. New street level galleries are free for all, with no entrance fee, providing a public space with cultural and educational value. ”Inspired by Alfred Barr’s original vision to be an experimental museum in New York, the real value of this extension is not just more space, but space that allows us to rethink the experience the art in a Museum”, director Glenn D. Lowry pointed out.

MoMA New York, photo © Danice Kus
A double-height space for experimental programming and installations, the Marie Josée and Henry Kravis Studio, photo © Danica Kus

The permanent collection has more modernist masterpieces than any other museum. Several of the MoMA trustees are influential collectors, who have donated works. Now the curatorial strategy aims to offer a wider perspective and showcase the complexity of global artistic production. The new spaces allow for juxtaposing different artistic movements and approaches, while also staging numerous works by women, African American artists and galleries specialising in Latin American and Chinese art.

MoMA New York, photo © Danica Kus
Daylit galleries and connection to the urban environment, photo © Danica Kus

The number of visitors at MoMA each year is over three million. The galleries need to accommodate a huge flow of people and also more room for larger art works. The latest expansion will make circulation around the museum easier, while also providing a wider view of one of the greatest collections of sculpture, painting, architecture, design, photography, media, performance and film together. The new presentations will illustrate links and connections between different types of artistic production. Housed over six floors, where some of the galleries will be medium-specific, the museum aims to broaden the ways in which art can be displayed, understood and discussed. The architectural concept encourages several alternative routes through the collections.


Lisbon Architecture Triennale, MAAT Museum

Lisbon Architecture Triennale – rationality reconsidered

‘The Poetics of Reason’, Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2019

Showcased inside some of the city’s charming buildings, five main exhibitions of Lisbon Architecture Triennale respond to an evocative theme – The Poetics of Reason. Set by chief- curator, the French architect Éric Lapierre (1966), the theme translates key values from modernity, moving away from the phenomenologically-inflected theories towards a more rationalist approach. However, it’s not about mere functionalism, but could be seen as a discursive turn, where ‘poetics of space’ is replaced by an alternative focus.

Éric Lapierre, Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2019, MAAT Museum
Chief Curator Éric Lapierre introducing the main exhibition at MAAT Museum

Lapierre is an award-winning architect in France, running his own studio since 1999 and has been teaching at universities in Marne-la-Vallée (France), Lausanne (Switzerland) and Harvard (US).  “To curate a show is not to show my own work, but it’s of course completely coherent with what I do. I teach ‘rationality’, I practice it and I curate it”, Lapierre says. For the Triennale he has gathered a curatorial team from colleagues working on his teaching program. Lapierre is not the typical, intensely analytic and manic architect, but a more laid-back theorist, inspired by rock music (check out their Instagram @eye_experience), and Velvet Underground in particular. In visual arts the surrealists are his source of inspiration, evident in the selection of models displayed in the main show, including works by Belgian architects Kersten Geers, David van Severen and De Vylder Vinck Taillieu Architects. 

MAAT Museum, Lisbon
View towards the historic part of MAAT Museum from the top of the new building, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

As the president of the Triennale José Mateus points out, the exhibitions and events touch on a global topic, instead of national concerns. The main exhibition The Economy of Means, curated by Lapierre and presented at the MAAT Museum, investigates a broad subject matter, where the fundamental question about economy can leave you slightly puzzled. While bringing out a range of references, both historic and contemporary, the narrative folds out as a dense overview into the history of architectural structures, its meaning, use and development. Although the main argument might seem slightly obscure – raising some criticism – visitors will acquire huge amounts of knowledge. The galleries are packed: video interviews, slide shows, architecture models and lots of drawings – perhaps too many drawings… In order to make the most of it, you would need to allow plenty of time.

Vaulted ceiling structure from the 16th century by Philibert de l’Orme, reconstructed for the exhibition at MAAT Museum, photo ©Marianna Wahlsten

The main exhibition is based on classical French theory, starting with a quote by Philibert de l’Orme from 1567. The pursuit of structural continuity develops from de l’Orme’s thesis and the meaning of time (past, present and future), that needs to be considered for each architectural project. The structural theory developed three centuries later by Viollet-le-Duc could be seen as underpinning Lapierre’s proposition. However, this key reference gets slightly lost amid the vast amount of conceptual links. Overall the galleries provide an experience, where ideas run deep with meaning. “For me, when I think of poetical reason, it’s an attempt to define the specificity of the rationality, it’s not completely cartesian”, Lapierre says, “So it’s important to understand, that we don’t have on one hand the boring rationality and then the fancy artist, it’s completely intertwined and included to each other.”

Elsewhere in town an atmospheric 18th-century palace, the Sinel de Cordes, is home to exhibition titled Natural Beauty. It’s curated by young architects Laurent Esmilaire and Tristan Chadney, expanding Lapierre’s proposition. Here the wider theme of rationality is explored in relation to natural forms. Showcasing classic examples including Gaudi’s investigation on parabolic vaults and Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, the curators are showing a genealogy of formal logic translated into contemporary practice. While talking about the arch Esmilaire refers to the Rolex Centre in Lausanne by Sanaa, which shows a development of the vaulted ceiling: “Continuity is something that always exists”, he says, “Rationality is very important in classical French architecture, it’s in our DNA. But we don’t want to say its a French matter, we want to highlight its spread everywhere”. 

Sinel de Cordes Palace, Lisbon Architecture Triennale
At Sinel de Cordes Palace exhibition ‘Natural Beauty’, with Gaudi’s experimental upside down model in the middle, photo ©Fabio Cunha

At the National Museum of Contemporary Art (the most central location), Inner Space is an exploration into imaginary states underpinning creativity in architecture. The curators of this exhibition, architects Mariabruna Fabrizi and Fosco Lucarelli also publish and run The idea of evoking the scope of unconscious operations behind each project is a beautiful starting point. By showcasing a wide range of artistic devices that are part of the creative process and the abstract operations, this show builds a historic view, culminating in a virtual presentation of imaginary space. Well researched and mind broadening, but hard to pin down. At the Culturgest contemporary arts centre, the exhibition What Is Ornament tackles a more precise theme within the history of architecture. This exhibition curated by architects Ambra Fabi and Giovanni Piovene focuses on the meaning of ornament after its significance has been contested by theorists such as Adolf Loos. Today, as Fabi pointed out, the entire façade of a building can be considered an ornament.

At the basement galleries of CCB, (now run by André Tavares, chief curator of the previous Triennale), the exhibition on agriculture shows how the history of anthropocene is also the history of rationalism. The concept is drawn from a research project that curator, philosopher Sébastien Marot conducted in parallel with work for OMA and another exhibition by Rem Koolhaas (opening at Guggenheim, New York in 2020). Displayed through a series of large boards, the exhibition is like a book showcased on the walls of a museum. It’s a slightly tedious way for gathering information, but some video interviews provide a change of pace while examining the long lines of hung data and illustrations. As an argument that aims to introduce alternative models for agriculture, Marot proposes forms for an urbanism of the future. He didn’t get convinced about presenting Koolhaas’ more futuristically themed proposal about agriculture and GMO, which was probably the point where their paths separated. 

Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2019, MAAT Museum
Photography series created by Éric Tabuchi, as part of the display at ‘Economy of Means’ at MAAT Museum, photo © Hugo David

Lapierre’s curatorial proposal explores a formal development in architecture, underpinned by changes in human consciousness, and the influence of surrealism and minimalism. The need to go beyond mere functionalism, while retaining a certain logic, is the inspiration that can be retained from the exhibitions. The rich historic narrative is based on exhaustive research, although key ideas do sometimes get lost in the amount of information. Exemplified by drawings, models, photographs, interviews, slideshows and illustrations, the curatorial perspective is one of an architect immersed in multiple links of significance. As exhibitions, however, the triennale proposes an outlook and overview, where classical French theory of structural logic is clearly redefined.

The Poetics of Reason, Lisbon Architecture Triennale

open 3 October – 2 December 2019

Economy of Means at MAAT

until 13 January


Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2019 – Beauty Matters

The theme ‘Beauty Matters’ was set by chief curator Yael Reisner to remind us of architecture as an aesthetic experience. As architecture often seems to be focused on moral and political aspects of design, Reisner aims to bring attention back to the concept of beauty. The Biennale offers an energising program of talks and events and an inspiring exhibition showcased at the Museum of Estonian Architecture.

Winner of the pavilion competition, ‘Steampunk’ installed in front Museum of Estonian Architecture

The exhibition inside the museum consists of installations by international architects including Sou Fujimoto, SOMA, Kadri Kerge and Barnaby Gunning. One of the highlights is the experimental timber construction, installed in front of the museum. The wooden installation ‘Steampunk’ is the winner of a competition to create a pavilion using wood as material. It was conceived by a team, where designers and architects experimented with computational design in order to explore new technological possibilities. The brief for the competition was to design a ‘primitive hut’, an idea derived from the historical discourse of architecture, but interpreted for today. The competition allows young architects to experiment and research around material possibilities and techniques. A selection of shortlisted entries is exhibited within the museum. The ways in which they demonstrate ‘beauty’ is an interesting matter and shows how notions of beauty are wide and varied. The team behind the winning design explain: “The beauty of the project lies in this tension: when to give and take, when to adhere to preconceived design intent and when to abandon precision and begin to react” – hence it’s all about the process.


Steampunk installation, Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2019
Steampunk installation, Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2019, from above

The pavilion is created with steam-bent wooden boards of 100 x 10 mm, bound together into a sculptural form, that can be entered and explored from various view points. It is a kind of futuristic vision of the modernist bent-ply aesthetic, created with a digital system, in which no physical drawings were made. It plays with surface and volume in the form of a sculptural giant timber knot. The winning design is a collaboration with a team of young designers and architects based in London, and Fologram, a design research practice and technology startup. Fologram is a Melbourne-based company, which builds software for artistic and architectural projects. For the experimental installation holographic models were used in the construction process.

Made of steam bent wood, with digital technology


The team behind Steampunk: Gwyllim Jahn, Cameron Nenham, Someen Hahm, Igor Pantic

The winning team used robotics and a very high-tech approach, while working with a natural material. The result shows how technological interventions interact with material reality. It’s a deliberate gesture showcasing robotic production and automation, while experimenting with precision and intentionality. From a neo-kantian viewpoint, beauty is definitely a relative matter, and here extended beyond the product itself into the process of production.

Each strip is bent using a holographic model

Tallinn Architecture Biennale

Exhibition open until 17.11.2019 at Museum of Estonian Architecture