The Sea Ranch


For reasons I won’t get into, I spent last fall in a tiny Midwest city, bored and landlocked save for one odd apartment building that cast my mind to the Pacific every time I passed it. However indirectly or superficially, this 1980s multifamily rental—with vertical natural-wood siding, a stark shed roof, and expansive windows—seemed to have been derived from, of all things, the Sea Ranch, the iconic coastal real estate development. Even more curious, though, while it was completely out of sync with the turn-of-the-century surroundings, it wasn’t necessarily a bad fit.

The California architectural monument of the 1960s,” as historian David Gebhard called the Sea Ranch, is a lesson in the mutability of place with regard to geography. On a ten-mile-long bluff three hours north of San Francisco, a group of mostly Princeton-trained architects, a landscape architect inspired by his time on a kibbutz, and a graphic designer steeped in Swiss rationalism would create a project with such a distinctive identity, so synonymous with California, that it drew international acclaim.

The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism, a sharp exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, open through April 28, doesn’t dwell on the development’s prehistory and afterlife. Instead, it tries to recover some of the original sensibility. The curators, Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher and Joseph Becker, have gathered a concise selection of original materials from multiple archives: plans, sketches, scale models, photographs. It’s a bit traditional, but if you know the museum’s architecture collection—past acquisitions have skewed experimental (think Thom Mayne and Lebbeus Woods)—it’s also quietly provocative. A full-scale mock-up of part of the Sea Ranch apartment belonging to MLTW’s Charles Moore, designer of the condominium cluster and the recreation center together with Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull, and Richard Whitaker, provides a bit of unexpected drama and, of course, Instagram opps. For good reason: The re-creation captures the uncharacteristic spatial complexity of the interior, with its vaulted ceilings, post-and-beam structure, painted and patterned surfaces, and weird aedicula (a freestanding sleeping loft supported by telephone pole columns). Even without Moore’s eclectic possessions—the Indian wall hangings, Baroque mirror, Oaxacan animal figures, and various other curiosities he famously curated like some learned scavenger—you understand immediately that the Sea Ranch, despite its claim on a certain brand of Bay Area regionalism, is not one-note.

In her catalog essay, Dunlop Fletcher situates the Sea Ranch within a small group of postwar residential developments in California striving to “create a financially viable synthesis of architecture, environment, and idealism,” among them Crestwood Hills in Los Angeles and the North Shore on the Salton Sea. Al Boeke, an architect and developer who had previously overseen the creation of a New Town community in Oahu, Hawaii, for the real estate subsidiary of Dole Pineapple, bet that a segment of the market valued architectural pedigree and a sense of community allied with environmental stewardship, and, accordingly, would tolerate some discomfort. The coastal site he purchased in 1960, a former sheep ranch bisected by Highway 1—with a series of meadows and Monterey cypress trees on one side and a dense redwood forest on the other—wasn’t particularly cozy. As a booklet prepared later for prospective owners disclosed, “the terrain is rugged, the surf treacherous, the ocean cold.” But such was the price of “dramatic beauty,” at least to like-minded liberals after an authenticity of experience and a progressive lifestyle.

Boeke engaged a small army of consultants: foresters, grassland advisers, engineers, attorneys, hydrologists, climatologists, geologists, geographers, graphic artists, and public relations and marketing experts. Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin defined a master plan according to his holistic vision of social and ecological processes. Sea Ranch Ecoscore (1968), a snail shell diagram spanning the Jurassic period to the age of fossil fuel and displayed prominently in the show, positioned the project within a deep history, as part of a dynamic interaction between geology, climate, plants, animals, and human occupation. In practical terms this meant that half the land was to be held in common; most of the meadows would be preserved, with buildings distributed along their edges in dense clusters, rather than in a single oceanfront row. Besides MLTW, then a relatively young firm, the established San Francisco architect Joseph Esherick was commissioned to design a marker building (a beacon directing drivers off the highway), a general store, and a series of six single-family “demonstration houses” dispersed among the cypress hedgerows. Graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon was responsible for the Helvetica identity and marketing materials, as well as colorful hard-edge murals inside the athletic center. All parties were in agreement that the architecture should play a secondary role. The landscape came first.

The architects deferred to local vernacular structures without abandoning their Modernist allegiances. The angles of shed roofs nod to the existing barns and the cypress hedgerows while maintaining a degree of formal abstraction. The absence of eaves cuts down on wind resistance and renders sharp silhouettes against the ocean horizon. Esherick’s buildings have their merits, especially the interiors, but MLTW’s Condominium One pushed this architectural language in far more exciting and original directions. Ten condo units were combined into a dense composite of 24-foot cubes differentiated in height and window treatment, as well as by the addition of “saddlebags,” a term for the unique additions of window benches and sunrooms to the core volumes. Heterogeneity and privacy were achieved within an idealistic, even utopian prototype of communal rural living.

If this combination of shed roofs, simple volumes, and untreated wood would come to stand for a style, used and abused near and far, it is in part the project’s own doing. In 1965, a year after the first buildings opened, design stipulations were adopted as part of the Sea Ranch’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). A design review committee was instituted to ensure that future changes would conform to the architects’ vision. The rules mandated the form of buildings, but primarily concerned the visual: unpainted, native wood–clad structures; cars obscured by fences; and the express prohibition of flowerbeds and other “suburban” flourishes. In apparently trivial aesthetic details the ideals of the entire community were at stake. Maintenance was a question of freedom.

Perhaps the purest distillation of the contributors’ self-understanding is a two-column list of “Sea Ranch Principles” compiled by Halprin. Yes to rural, community, simplicity; no to suburbia, individual houses, flamboyance. “Design control (AIA etc. awards over the years)” was good, whereas “No control (see the butcher of highway 1)” was bad. The virtues of the Sea Ranch, measured against the imprudence of the world, bespeak a self-righteousness that blinded its creators to the perception by outsiders. The Sea Ranch as it was planned, with homes for thousands of inhabitants supported by schools and commercial facilities, never materialized. The California Coastal Commission, responding to inland residents’ fears of limited public oceanfront access, instituted a ten-year construction moratorium in the early 1970s. To recoup some of its investment, the developer pursued wealthy weekenders, not full-time adherents of an alternative mode of semi-communal living. Of some 2,300 lots at the Sea Ranch, about three-quarters have been built out.

What is so fascinating about the Sea Ranch in retrospect is how powerfully it discloses the overwhelming contradictions and profound limitations of architecture as a progressive agent in American society. Even in moments of great aesthetic refinement, ecological sensitivity, and collective aspirations, property interests have the upper hand. Had the Sea Ranch been realized as planned, would it have been any more relevant today? Was it ever really a general model, or successful only in its exceptional character? I’m inclined, after seeing the exhibition, to view the Sea Ranch as an exceedingly productive fantasy. From our current perspective, the enclave is glaringly unsustainable, socially and environmentally. But at least it forces us to ask: What, today, are our ideals?

Dar Al Muharraq


Its silhouette is unmistakable. So I hadn’t expected Dar Al Muharraq, a newly completed venue for traditional Gulf music designed by the Belgian architects OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, would be so difficult to find. A taxi gets me only so close before, with little notice, the street gets too narrow for the sedan to navigate. The old town of Muharraq—the heart of Bahrain’s lucrative pearling industry up until 1930, when the introduction of Japanese cultured pearls ran the trade into the ground—is a maze of narrow corridors into which air-conditioning units and pipes protrude and, tonight, the low din of music tries to escape.

It’s just after eight when I arrive, and the performance is already under way. Standing three stories tall, the building is sheathed entirely in a stainless-steel ring mesh, which is pulled up, temporarily, to head height. Beyond a row of thin columns, two interior partitions have been folded out of the way, revealing a rectangular room surfaced in stained oak that emanates a safety orange color. Here, in the majlis, or sitting room, the musicians rest on cushions on the floor. Beside them are percussion instruments—double-headed drums, tambourines, and water urns, which are played by beating on their mouth with a flat hand. A crowd of about 40 people has congregated along two sides of the building, in streets that are not much wider than six feet. Some are sitting in chairs; others are standing. Fjiri, primarily a vocal music, originated with the seamen and pearl divers of the Arabian Gulf. It is composed of melodic exchanges between a solo singer (nahham), who is dressed in a black thawb, and a chorus, which tonight counts 12, all in white. Combined with handclapping and occasional dance movements, it is enough to hold us in trance for an hour.    

When the performance concludes, practically the entire audience disperses within a minute, as if its presence were merely a serendipitous pause en route to somewhere else. I decide to stick around. I watch as the chairs are gathered, the cushions are stacked, and, with a bit of a struggle, the partitions are pulled back from their accordion position and closed. Somewhere a switch is flipped, activating a system of motors and cables that gradually lowers the mesh. Over 30 seconds, along all four sides of the building, the enclosure progressively changes shape from scalloped bunting to straight draping. The festival atmosphere—droning voices, glowing orange oak, whimsical chain-mail bunting—gives way to exquisite, baffling repose. Once the lights are finally switched off, after the last few stragglers extinguish their cigarettes and leave, there remains the faint indication of an inhabitable building.

I’d traveled to Bahrain with high expectations. For upwards of a decade OFFICE has, trailed by legions of imitators, cut a conspicuous path across the field’s unthinking excesses, demonstrating its talent for concision and economy in nearly 150 didactic projects, built and unbuilt. To put it plainly, Geers and Van Severen—at ages 42 and 39, respectively—are among the most promising architects of their generation. Yet Dar Al Muharraq still impressed me in ways I had not anticipated, and tempered certain reservations. OFFICE’s work at times can feel overburdened by its own emphatic discourse. But Dar Al Muharraq, while steeped in the obsessions of its designers—boundaries and rooms, Platonic shapes, lightweight materials, historical associations—exceeds these pursuits. Its deft orchestration of performer and spectator, private and public spheres, architecture and city, remakes a centuries-old cultural practice anew.

Historically, the dar, which means “house” in Arabic, is a private space akin to a fraternal society or club; between sea journeys, pearl divers would meet here regularly to perform the fjiri. After the country’s pearling heritage was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2012, the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities commissioned OFFICE to design two public facilities as a way of preserving the musical tradition. (The second dar, essentially identical, is located a half hour away in the city of Riffa and will be completed this spring.) As Van Severen remembers, “The demands were generic.” Instead of deferring to a preestablished type, like an amphitheater, OFFICE skillfully preserved the intimacy and volumetric specificity of the traditional majlis while integrating a public audience. Transformations of architectural typologies are linked to social rituals, and Geers and Van Severen have updated a type by, in a sense, designing a new ritual.

In its subtle effects and judicious execution, the Dar Al Muharraq is a mirror image of most high-profile buildings in the Gulf region. In Doha, a quick 45-minute flight away, the procurement of new educational and cultural buildings by I.M. Pei, Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas, Arata Isozaki, and others has about as much imagination as one of those perennially marked-down doorstops by cool hunter Philip Jodidio. Perhaps because Bahrain lacks the deep pockets of its neighbor to the south it must shrewdly develop less-established talent rather than license brand names (the total cost of the dar, including the renovation of an existing private dar next door, was $850,000). But I observe a sense of obligation to the discipline, and curiosity. As the head of architectural affairs for the culture authority, Noura Al Sayeh, explains, “you don’t know what the next step of their practice will be.” This twofold approach to patronage—commissioning projects that are both new for an architect’s body of work and for the place where they are built—is effective in part by how it mediates desired aesthetic outcomes and material circumstances.

The best example of this dynamic is the ring mesh. Quality Wire Products, a local manufacturer that specializes in industrial products like strainers, screens, sieves, and filters, primarily for the oil and gas sector, worked with OFFICE to develop the custom architectural textile. A team of 45 workers spent two and a half months stitching ten-millimeter stainless-steel rings together by hand in the factory before it was transported to the site in panels and pieced together into a seamless whole. Despite its drapelike appearance, above the ground floor the mesh is fixed in place, with practically no give to it. A good thing, since it is the only component keeping one from falling out of the building. (Another good thing: It blocks some of the sun from getting in.)   

This tension between the provisional and the permanent is reinforced throughout the project by color. The pair of restrooms on the third level, as with the other service elements like the sound equipment and the winches that position the ring mesh, are housed within steel enclosures powder-coated ultramarine blue. The air-conditioned staff offices and storage located on the second and third levels are similarly self-contained, in orange rooms identical to the performance space. Though carefully positioned and fixed in place, the monochrome units playfully suggest they could be withdrawn, making the concrete platforms available for some other use, some other fantasy.

When I spoke with Van Severen about the project recently, he mentioned Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-ino, a reference I dismissed as too obvious at first. After all, how many buildings aren’t derivative of this slab-and-column method? But the more I considered the dar and the possibility it conjures up, the more I began to register in it that primordial Modernist image—the vaunted three-quarter-view drawing of the bare concrete frame. This “purity” is paid for in contradiction, though. The columns are structurally redundant to achieve a desired rhythm, and four out of the 18 are altogether false—hollow stainless-steel tubes threaded with plumbing and wiring. More nerve-racked mannerists might feel compelled to signal these inconsistencies with irony or overwrought symbolism, but Geers and Van Severen do not suck the air from the room. At Dar Al Muharraq, they just let space be.

Saša Mächtig


Even in relative old age, the Kiosk K67—a shape-shifting system of modular fiberglass structures—keeps active. A kiosk in Kromberk, Slovenia, in the former Yugoslavia has become a beehive. Another, used by a Bosnia and Herzegovina food vendor, has received a masonry addition. In Ljubljana, a kiosk that formerly sheltered parking lot attendants now supports an automated ticket machine.

These may not have been adaptations the Slovenian designer Saša J. Mächtig had in mind when he first conceived the K67 50 years ago. But accounting for all of them would have been impossible. In theory, the system permitted unlimited configurations and variations. By the time production stopped in 1999, around 7,500 units of the K67 had been manufactured. While most remained in Yugoslavia, some were exported abroad—among other places, to Poland, Japan, New Zealand, Kenya, Iraq, the former Soviet Union, and the United States. Around the world, they were adapted to uses ranging from border patrol stations and ski lift ticket booths to retail and fast-food stands. No one is really sure how many are still in use today, or what other kinds of folksy, improvised alterations have been made to them, but among the greatest pleasures of the kiosks is their endless capacity to surprise. the K67, a recent retrospective of Mächtig’s work at the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana managed to restore its original brilliance. And it did so without suppressing the deviations. As the show’s curator Maja Vardjan writes in her catalogue essay, what distinguishes the K67 is “its position between architecture and industrial design, embeddedness in the framework of a modern city and society, the rituals of daily life, and, last but not least, its persistent capacity to reinvent itself.” While the visionary architectural schemes of the 1960s and 1970s may inspire wistful longing (What could have been!), the K67 kiosks, even as they disappear from view, provoke a question: Why have they persisted for so long?

The 75-year-old Mächtig’s life and work are bound up in the transformations of Yugoslavia, from its status as a nonaligned nation with a system of self-governing socialism after 1948 to its breakup and the subsequent Balkan wars during the 1990s. Born in Ljubljana in 1941, he entered the design profession as a first wave of modernization—marked by processes of mass production, industrialization, and urbanization—was concluding. At the same time, features of the market were being integrated into a planned economy. These changes presented opportunities that Mächtig was well prepared to tap.

Studying at the Ljubljana School of Architecture in the early ’60s, Mächtig enrolled in Course B, an interdisciplinary program that, in its brief, two-year existence, would influence a generation not only of architects but also industrial and graphic designers. Orchestrated by Edvard Ravnikar—the leading Slovenian architect of the postwar period—and modeled on the Bauhaus and the Ulm School of Design, the curriculum consisted of what are today pedagogical commonplaces: a combination of theoretical inquiry and concrete projects, with an emphasis on analysis, research, and experimentation. Updating Ernesto Rogers’ famous statement about an architect’s activity extending “from the spoon to the city,” Ravnikar urged students to consider “the smallest consumables to regional spatial solutions.” Mächtig would make this philosophy his own. Rather than design, say, products one week and master plans the next, he used the K67 to bridge different scales and disciplines, from industrial to urban design, simultaneously.

It was by chance, while securing approval for his first independent project—a translucent reinforced-polyester canopy for a café in Ljubljana—that Mächtig learned of city planning officials’ desire for new kiosks. On his own initiative, he prepared a design, embracing new industrial materials and the logic of mass production. By his assessment, the existing structures (used as tobacco shops and newsstands) were treated too much like small houses in their conceptualization and construction. Presenting the K67 project for the first time, Mächtig offered a revised set of precedents: “In its modern interpretation the kiosk allows the possibility of growth and change, in purpose perhaps similar to Scandinavian cupboard systems and in terms of design to automotive bodywork.”

Mächtig’s initial scheme consisted of five primary load-bearing elements, plus accessory equipment: two types of canopies, and interior design elements like shelving systems, light fixtures, and window blinds. A full-scale prototype— colored bright red for shock value—was completed in 1969. The following year, after the K67 was featured in Design magazine, Emilio Ambasz, then a MoMA design curator, inquired about adding it to the collection. A delay in shipment foiled a plan to hoist the bulky units into the museum through a window, so when Mächtig arrived for the opening of a show of recent acquisitions in December 1970, he found the two-unit K67 not in the gallery but in a more public setting—outdoors, on the 53rd Street sidewalk.

Had it been a second-generation model, produced after 1971, the kiosk would have been whisked through the museum doors. Unlike the original monolithic units, the newer cross-shaped structure, composed of separate ceiling and floor shells and four corner posts, could be disassembled. The structure, measuring eight feet in all directions, supported secondary elements like doors, vending and convex windows, and blind I-panels. Occasionally, Mächtig even developed special customizations for particular functions, such as fast-food preparation.

A restless designer and deft businessman, he believed the K67 system, if it was to remain commercially viable, needed to evolve with changes in user habits and notions of comfort, as well as advances in industrial processes. Exhaustive prototyping was therefore imperative. “That was the message I got from General Motors,” Mächtig recalled recently of his encounter with the automobile company’s important Technical Center in Michigan, which he toured following the MoMA exhibition. “I saw how they developed certain parts of the car, then tested, and then put things together.”

Mächtig would eventually extend ideas of the K67 to designs for waste bins, public telephone booths and hoods, information display cabinets, a bus stop shelter system, and recyclable-waste containers (except for the phone booths, all were mass-produced to varying extents). According to Vardjan, this street equipment, together with the kiosks, “shapes an intangible infrastructure through small scale and number.” Remark- able as individual works of industrial design, they reached their full potential only in context, as participants in their environments. Influenced by Christopher Alexander and Kevin Lynch—whose writings were introduced to Mächtig by Ravnikar—he considered how the street equipment shaped human perception. “A regular waste bin is more than an element that serves to keep the city clean; it is a means to design public space,” Mächtig wrote in 1977. “A well-placed bin can conclude a journey, mark a change of direction, demarcate two areas through a rhythm of identical elements and more.” In Lynchian terms, the kiosks were nodes, consolidating and generating activity.

But can design that thrives on sensitive siting survive the whims of urban change, inevitable and unceasing as it is? Mächtig’s designs maintain a paradox at their heart—they pursue regulation and indeterminacy in equal measure—but also a unique durability. While the K67 kiosks were not intended to exist in isolation, the qualities of their design on the level of the single, self-contained unit are a hedge against rapid extinction. Observing the K67’s current status in postcommunist countries, the critic Owen Hatherley remarked that it suggests “some possible ways around the dichotomy of desperate vs. corporate.” Indeed, the K67—by averring the opposition between objects and systems, hardware and software, the part and the whole, the top-down and the bottom-up—is a model for engaging abstract processes by precise, concrete means.

Compared with the fantastical plug- ins of Archigram and the Metabolists, the K67 may seem mundane. But today, now that impermanence, open-endedness, and interactivity inform solution- oriented endeavors from incremental housing to small-scale “tactical” interventions to emergency shelters, the pragmatism of the K67 is particularly relevant. In his career-long devotion to, and continual reassessment of, extremely focused problems, Mächtig offers another, more patient way to be a designer. Since 2003 he has been developing a new generation of kiosks, and soon user testing will begin. As Mächtig knows well, “you always have to listen.”



As if I needed better evidence that change was afoot at WORKac, the architecture firm led by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, a stack of Sheetrock and a semi-demolished brick wall greet me as I enter their office, mid-renovation, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side one morning in October. Since 2014, when Andraos became dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), a hyperactive institution with global satellites, the firm has had to adjust to new pressures. “We had a tough time the first year,” admits Wood, over an intermittent chorus of drills, saws, and Shop-Vacs.

But now that Andraos has settled into her job uptown, the office has embarked upon what he describes as “a really experimental period.” A book documenting nearly 15 years of practice is due out this fall. And major projects, such as a new public library in Queens, are nearing completion. Having ascended to the highest ranks of academia and demonstrated that their office is capable of winning significant commissions while they are still in their 40s, Andraos and Wood find themselves in an enviable predicament.

With the experience and reputation they’ve amassed, they must determine how to proceed.

“When we started the practice, we didn’t know what we wanted to do, and we were really about working,” says Wood. “But I think we realized very quickly in teaching that it’s a way to escape the day-to-day pressure of everyone demanding that you make decisions. Teaching is really just reacting to other people’s decisions. You set things in motion and you kind of watch them go.”

Andraos, more measured than Wood, strikes a philosophical tone: “I aspire to foster a school where everyone is in a kind of passionate state. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Pragmatists both, they want to prove to students that it is possible to think about the same things in the office as in school (Wood teaches at the University of Pennsylvania). This means they are obligated to hold up the other end of the bargain in their role as risk-tolerant professionals.

“We have no problem throwing people onto a project that doesn’t exist,” offers Wood.

“Actually that is a problem,” says Andraos, drawing him back from the ledge of extravagance.

Wood concedes, “That is a bit of a financial problem.”

Now and again, they indulge themselves. (What better use of an Ivy League administrator’s salary than speculation?)

And on such occasions, the DIY spirit and environmental preoccupations of the 1960s and ’70s counterculture act as their guide. For the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015, WORKac collaborated with Ant Farm members Chip Lord and Curtis Schreier to reanimate three prescient projects from the outsider group’s archive, and collaged them into a floating habitat called A more recent project of this sort, an off-the-grid house in the Arizona desert, re-envisions the Earthship passive energy building type beloved by Cold War survivalists as a sleek, solar-paneled glass wedge (part greenhouse, part living area) perched atop an adobe brick thermal mass.

Less far-fetched fantasy than over-the-top reality, the house is characteristic of their work in general, which luxuriates in intensive programming and odd proximities. For proof, consider the facade they were commissioned to design for one section of a parking structure now under construction in Miami’s Design District. “We said, OK, we’re going to take the four feet that are given for the architect, for the envelope, and really create this kind of vertical public promenade of all our favorite topics— art, kids, animals, water collection,” says Andraos. Wood adds, “So it has a playground, a little lending library, a listening lounge, a graffiti art gallery, a garden with a palm tree, a DJ booth.”

In the office’s current moment of experimentation, this programmatic feverishness has taken on a slightly different form, emphasizing the articulation of boundaries. A proposal for the new Beirut Museum of Art, awarded second place in a recent competition, carves speech-bubble-like cavities of various sizes out of a freestanding concrete mass, reconceiving the balcony, a fixture of the Mediterranean city, as a receptacle for artworks. While we talk, Wood takes a small model of the building by his hand and switches on a battery-operated light. The dimpled cube glows, as does the architect’s face.

This childlike thrill from miniatures is a holdover from his 20s. Wood, who was raised in rural Rhode Island and studied film theory in college, “got really into model making” as an architecture student at GSAPP during the pre-paperless studio period of the early 1990s. After graduation, he pursued this interest professionally, first in New York and then at OMA in Rotterdam. His career took off from there. “One day, Rem called me out of the model shop and said, ‘You know, we have a lot of projects in the U.S. now, so you should be in charge of them.’”

“I thought he was Dutch,” recalls the Lebanese-born Andraos of her first encounter with Wood, in 1998. “So I said, ‘Do you want to go for an American burger?’” By then her own identity was susceptible to misinterpretation, as she’d spent  much of her childhood living in Saudi Arabia—where her father, an architect and painter, pursued a prefabricated-housing venture—then in Paris and Montreal. Andraos completed an undergraduate thesis on downtown Beirut at McGill University and made Middle Eastern cities the focus of her first major initiative as dean; but she approaches the subject of her native region, and most other things, from multiple vantage points. (At GSAPP, she insists on making connections across different programs, and with the outside world, around shared environmental and social concerns.) As a student of Koolhaas’s at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design—where his research at the time spanned Roman cities to Lagos, Nigeria—and, later, as his employee at OMA, Andraos was taught to take seriously every condition possible. “Certainly we still carry that approach,” she says.

Indeed, despite the considerable time both spent working for Koolhaas, when Andraos and Wood set out on their own, in 2003, they took with them less a formal grammar of off-kilter cantilevers than an expansive, hierarchy-busting perspective. For the first five years, during which WORKac completed mostly interior projects locally in New York, the firm’s philosophy  was “Say yes to everything.” Villa Pup—an immersive urban doghouse incorporating a treadmill, an odor machine, and video screens—was its “mascot project.”

A turning point came in 2008, after winning MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program. The annual pavilion pageant epitomized for them an exhausted architectural discourse focused on fabrication, form-making, and material exploration. In retrospect, WORKac’s canopy-as-functioning-urban-farm also signaled a shift in the competition criteria, no doubt hastened by the financial crisis (future winners, like Andrés Jaque’s water-purifying COSMO or HWKN’s air-filtering Wendy, were judged as much for what they did as how they looked).

Attracted by the excitement in other fields—urbanism, landscape, ecology, infrastructure—WORKac turned its focus away from the building proper. With the exception of a culinary classroom for Edible Schoolyard NYC at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn, completed in 2014, its most important projects from this period were research-based. 49 Cities, a self-initiated study shown at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in 2009 and published as a book, reframed the history of visionary urban schemes like Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s Royal Saltworks complex and Superstudio’s Continuous Monument in ecological terms. Nature-City, a speculative suburban redevelopment prepared for MoMA’s 2012 Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream exhibition, proposed landform-esque structures that combined living and working spaces and infrastructural features such as composting hills, geothermal pumps, and water-pressure waterfalls.

In the past year, however, a renewed interest in the problem of the building has emerged. “It’s kind of like we went from inside to very large-scale outside, and now we’re bringing the outside and the inside back together—which is architecture,” says Andraos. Over the course of our conversation, the issue we keep returning to is that of scale. Andraos and Wood express a desire to be closer to the work, whether by exercising greater control over details or, as in the case of their long-standing relationship with Edible Schoolyard NYC (a second facility was just completed in Harlem), contributing to a project’s broader ambitions. “True partners” is how Kate Brashares, executive director of the food-education nonprofit, described Andraos and Wood to me recently. For her, their work revealed how the architecture of the culinary classrooms could not only support but become an integral part of the organization’s mission—space as environmental-sensitivity training.

Still, Andraos and Wood can’t help but wonder if they are shooting themselves in the foot by preferring more amenable scales. Does an architecture firm accrue experience only to pass up larger projects? For practices like WORKac—concerned with building but invested in experimentation, research, and teaching—the future is hardly predestined. Reliable guides for how to engage the world are in short supply today. The gospel of bigness handed down to their generation in Koolhaas’s S, M, L, XL—only by dramatically increasing scale could architecture fully engage its own time—gives Andraos pause. “I think it’s a question. I think we’re allowed to say the price is too high.” Wood, concerned about diminished impact, offers a counterpoint. “I want to temper the idea of pulling back on scale. It’s really pulling back on excess, maybe,” he explains. “There are some very big ideas that can help the world be more sustainable.”

As Andraos sees it, maintaining control over one’s practice as far as deciding the scale at which to operate is the greatest challenge architects face today. The question pertains to issues like payroll, certainly. But to the extent that there is a choice, it is also a political and ethical consideration. “It’s a privilege to be able to decide how you want to live it,” Andraos says of life, which, for her and her partner, is never far removed from work. “That’s what practice is.”



Of the 30 or so employees of ELHC, the research arm of the Mexico City architecture office APRDELESP, not a single one is a designer. Instead, they are managers, dishwashers, cooks, and servers, supporting a panoply of commercial ventures, or “subspaces”: a restaurant (Café Wi-Fi Café Zena); a café that doubles as a showroom for a made-to-order metal furniture line (Muebles Sullivan); a window display–size art gallery (Galería La Esperanza); a print shop (Macolen); and, until earlier this year, a pair of convenience stores (Comidas, Bebidas, Revistas). For APRDELESP’s Rodrigo Escandón and Guillermo González, architects preoccupied with how space gets used and wary of design that smothers the everyday, the disciplinary imbalance is practically an accomplishment. As Manuel Bueno, a frequent collaborator and ELHC partner who runs his own graphic design studio, jokes, “Instead of buying nice Herman Miller chairs, we just open a space.”

Skeptical of the tired orthodoxies of professional design practice from the start, APRDELESP has been working to circumvent them ever since its first project, a restaurant, in 2011. “It went really bad,” recalls Escandón of the vexed commission. “We were working in a traditional way, trying to defend our ideas and also trying to sell our ideas.” A few months later, already plotting ways to escape this transactional dynamic, the designers were offered the lease on a ground-floor space in the San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood.

Looking to provide a revenue stream and ensure the 430 square feet remained in a constant social flux, they settled on the idea for Café Wi-Fi Café Zena. They designed the tables and chairs and walls and graphics. And they conceived the collective ownership structure—a joint-venture model with low buy-ins and transferable shares that has been replicated in other subspaces since. Plenty of architects have acted as their own clients to pad out their portfolios, but Escandón and González were interested in what the space could do, and in producing better conditions for their work. “More than a project to show off,” Escandón explains, “we wanted an experimental project, to think.”

In fact, the architects achieved both. As new ELHC subspaces opened, commissions followed (primarily apartment and office renovations), and the entrepreneurialism and experimentation became harder to disentangle from their design work. APRDELESP’s highest-profile (if small-scale) projects involve exploiting ELHC’s resources. When Museo Jumex commissioned fixtures for its new David Chipperfield–designed building in 2014, APRDELESP produced wastebaskets and pamphlet stands from Muebles Sullivan’s furniture system. And last year, when asked by Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura to participate in an exhibition, APRDELESP had a tiny coffee kiosk built along the perimeter of the institution’s walled garden. On one side, the kiosk, which was operated by ELHC, served gallery visitors; on the other side, through a place mat–size opening in the wall, it served pedestrians traversing a barren stretch of sidewalk that abuts a bleak thoroughfare—an infrastructural space that architecture could never compete with but a functioning concession stand proved able to enchant.

Most afternoons, Escandón, González, and Ricardo Matias (a collaborator since 2013) can be found working in one of the subspaces. These are where they met all four of their current clients. “Maybe if you’re private you have to sell yourself,” says González, his hesitation proof of the statement’s veracity. This approach to public relations not only bypasses publicists but, Escandón adds, “puts the emphasis on the dynamic rather than a formal style.”

In resisting a formal signature, APRDELESP has honed a representational style that embodies its design methodology. A project, or case study, as it is referred to, does not culminate with a thoroughly curated set of photographs but lives on as an overabundance of casual snapshots documenting initial surveys to construction to full-fledged inhabitation. (APRDELESP, an abbreviation of apropiación del espacio, is a mantra as much as a name.) Similarly, drawings, color-coded in red, blue, and black, delineate preexisting spaces and recommended changes, as well as catalogue the sorts of belongings most architects would rather pretend do not exist, like kitchen appliances and kitschy knickknacks.

This interest in everyday life and its unprejudiced documentation calls to mind Wajiro Kon, the Japanese architect/ ethnographer who around the middle of the past century critiqued the high Modernist prohibition on “traditional” habits by exhaustively sketching people’s personal possessions in their domestic settings. But are the customs and artifacts of APRDELESP’s clientele—the capital city’s cultural elite—really so ordinary? In this sense, these designers represent business as usual in their field. Which is why their interrogation of business and of the practice of design is so vital.

Lacaton & Vassal


Though many lessons remain from architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal’s first project—a modest straw-mat house constructed on a sand dune along the Niger River in 1984—the structure itself does not. As they wrote, “Searching for and deciding upon the site took six months, the building work two days. The wind took two years to destroy it.”

Now in charge of a Paris-based firm notable for several significant public buildings and extensions of tall urban housing blocks, Lacaton and Vassal, 60 and 61, respectively, continue to learn from that fragile house in Niger. Only instead of treating uncertainty and environmental contingencies as liabilities, the architects have put observation, open-endedness, and “freedom of use”—as they called it during a Harvard Graduate School of Design lecture last March—at the center of their practice.

In 2004 Lacaton and Vassal, with architect Frédéric Druot, authored PLUS, a study-cum-manifesto that challenged an initiative by the French government to raze a significant part of its long-vilified postwar social housing stock and build new—and, no doubt, smaller—dwellings at great expense. Their alternative approach is encapsulated by an exclamation: “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform, and reuse!” And over the past five years, Druot, Lacaton, and Vassal have had the chance to test their conjectures in reality, transforming Modernist housing in Paris, Saint-Nazaire, and Bordeaux. At each site, cramped and dim apartments have been opened up to light, air, and previously unimagined uses through interventions that exploit the buildings’ height and the potential of their interior spaces: new elevators, improved plumbing, and inhabitable glass facades that capitalize on views. The architects understood that to stand a chance against the winds of fickle consumerism and ideological whitewashing, this cultural heritage had to be true to its modernity; it had to evolve.

Lacaton and Vassal met as students during the late 1970s, and though their career roughly tracks the rise of Postmodernism in architecture, the pair has rejected that movement’s essential claim: Modernism’s termination. While they make work that is unreservedly critical, they’ve mostly shunned the rituals of their profession’s heady set. Through buildings more so than books, they have advanced a set of ideas, a theory of architecture not divorced from use and inhabitation, from life. They don’t rattle off the names of de rigueur philosophers or prattle on about “the future of architecture.” They haven’t done a TED Talk. And yet their work is more urgent than that of most of their peers, since they are advocating for buildings that would otherwise be demolished.

The architects have called the French capital home since 1999, the year they were commissioned to install a temporary contemporary arts center within a monumental remnant of the 1937 World’s Fair (due in part to their successful “soft” renovation, the Palais de Tokyo is now a permanent institution). Prior to that, for more than a decade they maintained their office in Bordeaux, designing small homes, a public square, and several unsuccessful competition entries. They took walks, too, and on one frequent route developed a curiosity about the horticultural vernacular. “We were really interested in the kind of space that these greenhouses made, a kind of well-being when you are inside,” Lacaton recalled one afternoon last year inside their sixth-floor office, a former industrial space in the 17th arrondissement. “Because the structure is light, you don’t feel the weight of the architecture—you feel free.”

The day before I met up with Lacaton, I visited the new architecture school in Nantes that the firm completed in 2014. Using economical construction techniques and the winter-garden approach they’ve honed over two decades, the architects were able to create nearly twice as much space as the client demanded. Large, double-height spaces remain unprogrammed, enclosed by polycarbonate panels that are free to be moved by students and faculty. When I remarked at how extraordinary the views were, Lacaton fended off my intimation of a compliment: “We didn’t invent the view; the building just had to look at it.”

Beginning in 1993, with a residence they designed for a local Bordeaux family on a tight budget, Lacaton and Vassal started to incorporate adaptable and inexpensive greenhouse construction techniques in many of their projects. The front half of the steel-frame structure contains two levels of conditioned living space (bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, and common areas), and the back half a double-height winter garden enclosed by corrugated polycarbonate and outfitted with operable ventilation panels. Plywood bifolds separate Maison Latapie’s two environments, allowing the compact house to transition with the weather and the whims of its occupants. What Niger made the architects sensitive to—climate, site, the life cycles of buildings—they were able to, with the discovery of greenhouses, turn into a staggering kind of interior space, neither inside nor outside, at least as we typically understand those terms.

Today, a 15-minute drive from Maison Latapie, it’s possible to see how indispensable winter gardens have become to Lacaton and Vassal for the past 23 years. Here, within a 150-acre postwar housing complex of some 4,000 apartments known as Grand Parc, their firm is transforming three 1960s housing blocks, in collaboration with Druot and architect Christophe Hutin, with strategies first laid out in PLUS. Along the south facades of the two 16-story buildings and the east and west facades of the 11-story building, freestanding, precast-concrete structures have been erected, extending the floors of 530 apartments by 12.5 feet. One unit at a time, the weathered concrete walls encasing puny punched windows are being sawed away. Within the new floor-to-ceiling openings, sliding glass doors are fitted, permitting access to private winter gardens and a shallow balcony separated by reflective thermal curtains and sliding polycarbonate panels. Elsewhere in the buildings, new elevators have been installed and mechanical systems and bathrooms have been updated. Before work concludes early this spring, ground-level entranceways will be improved.

In financial terms, the renovations cost roughly half as much as building new apartments (about €65,000 per unit). But there are other kinds of benefits to this evolutionary model. Residents are not displaced, and their apartments receive more expansive views— some of the best in Bordeaux (a five-floor height restriction is imposed on new construction). And the winter gardens, which improve the buildings’ thermal performance, redefine the existing living spaces by creating connections between rooms and helping regulate their temperature. They add a question mark, too: The inhabitants of each apartment must ask, “What exactly should I use this space for?” Photographs by Philippe Ruault, who has collaborated with Lacaton and Vassal since shooting Maison Latapie, reveal the plurality of responses. Some use the spaces for eating, and others have filled them with lounge chairs and couches. Almost always there are plants, real and fake. Still, it’s hard to say what exactly these spaces are.

Though significantly larger in scale, Grand Parc builds off Lacaton and Vassal’s 2011 transformation of Tour Bois le Prêtre, a 17-story apartment tower in Paris that earned the architects their first attention in the United States (a New York Times article and a spot in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2010 exhibition Small Scale, Big Change). But Lacaton is especially optimistic about the Bordeaux project. “It really shows the level of interest in transformation as a system,” and not, as too many considered Bois le Prêtre, “just a clever method of renovation.” Lacaton and Vassal’s work is susceptible to misunderstanding. Its departure from conventional expectations of use and comfort—winter gardens, for instance—can seem whimsical, naive. And the deployment of greenhouse materials and unfussy detailing can seem like a willful aesthetic of the cheap.

The mere mention of that last word can turn Lacaton, otherwise relaxed and measured, defensive. (She prefers “inexpensive.”) But that reaction might not be so unreasonable, considering that the redefinition of value and reappropriation of language are critical to Lacaton and Vassal’s practice in general and their approach to housing in particular. “It’s unclear, this question of bringing more luxury into living spaces when you are building public-subsidized housing,” she says, invoking a word most think is exclusive to the wealthy. Defying decision makers—frequently private real estate developers—who consider the low and middle classes to have “enough,” the architects always insist on doing more.

If the pressures of neoliberal austerity can be said to be both economic and psychic, it is prescient that Lacaton and Vassal combine systems thinking and sensitivity, pragmatism and pleasure. Whereas an environmentalist might see the housing transformations as ecologically mindful, a socially engaged activist might view them as more just, or a penny-pinching bureaucrat might call them cost-effective, Lacaton and Vassal are foremost concerned that they make better architecture. Or, more accurately, change the quality of life—a purposefully open-ended phrase that Lacaton explains as a “big amount of little questions.” Such as: How much should a glass door reveal? Can you open that door and put a chair outside? Can you have lunch on your balcony? More and more, Lacaton and Vassal liken what they do to a filmmaker’s work: building a composite out of fragments, creating a frame around actors. “For us,” Lacaton says, “the strengths should not come from the form or the complexity of the architecture, but much more from the capacity the space can produce for life, for relationships.”

The Broad


In 1979, Elizabeth Diller, still a student, had doubles on her mind. “This is a probe into the most fundamental relationship: that between two things,” she wrote in explanation of “Twin Houses for One Resident,” her Cooper Union thesis. If aspects of the project—expressive staircases, colorful axonometrics—reveal the influence of pedagogues like John Hejduk, the quixotic detail and burning drives are all her own. “It delves into a personal obsession,” Diller admitted, perhaps unaware of how difficult it would be to extract herself from this line of inquiry.

From Diller’s partnership with Ricardo Scofidio, begun around that same time, sprang dichotomies, lots of them. Art projects—Pleasure/PainVice/Virtue, and Master/Slave—bear that out, but never so explicitly as the cover of the pair’s 1994 monograph, Flesh: Architectural Probes. On the front, one half of her nude posterior, smooth; on the back, one half of his, hirsute. Even when the addition, in 2003, of Charles Renfro as partner made cheeky symmetries like these impossible, concepts continued to take the familiar form of twos. “The building had to have a double vision,” Scofidio said of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, the architects’ first major museum, completed in 2006.

So it was only appropriate that, in 2010, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) introduced its competition scheme for billionaire art collectors Eli and Edythe Broad’s new downtown Los Angeles museum with a binary: the veil and vault. Despite its overdetermined site—constrained below street level by a mandated car park, vertically by a 70-foot height restriction, and at its core by Frank Gehry’s intimidating Walt Disney Concert Hall, located immediately to the north—DS+R fused its fixation on doubles with the client’s two demands. One level above Grand Avenue would be storage for the Broad’s 2,000-plus works of contemporary art, and on top of that, a sprawling top-lit exhibition space. A striking, diagonally perforated skin would wrap the combined programs on all sides. Together these parts formed the “veil and vault,” a seductive verbal construction as much as a novel formal solution.

But five years on, the concept now a gleaming new $140 million institution named The Broad, that slick alliterative won’t go away. At the opening in September, the museum’s director instructed attendees how to navigate the “veil and vault.” When I inquired about the building, museum docents responded in the Broad’s familiar argot: veil this, vault that. It would amount merely to institutional branding if the architecture did not also conspire (and compromise itself) in this interminable endeavor to beat a narrative into visitors’ minds.

You need not have ever heard “veil and vault” to understand, entering at either corner of the building along Grand Avenue, that a play of contrasts is being performed. In each place, the glass-fiber-reinforced-concrete envelope has been sliced away at an angle, revealing it to be a container independent of its contents. Indeed, the second level of the building, the vault, approaches but does not quite come into contact with the veil—at least above the main lobby, where a structural cantilever and an uninterrupted coating of gray Venetian plaster support the illusion of a hovering mass. Slick floor-to-ceiling glass divides the sidewalk from the alarmingly spare lobby (roving staff check in visitors with iPads), but the grotto-like undercroft that runs from outside to inside and arcs down to the ground creates the feeling you have not yet entered. This ashen, amorphous surface is a kind of facade, and, in an architectural come-hither like no other, an escalator and a staircase protrude through and extend suggestively past it, beckoning you to experience the museum—or ride the circulation.

The escalator ascent takes precisely one minute and draws out the transition between two distinct moods: the dimly lit lobby and the 35,000-square-foot, clear-span gallery bathed in northern light let in through the apertures. As you emerge through the middle of the floor, head angled upward, the glowing, honeycomb-pattern ceiling mesmerizes. Like Jeff Koons’s flawlessly fabricated Balloon Dog (on display), the surface—dense with hefty beams that span the entire room—is supple and plush.

The ceiling, the Broad’s most phenomenal feature, stakes claim to a space that must otherwise be unhindered by architecture—that is, able to be partitioned as the curators see fit and generic enough not to compete with the art. In fact, even the patterned skin that wraps so conspicuously around the exterior and looms so large in the Broad’s self-image is prohibited from making an appearance inside, except where it abuts Grand Avenue, perforations allowing periscope-like views on the street. Wherever drywall occludes the veil—on the three other walls of the square gallery—one wonders if another metaphor weren’t more appropriate. Or, considering how disruptive language becomes as you progress through the building, dispensed with altogether.

While a circular, glass-encased elevator is available, the route the architects prefer you take down to the lobby is a staircase that switchbacks through the “vault.” At two of its landings, body-length windows offer humdrum glimpses into the institution’s art storage: Placed more or less on top of one another, they duplicate views of one part of the painting repository. And whatever sense of mystery and voyeurism the low, dark staircase manages to evoke is interrupted by curiosities of a more practical order, as one veers off course to peruse the administrative offices, lecture hall, and the bathrooms. These are integral features of any museum, but for one in which movement progresses as if scripted, and where metaphor is made moody environment, their appearance has a deflating effect.

No part of the Broad is flawed because it fails to conform to the tidy “veil and vault” scheme, to language. But most of what is unsatisfying and clumsy about the museum seems a result of the client and architect’s intrigue with that simile. While a strong idea may provide an essential tether to a design in the course of its execution—keeping compartmentalized decision making in check—a concept as black-and-white as veil/vault proves to be a knot too tight, so inflexible it’s self-defeating.

Take the envelope, which underwent significant revisions after it proved unbuildable. Except along Grand Avenue, the concrete panels are almost entirely opaque and, rather than standing loose and relaxed, cling stiffly to the side of a box as a flowing dress does to a body in the right humidity. Or consider the ground-floor gallery, a ponderous 15,000-square-foot backroom that feels like an afterthought, if not an intentional retreat from the architecture’s machinations. The 200-seat lecture hall, a lackluster venue for public events repressed within the vault, would have been better suited elsewhere had the building concept encompassed anything besides exhibition and storage, or duos.

Yet, even as the Broad deals in decades-old obsessions, there are indications that DS+R is moving in new directions. Where, for instance, are the screens—the ones so prominent in the ICA, Lincoln Center, and Brasserie? Where is the frosted glass? Where are the scrolling LEDs? Gone are practically all the gizmos that functioned as the firm’s signature, gesturing anxiously to its artist days. Upstairs, under that light, I think I divined DS+R’s future. It’s more subtle and stirring than past work, but who better to make a career out of contrasts?



“I have to minimize you guys for a second,” Meredith TenHoor says, interrupting a Skype conference underway with Timothy Hyde and Michael Osman, architecture historians at MIT and UCLA, in her office at Pratt Institute’s architecture school. Academia’s occupational hazards being known to include astringent rivalries, it’s tempting to interpret “to minimize” as a professor-to-professor put-down. But TenHoor isn’t speaking euphemistically—it’s pertinent that she quote from a colleague’s e-mail and add more voices to the discussion. Hyde and Osman reappear moments later, unperturbed if pixelated. They wanted more ideas mixing too. The conversation recommenced.

The three partners understand the intricacies of on- and offline scholarly communication well. For much of the past decade, together with a small band of rising architectural historians, they’ve led Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, a forum for collective research devised to overcome the most alienating and intellectually restrictive features of their discipline.

At conferences and workshops, and, more recently, on an online publication and discussion platform, the collaborative assembles designers, students, and scholars around common interests. Through cross-disciplinary inquiry and methodological breadth, they’re forcefully animating architectural discourse. By refusing divisive postures and vanguard narratives, they’re also shifting its tenor.

From the start, Aggregate was a social and intellectual project. In 2006, Arindam Dutta, a professor at MIT, convened a group of architectural historians whose work related to processes of what the philosopher Michel Foucault termed “governmentality”—the feedback set of processes that determined societal conduct. Some of the participants were junior professors readying first books, others were completing dissertations; a few had tenure. All sensed a need for different kinds of conversations between historians. “We really wanted community, to engage with people who could push us to new conclusions,” TenHoor recalls.

And so they began to meet twice a year. They met in places like Syracuse, Cambridge, New York, Los Angeles, and Oberlin, Ohio. They developed a workshop model and transformed the “blind” peer review—that notorious academic gatekeeper—into a more constructive face-to-face process. They argued and laughed and debated and concurred. A book was spawned. Published in 2012, Governing by Design: Architecture, Economy, and Politics in the Twentieth Century (University of Pittsburgh Press) is a collection of ten essays on concerns ranging from ergonomics and urban obsolescence to postwar–France food markets and refugee housing in 1950s Pakistan. Global in outlook and attentive to architecture’s intersection with law, human rights, and financial systems (among lots of other things), the book is Aggregate’s most comprehensive statement thus far. But interpret it as a sharp-edged position cautiously.

“I think it’s a symptom of our field that people want to see Aggregate as a collective with a set theoretical position,” TenHoor responds when asked whom the group’s pushing back against. Hyde, insistent, adds: “We’re not a project of resistance.”

Is the tendency to define a cohort of theorists and historians by adversaries claimed and positions staked really so strange, though? After all, Aggregate does work in a field shaped in lasting, if contentious, ways by an American journal called Oppositions, the theory–heavy house organ of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Against these divisive backdrops, however, Aggregate finally gets thrown into relief. The collaborative’s impact isn’t a measure of firm lines drawn or thick walls erected; it’s a matter of the group opting out of the us-versus-them posture altogether. This antipathy for division is less an absolute principle than a prerequisite for the subtler kinds of critique and expanded forms of scholarship Aggregate wants to facilitate. “Before thinking of Aggregate as a position, or a project, you really have to think of it as a process,” Hyde explains. “It is about developing ways to work and write collaboratively, and to engage in critique and review that allow for the unfolding of different kinds of work.”

Aggregate’s web platform, instructively named, is vital to these ambitions. Designed by Project Projects and realized through a Graham Foundation grant, the site is organized around four thematic “umbrellas” (Discipline, Matter, Plots, Systems) directed by separate groups of editors. Currently, the published material consists mostly of single-author articles—with the exception of a couple of slide shows and Jonathan Massey and Andrew Weigand’s enormous “Risk Design Analytical Drawing” of London’s Gherkin—but it’s easy to imagine the range of media formats not possible in conventional academic books or journals.

More significantly, the platform operates at a tempo in sync with Aggregate’s open-ended and discussion-centered outlook. As an archive that accrues over time rather than is published all at once, the site accommodates response and invites further participation. It’s perfect, really—so long as it stays shy of perfection. “We don’t know what Aggregate will be,” Osman insists. “And it’s a really important part of it, that level of unpredictable future-ness.”