Beyond Buildings


Young Architects 13: Is It Different this Time?

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Every year, the Architectural League of New York gives awards to young architects. The Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers gives the winners exposure and recognition, two valuable assets in a competitive field (in which designers not working for large firms have a hard time building much beyond loft remodels and restaurants with often-limited life spans). Over the years, the prize has also been a good measure of what young designers in general are doing in a more experimental mode: it reflects their dreams and aspirations.

Courtesy Princeton Architectural Press


The name of this year's 13 prize ( Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers: No Precedent) and the name of publication that was published two weeks ago by Princeton Architectural Press about last year's winners (Young Architects 13: It?s Different) both ring true. The work of the seven winning designers spans the spectrum of architectural experimentation, from the deformation of tried-and-true building types and methods, to speculations at the far edge of what is physically and perhaps even notionally possible.

Kiel Moe, AIA,  and William O’Brien Jr. represent the near end of that continuum. They both design recognizable structures, with a strong emphasis on materials and the manipulation of form to focus our attention on salient aspects of the buildings’ settings or function. While both Moe and O’Brien show us romantic getaways in the woods, the latter architect pushes further into realm of computer manipulation. He claims in his short text that he is of the generation “motivated by a deeper, more thorough incorporation of computation into our practice,” and his designs show the kind of mixture between recognizable play of forms with the extension and attenuation of shapes and the fluidity of spatial transitions that many hope computers will someday make possible not just on the screen, but in meat-space as well.

Form-ula, a collective not to be confused with Formu:LA, Bryan Cantley’s firm on the West Coast, pushes the matter further by concentrating not on form, shape, or space, but on envelope and skin. Taking off where Office dA stopped more than a decade ago, these young designers are interested in folding, arching, and stretching materials to create planes that may imply space but, what is more important to the designers, have particular thermal or transparency properties that move them beyond the notion of a building skin as the just the difference between inside and outside. These are, to use the trendy term, performative veils. Three-dimensional and autonomous buildings might not matter, as long as the veil is seductive enough, and makes enough of a difference.

Nameless and Future Cities Lab are both more utopian in their reach, proposing giant trusses sailing, Superstudio-like, through Brooklyn (what does it mean that we have moved from techno-arcadia in Manhattan to the outer boroughs?), clouds that hover our heads, and models that take Buckminster Fuller’s domes apart to map climactic conditions in the Arctic. There is a lightness to this work, both in terms of its ambition (it seeks to measure and re-inhabit spaces, even at its grandest scale) and in the almost ephemeral quality of the materials the architects suggest. Though Future Cities Lab claims that it wants to “wade into the complexity and relish in the ever-evolving and uninhibited terrain of design,” the visions’ cleanness and intellectual quality puts them in line with a long history of academic speculation.



Work by Catie Newell. Courtesy Princeton Architectural Press.

The messiest and most confused work, and the one that therefore draws me most, is that presented by Catie Newell. Working in Detroit, she uses the ravages that have transformed that city into an urban wasteland to her advantage. In “Salvaged Wood,” charred logs and scrap wood became a new container extending the ruins of a burned-out house. In “Weatherizing,” she stuck over a thousand glass tubes, lit with LEDs, through another empty house, creating the opposite of a sealed envelope. In “Second Story,” similar filament fills the upstairs of another abandoned structure, this one in Flint, Mich., animating it with ghosts and weaving together a web of spatial alternatives. The work is romantic and, like much art and architecture using the ruins of Detroit, overly fetishistic about decay, but its delicacy and immediacy present building blocks for a new kind of architecture that could rise out of old forms and ways of making. Perhaps this new generation will make a difference.


"Weathering" by Catie Newell. Courtesy Princeton Architectural Press.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.