Gerhard Richter Painting - the hyperrationalist

Last week I went to see the documentary "Gerhard Richter Painting." Simple, but clever title, as it can be read three ways: 1. the noun Gerhard Richter Painting. An object. 2. The gerund: Richter in motion, Richter painting. That is what this movie shows us -- Richter painting, the process, documenting himself. 3. Painting with a capital "P.' As in, Gerhard Richter on Painting. Richter explaining what makes a painting. This is someone who will rhapsodize on the ineffability of Painting then pick up a few buckets of paint and a giant squeegee and have a blast. 

My wife, Betsey, reminded me that Rem Koolhaas loves Richter. Understandable. They are both anti-stylists, eschewing a recognizable "look" (although in both cases there are certainly familiar gestures and techniques). The Koolhaas process has been labeled "hypperrational" -- indicating the development of program and pragma and process so diligently, to an extreme degree, as to swerve off the normative path and discover surprising novelty. The personal and emotional, as well as the formal, are suppressed, but in the end the building is expressive on multiple levels, often more so than one resulting from an explicitly subjective, gestural design process (Gehry being the most extreme example).

This subtlety of expression is at work in Richter. He painstakingly explores the dynamics of candle flame, experiments with optical effects, replicates casual family snapshots. He cannot talk, he professes, about painting because painting is the expression of his process, his thought. There is a teutonic straightforwardness in how he talks about his projects, but the results are complex and beautiful.

What is enjoyable, and even humorous, in this film to longtime fans, is that at this particular moment in Richter's career, which you may reasonably call his twilight (as he is a youthful octagenarian), he is having fun and acting playful. He accepts a few buckets of vibrantly colored paint from an assistant and applies it to a large canvas liberally with a housepainting brush. With his improbably wide squeegee he is seen to draw the colors together across the canvas, laboring to maintain pressure. He evaluates the results and repeats until it is done. This is a sly performance for the camera. He is painting to show us how he paints, in a way that the camera can perceive: laboring, looking, thinking, and appreciating.


Pangyo before and after

Last week when I was in Seoul, I went out to Pangyo to see our completed Mirae Asset Venture building. Pangyo is a new, carefully planned district on the outskirts of Seoul. The building is in Pangyo Techno Valley, a central component of the greater district, is designed to out-tech Silicon Valley. It has already attracted a number of gaming companies, R+D enterprises, and electronics companies. 

I hadn't been out to Pangyo in 5 years, since we had originally won the competition to design the building. The progress was shocking (before and after photos):

Pangyo is still not complete. Strangely, but clearly as a result of the collision of breathless planning and a brutal recession, the huge commercial center planned to surround the crucial Metro station has been delayed. So hundreds of daily commuters walk through a construction desert between the station and the developed blocks of office buildings. The business community considers Pangyo to be desirable and successful. The area projects corporate vitality -- not easy these days -- but I would like to see much more progress at street level, where urbanism has not yet emerged. It reminded me of many successful yet inhospitable environments I've seen, going back to Crystal City from my childhood in DC.


Multi Contents Center

I'm in Seoul, and yesterday afternoon, on an frigid day (somehow as soon as the sun starts to drop here, the temperature seems to plunge), I boarded a minivan to visit the construction site of the Multi Contents Center. DMC (Digital Media City) has come along since I last saw it, almost three years ago, but apparently the recession has inhibited its blossoming into the high-tech futurescape it was conceived to be.

Progress on the building, on the other hand, was impressive. Korean construction crews always inspire confidence in me -- they beam with capability and efficiency. (They look a bit like SWAT teams, too, each guy wearing a dayglo harness with a lifeline that they can clip onto nearby rails for safety.)

They are up to the 12th floor. We rode the lift to the top. Here's the view.

In the foreground is the E2-3 site, for which we won the competition a few years ago, but the project was put on hold and eventually restarted with a less-ambitious design. Beyond that is the site for the Landmark Tower, slated to be the 3rd tallest tower in the world. Officially they have broken ground, but at the moment it seems better suited for planting cabbage. Here's how DMC is supposed to look:


Snow and Shadow

Today was the first snowstorm of 2012. It was beautiful and light and made for a silent, serene morning, except for that sharp scraping of shovels.

Walking in the morning, my wife, son, and I passed the old tobacco warehouse in Dumbo. I saw the building very differently than I ever had, as the snow had erased the concrete floor slab. The shell apears as the four articulated walls almost floating in space.


On the windward side, by the river, the snow was missing as if a shadow of (or light passing through) the arched openings. The wind had blown away this area of snow. The composition was a serendipitous inversion of mass and light.


A couple of hours later we stepped from the wet white snow into the dry infinity cyc of Doug Wheeler's room at Zwirner. This was another kind of whiteout. Floaters danced in our eyes (why does that happen?). If you go, try walking very slowly toward the wall. I wish it were bigger -- it seemed constrained after the expansive tobacco warehouse -- but the precision of the space and lighting that cycles over the course of the half hour makes a memorable experience.


Dated Design

As we turn over a new year I think about a question I hear from clients every so often:

"Will that look dated in a few years?"

The answer to this question is usually, "it might." But that's not the whole story. The real question people are asking is, "Will this look cheesy and outdated?" This is often in response to a new-ish material such as Panelite, which we often use.

Every human-built object reveals when it was made, more or less. Even so-called "classics." Moreover, I would argue that the most significant examples of design are more "dated" than anything else. The designs that stand out as groundbreaking or influential are most clearly of their time. It's just that "dated" designs that are clever and good endure with affection for their charms, while banality quickly wears out its welcome.

This could only be from the 17th C Italian Baroque (Borromini) and Crown Hall (Mies) is totally mid-century.