Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

A symbol of the Freemasons – the architecturally familiar square and compass – decorates the facade of the hastily shuttered Marciano Art Foundation, formerly the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, on Wilshire Boulevard. The tools, as part of the mysterious Masonic arcana, represent in some interpretations a belief system in which labour is held as an honest universal.

The irony is that foundation founders Maurice and Paul Marciano of Guess fame abruptly closed their museum-cum-tax-haven as visitor-services staff members voted to unionise. An act that left about 70 employees, on Los Angeles minimum wage of $14.25 (£10.83) an hour, out of work.

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The third edition of Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) opened its doors one day before Chicago school children gathered in Mies van der Rohe’s Federal Plaza as part of the Global Climate Strike. It begins during a month when President Trump feuded with California over housing policy and the state’s homelessness crisis, and at a time when shootings in Chicago’s West and South sides are reported every few days and the fires in Brazil continue to burn.

It was a week, like many weeks in recent memory, which underscored the themes of the biennial curated by artistic director Yesomi Umolu, curator/educator Sepake Angiama and architect Paulo Tavares.

Although its lowercase title …and other such stories might suggest a more recumbent position, this biennial is teaming with anthropogenic urgencies: violence caused by structural racism, global housing inequities, and scars left by colonisation and resource extraction.

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Consider this a postcard from “Ugly Valley”. You know this place: it isn’t a downtrodden Catskills resort or the smoky grey Valley of Ashes from The Great Gatsby, which so forbearingly illustrates modernism‘s grim after effects. This is an anti-picturesque spot on the fringes of mainstream taste populated by the detritus of the 20th Century.

Here, Michael Graves’s Portland Building sits alongside Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s AT&T Building. Ugly Valley (just a hill over from Uncanny Valley) is a place bounded by temporality.

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I’m not going to define history. No matter how heavily that word weighs on the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which opened last weekend. Neither will artistic directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee; although they provocatively titled the second iteration of the event “Make New History”, a phrase borrowed from the title of an artist book by Ed Ruscha.

In remarks to the press, they pointed to the many works displayed in the Chicago Cultural Center as explanation. And if these works are to be trusted, then history is not the dark angel haunting philosophers and historians, but rather something lighter: a shiny treasure trove of references – called forth by Google image search – to be appropriated and stylised.

Deadpan Ruscha understood the irony of his slogan. With three simple words he poked fun at the impossibility of escaping our past. An edition of Make New History sits on the shelves of Johnston Marklee‘s office (or so says editor Sarah Hearne in her introduction to the biennial catalog). Read More …

It’s hard to believe that it was only last month that Robert Ivy, executive vice president and CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), pledged the national organisation and its membership to working with president-elect Donald Trump.

Issued just days after the election, the tone-deaf timing of the obsequious memo provoked reactions from The Architecture Lobby, critic Michael Sorkin and Equity in Architecture (among others), who rejected the AIA’s stance as politically representative of professional architects. Read More …

PR logistics sometimes brings together strange bedfellows. This was the case in Lisbon, where the opening of the nearly complete Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), designed by British architect Amanda Levete, was timed to coincide with the opening of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale.

One opening presented a sparkling new kunsthalle with an interdisciplinary curatorial mission, while the other offered an inward-looking meditation on architecture, representation and authorship. Taken together, they represent an ongoing struggle to define architectural value to practitioners and the public alike. Read More …

I admit it; I’ve retreated. In the midst of a scorching summer of bigotry and violence, where every day serves up another horror at home and abroad, I’ve taken to bed. I soothe myself with heavy doses of the genteel diversity pictured on The Great British Baking Show (or Bake Off in its homeland), where layers of pastry unify a country polarised by Brexit.

Other nights I indulge in Mr Robot, caught up in a world of digital unrest where the hackers are good guys operating in the name of equity, not a possible foreign power trying to disrupt an election. Read More …

Alejandro Aravena opens his Reporting from the Front with a backhand lob. “ARCHITECTURE IS” greets Biennale visitors entering the Arsenale, the first of his exhibition’s two main venues.

Neither a question nor a statement, it is an open phrase that begs completion. Aravena fills it in with the tenderhearted sentiment “giving form where people live”, and the accompanying exhibition displays an equally sensitive array of designs that are humanistic, material-based, and locally contextualised. Read More …

“If all possible old building stock in Los Angeles was converted to creative office space, that still wouldn’t meet the demand for creative offices,” a commercial real estate broker once explained to me.

At the time, his company was trying to crack the workplace code: how to cater to the technology sector’s voracious taste for converted industrial warehouses and lofts? Established tech companies and startups alike had aligned the rough-and-ready aesthetics of the artist studio with the well-worn terms of Silicon Valley – disruption, innovation, and flexibility. Read More …

Last month, LACMA announced that James Goldstein — an eccentric personage familiar courtside at Lakers games — had promised his iconic John Lautner–designed home to the museum. The gift, which includes $17 million (£12.1 million) for preservation and maintenance, was widely reported along with the well-known piece of pop cultural trivia, that the house was featured in a Coen brothers’ film — as summed up with one clickbait headline: The Porn House From The Big Lebowski Has Been Donated to a Museum. Read More …