Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Last March, #MeToo finally came to architecture. While the specifics of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Richard Meier, white-haired lion of the New York scene, were indeed shocking, many in the discipline were wondering what took so long.

In the months between the accusations that brought down Harvey Weinstein and others in Hollywood, comedy, and media, women in architecture asked one another, “Who will be ours?” Via back-channel messages we speculated about prominent and charismatic figures with reputations for bad behavior. Which architectural heavyweight would be first to fall?

Read More …

The new book The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit? offers lessons for today by looking at Biosphere 2, 1970s ecohouses, and other microworlds.

Of all the terrarium-like experiments included in Lydia Kallipoliti’s The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit? (Lars Müller/Storefront for Art and Architecture), Biosphere 2 is the most infamous. A steel-and-glass structure baking in the Arizona desert, it represents the hope and hubris of re-creating Earth on Earth. The project was launched by an alternative living group with a taste for theater, and tanked by disastrous management by Steve Bannon (yes, him). As such, it illustrates the risky arc that courses through Kallipoliti’s 300-page volume—visions of utopia bending toward ultimate failure.

Read More …

Images of the havoc that natural disasters wreak upon the built environment are part of our cultural consciousness. They have been since the birth of photography. Yet the past decade or so has seen a worrisome convergence: the parallel increases in the ubiquity of media technology and the number and severity of devastating storms, which are arguably linked to climate change. Katrina: drowned New Orleans freeways and neighborhoods (the latter re-created in Beyoncé’s 2016 “Formation” music video). Sandy: a darkened Manhattan shot by Iwan Baan. Harvey: Houston’s graybrown floodwaters captured by drone photography. Irma: cell phone footage of a battered port town in the British Virgin Islands.

The degree to which the two are connected—and the importance of that link—was most acute when Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, cutting out power and destroying telecommunications infrastructure. The Washington Post even attributed the Trump administration’s delayed response in part to not seeing the wreckage. Read More …

Sometime in the early 1980s, Reyner Banham looked out across a stretch of Arizona landscape—a dry wash and long mound of earth scattered with trash. “[A]mong the chollas and cacti there are areas of burned ash, holes containing broken porcelain insulators and what may be pieces of toilet fitting, broken china and other domestic detritus; and areas of compacted ground that might have been the sites of small  buildings,” he later wrote in Scenes in America Deserta as the opening to a chapter entitled “Frank Lloyd Wright Country.” Read More …

Bastions of culture and keepers of knowledge can often be imperious, even aloof. But the regime change in the U.S. has galvanized them to pursue quick action.

In June 2015, at the start of an almost halcyon summer compared with our last, President Barack Obama described the slow pace of democratic change to comedian Marc Maron. “Sometimes the task of the government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that ten years from now, we’re in a very different place than we were,” he said, suggesting that a 50-degree turn was unmanageable. Fast-forward through a vicious election season, an unnerving inauguration, and a hot rash of executive orders, and it feels like not only has the ocean liner turned 50 degrees, it’s capsized.

While individuals can take to the streets, the phone, or social networks to voice their political views on a furious host of contemporary issues, cultural institutions are like ocean liners, stately and slow to turn. (Some are careful not to upset their donors or nonprofit status by taking a stance.) Increasingly, though, museums, journals, and universities—as agents of curators, editors, and faculty—have quickened their pace. Rather than pledging allegiance to the new administration (ahem, AIA), these organizations are making super-relevant programming that sheds light on the complexity of worldwide political, social, and economic issues.

Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) produced perhaps the most rapid response with a conversation series, “The First 100 Days,” which kicked off on January 20 with a live stream of the presidential inauguration. Day 27: architecture and grassroots organizing. Day 64: reflections on the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Read More …

In June 2015, at the start of an almost halcyon summer compared with our last, President Barack Obama described the slow pace of democratic change to comedian Marc Maron. “Sometimes the task of the government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that ten years from now, we’re in a very different place than we were,” he said, suggesting that a 50-degree turn was unmanageable. Fast-forward through a vicious election season, an unnerving inauguration, and a hot rash of executive orders, and it feels like not only has the ocean liner turned 50 degrees, it’s capsized.

While individuals can take to the streets, the phone, or social networks to voice their political views on a furious host of contemporary issues, cultural institutions are like ocean liners, stately and slow to turn. (Some are careful not to upset their donors or nonprofit status by taking a stance.) Increasingly, though, museums, journals, and universities—as agents of curators, editors, and faculty—have quickened their pace. Rather than pledging allegiance to the new administration (ahem, AIA), these organizations are making super-relevant programming that sheds light on the complexity of worldwide political, social, and economic issues. Read More …

I meet architect and educator Ralph Knowles on an unseasonably warm autumn day, even for Southern California. He greets me in shirtsleeves (his shirt is a tropical pattern of vines and branches) and leads me to a seat on the balcony of his condo. The building—a retirement community—is fairly new, but mature oak trees line the quiet street. As we talk about his career, the California oaks form a poignant backdrop. For more than five decades, Knowles, 88, has argued for an architecture that hews closely to nature’s forces and rhythms.

Read More …

This November, the Manetti Shrem Museum on the University of California, Davis, campus opened to the public. Designed by New York City–based SO-IL with the San Francisco office of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the museum pays homage to the agricultural landscape of California’s Central Valley with an oversize roof canopy. The steel members of the 50,000-square-foot shade structure, nearly twice the size of the museum itself, reference the patterning of plowed fields and create a welcoming outdoor space for visitors. It is both expressive and practical, but getting that balance wasn’t easy. Read More …

When media artist Refik Anadol arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in 2012, the first thing he did was rent a car and drive to Walt Disney Concert Hall. Jet-lagged after his long flight from Istanbul, where he was born and was immersed from an early age in computing, cinema, and photography, he stood outside in awe. “I was dreaming of what would happen if this building was embedded with memories, intelligence, and culture,” says Anadol. Read More …

Paul Klee once said that drawing was “taking a line for walk.” In the decades since, that line has not just walked—it’s gone rogue. Drawings have escaped their erstwhile parameters. Definitions have gotten sloppy, like a barfly at last call. Just what is a drawing, especially an architectural drawing, when longstanding fights—hand v. mechanical, digital v. analogue—are fast becoming archaic concerns? Read More …