The May 2023 issue of The Architect’s Newspaper is out today. In addition to architecture news and reviews from across North America, the issue includes features about ecology and a Focus section on facades. The following Editor’s Note from AN’s Executive Editor Jack Murphy introduces the issue with a reflection on the recent symposium The World Around.
At the outset of her recent Aga Khan Program Lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Tosin Oshinowo defined the term àṣẹ as “the power that makes things happen and produces change.” The word, also the title of the architect’s presentation, comes from the Yoruba religion. (Oshinowo, from Nigeria, is Yoruba.) She related this force to the intention or contextuality of material in architecture and shared how the close study of environmental context is important in her work.
Oshinowo told the story of designing new structures for a village in northeast Nigeria whose residents had been displaced in 2015 after being attacked by Boko Haram. (AN covered the project last summer.) Educated as an architect in London, Oshinowo worked there for SOM and in Rotterdam for OMA before returning to Lagos and eventually founding her practice, cmDesign Atelier, in 2012. For this project, she had to apply her skills to a new cultural context, as she had never been to northeast Nigeria. The architect set to work understanding the familial structures, weaving practices, and traditional compound-house layouts of the Kanuri people. That research, joined with an attention to cost and the speed of construction, shaped the complex’s architecture.
The effort captures two ideas that are central to contemporary architectural practice: a close attention to local environments and users, and the deployment of design in response to crises. These ideas are valid everywhere; see, as one example, this issue’s Studio Visit with Duvall Decker.
Days later, Oshinowo was the leadoff presenter at The World Around, a one-day symposium in New York on Earth Day. Those two aforementioned ideas were on full display during the afternoon’s presentations, organized by curator Beatrice Galilee, about “architecture’s now, near, and next,” which had a consistent focus on the climate crisis. Additionally, winners of the group’s Young Climate Prize Awards were recognized. There were friendly New York faces, including Andrés Jaque (whose Reggio School won AN’s Project of the Year last year and was reviewed in AN’s previous issue), Dominic Leong (whose firm, Leong Leong, was named one of AN Interior’s Top 50 Architects and Designers in 2022), and Vishaan Chakrabarti (whose office, PAU, remains a part of shaping the fate of Penn Station.
Other international speakers were less familiar to me: Ana Maria Gutiérrez presented a new bamboo building realized at Organizmo, a center for regenerative training and the exchange of intercultural knowledge in Colombia; Deema Assaf, of TAYYŪN, is attempting to rewild Amman, Jordan, through the planting of new forests; Fernando Laposse, a designer based in Mexico City, is researching avocados, a conflict commodity as their production in the Mexican state of Michoacán is largely controlled by drug cartels; and Joseph Zeal-Henry, from London, shared Sound Advice, a platform for exploring spatial inequality, ahead of its curation of the British Pavilion at the fast-approaching Venice Architecture Biennale.
I was inspired by the day’s sessions. They made me think about the venue’s entanglement with larger issues. We were gathered on the Upper East Side in the basement auditorium of the Guggenheim Museum, an institution that has faced criticism for its handling of race and, earlier, the working conditions at the construction site of a new outpost in Abu Dhabi. Inspired by the day’s lessons and fatigued by their pace, my mind drifted upward into the museum’s rotunda. With ecology on the brain, I thought of how Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraled void summoned less the image of the Tower of Babel or a “concrete funnel”—as Lewis Mumford wrote in 1959—and more that of an open-pit mine, the kind of excavation from which the Guggenheim family extracted their fortune in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Ecological concern also powers this issue’s features and in part the Focus section about facades. Facade design matters because it largely establishes a building’s thermal performance and is often layered in specialized assemblies sourced from around the world. Continued innovation within this part of the construction industry will aid efforts to reduce architecture’s carbon emissions.
Planetary relations are top of mind as I prepare for this month’s Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Lesley Lokko with the theme of Africa as a laboratory of the future. AN will, of course, provide thorough coverage of the main exhibition and assorted national pavilions. (As a teaser, see my interview with the curators of the American pavilion). AN will also host an event on May 18 at Carlo Scarpa’s Fondazione Querini Stampalia to celebrate the life of William Menking and mark the importance of architectural criticism through a symposium with five critics: Erandi de Silva, Mohamed Elshahed, Davide Tommaso Ferrando, Inga Saffron, and Oliver Wainwright. Please join us if you will be in Venice this year.
One voice almost missing from the action is that of Aaron Seward, who departed his role as AN’s editor in chief last month. We at AN wish him continued success. But AN readers aren’t fully bereft of Seward’s wisdom: His swan song, which appears in this issue, will be published online later this month.