POSTED ON: May 19, 2020
Anders Abraham, AR’91 and faculty member from 2000-03, died on May 1, 2020 after a long period of illness.
Anders studied at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen (now KADK) before transferring to The Cooper Union, where he graduated in 1991. He was a visiting scholar at Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1995-97 and defended his PhD dissertation at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen in 2004. For many years, he worked between New York and Copenhagen, before settling with his family in Copenhagen, where his practice, Anders Abraham Architects, is based. He founded the M.Arch program in Art and Architecture at the KADK, where he had been professor of architecture theory, design and artistic research since 2010. He served on the board of the KADK until his illness prevented it, and, together with his colleague Peter Bertram and his wife Christina Capetillo, he established the Works+Words Biennale for Artistic Research.
Anders believed in teaching, in thinking deeply and in architecture—in the deepest sense. As anyone who has been his student will know, he was an exceptionally sharp and generous teacher. With a scrutinizing, direct approach, Anders’ comments, suggestions and critiques could not be ignored. They etched themselves into the work and one was often left with an equal amount of gratitude and urgency to produce work that would justify his observations. Clarity, precision and the highest expectations on behalf of architecture made Anders one of the best teachers all of us who knew him had met. In that sense, he was the true successor of his friend and mentor, Raimund Abraham.
Anders made a lasting impression within minutes. His view on architecture as an artistic and constructive discipline was visionary and his willingness to defend it was significant. One had to be prepared to hear the truth, at any time and cost, with Anders in the room. At the same time, he had an eye for the important things in life. He insisted that teaching a theory course with my then 3-month-old baby on my arm was a wonderful idea, because it would be an encouragement for the students to see that children are no hindrance to being deeply invested in architecture.
While Anders was an important figure in the academic communities he belonged to, his legacy is first and foremost defined by his own practice. His highly original work on architecture and urbanity might have its early origin in the run-down neighborhoods around the automobile factories in Detroit, but soon developed into reflections on the architectural condition more broadly. He believed that the complex urban condition is our new nature. “Architecture is a condition that builds on relations, because that which matters one day either loses its significance or means something else the next. The city is created in the moment and it has to be central to our deliberations about urban development that we cannot retain the form, but that we can create spatial and social conditions instead,” he said at the release of his book, A New Nature. Anders’ work inspires many and will continue to inform our discipline. We must all act within architectural conditions between solid and liquid.
It is very hard to accept that Anders’ critical practice, thinking, making and teaching have ended much too soon. It was an honor to have known and worked with him, and to be inspired by his special intelligence, talent and great, profound integrity.
Anders is survived by his wife, Christina Capetillo, an architect and photographer, and by his daughter, Nora.
Anne Romme, AR’05
“The hallucinatory effect derives from the extraordinary clarity and not from mystery or mist. Nothing is more fantastic ultimately than precision.” – Alain Robbe-Grillet on Kafka
There are certain figures, who through their life and work, create a new horizon, re-imagine and re-articulate the aspirations of a discipline and, in doing so, become the hope of a generation. Anders Abraham is just such a figure; he set the bar for all of us through his deep intellect, ethos of precision, exploratory mind and generosity of spirit. I can think of no one whose life, work and teaching are more perfectly captured in the above words of Robbe-Grillet; they offer a glimpse of Anders’ immense depth and extraordinary clarity.
Architecture has lost a giant, a shining Cooper Union alumnus, and many, myself included, have lost a great teacher and dear friend. All of us are the recipients of the enormous contributions that Anders created while he was with us, gifts for current and future generations. We must celebrate and honor the extraordinary works and teaching of this extraordinary human being, and do so in the hope of absorbing the remarkable lessons that he created.
Anders and I were classmates in Architecture, at The Cooper Union, in the late 1980’s, both graduating in 1991. We taught together at the school from 2000-2003. Some of his student and teaching work is featured in the Student Work Collection database. Below is something that I shared during a lecture, in 2011, when Anders invited me to speak at the Academy in Copenhagen:
“One day when we were students in the fourth year, I was sitting at my desk in the studio looking across, watching Anders at his desk. He was immersed in drawing: he was bent down with his head very close to the drawing and clearly in such deep concentration. He was holding a compass in his hand, and with an intense calm and focus, he was slowly rotating the compass back and forth on its point, watching the circle it made in the air. You see, the point was planted in the paper, but the carbon side of the compass was not touching, it was drawing a circle in the air just above the paper. This back and forth rotation went on for a quite a while; honestly, it was stunning to witness this. Then, after some time, during one of the rotations something incredible happened. With no perceptible change in Anders’ movement, a circle appeared on the paper. The carbon side of the compass had made a silent transference, leaving a trace of its arc on the paper. Anders continued to rotate the compass in the air for a bit longer, until he stopped and raised it, leaving the drawn circle in the paper. Something occurred in that moment, an exchange between Anders, the compass and the paper, drawing out an arc in time. I have never seen anything like it, before or since. In some way, it opened a gate for me as to what drawing is all about. I will never forget that moment and I thank him for it today."
Anders Abraham, Projections of an Imaginary Landscape, Design IV, 1989-90
From that early moment of silent exchange between compass and paper over 30 years ago, Anders pursued the deeply human exchanges of life and space. At once archaic and radically new, Anders’ drawings are some of the most stunning manifestations of what is possible in any form or discipline. Through countless marks, moments and movements, Anders explored the incomplete nature of being and the fundamental communications between an architect, his work and the world.
Through the precision of his language, his drawing, his making, Anders manifests the promise of architecture and its social contract, revealing the possibility that space is the other half of us, that space completes us, allowing us to understand ourselves and others. Yes, the social contract is a form of participation and contribution among our fellow citizens, but it is also a contract with space itself, as the other half of us. A contract to embody the widest, most nuanced spectrum of what it is to be human in our reciprocal spaces. To the extent that our spaces embody who we are, our humanity, we are all elevated and find ourselves ‘at home’ in the world.
The works of Anders Abraham breathe life into the fibers of this contract, they embrace architecture as a life-sustaining discipline, an empathetic discipline with a life of its own, reciprocal to ours. Heard in its own proper beat and measure, the entire body of Anders’ work offers a deeply human sonnet, revealing great mysteries of our being, announcing, as he did with his magnum opus A New Nature:
Where is the architect of this new nature? Where is the architecture with a life of its own, reciprocal to ours? Where do we search for this empathetic architecture with the capacity to embody our humanity? Where are the spaces that complete us, allowing us to understand ourselves and others? Where are the architectures that bring us pause to feel our mortality? I believe these architectures are found within the works and teachings of Anders Abraham. Found in the pages of the book A New Nature, in the questions and works of the students who received the gifts of Anders’ teaching, found in the depth and largeness of being that touched all who knew Anders, found in the light rising over the waters of the North Sea, at sundown.
Good night, sweet prince.
David Gersten, AR’91
POSTED ON: May 4, 2020
On Thursday, April 30th the first year Architectonics studio held the School of Architecture’s first final review of the spring semester, led by Professors Ted Baab, Nima Javidi, and Tamar Zinguer. Review guests included Michael Abel, Behnaz Assadi, Ben Aranda, Zach Cohen, Nile Greenberg, James Lowder, Elizabeth O'Donnell, Julian Palacio, Nader Tehrani, and Mersiha Veledar.
The guiding principles of the studio were driven by the theme One, Two, Few. How many parts are required to make one? Is two a pair, or two parts of a whole? Does few mean there are too many or not enough? When does a group start behaving like a single? One, Two, Few is a series, a progression of increasing number and complexity. But it is also One Too Few: not enough, or a test of economy and precision.
What characterizes logics of one, two, or few? What architectural potencies are native to each? Through the organization of plan and section, these logics paradoxically produce multiple, simultaneous, and often irreconcilable organizations and behaviors. These are not accidents to avoid, but the properties of geometric precision to harness.
This semester the Architectonics studio investigated what happens when individuals double and multiply, when pairs must cooperate, when two becomes three, and when three is also one. The studio used an explicit set of abstract geometric rules and their behaviors. The world of design was structured by the forms the students learned to generate and control with precision. Geometry was understood not as primitives (cones, pyramids, spheres) to be composed, but as parameters to be manipulated.
The abstraction of geometry (and its demand for rules) contended with architectural agency and scale through its transformation of the seemingly mundane problem of stairs. Stairs were examined in precedents to become experts in their anatomy and power to organize spaces around them. Confronted by the predicament of the stair, geometry must become architectural.
POSTED ON: April 23, 2020
School of architecture alumnus Shigeru Ban, AR’84, has developed a design solution for members of Japan’s homeless population who can no longer rely on internet and comic (magna) cafes now shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These establishments, which previously operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, many of them offering shower facilities, had been a form of temporary housing for as many as 4,000 people in Tokyo alone. Originally conceived as places for late night working or temporary space for commuters unable to return to their homes at night, these cafes have, in more recent years, become shelters for those who cannot afford housing.
At a repurposed martial arts hall in Yokohama, Ban has designed temporary shelters that allow individual privacy and are spaced at safe distances to prevent Coronavirus spread. The individual structures are comprised of paper tube frames with cloth draping to enclose them. Residents sleep on either cardboard beds or cots. The Yokohama shelter has housed almost 40 individuals since opening on April 11.
Ban has previously designed numerous temporary structures to aid in disaster relief, including paper log houses and a paper church in Kobe, Japan in 1995; paper emergency shelters at the Byumba Refugee Camp in Rwanda in 1999; paper houses in India in 2001; the Hualin temporary elementary school in Chengdu, China in 2008; temporary container housing in Onagawa in 2011; and a cardboard cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2013.
POSTED ON: April 14, 2020
As an introduction to the online screening of his film, "The Destruction of Memory: The War Against Culture and the Battle to Save It," Tim Slade spoke with Nader Tehrani about the critical ideas driving the making of his film.
As dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of architecture, Tim, it is my pleasure to invite you to our public program and, even more so, given the current scenario with the Coronavirus, to enliven the discussions amongst our students and faculty!
The film, which is based on the Book by Robert Bevan, deals with the precarious role that architecture is commonly called on to play in the negotiations of war. It is said that buildings do not get destroyed because they are in the way of a target, but rather they are the target themselves—this, insofar as buildings are cultural artifacts that bear testament to a culture, a people, and their very rituals. In destroying buildings, monuments, and historic sites, the perpetrators of war—in effect, of terror—are helping to eliminate any trace of the existence of a targeted group, their culture, customs, and way of life.
My dialogue with Tim began last year, and yet my interest in the topics that he helps illuminate began some years before. But the topic crested in my mind more recently, about three months ago, when Donald Trump publicly threatened to destroy 52 historic sites in Iran, upon which I was asked to write a response. My own contribution to this topic is in the article Cultural Sites Under Attack in the Age of Unaccountability.
Tim Slade’s film charts a course through many historic events, from World War II, extending to the atrocities that were unleashed in the Balkan Peninsula during the 1990’s, particularly in Bosnia, and further to more recent ongoing events in Syria, with Palmira and other places having been targeted. Tim, as a point of departure, might I ask you for an introduction on the documentary from your perspective: your first engagement with Robert Bevan, how the project came about, and how you got involved? What was your connection to architecture prior to this project?
My connection to the project came from somebody recommending that I read Robert's book; it was a mutual friend who suggested that. I knew there was the potential, in some way, to connect with the author. What struck me immediately about the book was that, although I felt like I had read quite a lot of history, and understood the world to some degree, this aspect of cultural destruction and the ongoing nature of it—and the pervasive nature of it—was something I hadn’t really thought about. I think the way we were taught, the way the general public was led to believe, was that these instances happen occasionally, such as the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. But they really are these silo events, and I think what Robert’s book showed me was that this is a continuous process in which acts in different parts of the world—and for different reasons—are related to each other and that some or a lot of what we see as collateral damage during conflict is, or can be, targeted as part of the whole mechanism of warfare. For me as a non-architect as well, Robert’s book illuminated—because he’s trained as an architect, and is a heritage architect—that every building sends a message.
That is, I suppose, something that I knew subconsciously, but in really looking at that fact I realized that a lot of buildings might send a very benign message, and many others don’t. Hence, they can be targeted. And that kind of goes both ways; what message a building is sending may not be a simple message. It can be about power or merely about identity, but when it’s also about power it becomes more interesting, because it becomes more of a target, perhaps.
A soldier patrols in front of Djinguereber Mosque, Timbuktu. Image by Francois Rihouay from ‘The Destruction of Memory’. © Vast Productions USA 2016
You speak about buildings as having a message, in a way that buildings contain meaning in one way or another. But I’m also struck by the idea that buildings become a site of appropriation. They acquire new meanings over time as new powers, new authorities, new regimes project onto them a message that is completely contradictory with what the authors may have conceived in the beginning. We have some historical examples of this that are just delightful from a scholarship perspective. The Hagia Sophia, for instance, in Istanbul or the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which manifests this predicament with the insertion of a basilica right in the middle of a hypostyle hall of a mosque.
Did you come across any other such case studies and examples in your filming that exposed the rich and contradictory nature of the production of meaning in architecture and how these things came to light in the making of the film?
In the process of filming nothing immediately comes to mind. But, certainly, in research and looking at examples, this appropriation of, particularly, religious buildings over time is certainly a common thread. What you say is very compelling. After what’s called the liberation of Palmyra by the Russians and Assad’s forces, it was interesting the way the Russian orchestra played at Palmyra, appropriating the moment with this grand sweeping gesture. It wasn’t about a religious building, but there was definitely an appropriation centered on power and triumph in a very strange way. It’s interesting how these buildings may be appropriated and change hands and, perhaps, be spared potential destruction.
As the British realized after Dresden, the force to obliterate resources or building materials, or ways to reformat a building that people put a lot of time and energy into does not necessarily make much good economic sense. It’s an interesting history.
So I noticed, also, that in the documentary, it takes a strategically balanced encounter regarding its thesis, insofar as it positions the Western allies of WWII as perpetrators of terror in the context of the theme of the documentary—this notwithstanding, the role that they needed to play in order to liberate those countries invaded by Germany. But the film lays out a narrative of a kind of systematic destruction of historic centers. Not only because they might have burned easier by virtue of being fabricated out of wood, but also that they were composed of churches, cultural buildings, certainly centers of power—things that required and had memory to the very populace that held them in high regard.
How do you characterize this in the process of making the film?
It was interesting looking at Dresden because—I wouldn’t say there’s a disagreement—but there are certainly British people who see the bombing of Dresden as a justified event. It’s complicated. I had a personal attachment to it, in that my grandfather was a navigator who flew over the city that night during the bombing raid. So I suppose what I see in him is the toll that war takes psychologically. Putting Dresden in context is certainly an instance that is pretty inarguable—that it was out of scale.
I think that’s really what has been most troubling in Syria, with Aleppo or Homs. To a certain degree, you could argue it was collateral damage in trying to achieve some military aim, but, the level of what’s sometimes called urbacide is just not in any way legal, or not in any way part of the customs of war. So above what people may say about Dresden, and how necessary it was, that’s a key aspect of it.
Reconstructed mausoleum, Timbuktu, Mali. Image: Francois Rihouay. © 2016 Vast Productions USA
In my own writing on the question of cultural heritage, I cite the fact that the United States is not a State Party to the Rome Statute, which founded the International Criminal Court. By refusing to participate, the U.S. also sees itself as exempt from the international system that attempts to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. Insofar as the destruction of cultural sites continues to fall under these protective measures of the World Court, then the aim of this piece is also to demonstrate a broader link between cultural heritage, foreign policy, and a system of governance on which we can rely for checks and balances, both national and international.
So insofar as the destruction of cultural sites continues to fall under these protective measures of the world court, then the aim of my argument is also to demonstrate a broader link between cultural heritage, foreign policy, and a system of governance on which we can rely for checks and balances, both national and international. In the film this doesn’t necessarily come out, but, in your discussions with Robert Bevan, do you get the time to position the role of the United States in context of international relations and its accountability in relationship to questions of the destruction of memory?
Yes. The United States has a complicated relationship to all of this. Certainly in Iraq in 2003 there’s a very complex story about American involvement there. And yes, absolutely, the point of the international criminal court was exactly to be a world court. This self exemption from courts like that, which is the case with other states as well as the United States—I don’t think you can be a member of the international community, and an extensively powerful member, without being a member of those institutions and admitting that if you want justice, that it is justice for all countries rather than just some. You need to be accountable for the sort of behavior that we expect from others. So, and similar too with the way the U.S. withdrew from UNESCO over the whole Israeli-Palestinian situation, it just doesn’t smack of willing to compromise or willing to be involved in any sort of dialogue; it reduces these organizations to sort of political factions really. I think the overall problem that I see comes back to the security council and the fact that the five permanent members have veto power and that gives the U.S., Russia, China, France, and the U.K. inordinate amount of power.
It strikes me in the way that Syria might never get justice because Russia will block, in the security council, any sort of tribunal that would or could bring any sort of justice for actions that the Assad regime has made. For those states who have that power there needs to be a level of responsibility of at least being a member of these courts. Whereas last year, the administration—I don’t know what happened in the end—but they certainly tried to deny a VISA to prosecutor Fatou Bensouda because she was, perhaps, investigating actions in Afghanistan. That sort of aggression is not very constructive either.
For me, what is interesting about the question of the international court system is that it is able to put into words an idea about the protection of an artifact that does not have a language of its own to protect itself, and we give it rights as we would the rights of a human being.
And that, for me, is a very important critical factor of your film itself: It gives voice to architecture and the productions of humanity as a central part of humanity itself.
The Al Mahdi case at the I.C.C., although it was a simple case, and perhaps, not one with a high level of command responsibility in terms of Mr. Al Mahdi, is interesting. There were no attacks on humans as part of the list of charges. So, and your article touches on this too, in an age when the environment and nature are increasingly taking a toll, for environmental lawyers there’s the development of giving agency to a river or to a forest because they need to be spoken for if they can’t do it themselves. That will, of course, become a complicated thing for state actors, corporate actors, etc., but it will be an interesting new part in parallel to cultural heritage law and the way it aims to protect the constructed environment.
Tim I enjoyed your film immensely and I am enjoying this discussion with you equally as much. Thank you so much for making your documentary available to us and contributing to the richness that is our public programming. Thanks a lot!
Thanks a lot, Nader. I appreciate it!