Diana Agrest is an internationally renowned architect well known for her unique and pioneering approach to architecture and urbanism. Her work has developed in both practice and theory. She has designed and built projects of a variety of types and scales: urban master plans, buildings, residences and interiors, and has received numerous awards.
Agrest is a full-time Professor at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union. She has taught at Princeton University, Columbia University and Yale, and has been candidate for deanship at The Cooper Union and Pratt Institute. She was a fellow of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City from 1972 to 1984.
As part of a series on "50 Great Teachers," the April 21, 2015 broadcast on "All Things Considered" focused on Prof. Agrest's sometimes surprising methods for approaching the study of architecture. Listen to the full story here.
Agrest has been a pioneer in developing a critical approach to urban theory that articulates film and the city. She created and directed “Framing the City: Film, Video, Urban Architecture,” which was shown at The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1993. She wrote, produced and directed the documentary "The Making of an Avant-Garde: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies 1967-1984" in 2013. For more information on "The Making of an Avant-Garde" visit www.agrest-the-making-of-an-avant-garde.com.
Since 1989 Agrest has worked both in practice and theory on the subject of nature, developing projects at various scales, from large cities to parks in China, the United States and Europe.
Her publications include:
The Sex of Architecture. Agrest, Conway, Weisman Eds., Abrams,1996
Agrest & Gandelsonas: Works. Princeton Architectural Press, 1995.
Architecture from Without: Theoretical Framings for a Critical Practice. MIT Press, 1991.
A Romance With the City: The Works of Irwin S Chanin. The Cooper Union with Rizzoli, 1984.
Work and Writings featured in Books and Encyclopedias, include:
Modern Architecture A-Z. Peter Gössel, Benedikt Taschen GmbH, 2007
New York 2000: Architecture and Urbanism from the Bicentennial to the Millennium. Stern, Fishman, Tilove, The Monacelli Press, 2007
A Guide To Contemporary Architecture In America. Vol 2. Toto, Tokyo, 2006
Informal City. Kristin Freireiss, Prestel, 2005
Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Architecture. Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003
Encyclopedie de l’Architecture du XX Siecle. Hazan, Paris, 2003
New York Architects. Allan Balfour, Willey and Son, 2002
1000 New York Buildings. Bill Harris, Jorg Brockmann, Judith Dupre, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2002
AIA Guide to New York Architecture. current
Agrest has received grants from the Graham Foundation, NYSCA, and the Brunner Grant among others for her film: "The making of an Avant-garde: IAUS 1967-1984"©, now in post-production.
Her work has been exhibited in museums, galleries and universities throughout this country and abroad, including Schenzen Biennial; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Walker Art Center; The Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art; The Fogg Museum; Leo Castelli, New York; Center Pompidou, Paris; Minalo Triennale; the German Architecture Museum, Frankfurt.
Diana Agrest graduated with an architectural diploma from the University of Buenos Aires and completed her post graduate studies at the Center de Recherche d'Urbanisme, and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes,Vi Section in Paris, France.
Projects & Links
RESIDENCE IN THE WEST HOLLYWOOD HILLS
House in the Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California, 2009
Complete renovation of a 940 sq ft 1951 house. Located on the West Hollywood Hills the house is located on the highest section of the property. The very private front faces East while the back faces West to an open landscape of hills that combine subtropical vegetation with a Mediterranean feeling and bathed in the afternoon light
The slanted windows that open to the patio continuous from the roof to the ground surface expand the view and creating continuity between indoor and outdoor. The windows expand the interior space in both a real and virtual way. The lower windows are operable in order to create a very effective cross ventilation with the high windows that face the street.
A new transitional entry space between street front and back patio defines the entrance to the house creating simultaneously a parking enclosure. These spaces were defined by a z configuration in plan with planes made of spaced California red wood slats creates a visual filter that provides privacy.
The retaining walls in the hillside garden and patio area were totally re built and reconfigured creating a lower patio framed by la landscape of local plants that and a ground treatment of railroad ties and ground cover provide complete privacy for an outdoor shower.
The house is organized in a fluid relationship between indoor and outdoor and as a sequence alternating between open, semi-enclosed and enclosed spaces from the street all the way to the lower part of the site.
JOHN AND MARRY PAPPAJOHN SCULPTURE PARK
Des Moines, 2009
The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, a 300' by 900' in the center of Downtown Des Moines, was built for a major collection of contemporary sculptures donated to the DM Arts Center to be in permanent public view. In this particular project the design addresses the question of an Urban Place seen at different speeds, both by the driver as well as the pedestrian. The design of this Public Space is based around the scale, views and human interaction. Scale is provided by the creation of virtual "rooms", through topographic elements that create a partial visual enclosure where one has the possibility of focusing on a specific cluster of sculptures. The waves rise from the ground to a height of 8 feet at the highest point. Because of their parabolic shapes the waves allow for a variety of views while partially screening the "rooms" where the sculptures are displayed creating a variety of perspectives and visual experiences as the viewer-driver or pedestrian-moves.
Sustainability has been at the center of this project, through the use and treatment of water and use of local materials.
BREUKELEN COMMUNITY CENTER
Brooklyn, New York City, 2005
The program for a Community Center for the Breukelen Houses, built in 1951 in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, includes: sports, daycare, library, performance space, classrooms, food service, reception area, game room, computer center, etc. The goals of the project are as follows:
The Breukelen Community Center is composed of two main volumes enclosing programs connected by an atrium for informal gathering and circulation. The southern volume encloses the gym, and is transparent both to the atrium space and to the street. The northern volume is composed of a translucent curtain wall enclosure within which various freestanding rooms for administrative, classroom, eating and gathering functions are interconnected by a bridge-like circulation system on the second level. The space between these program volumes serves as a flexible place for undefined program activities that can occur in a more informal setting. The three exterior walls are made of aluminum-frame curtain wall with translucent glass to allow for light to enter while keeping a sense of privacy. The interior glass wall that opens to the atrium is made of transparent glass.
XUJIAHUI CITY MASTER PLAN AND INTERNATIONAL FILM CENTER
Xujiahui City Center and Surrounding Areas
Shanghai, PRC, 2004-05
Xujiahu, in the inner ring of Shanghai is made up of a patchwork of separate areas: the Sports City, the Decoration Center, Universities, Medical Centers, and Shopping further characterized by the lack of quality of urban spaces..
With the rapid development of the district in the last 10 years traffic has become a serious problem; congestion and overlap of conflicting traffic functions, are symptomatic. However, we consider that one of the major problems in Xujiahui is not traffic but the general lack in both the quantity and quality of pedestrian and public spaces.
Our project envisions Xujiahui as a green cultural district where museums, new public spaces, entertainment centers, cultural institutions, and hotels are organized as a network. Our Vision is based on the city’s tradition and past to guide the future. The various types of green will not only beautify the city and create pedestrian friendly spaces, but will also serve to bring sustainability to the city. Our project transforms the district into an International Urban Center, where the present centralized retail activities will be balanced and enriched by a cultural network of institutions and places
International Film Center
IFC located on the site of the historic Shanghai film studios will be one of the most important cultural centers in Shanghai. For many years Shanghai has been a major film center in China. International Film Center, will host major national and international events such as, film festivals In synthesis it will create a Forum for the development and exchange of work and ideas on Film. The concept for this project is to create a recognizable structure to be identified with International Film but also integrates with the rest of the area and creates a Civic Space, The formal concept is that like film, it is a continuous strip, that creates similarly to montage, different possible sequences of content
The Site for the project presents two Constraints: first, the zoning regulations require a 0.75 hectares green space on the site and the future construction of the R3 subway will run diagionally under the site.
The International Film Center complex includes : OFFICES THEATERS- FILM MUSEUM HOTEL PLAZA FILM STREET PARKING GREEN SPACE
Midtown Manhattan West
School Of Architecture, Princeton University / Agrest And Gandelsonas Architects
OUR PLAN IDENTIFIES FIVE AREAS OF INTERVENTION FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THIS AREA :
-Expansion Of The Transportation Infrastructure.
-Creation Of A Network Of Green Spaces.
a) a Network of Green Pedestrian spaces integrated to a New Mixed-use Urban Fabric fragmenting the very long blocks, b) extending to the area between 8th and 10th Avenues infiltrating the existing fabric .c) Green starting at the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel a New Park over the Roof of the New Convention Center.
-Development Of The Waterfront
Our project proposes the elimination of the piers and the creation of a Floating Park offering sports and entertainment activities..
-Restructuring Of The Urban Plan
The plan proposes to overlap a gradient that starts on the waterfront with residential and continuously displaced from the irongrid to end on a 200’x 200’ grid that coincides with the Irongrid. This varying gradient subdivides the long blocks creating a morphological variety incorporating green within the urban grid
-Relocation Of The Convention Center
In order to expand the development of the Waterfront we decided to propose the relocation of the Convention Center hanging over the railroad yards
Camino Ancho, Madrid, Spain, 2002
Single family residence for a couple and three children in Madrid, Spain. The 25,000 sq ft house is organized into two connected wings forming a ‘Z’ where the more public programs are located in a sequence that is articulated with a painting gallery and the cubical living room area.
On the upper floors the wings are divided in a parent's wing and a children's wing that works as one large loft space with movable individual cubicles inside.
In the front of the house a series of slanted walls organizes a promenade along a sculpture garden while in the back there is a pool-house with a double swimming pool, a square one for leisurely use and a glass cantileverd lap pool for swimming.
Melrose Community Center
Melrose Community Center
Bronx South at Melrose Houses, NYC, 2000
The design of the MCC reflects a desire to avoid a typical fortress-like solution and an ideology of fear, in an area considered dangerous, providing instead the community with a building that conveys a sense of transparency in every way.
Located in the Melrose Houses site, at the intersection of Morris Avenue and 156th Street in the South Bronx, the center serves the communities of the Jackson, Melrose, and Morrisania Houses, thus the diagonal orientation of the plan, relates to the Morrisania while the entry space, parallel to 156th Street opens the building to the Jackson Houses.
The gymnasium, with its elliptical configuration holds the otherwise very open corner while it presents a strong dynamic image when seen from the road. The Gym volume is connected to a bar-like building which contains the remainder of activities, administrative or educational, through a common entrance space; in this way the use is compartmentalized relative to scheduling and security.
Curtain wall glazing along the length of the bar exposes the interior to public view in both directions. Within the bar building, glass walls divide the classrooms from the double height transparent circulation area.
LAS CASAS, Jose Ignacio, Uruguay, 1998-2001
This project is located on a thirty acre farm close to the Atlantic Ocean in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. The existing farm's main residence consists of a group of houses built in the local tradition of brick bearing wall construction. The programs calls for a summer vacation residence and a horse farm. The Main Pavilion is an addition for the owners and the Guest House allows the use of the farm as a retreat for meetings as well as for friends.
Main House, Guest House
The approach was to create very simple structures that recalled some of the historic colonial ranches while being strong, modern, and playful at the same time.
A set of free-standing garden walls, were added in order to frame the otherwise scattered existing buildings, create a series of green courtyards. The houses are located on either side of a hill opening to vast country views. On the other side, they achieve a greater degree of privacy as they are framed by the new walls.
Since the local climate allows for a structure that is not totally enclosed, a large roof structure "floats"
THE RETURN OF THE REPRESSED: NATURE, China Basin, San Francisco 1989
Inscription of Nature: The Machine in the Garden
The city as object of desire is transformed into the city as the place where the forces of desire are set free. The China Basin project, is, much like Donna Haraway's cyborg, "about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions and dangerous possibilities."29 This project is a provocation. It is, to paraphrase Haraway, a mapping of our urban, social, and ideological reality, committed to partiality, irony, and perversity; it is completely without innocence. 30 Nature had been absent from urban discourse at the time of this project for over 50 years. The project served as a unique opportunity to examine some of the pressing questions concerning the place, role, and form of nature in urban discourse at this moment in time.
The China Basin is a three hundred acre site sloping down from the Embarcadero Freeway toward San Francisco Bay. The scheme assumes the creation of a new natural urban datum plane related to that of the existing freeway, which in turn is rendered obsolete and eventually transformed into a residential structure. The China Basin Canal bounds the northwestern edge of the site and the San Francisco Bay lies to the east. An undulating blanket of nature covers the site and is punctuated by curvilinear public spaces varying in function and depth.
A smooth surface of nature replaces the striated fabric of the city, in the form of various street grids, which is buried under the site: a seamless continuity of activity flows under the smooth surface of nature, continuous flux without delimitation. This project addresses and encourages programs of active production rather than the frantic comsumption, that characterizes most urban developments
Zones of programmatic superimposition and interrelation radiating out of each "courtyard" are created, thus defining a public place. The boundaries determining various programs are left in suspense, undetermined, creating areas of programmatic instability, dissolving the barriers of institutionalized practice and reflecting the chance process typical of urban change over time. An intricate movement system of moving platforms, ramps, and stairs allows pedestrians to travel from one place to another ; more traditional communication routes are also present proposing the exploration and possibilities of using other geometries than Euclidean, which is at the core of the American City and XXth Century Urbanism.
1-Donna J. Harroway " A Cyborg Manifesto" in Simians, Cyborgs and Women, New York, Routledge, 1991,p 154