Best of 2015: Architectstasy’s Top 6 Articles

2015 is a special year for Architectstasy, being its first.  It’s been a phenomenal year of architectural conversations; from the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial to Ann Arbor’s struggle with its version of the Roman Forum, the following were Architectstasy’s most-read articles of 2015.  Thanks for following along so far, and here’s to a new year of even more and more interesting conversations in 2016.  See you next year!

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Best of 2015: The Year in Review in Books

One of the perks of architecture as a contemplative art is that there has been a tremendous amount of great writing produced around it.  Here is a roundup some of the best books I read in 2015 (hint: a great source of gift ideas for the architect or architecture enthusiast in your life!).

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Choose Your Own Adventure: Water Tanks

The City of Ann Arbor is refinishing the Manchester water tower at the split between Washtenaw and Stadium.  Best of all – they’re soliciting votes from city residents on the best design!  They’ve received 500 entries from local schoolchildren (and sundry other designers), and the jury panel has narrowed it down to five.  Now it’s up to Ann Arbor to select the next design for this prominent water tower.  Voting is open now through December 15th.  Vote now!

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Chicago Architecture Biennial: Hit or Miss? A Review


Let’s say you’re throwing a big party.  You take a few weeks to sort out the menu, invite all your friends – you even make sure you clean the bathroom (for real this time).  By the time the last drink is drunk, the last dish piled up in the sink, and the last person tumbling tiredly out the door, you have a pretty good idea whether it was a good party by whether or not everyone had a good time.  But…what if you couldn’t tell whether anyone was enjoying themselves?

Chicago Architecture Biennial: Is it good or not?
Chicago is throwing that big party.  They’re calling it the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and this three-month international architecture exhibition (3 October 2015 – 3 January 2016) has multiple locations scattered across the city, most of which are free and open to the public.  Almost 20,000 visitors attended the opening weekend, and it will probably see a steady stream until it’s over.  So…is it a good party, or not?  Another way to ask the question is: does this event matter?

The answer is a little harder to give than one might think.

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Chicago Architecture Biennial: The State of the Art of Sustainability

Chicago is hosting North America’s inaugural Architecture Biennial this fall (3 October – 3 January).  Titled “The State of the Art of Architecture,” architectural firms and practices from all six continents have been invited to display their work.  Spanning all sizes and kinds of projects, the Biennial is showcasing solutions to design problems from spiderwebs to social housing.

U.S. buildings use around 40% of all the country’s energy consumption.  It is a disconcerting truth that even if every building starting tomorrow were to be net-zero energy and net-zero water, we’d still be on a crash course draining more naturally-available resources than our one planet can permanently sustain.  In this environment, architectural designers have a special responsibility to educate themselves about innovative sustainable design techniques, from those that have worked for thousands of years to those that, as the Biennial’s title hopefully suggests, are state of the art.

So what does the Biennial have to say about sustainability?  Below are five different approaches at five different scales: material, building, resource, city, and the globe.

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Chicago Architecture Biennial: The Memes

The Chicago Architecture Biennial is an unbelievably rich, dense, colorful survey of architectural thought all over the globe.  Everything from paper collages to massive urban revitalization projects are represented, and the ideas and conversations being had sparkle with excitement.  Excitement…and, sometimes, the way the architects describe their own work is just a little too distant from how it actually plays out in the real world.  Below are a selection of projects with two descriptions each: how the architects described them, and the too-long-didn’t-read (TL;DR) synopsis.

(warning: some adult language ahead)


Sou Fujumoto, Architecture Is Everywhere; image credit Jessica A.S. Letaw

Architecture is Everywhere
Sou Fujimoto: “Architecture is first found and then made.  Just as our ancestors found their habitat in caves and woods, we discover ours among the many things we encounter in the immense urban jungle.  The notion of “found architecture” is represented by juxtaposing human figures and ordinary objects found in everyday life with contexts that might seem coincidental at first, if not fortuitous.  This operation makes us start to read these objects as architectural spaces.  While we might find these serendipitous pairings interesting for their discrepancy in scale, what lies beyond them might well be the prelude to a new architecture.  Fujimoto’s approach can be traced back to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades or John Cage’s series of chance operations – specifically, the act of discovering by chance rather than creating with intent.  Architecture Is Everywhere aims to radically question the boundary between “found” and “made” architecture.”


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Chicago Architecture Biennial: The Most Outstanding Entries

The inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial is almost through its first month (it runs now through 3 January 2016).  Playing off of the internationally renowned Venice Architecture Biennale but with a distinctly different flavor and approach, each of the 100+ entries, installations, kiosks, and events brings something unique to the overall Biennial experience.  See below for the 10 strongest installations that cover the spectrum of representational type, scale, and subject.

1.  Atelier Bow-Wow, Piranesi Circus

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