Theory Hours, Storefront's 30th and other adventures with Steven Holl Architects

     I am still alive (and well) – although work has been so intense there is little time to do anything else. This is especially true considering how the boundaries between office hours and other SHA activities are often blurred, and it’s impossible to tell where the job ends and hobby starts – so the long hours do not seem as crazy as they might sound to outsiders. It does become a bit confusing now that I’m filling my second quarterly report (PEDR) though - and try to categorise something like a ‘Theory Hour’; similar to other aspects of SHA, it does not really fit well within the ‘norm’.

And yet, this Theory Hour fits just right into the unique atelier-like atmosphere of the studio, where the practical Architecture is very closely intertwined with the academic/ theoretical output: each project gets its own publication + archive (several people are in charge just of that), different architects from the office help Steven teach his studio in Columbia University; new projects begin with a crit involving external critics; and the almost-weekly pinups look incredibly similar to tutorials. The Theory Hour is then a Review where some ongoing project is compared to relevant precedents to make sure it is developing in the right direction, and that it has the same clarity of thought and expression as in the works of recognised masters from the past. For example, to prepare a Glasgow School of Art Theory Hour, I spent a considerable amount of time in Steven’s reference library looking up and scaling drawings by Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Charles Rennie Mackintosh of course – and then presented my findings to the rest of the studio. Quite a way to learn. Theory Hour does not mean work can stop on the other projects though, so it gets prepared out of office hours, and takes place on a Saturday - at 10 in the morning. Steven jokingly calls this being an “Architecture Enthusiast”. I like to think of it as a good reason to get out of bed, and make the most of the day. Sleep is (still) for the weak.

Theory Hour about Princeton University, Michelangelo, Louis Kahn and Golden Sections

Not all the events at SHA are as serious though: since the Christmas party last year, we’ve celebrated Robert Burns Day (with images from Glasgow, and poetry reading – some people putting on a better “Scottish” accent than others), Chinese New Year (as important as always now that the Sliced Porosity Block has opened to public) as well as multiple architecture events. The highlight has probably been the Storefront for Art and Architecture’s 30th Birthday Gala.

The Storefront is a non-profit organisation that promotes innovative/alternative architecture and design in New York City; it was founded in 1982 and operates from a ground level space on Kenmare Street between Chinatown/ Little Italy/ Soho, from the unique facade designed by artist Vito Acconci and Steven Holl Architects in 1993. I have gone to see this architecture landmark on multiple occasions – the combination of the 12 movable panels, public participation and exhibitions inside produce a new intriguing experience every time. Amazing.

The facade of the Storefront for Art and Architecture
The facade of the Storefront for Art and Architecture

Needless to say, when news came out that Steven was going to be honoured at the Storefront’s 30th gala, and that he was happy to buy tickets for those interested in going, I signed up immediately. The location could not have been better: the abandoned and recently re-discovered 5 Beekman Temple Court, a difficult-to-get-into destination in itself (see more here). 5 Beekman Street used to be a state-of-the-art office building after its opening in 1882, then was closed due to a fire and further safety concerns, has been lately re-discovered as a unique backdrop for movies and fashion shoots, and is soon going to be turned into a luxury hotel. At the gala, I’ve heard multiple people say that the Storefront party was in fact the last event in the building before construction begins.

And what a party it was: multiple art installations, the most impressive being the projection though the 9-storey atrium; a silent auction featuring artwork by some famous names (including Steven’s watercolours, of course); Hors D’oeuvres that were difficult to enjoy because of all the interesting conversations; and lots of important faces in Architecture all gathered on the top floor of the Temple Court - just below the magnificent skylight. The only problem with parties in abandoned buildings is the cold, so soon we found ourselves dancing wildly in an attempt to warm up – so hard that the security started worrying about the floor of the old building, and had to stop the event a bit earlier than expected. Oh well, in Glasgow they say that a party is only really good when it has to be shut down. This one was great.

The following morning, we had a Theory Hour for Maggie’s. Architecture never stops

Top floor of 5 Beekman Street
At the Gala with my colleagues Kim, Annie and Leehong
Looking down the 9 storey atrium
Storefront logo projected on the Woolworth building