Congratulations to James Biber FAIA, who after 19 years as a partner at Pentagram opened Biber Architects on the auspicious date of 10/10/10.
Trained as an architect at Cornell, Biber has done design work unconfined by traditional disciplines since 1984, when he partnered with a graphic designer and an illustrator in his first Soho architectural office. Over his two decades at Pentagram, his work extended to include collaborations with the firm’s other architects, graphic designers, product designers and new media designers. Biber Architects will take the evolution of his practice to the next level. Being an innovator in the multidisciplinary design world gives James a perspective that few can exercise in the creation of a new design paradigm.
Philip Johnson’s Glass House and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House established one of architecture’s great formal dialogues. Both were designed and built during the same period—the Glass House between 1945 and 1949 (in New Canaan, Connecticut), and the Farnsworth House between 1945 and 1951 (in Plano, Illinois)—and Johnson and Mies were inspired by and responded to each other’s work, resulting in a pair of Modernist masterpieces. Both homes have been designated National Historic Landmarks and are now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Glass House was given to the trust by Johnson in 1986 and opened to the public in 2007 (with identity and visitors center designed by Pentagram), and the Farnsworth House was saved at auction in 2003 and came under the management of the trust earlier this year.
Modern Views: A Project to Benefit the Farnsworth House and the Glass House is a new yearlong initiative to raise $1 million to help preserve the residences. The trust’s Center for Modernism asked 100 artists, designers and architects to create works that continue the dialogue between the two iconic designs. Among the participants are Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Thom Mayne, Daniel Libeskind, David Adjaye, Tadao Ando, Richard Meier, Michael Graves, Cesar Pelli, Ken Smith, Vito Acconci, Maira Kalman, Robert Morris, Ed Ruscha, Yves Behar, Annie Leibovitz, Constantin Boym and Pentagram’s James Biber and Paula Scher.
The works will exhibited in New York and Chicago this fall, culminating in an auction in each city. Proceeds from the auction will be used to restore the Brick House at the Glass House site and to repair damage to the Farnsworth House from a 2008 flood. Modern Views is being underwritten by Sotheby’s and was introduced at an event at the Four Seasons earlier this month.
Paula Scher’s print, titled Modernism USA, uses the footprint of the two houses at various scales to construct a map of the United States. The design will appear on the cover of a book of the collected works for Modern Views, to be published this fall by Assouline.
James Biber, who designed the visitor center for the Glass House, was inspired by the homes’ relationship to their environments: the Glass House is built of dark materials and is close to the earth, while the Farnsworth House is white and seems to float above ground, a world in itself. Biber’s drawing, called There It Begins, takes its title from a 1959 quote by Mies: “Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.” The drawing brings the two “bricks,” or houses, together.
The word “zoo” was first coined in the 19th century, but the concept of a man-made landscape of fauna is as old as human domination of the earth. The ancient Greeks had menageries, as did the Chinese and Roman empires, but the first historical reference to a “vertical zoo” might have been the medieval one in the Tower of London. Today 80 percent of the world’s zoos are located in cities, and a vertical zoo seems as inevitable as a vertical farm. A new competition in Buenos Aires, Argentina asked architects to design a vertical zoo for a location in a natural reserve on the city’s riverfront. Organized by Arquitectum and TodoObras magazine, the brief was to design a structure that would become a new urban landmark, one that would accentuate a growing area of the city and at the same time complement the natural character of the reserve. James Biber has designed a vertical zoo that is an urban take on Charles Darwin’s evolutionary tree of life, a phylogenic arrangement of species in vertical formation.
In the midst of the financial crisis our friend Ed Schlossberg of ESI Design gathered a group of designers and design thinkers together to consider how to connect the NYC “design-impoverished” with all the designers who wanted to contribute in some meaningful way to the city. It was, at its core, a group looking for ways design could make NY a better place. At the time it seemed the least we could do and, in spite of the “recovery,” it still is.
Design is one tool for solving problems, but often it is characterized as the decoration on top of the cake (or even on top of the icing on top of the cake). For us it is, to stretch a simile nearly to its breaking point, the whole cake; recipe, layers, presentation and taste. With a sense of optimism that seemed almost anachronistic we met over a period of months in the ESI offices to formulate ideas for New York.
desigNYC was the result.
desigNYC is fundamentally a tool for connecting those organizations in need of design with those designers in need of an outlet for their sense of civic pride and engagement.
desigNYC is our attempt to put design back in the set of tools a city has to solve problems.
desigNYC is aimed at creating a civic design resource for New York.
desigNYC is in its beta testing now and we encourage all organizations in need of design to apply here. The deadline is November 30.
Manhattan is an island—some would say a landlocked island—and grew to prominence because of its harbor, but like many American cities, New York seems to avoid its waterways. Over the past decades, ferry and water taxi service has made an impressive reappearance on the city’s rivers—but along the way an evident problem has arisen. By definition, ferry landings are located at the edge of the city, usually in windy, exposed waterside sites that offer an unpleasant and discouraging experience for passengers waiting for a ferry or for connecting surface transit.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s arrival in New York harbor and discovery of the Hudson River. Over the past few years, under the leadership of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial, a consortium of New York civic groups—including the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and the Hudson River Foundation—have been developing plans for a system of “Quad Landings”: floating docks designed to allow access to and from the water for a wide variety of vessels, from ferries and water taxis to sailboats, kayaks, and other craft.
Building on this initiative, James Biber of Pentagram Architects and James Sanders of James Sanders + Associates have developed Riverways, a practical, economical, and flexible system of elements that allow water access where there is currently none, or enhance ferry and water-taxi landings that already exist. Though relatively small in scale, these elements are intended to provide crucial points of linkage, integrating the region’s water and land transportation into a single unified system, and opening the city’s waters for recreation to the immense populations adjacent to them. The proposal is designed to increase access to the water for communities frustrated by their proximity to magnificent waterways that can be seen but not touched.
Download a PDF of the complete proposal here.
“Weeds” is all about the sacred and the profane. Or maybe the sacred and the mundane.
In the Showtime series a California housewife played by Mary-Louise Parker turns to selling marijuana after the death of her husband. The darkly comic mix of suburbia, naïveté and family dynamics is portrayed against a background of drugs, death, deceit and personal demons. The amount of killing, death, pain and humiliation surpasses even recent mob-themed shows; and this is a comedy!
This year’s Metropolitan Home Showtime House consists of twin penthouses at the luxury Tribeca Summit loft condominiums. James Biber and his team at Pentagram Architects were one of 14 designer teams invited to create rooms inspired by the network’s original programming.
Biber and his team, working on their first showhouse design, referenced a comic climax from “Weeds” for their design of the dining room. For those not up on the show’s past seasons, the scene was an eye-rolling reveal of a stolen rooftop lighted cross lifted from a new local religion-based community’s church. The enormous crucifix finally appears, lashed to the ceiling of a hastily assembled “grow house.” The stolen cross has become a lighting fixture over a bed of marijuana plants!