Home Art Matt Shaw on “American Framing”

Matt Shaw on “American Framing”


View of “American Framing” at Wrightwood 659, 2022. Photo: Michael Tropea; © 2022 Alphawood Exhibitions LLC, Chicago.

ONE OF MODERNISM’S most formidable targets was to accommodate the lots by way of environment friendly, inexpensive, and mass-produced structure. Whereas the success of this mission differs wildly from locale to locale, it’s virtually universally related within the West with metal, strengthened concrete, and plate glass. Satirically, one of many techniques that maybe finest fulfilled these desires in america is a wholly completely different materials, and one underpinning 90 % of single-family houses in america: softwood framed development. Regardless of its ubiquity, conventional architectural discourse has hardly ever included softwood framing in any severe sense. 

Peeling again the proverbial siding and exposing this constructing system is the core of the “American Framing” mission, initially conceived for the US Pavilion on the 2021 Venice Structure Biennale and most lately opened on the Wrightwood 659 exhibition house in Chicago. (One other model opened concurrently in Prague, at Galerie Jaroslava Fragnera). “American Framing” is an initiative of the College of Illinois Chicago, arguably probably the most influential faculty of structure of the 2010’s. Beneath the directorship of Robert E. “Bob” Somol, the college promoted a whimsical angle towards architectural apply and, to some extent, a corresponding fashion, the legacy of which may nonetheless be seen in almost each short-term set up and home mission by early- and mid-career architects working in the present day. This vaguely “neo-postmodern” camp resurrected the work of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Memphis, John Hejduk, Charles Moore, Arata Isozaki, and early Michael Graves. It flourished roughly between 2008 and 2016, a time when Pop references, cartoonish figuration, and different postmodern tropes percolated by way of structure faculties and particularly on Instagram. The 2017 Chicago Structure Biennial elegantly institutionalized this tendency whereas falling right into a entice much like that of the 1980 Venice Biennale, “La Strada Novissima,” (The New Avenue), and subsequent ’80s structure tendencies, which codified the on a regular basis references and relatable indicators and symbols of early postmodernism in an inward-facing repertoire of constructing precedents and formal typologies.

View of “American Framing” at Wrightwood 659, 2022. Photo: Michael Tropea; © 2022 Alphawood Exhibitions LLC, Chicago.

Whereas postmodern architects within the ’60s and ’70s recuperated forgotten or vernacular constructing kinds, in the present day’s ugly and odd is extra attuned to underappreciated processes of development. We take as a right conventional American wood-framed structure, however it underpins home structure from huge mansions to the tiniest of homes. As curators Paul Preissner and Paul Anderson prefer to level out, no sum of money should purchase you a greater or worse 2×4. Satirically, this hyper-standardized system is adaptable to the purpose of being plastic: It will probably assume virtually any type utilizing the identical base parts: 2x’s, nails or screws, plywood or OSB, and possibly just a few gentle metal straps produced by corporations like Simpson Robust-Tie or Eagle Steel Merchandise. 

View of “American Framing” at Wrightwood 659, 2022. Photo: Michael Tropea; © 2022 Alphawood Exhibitions LLC, Chicago.

Softwood development was developed by German and Scandinavian settlers within the early nineteenth century. Shifting West by way of the frontier, they modified European half-timbering methods by way of a reasonable, environment friendly, protoindustrial system. Dimensional lumber and mass-produced nails meant that unskilled laborers working in small groups couldn’t solely construct secure buildings, but additionally adapt and experiment in line with private interpretation. As a result of framing was low cost and cell, it proliferated throughout the North American continent, leading to a quintessentially American expertise that, because the curators write of their assertion, was “tired of custom, keen to decide on economic system over technical talent, and accepting of a relaxed concept of craft within the pursuit of one thing helpful and new.”

In Venice, a five-story wall-less construction enclosed the entrance courtyard of the US Pavilion, its over-scaled, steeply pitched roof fenestrated with an overabundance of elongated dormers—an odd interpretation of the on a regular basis home, however constructed with the identical supplies and methods. On this sense, the set up functioned as a manifesto for the larger mission of “American Framing”: peeling again the variations between stylistically eclectic American houses to reveal a ubiquitous but adaptable underlying system, right here pushed towards its architectural limits.

View of “American Framing” at Wrightwood 659, 2022. Photo: Michael Tropea; © 2022 Alphawood Exhibitions LLC, Chicago.

The principle set up, maybe one of the best US pavilion exhibiting in Venice in at the very least a decade, ought to have been a severe contender for the Golden Lion. In Chicago, a three-story atrium is crammed with a lumber set up framed within the typical technique, with a slight twist: The “roof” is inverted, creating an uncommon valley on the high, relatively than a ridge or hip. Offered alongside the one-to-one spatial intervention are scale fashions, wooden furnishings items by Norman Kelley and Ania Jaworska, and two pictures collection, one by Chris Robust, one other by Daniel Shea. Kelley’s furnishings is manufactured from dimensional lumber and OSB, explicitly conjuring Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione (1974), an open-source chair design meant to be constructed by the top consumer out of any materials, however normally wooden. Robust’s photographs present builders at work on development websites throughout the US in 2020 and 2021, exposing the guide labor that goes unnoticed in last buildings. A counterpoint to those gentle conceptual gestures are Jaworska’s easy benches and Shea’s pictures of foliage, each of which recommend a extra atmospheric presentation. The ensuing exhibition is a broad if considerably unsatisfying journey by way of the world of wooden framing, one wherein neither idea nor have an effect on are realized in full.

View of “American Framing” at Wrightwood 659, 2022. Photo: Michael Tropea; © 2022 Alphawood Exhibitions LLC, Chicago.

For an exhibition about populism, “American Framing” feels oddly aloof in its rhetoric and design. There’s a frequent and irritating angle, pervasive in sure structure circles, which may very well be summed up as “too cool to be clear.” This have an effect on might be refined and refined when utilized to design, however it can be an alibi for underwhelming or unresolved work.

How did early adopters of softwood development Americanize and industrialize European constructing methods? How was timber used to dominate the American West? How has popular culture used framing as a trope? What are the speculative limitations of this malleable system? How was it taken up within the so-called New World as a conquering drive: each fashionable and colonial? A forthcoming publication by Park Books is claimed to element these tales however was not obtainable to be learn alongside the exhibition. This will solely be known as a missed alternative.

Whereas so many exhibitions are inclined to overcode their objects with social and political which means, “American Framing” has the other downside: It obscures and abstracts its content material to the detriment of the really wealthy historical past on show. Lack of which means is, after all, a typical upshot in structure, and one that’s symptomatic of the chilly, fashionable world as we all know it.


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