Category Archives: monograph

Entre: Architecture from the Performing Arts

Entre: Architecture from the Performing Arts by Carlos M. Teixeira
Artifice Books on Architecture, 2012
Paperback, 384 pages

The subtitle of this monograph on Brazilian architect Carlos M. Teixeira's studio Vazio S/A is very telling. Instead of "architecture for the performing arts," as might be expected, it is "architecture from the performing arts." The use of this single word indicates that Teixeira's project are inspired and influenced by dance and other performing arts as much as they are used by dancers and others for performances. A small example can be found in the set design for Disturbance, in which the design of the wood cubes occupying the stage came about through the observation of dancers who improvised with cardboard boxes months before the performance date.

A key aspect of Teixeira's approach is evident in the name of his studio: Vazio is Portuguese for Empty, or Void. The stagings and sets attempt to active the leftover voids of his home city of Belo Horizonte, something that applies to performances as well as architecture. An example of the latter is 285 Montevideo, an apartment building squeezed onto a sliver site. In the case of the former, Teixeira snaked performance platforms among the columns and beams that prop up houses in a hilly portion of the city for the second Topographical Amnesia. The description of the project in the book seems to spend 75% of the words on background and the setting up of the project (describing why the houses have these stilts, for example) and 25% on the performance itself, which is primarily told in photos. These percentages apply to most of the projects in the book, making the conceptual bases for the projects very clear and equally strong.

Probably Teixeira's most well-known project is The Other, The Same, an installation from the 29th Sao Paulo Internatinal Art Biennial in late 2010. Movable walls and platforms were built up from layers of cardboard and served as "an arena for dance events, theatre and music that can be rearranged in other ways." Or as curator Paulo Miyada puts it in the book: "Teixeira constructed this terreiro, a venue for presentations centered upon the body: its expression, positioning, performance." It's not surprising that Teixeira's contribution to the Biennial focuses on the body and its relationships to space and other bodies, given his wide body of work (no pun intended) with the performing arts. That he has crafted the cardboard pieces with an obvious appeal no matter what arrangement they are placed in is a testament to his skill as an architect.

In its combination of thorough project descriptions, photographs, and additional essays (including an interview with Bernard Tschumi, an architect who explored the relationships between the body and space, event and architecture, in the 1970s, something that aligns the two practitioners), this monograph does an excellent job of conveying the importance and qualities of one aspect of Vazio S/A's work. Considering the short-lived nature of the performing arts projects documented in its pages, the book is a valuable artifact for capturing those moments and conveying the ideas embedded within the designs and the performances. Only the videos on the Vazio S/A website offer something the book can't express, but as an odd compromise, here's a video of the book:

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Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Architecture after Images

Diller Scofidio+ Renfro: Architecture after Images by Edward Dimendberg
University of Chicago Press, 2013
Hardcover, 248 pages

Gracing the cover of film professor Edward Dimendberg's analysis of Diller Scofidio + Renfro's first three decades of output is a photograph of the southern end of the High Line park, designed with James Corner and Piet Oudolf. Chances are that a mention of the firm or one of its members to most people will bring to mind this project, whose first phase opened in 2009 and whose third phase is now under construction. But of course a lot happened from the late 1970s, when Elizabeth Diller and Ricard Scofidio started working on small projects together, to the opening of the High Line (realized with partner Charles Renfro), one of the most important projects in New York City this century. And that is the value in the this book: charting the history of a duo and trio that is intent on questioning the conventions of architecture at every turn and have made a success of it.

I've read four and reviewed three books on DS+R—Flesh: Architectural Probes, Scanning: The Aberrant Architectures of Diller + Scofidio, Blur: The Making of Nothing, and The Ciliary Function—so I was pleased to learn so much reading Dimendberg's book. He covers projects that are otherwise overlooked (Plywood House from 1981 is just one example); he goes into detail on projects to explain how they came about or how they fizzled (the account of Eyebeam is especially good in this regard); and he approaches the firm and their multi-faceted architecture (buildings, landscapes, performances, installation, books, etc.) from outside of the profession. From outside is perhaps the best location to analyze the projects and trajectory of an office with increasingly more and more traditional architecture commissions but an unwillingness to follow their conventions or be bound by their rules. After all, these are the architects who "constructed" a cloud, one of the most fleeting projects imaginable but one of the most memorable Expo contributions in recent history.

The subtitle to Dimendberg's book—"Architecture after Images"—indicates that he is looking at DS+R's projects from the perspective of a film scholar, somebody who looks at images as charged with meaning. He quotes Sigfried Giedion's claim that "only film can make the new architecture intelligible," alluding to the appropriateness of him tackling a book on DS+R. Yet at one point Dimendberg admits that Diller made even better use of Giedion's quote: In a Columbia GSAPP lecture on their transformation of Lincoln Center she cycled through the same 15 slides a number of times, changing her delivery each time as if she were talking to different project stakeholders. Film worked to explain architecture to just about everybody outside of the usual architects.

Diller's lecture also hints at the value and troubles with images relative to architecture. Yes, they can help to convey information about spaces and places, but they are also strange bedfellows today: Architecture is dependent on images for spreading designs to a globalized audience, but the latter rarely do the buildings justice, and the more that images inform architecture (in the sense of creating a distinctive vantage point to appreciate a building, for example) the more architecture is negatively affected. But in the work of DS+R images don't exist to merely document, they "investigate the visual and spatial realities of the present," as the author asserts. Hence Dimendberg's precise wording of "architecture after images," such that DS+R's designs go beyond the simple appearance of things to the complexities of contemporary culture, the questioning of vision, and the blurring of technology and architecture.

Yet by the end of the book, when Dimendberg has brought the reader close to the present day, what has been conveyed is not a analytical treatise or the academic document of a film scholar; it is a biography of the architects and history of their past projects by somebody who appreciates their work. It is well-researched, insightful, and sometimes candid. He describes their work carefully and makes it a pleasurable read. He also rebukes critics who target certain aspects of DS+R's work. In this sense a do-no-wrong stance does come to fore every so often, but it does not permeate the book nor overshadow the excellent job that Dimendberg has done in explaining why DS+R are one of the few architects today worthy of such a thorough treatment.

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Wiel Arets: Autobiographical References

Wiel Arets: Autobiographical References edited by Robert McCarter
Birkhäuser, 2012
Paperback, 536 pages

In Spring 2010 Dutch architect Wiel Arets served as Ruth & Norman Moore Visiting Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, directing the "A Wonderful World" studio with Professor Robert McCarter. His visits to the Sam Fox School for the studio also involved lectures, in-studio debates, and interviews with McCarter that were recorded for this wonderful book on Arets and his architecture. As the title makes clear, the book is as much an autobiography as a monograph. Like Stills: Wiel Arets, A Timeline of Ideas, Articles and Interviews 1982-2010, Autobiographical References is more text than image, and the majority of the words are transcripts of interviews with McCarter. These are the most illuminating aspects of the book, giving honest and humble insight into the architect and educator who has been appointed dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture since the book was released last year.

In addition to the interviews, lectures, debates, and other content from the Spring 2010 studio, the book includes a handful of project portfolios and some short project descriptions of many more buildings designed by Arets. All of the content is organized logically and beautifully by Irma Boom, in what must have seemed an insurmountable task. The book is organized into five sections—Autobiographic/Autodidactic, Dialogue/Debate, Define/Combine, Infection/Perfection, Re-space/Re-think. At the core of each section is a lengthy interview with McCarter, set off by orange cardstock. Other heavy color pages are used to define the lectures (yellow), debates (gray), and student interviews (blue). Further, tabs are used to demarcate each type of text; the project pages are tab-free, breaking up the regular rhythm of the tabs as they move from spine to edge five times.

At one point in an interview with McCarter, Arets is discussing how simple buildings can yield rich and complex experiences, usually through repeated visits. He is referring to the architecture of Mies van der Rohe as well as his own work (contrasting Mies's horizontality with his emphasis on the vertical section), but I can see the same idea applied to this book. Irma Boom instills a logic to the loads of writing and photos through a design that is actually pretty simple. But the experience of holding and flipping through the book is enriched by the design, and Arets's words are like layers of meaning within the regular structure. Or as I put it when I chose the book as one of Notable Books of 2012 at Designers & Books: "One of the greatest feelings with a book is to know that it is something special even before cracking it open. Thankfully the quality content is deserving of such a [methodical yet lovely] design."

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Le Corbusier Redrawn: The Houses

Le Corbusier Redrawn: the Houses by Steven Park
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

The value of precedents in architectural education is undeniable. Even as innovation in form-making is still championed by the press and many architects, most of what is designed today is based on what has been done in the past. It could even be argued that it is impossible to create something new, that everything is only a synthesis of past buildings. Whatever the case, one of the mainstays of architectural education is the precedent study, often involving the redrawing of a design through orthogonal drawings (plan, elevation, section) and three-dimensional representations (perspective, axonometrics). Teaching a first-year drawing class about a year ago reminded me of the importance of redrawing a building by hand, an action that allows the design to be more readily understood by the student drawing it. As walls, doors, windows, patterns, and other lines are traced, their meaning should follow.

Or at least such learning by drawing is the ideal. But my teaching experience made me realize that it is increasingly difficult to  maintain a student's interest in hand drawing today. This is not a universal statement, but the impact of technology on architectural production and education (and student's brains) is hard to deny. Drawing by hand is still important for being a good architect (see Juhani Pallasmaa's The Thinking Hand for a good argument of such), but it is not the only way to understand buildings; it is not the only way to redraw a precedent.

The first of what I'm guessing is a series of books of Le Corbusier buildings "redrawn" by Steven Park (the Houses subtitle implies as much) raises this question, for the plans, sections, elevations, perspectives, and so forth look like they are generated by 3-D models instead of being drafted, by hand or CAD. Park does not indicate exactly how he has done the drawings, but the book nevertheless makes me wonder if modeling buildings as precedents instills the same (or more) understanding as drawing by hand. Students would be forced to construct and experience the building as a three-dimensional entity, rather than as 2-D projections and 3-D representations, and that seems valuable as a means of learning computer modeling while absorbing architectural precedents.

Park's book focuses on sectional perspectives as a means of aiding the understanding of Le Corbusier's residential commissions. As Park describes it, "By depicting in a single view multiple spaces within the building envelope, sectional perspectives create a sense of movement through a sequence of spaces and reveal their interrelationships within the overall spatial hierarchy." This is especially true of Corbu's designs, where the promendade architecturale was paramount. The sectional perspective through Villa Savoye's ramp, which graces the cover, is a great example, as it shows the ribbon windows, curving glass wall on the ground floor, and the way the enclosure shapes the rooftop space. These and other aspects of the design can be grasped with a 2-D building section, just not as readily as in a sectional perspective.

Beyond the notions of what the drawings may point to relative to architectural education, or their value as tools for understanding Corbusier's buildings, Park's book is extremely valuable for collecting 26 of the architect's houses in one place, with orthographic drawings all to the same scale. The sectional perspectives are extremely well done, but they would be incomplete without these 2-D drawings, especially the floor plans. Of course, as Park points out in his preface, the drawings cannot be a substitute for "walking through a building, measuring its dimensions with hands and arms ... [grasping] the relationship between the representation and reality." Yes, such is the case with all architecture, but even for moments after one has been able to visit one of Corbusier's houses, this book is a great collection of his great houses.

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Charles Ross: The Substance of Light

Charles Ross: The Substance of Light by Charles Ross
Radius Books 2012
Hardcover, 344 pages

Along with James Turrell, Charles Ross produces artworks that tap into a background in science. Turrell received a degree in perceptual psychology, though for Ross it was mathematics. They share an interest in the properties of light and using art as a means to give light a physicality. They also have been constructing major earthworks in the desert southwest that set their sites on the sky and the stars. Turrell has been transforming the Roden Crater north of Flagstaff, Arizona, into the most recognizable extinct crater in the world; a network of tunnels and chambers frame the sky and aim to manipulate light in the visitor's experience. For even longer Ross has been building Star Axis, a stone structure atop a mesa in New Mexico that orients the visitor to the North Star, Polaris, allowing them to grasp the Earth's precessional wobble (a 26,000-year cycle) as they ascend the 11-story straight stair. In the process of focusing on light in their massive earthworks, Turrell and Ross also tap into time, yet at the celestial rather than the human scale of things.

Star Axis was my only knowledge of Charles Ross's art when I received this coffee table monograph that spans from his sculptures produced one year after his mathematics degree to his magnum opus in the desert. About five years after graduation the artist started working with prisms, and here we can see the seeds of what would evolve into a lifelong interest in light and time. The early prisms exist, not surprisingly, in galleries, and the refraction of light is linked to the movement of bodies past them. But when he moved prisms to windows they started to trace the path of the sun indoors, a subset of his work he coined "solar spectrum commissions." The dispersal of sunlight into its rainbow of colors has a strong impact on the spaces in which he inserts the prisms, but the "solar burns" offer a similar trace by focusing the sun's rays onto surfaces. Wood planks, for example, are burnished with black arcs that were generated by holding a large magnifying glass above the surface. Time is subtly integrated into the pieces literally created by light: gaps in the solar burns that track a whole day reveal the times when clouds covered the sun; and a series of burns timed at 8 minutes 19 seconds make visible the time it takes for sunlight to travel from the sun to the Earth.

In the middle of the 1970s Ross started creating "star maps" to explore space from different vantage points of human perception. These maps contributed greatly to the making of Star Axis, which requires precise measurements for the Star Tunnel (parallel to the Earth's axis), the Hour Chamber (stars move from one edge of the angled aperture to the other in exactly one hour), and the Equatorial Chamber (framing starts along the celestial equator). But the key to the work is the 26,000-year precessional wobble of the Earth, due to the fact this rock we're on is not a perfect sphere. Different steps along the ascent mark the axis of Polaris in history, in effect making Ross's Star Axis a means of understanding how our view of the sky and the stars is affected by the changing axis of the Earth. For those interested in Ross's ambitious undertaking in the desert (finally nearing completion), this book is a decent documentation of the artwork, but it is even more valuable as a presentation of the artist's larger oeuvre and for giving some context (also through essays and interviews) to the Star Axis.

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Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac
Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2012
Hardcover, 46 pages + color plates

My visit to Chicago last month was timed fortunately with two architecture and design-related exhibitions: Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects at the Art Institute of Chicago (until February 24), and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac at the Museum of Contemporary Art (until January 20). Not surprisingly each exhibition is accompanied by a catalog, the former previously reviewed and the latter reviewed here, although I already did a tour of Bivouac at Houzz.

The catalog for Bivouac (the term is a sort of temporary, improvised shelter) is published by the Cente Pompidou-Metz, which is where the exhibition started, in October 2011. What this means for the book is that the numerous color photographs of the exhibition were taken in the large gallery spaces of the Shigeru Ban-designed building, not the barrel-vaulted galleries in the late Josef Paul Kleihues's MCA. This is not surprising and does not really detract from the book, but it should be noted that the large designs of the Bouroullec brothers have a strong presence in the MCA's fourth floor galleries, such that their Twigs, for example, bisect one of the narrow, skylit spaces. This just points to the importance of seeing the exhibition in person, be it at the MCA in its last week, or wherever it may travel to next. The Bouroullec's designs—what are appropriately called "microarchitecture"—are undeniably transformative, most immediately in terms of scale and color.

The catalog is divided into three parts: the first and last third of the book are full-bleed, heavyweight pages with color photos of the Bivouac exhibition; these bookend lightweight pages with duotone images of the designs in the exhibition and essays (in French and English) by Andrea Branzi, Alice Rawsthorn, and others. It is a slim volume that is handsomely photographed and assembled—there is something about the contrast between the heavy and light pages, the color and duotone images, even the smell of the paper that makes it a nice object to hold. Most valuable for fans of the Bouroullecs (and if you're not one, you should really check out their work) is the illustrated list of exhibited works in the middle of the catalog. The essays may be hit or miss (Valérie Mréjen's illustrated piece on "Objecthood" is a treat, but Éric Troncy's academic prose is a chore), but the photos and list of works accurately convey the amazing output and design sense of brothers Ronan and Erwan.

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O-14: Projection and Reception

O-14: Projection and Reception by Reiser + Umemoto, edited by Brett Steele
AA Publications, 2012
Hardcover, 288 pages

RUR Architecture, the office of Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto, has realized very little physical architecture. Most of the projects documented on their website exist in the realm of the computer and idea. So it's amazing that they were able to realize a 22-story office tower in Dubai that does not compromise their questioning of architectural norms. O-14 is a pinched and perforated cylinder that rises from the desert, dwarfed by many of the city's taller buildings but holding its own with its unique expression. The building is explored in this book from the Architectural Association, featuring the architects' own explanations accompanied by numerous photos and illustrations, and essays by Brett Steele, Sanford Kwinter, Sylvia Lavin, and Jeffrey Kipnis.

The norm against which RUR works is the glass box, the default for office buildings in Dubai and the rest of the world. The concrete exoskeleton is as far from the norm as can be, even as it sits three feet in front of a window wall that is just such an enclosure. In this sense, O-14 can be seen as a typical (if undulating) glass office building wrapped by a white veil. This veil (one among many metaphorical terms that can be used to describe it) helps to shade the 21 floors of offices, and the gap between the concrete and the glass contributes to a stack effect that aids in passive cooling. So the benefits of the wrapper serves a number of functions beyond the formal, even if RUR admit that these are the result of their design process, not conscious efforts at meeting performance requirements.

The book does a great job of explaining why O-14 looks the way it does and any repercussions as such, even if much of Reiser and Umemoto's text is unnecessarily obtuse. Yet their sometimes dense writing is nothing compared to the contributor's essays, which attempt to examine the building relative to history, science, and other contexts, but which run the risk of draining any appeal of the design from the reader's mind. And the appeals are easily apparent. While I would have liked to see more attention given to the experience of the building from the inside (the various views through the hundreds of holes is a great side effect of the design) instead the predominant focus of how it appears from the exterior, the building is certainly deserving of a book-length treatment.

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Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects

Building: Studio Gang Architects edited by Jeanne Gang and Zoë Ryan
Yale University Press, 2012
Hardcover, 184 pages

Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects is a solo exhibition devoted to the work of Studio Gang Architects on display at the Art Institute of Chicago until February 24, 2013. The exhibition, and the accompanying book, are separated into five "Building" categories: Nature, Density, Community, Performance, Ideas. These headings split the 13 projects in the exhibition (12 are featured in the catalog) into four sections that roughly correspond with typology without being subject to the limitations of such—the fifth section, Ideas, serves to present how Jeanne Gang and her office works.

Process is found in all of the projects, as archival materials and text serve to explain projects like the Nature Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park Zoo (Nature), Aqua Tower (Density), City Hyde Park (Community), and the Writers' Theatre (Performance). A timeline sequence for each project rings the walls of the galleries and structures the exhibition. But, like the rope-ring concoctions hanging in the middle of the gallery, the book is a bit looser in terms of format. What is missing in the translation from exhibition to book is the emphasis on the sources of inspiration, sometimes obscure, for the various projects; in the exhibition they are lovingly displayed in Joseph Cornell-esque plexiglass boxes (appropriate, given the Art Institute's huge collection of his lightboxes), but in the book they have a less noteworthy presence among the other project illustrations.

The emphasis on process is an extension of Gang's great monograph Reveal, released in 2011. While hardly a sequel, the catalog to Building has a lot of new projects, illustrating the stupendous output of an architect who has since garnered a MacArthur Fellowship and expanded her projects beyond her hometown of Chicago (a building next to the High Line is but one of these new projects that is included in the exhibition). The project presentations in Building are not as rich as Reveal, but the supplementary information that makes up the Ideas chapter is especially valuable, delving into how they build models, what they read, and even how they designed and fabricated the exhibition installation. Sarah Whiting's interview with Jeanne Gang is particularly enlightening, and it ends on a note that should be shared by many: looking forward to Gang's explorations of form and technology in future projects.

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Terunobu Fujimori: Architect

Terunobu Fujimori: Architect edited by Michael Buhrs and Hannes Rössler
Hatje Cantz, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages

This book on Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori was published on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition at Museum Villa Stuck in Munich. Fujimori, known for his quirky teahouse designs, contributed a "trojan pig" on wheels for Villa Stuck, though he changed it to a coffee house, since that drink is more popular in Germany than tea (but less so than beer, which he didn't think would work in a small space). The "walking cafe," as the architect calls it, is one of more than 20 projects collected in this very welcome book on the architect who practiced as an architectural historian for two decades before realizing his first building at age 42.

This now well-known past has led to designs that are highly idiosyncratic, neither repeating modernist tactics nor traditional ones. Fujimori actually spells this out as one of three principles ("my design should resemble neither the existing styles of any country nor the works of any modern architect") in his enlightening introductory essay (the other two principles are that "science and technology should ... be wrapped in nature" and "no boundaries between the site and surroundings).

In addition to the documentation of completed buildings and urban planning projects, and Fujimori's essay, the book consists of essays by Toyo Ito, editor Hannes Rössler, Dana Buntrock, and Thomas Daniell. The last focuses on ROJO (the Street Observation Society), which Fujimori started with artist Genpei Akasegawa and others in the mid-1980s to document the quirky and the everyday in Japanese cities. It's not hard to see the link between the humorous objects they have discovered and the buildings that Fujimori produces, yet the latter are hardly one-liners; there is a depth to his architecture.

In the past I've been drawn in particular to the "green roofs" that the architect has created, ones that entail lots more maintenance than extensive and intensive roofs popular today, but their reconsideration of what a green roof can be is paramount. The same can certainly be said about his teahouses, which maintain the detailed focus on the ceremony but question the location and the act of getting to them; many are perched atop tree trunks, and one is even suspended by wires. They are simultaneously alien yet familiar, handmade constructions that are hard to dislike. It's great to have the teahouses and other projects in one place for more people to appreciate.

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Ai Weiwei: Art | Architecture

Ai Weiwei: Art | Architecture edited by Yilmaz Dziewior
Kunsthaus Bregenz, 2011
Hardcover, 150 pages

As early as 2006 the well-known Chinese artist Ai Weiwei mentioned through his blog that he did not wish to pursue architecture anymore. Two years later the Olympics in Beijing were held, centered about the "Bird's Nest" stadium designed by Herzog & de Meuron with Ai Weiwei. That year supposedly saw his last architectural engagement (the Serpentine Pavilion, also designed with Herzog & de Meuron this year, is somewhere between art and architecture, so probably excluded). It may not seem like much for an artist to make this sort of proclamation, but according to texts in this book on Ai Weiwei's art and architecture, he had been involved with roughly 60 buildings completed before the Olympics. This number is high for a practicing architect but extremely high for an artist. Yes, Ai Weiwei's involvement was typically limited to conceptual design, not the later stages of a building's project, but he even set up Fake Design to handle architectural commissions.

Besides the Bird's Nest stadium, the most well-known building by Ai Weiwei is the artist's own studio in Shanghai, not for any formal aspect, but because it was torn down last year by Chinese authorities in a move that the artist said was linked to his political activism. Nevertheless, there is something appealing about the simple brick and concrete building that speaks to his ability as an architect as well as his oppositional stance to what is taking place in China's contemporary urbanization. A focus on the human being through the articulation of materials and spaces results in tangible places rather than clusters of high rises that are indistinguishable from each other. Even without considering Ai Weiwei's political activism, the difference of his attitudes to the Chinese government comes across in his architecture.

This book is not a complete survey of Ai Weiwei's architectural output. It is the print companion to an exhibition held last year at the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria that "concentrates on Ai Weiwei’s major architectural collaborations developed with other architectural practices." (The exhibition happened to occur when the artist was detained in his home country; in response the museum planned a "variety of solidarity projects," such as mounting large letters atop the Peter Zumthor-designed building that read "FREE AI WEIWEI.") Projects documented through photos, renderings, and in situ exhibition photos include Jindong New Development Area, the National Stadium (Bird's Nest), Five House (with HHF, as are the next two projects), Artfarm, Tsai Residence, Ordos 100, and Moon Chest. The last is an abstract installation that occupied the museum's third floor and comprised a series of all-wood obelisks with circular openings. These apertures allowed for a variety of views across the space and through the other obelisks. The objects were aligned with Ai Weiwei's focus on materials and human perception, even as the grid resembled the repetitive blocks of high-rise housing transforming China's urban landscape.

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