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Marc Kushner dances about architecture

David L. Ulin
Los Angeles Times Book Critic
According to Marc Kushner, architecture should be not just practical but aesthetic: art with which we interact

What is the future of architecture? Such a question grows more compelling the more we think about cities as vast networks in which infrastructure and sustainability are two sides of a very complicated dynamic, and the way we build teaches important lessons about who we are.

Not only that, suggests Marc Kushner in “The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings” (TED/Simon & Schuster: 176 pp., $16.99), but “[t]he world’s 1.75 billion smartphones are fundamentally changing the way architecture is consumed.” Yes, consumed … for part of Kushner’s point is that architecture is (or should be) not just practical but aesthetic: art with which we interact.

How else to make sense of, say, the Aqua Tower in Chicago, an 82-story residential project in which irregularly shaped balconies appear to ripple, creating the illusion of a waterfall or cloud? This is a building designed for people to live in, yes, but also for people to look at: architecture as experience, as a key component of a dimensional cityscape.

Kushner’s book is part of a new series called TED Originals and grew out of a 2014 TED talk. He’s an ideal candidate for this sort of project: founder of the architecture firm HWKN and the website Architizer.com, both of which operate out of the intention to make architecture accessible, part of a public dialogue.

The 100 structures he examines here — some of which have not yet been built — highlight that objective, moving from the repurposed (a cathedral in the Netherlands that has been turned into a bookstore, a Brooklyn warehouse that is now a 73 room hotel) to the revolutionary (a floating pool in New York’s East River that would function as a kind of Brita filter, cleaning half a million gallons daily; a house on sleds, built in New Zealand, that can be towed inland from a flooding shore).

Perhaps most interesting to me are designs that challenge our preconceptions, such as the 3D Print Canal House in Amsterdam, which seeks to make a Dutch canal house out of materials that have been digitally printed, or Dune, which plans to use bacteria to turn sand into sandstone — and, in so doing, “to create a structurally sound and livable structure” that might offer “rapidly deployable refugee housing” in the Sahara.

The idea, in other words, is to produce not only structures but ways of working that are innovative, socially conscious and forward looking, through which we might address and even mitigate the challenges (climate change, political instability, immigrant populations) that already define the current century.

“Don’t be a bystander and let architecture simply happen to you,” Kushner insists at the end of this exhilarating, lavishly illustrated survey. “Remember: Architecture doesn’t just represent your community — it shapes your society. If you ask architecture to work for you, and to reflect the priorities of your community and the Earth, you will be amazed by the possibilities architecture can bring to every aspect of your life.”

Twitter: @davidulin

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