Matt Shaw on “American Framing”

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

ONE OF MODERNISM’S maximum bold objectives used to be to deal with the hundreds thru environment friendly, reasonably priced, and industrially produced structure. Whilst the good fortune of this challenge differs wildly from locale to locale, it's virtually universally related within the West with metal, bolstered concrete, and plate glass. Mockingly, one of the most techniques that possibly easiest fulfilled those goals in the US is a completely other subject matter, and one underpinning 90 p.c of single-family properties in the US: softwood framed building. Regardless of its ubiquity, conventional architectural discourse has hardly integrated softwood framing in any severe sense. 

Peeling again the proverbial siding and exposing this development gadget is the core of the “American Framing” challenge, at first conceived for america Pavilion on the 2021 Venice Structure Biennale and maximum not too long ago opened on the Wrightwood 659 exhibition area in Chicago. (Every other model opened similtaneously 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 fantastic perspective towards architectural observe and, to a point, a corresponding taste, the legacy of which will nonetheless be noticed in just about each and every brief set up and space challenge by means of early- and mid-career architects running lately. This vaguely “neo-postmodern” camp resurrected the paintings of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Memphis, John Hejduk, Charles Moore, Arata Isozaki, and early Michael Graves. It flourished kind of between 2008 and 2016, a time when Pop references, cartoonish figuration, and different postmodern tropes percolated thru structure colleges and particularly on Instagram. The 2017 Chicago Structure Biennial elegantly institutionalized this tendency whilst falling right into a lure very similar to that of the 1980 Venice Biennale, “Los angeles Strada Novissima,” (The New Boulevard), and next ’80s structure tendencies, which codified the on a regular basis references and relatable indicators and logos of early postmodernism in an inward-facing repertoire of establishing precedents and formal typologies.

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

While postmodern architects within the ’60s and ’70s recuperated forgotten or vernacular development types, lately’s unpleasant and extraordinary is extra attuned to underappreciated processes of building. We take as a right conventional American wood-framed structure, but it surely underpins home structure from huge mansions to the tiniest of homes. As curators Paul Preissner and Paul Anderson like to indicate, no sum of money should buy you a greater or worse 2×4. Mockingly, this hyper-standardized gadget is adaptable to the purpose of being plastic: It may suppose virtually any shape the use of the similar base components: 2x’s, nails or screws, plywood or OSB, and possibly a couple of mild metal straps produced by means of firms 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 building used to be advanced by means of German and Scandinavian settlers within the early 19th century. Shifting West throughout the frontier, they changed Ecu half-timbering tactics thru an affordable, environment friendly, protoindustrial gadget. Dimensional lumber and industrially produced nails intended that unskilled laborers running in small groups may no longer handiest construct strong structures, but in addition adapt and experiment in line with non-public interpretation. As a result of framing used to be affordable and cellular, it proliferated around the North American continent, leading to a quintessentially American era that, because the curators write of their observation, used to be “uninterested in custom, keen to make a choice economic system over technical talent, and accepting of a comfy 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 america Pavilion, its over-scaled, steeply pitched roof fenestrated with an overabundance of elongated dormers—a extraordinary interpretation of the on a regular basis space, however constructed with the similar fabrics and strategies. On this sense, the set up functioned as a manifesto for the higher challenge of “American Framing”: peeling again the diversities between stylistically eclectic American properties to show a ubiquitous but adaptable underlying gadget, right here driven towards its architectural limits.

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

The principle set up, possibly the most efficient US pavilion appearing in Venice in no less than a decade, must were a major contender for the Golden Lion. In Chicago, a three-story atrium is stuffed with a lumber set up framed within the conventional means, with a slight twist: The “roof” is inverted, developing an bizarre valley on the best, slightly than a ridge or hip. Introduced along the one-to-one spatial intervention are scale fashions, wooden fixtures items by means of Norman Kelley and Ania Jaworska, and two images collection, one by means of Chris Robust, any other by means of Daniel Shea. Kelley’s furnishings is made from dimensional lumber and OSB, explicitly conjuring Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione (1974), an open-source chair design intended to be constructed by means of the tip consumer out of any subject matter, however normally wooden. Robust’s footage display developers at paintings on building websites throughout america in 2020 and 2021, exposing the guide exertions that is going disregarded in ultimate structures. A counterpoint to those mild conceptual gestures are Jaworska’s easy benches and Shea’s images of foliage, either one of which recommend a extra atmospheric presentation. The ensuing exhibition is a huge if quite unsatisfying adventure throughout the global of wooden framing, one by which neither idea nor have an effect on are discovered in complete.

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 not unusual and irritating perspective, pervasive in sure structure circles, which might be summed up as “too cool to be transparent.” This have an effect on may also be subtle and refined when implemented to design, but it surely will also be an alibi for underwhelming or unresolved paintings.

How did early adopters of softwood building Americanize and industrialize Ecu development tactics? How used to be bushes used to dominate the American West? How has popular culture used framing as a trope? What are the speculative obstacles of this malleable gadget? How used to be it taken up within the so-called New International as a conquering drive: each fashionable and colonial? A impending e-newsletter by means of Park Books is claimed to element those tales however used to be no longer to be had to be learn along the exhibition. This will handiest be referred to as a ignored alternative.

While such a lot of exhibitions generally tend to overcode their items with social and political that means, “American Framing” has the other downside: It obscures and abstracts its content material to the detriment of the in point of fact wealthy historical past on show. Lack of that means is, after all, a not unusual upshot in structure, and one this is symptomatic of the chilly, fashionable global as we comprehend it.