A bright blue bodega, clustered wooden complexes, and a classic design emblazoned with a Swiss flag occupy the lush landscape of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this summer. Eclectic in style, concept, and technique, the collection establishes dozens of tiny homes for avians across the 52-acre site as part of For the Birds, a group exhibition exploring the disastrous effects of the climate crisis on the feathered creatures—researchers estimate that North American populations have been reduced by 29 percent, or 3 billion birds, since 1970.
Balancing practical needs with aesthetics, the show tasked 33 artists, designers, and collectives with creating site-specific dwellings for specific species. “Woven” by Sourabh Gupta, for example, features spherical, apartment-style spaces for wildly social sparrows, while Studio Barnes evoked the art deco architecture found throughout southern Florida with “Fly South.” The color palette for that work is derived from the vibrant, red feathers of cardinals.
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In the Gifu Prefecture of Japan, a nucleus of creativity blossomed in Kasahara Town, Tajimi City, more than a millennium ago. Known for its history of ceramic production, the region celebrates its distinctive heritage with a spring and autumn festival, a ceramics-themed park, and pottery shops that teach visitors the tradition. Among its newest attractions, set in a rolling green, the Mosaic Tile Museum Tajimi focuses on a more recent aspect of the ceramics industry.
Following World War II, reconstruction efforts required building materials, and tiles were suddenly in high demand. In its heyday in the mid-1900s, Kasahara Town had more than 100 tile factories, and the delicate pieces were still being used for the construction of high-rise buildings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Soon, international competition and new materials hampered local manufacturing and the ornate tiles fell out of fashion, discarded when new buildings replaced earlier ones. Around that time, a group of locals who understood the historical significance of these tiles began to salvage as many as they could from structures scheduled for demolition. “The volunteers fondly recall how their requests were initially met with bewilderment, but their activities have resulted in the preservation of the extremely rare materials forming our enormous collection today,” says a statement on the museum’s website.
Housed in an architecturally exuberant expression of the relationship between ceramic and the earth, the building was designed by architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori to nestle sympathetically in the surrounding landscape. Today, the museum’s collection holds more than 10,000 individual tiles, sample books or boards portraying tile products, tools and utensils, and objects such as wash basins, bathtubs, and export goods.
You can find more information on the museum’s website.
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In the township of Hume in rural eastern Michigan, an unassuming barn stands sentry in a wide-open field, partially covered in wild vines and grasses. Like many Midwestern farm structures, it’s weathered and has seen years of use and repairs, but one recent alteration makes it a standout among its counterparts: a careful cut through the middle of the structure reveals a slice of sky. Conceived by Detroit-based architect and educator Catie Newell, founder of Alibi Studio, the project reworks the iconic framework of an aging farm building to allow light through an unexpected aperture.
A team of more than two dozen construction professionals and volunteers collaborated on Secret Sky’s transformation, which is part of an ongoing series of barn interventions in rural parts of the state that are commissioned by Greater Port Austin Art and Placemaking. The nonprofit’s project 53 North works with creative practitioners to adapt and save unused, aging, wooden barns in the region.
To make the massive cut for Secret Sky, original materials were patiently reworked and replaced by hand, including restructuring the overall design so that major beams and a column could be removed to open up the new space. Simultaneously subtracting a large volume and also adding a new area, visitors can now pass through what Newell describes as a merging of building and landscape and “a gift to the sky.” Both meditative and striking in the daytime, at twilight the barn is illuminated and glows lantern-like, casting long shadows across the field as light escapes through the slats in the walls.
As part of the ongoing project to preserve the building, Newell is currently raising funds to replace the original roof shingles and protect it for years to come. You can donate to support Secret Sky at 53 North and learn more on Newell’s website.
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For five days in November 2020, a house in Sainte-Marie, Québec, identified all of its residents and neighbors on Saint Louis Avenue. Antoine Audet, Maude Faucher, James Audet… the list included hundreds of names inked on strips of white paper and pasted to the clapboards.
The ephemeral design was the project of Louis Gagnon, creative director of the Montréal-based studio Paprika who lived in the house as a child and wanted to honor its tenants and friends before it was demolished. Back in 2019, major flooding swamped the city, and the government required that the most damaged residences be razed. 283 Saint Louis was one of nearly 60 to be torn down that summer.
At the time, 93-year-old Béatrice Vachon had been living in the house for nearly seven decades. “She hoped to spend her twilight years at the same address,” the studio said. “Sainte-Marie is the kind of tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone, from one generation to the next. Here, neighbors saw children being born and growing up; and neighbors helping each other was simply a common practice. Very few people have ever walked away.”
As the city prepared for such life-altering change, Gagnon reached out to his sisters to help remember former residents, frequent visitors, and others with ties to the neighborhood. Before printing the names, he tweaked an existing font to reflect the decorative architectural details, and many of the letters feature curved flourishes with upper points evocative of those on the front porch columns.
One photo of 283 Saint-Louis just before it was leveled shows Vachon standing outside her home plastered with the typographic tribute. “As darkness arrives, the house stands before its imminent destruction, bearing witness to a life of stories and memories,” Gagnon said. “A last hommage. An act of resilience.”
For more images and video from the demolition site, visit Paprika’s Behance.
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Daoming Town in Sichuan Province, China, is known for its bamboo weaving traditions. “The practice,” says Archi-Union Architects, “is more than a rural industry. It is an integral part of the way families in the town spend time together and how neighbors visit with each another.”
One of the firm’s projects titled “In Bamboo” is an homage to this rich local custom. Constructed in just 52 days back in 2018, the multi-use pavilion stretches 1,800 square meters and contains space for exhibitions, gatherings, and dining. The steel and wood structure supports a twisting, infinity-shaped roof of small ceramic tiles, which slopes down near a reflective pool at the center of the building.
Evoking the brushstroke of a traditional Chinese landscape painting and situated amongst a bamboo forest, the Mobius-style design is meant to capture the relationships between interior and exterior and heritage and innovation. “The new definition offered for traditional paradigms and the rethinking of rural and urban issues provide a lens for thinking about the meaning of architecture in the present time,” said lead architect Philip F. Yuan.
Find more photos of “In Bamboo,” in addition to an archive of Archi-Union’s projects, on its site.
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An Exhibition Unearths Rare Production Drawings from the Futuristic Neo Tokyo of the Anime Classic ‘Akira’
Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 sci-fi classic Akira has had an unparalleled influence on anime and film, and an exhibition at the Tchoban Foundation in Berlin showcases the original drawings that brought its futuristic cyberpunk setting to life. Akira – The Architecture of Neo Tokyo features 59 production backdrops, layouts, concepts, and image boards, many of which have never been shown publicly. The collection includes now-iconic works by art director Toshiharu Mizutani and collaborators Katsufumi Hariu, Norihiro Hiraki, Shinji Kimura, Satoshi Kuroda, Hiromasa Ogura, Hiroshi Ōno, Hajime Soga, Tsutomu Uchida, and Takashi Watabe.
Otomo first released the dystopian story as a manga series in 1982 before turning it into the highly influential action film a few years later. The narrative follows characters Shōtarō Kaneda, the telekinetic Tetsuo Shim, and their friends, who navigate the imagined Japanese metropolis of Neo Tokyo with its neon streetlights, crumbling infrastructure, and unrelenting post-apocalyptic vibe.
Ahead of the exhibition, curator Stefan Riekeles also released the book Anime Architecture: Imagined Worlds and Endless Megacities. The volume contains fantastic scenes from various animated classics including Ghost in the Shell and Metropolis. You can see Akira – The Architecture of Neo Tokyo through September 4, and according to It’s Nice That, the show might travel to London next.
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.