Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

All Knit Up in Sweater Instagram

Babaà cardigan. Photograph by Thomas Slack.

The first sweater that I fell in love with on Instagram was worn by a member of the tribe that I refer to as “organic moms.” Their food is organic, their clothes are organic, their toys are wooden, their children are homeschooled or Waldorf or world travellers. The sweater was a sort of marled gray, as though the wool had quite recently been removed from an unwashed sheep, and it made the wearer’s torso look like an egg. It went over dresses, and over pants, and over other sweaters, because its relationship to the body was notional. It was a sweater that could stand up on its own.

I began to see the sweater on other organic moms on Instagram, and finally I clicked on the tag: #Babaa, a Spanish company founded by Marta Bahillo, in 2012. It was their cardigan woman no19 mist (their punctuation) that I wanted, and it could be mine for two hundred and thirty euros. This seemed like a lot of money for a sweater, so I did not buy it that year.

The next winter, the organic moms got out their Babaà sweaters again and they thanked Babaà on Instagram and they still looked great. Some of them even had miniature versions for their children. It seemed like the most useful piece of clothing in the world. It seemed warm. It seemed unbothered by the winds of fashion. Every sweater that I had purchased in the previous few years had pilled or gotten a hole or turned out not to be a hundred per cent wool, even though the word “wool” was in the name of the sweater, and hence droopy or thin or just not warm. (What is the point of a not-warm sweater?) I had nostalgia for the Shetland-wool sweaters that used to be available in abundance at the Gap in the nineteen-eighties in soft jewel-tone piles. Why had I ever given mine away?

Continues: New Yorker

Why U.S. cities should stop whining and embrace winter

Warming huts, 2017. Courtesy of The Forks.

Architect Peter Hargraves would like to level with you: We are not getting rid of winter.

“I personally love winter; when the Quebec carnival happens, it can be negative 30 and they don’t even seem to think about the cold,” he says. “Back in Winnipeg, everyone is bitching about winter. I thought, ‘There are 800,000 people here. Winter isn’t going away. Why don’t we do something to engage the place we are at?’”

In 2009, Hargraves and his firm Sputnik Architecture proposed a design competition for warming huts on the frozen Red and Assiniboine rivers. Every year since, a range of architects and students have answered the call, using a variety of materials from wood to snow and ice; this year’s winners will be unveiled on Friday, January 25. The new huts will join 25 of their predecessors on the ice, creating a miles-long skate trail that gives people a destination for exercise, sociability, and aesthetic contemplation.

To get people energized to leave those houses in the first place, you need something more than a hut-shaped hut: You need an ice palace, you need a cave, you need the spirit of carnival. You need to make art of winter.

Continues: Curbed

The Tetrahedron and the Prism

Clever House (1962) by Louis Kahn and Anne Tyng. Photo by Chris Mottalini.

For Issue 04 of August Journal, I had the opportunity to write about two houses by Louis Kahn, one designed at the beginning of his career and one at the end, one in New Jersey and one just over the border in Pennsylvania. It was delightful to interview their current loving owners. The whole issue is devoted to architecture in New Jersey, and includes work by Thomas Edison, Michael Graves and Eero Saarinen, much of it photographed by Chris Mottalini.

August is a beautiful print publication, edited by my friend Dung Ngo, so the article is not online. Here’s how it begins:

Louis Kahn’s career was relatively short, his mature architectural output sandwiched between 1953 and his death in 1974. But at either end, a masterpiece.

Among the first buildings he completed that we recognize as KAHN was the Trenton Bathhouse, finished in 1957. Four pyramidal roofs touch down atop four solid concrete-block pavilions, one to enter the complex, two for his and hers changing rooms, one to exit to the pool. The open square between the roofs becomes the center not by architecture but default: a community space marked by a square of daylight. The dark roofs serve as beacons in profile, calling visitors in flip flops and bathing suits across the field, while the true entrance is a modest break in the wall, marked by one of Kahn’s abstract murals.

More recent scholarship has revealed we have architect Anne Tyng to thank for those roofs, as well as the play of shelter and light. Tyng, who was one of the first women admitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, worked with Kahn from 1945 to 1964. Inside and outside his office, her research and her designs focused on elemental geometry and, often, the space-frame. It was she who brought the triangle to Kahn, topping his earth-planted columns, cylinders and squares with pyramids and tetrahedrons that direct the eye up to the sky. When the Clevers thought of adding another room to their Kahn-designed house in 1972, they went straight to Tyng.

Continues: August Journal

2018 in architecture: The good, the bad, and the urbanism

Illustration by Alyssa Nassner.

The world may be careening toward environmental calamity and our democracy may be in jeopardy, but fear not, your brave correspondents Mark Lamster and Alexandra Lange are here again, bringing you their annual architecture and design awards for the—yes!—ninth year in a row.

It has been a memorable year for them both, as they are each authors of new and critically acclaimed books, his a biography of that irascible wit (and sometime fascist) Philip Johnson, hers an exploration of how the design of toys, schools, and playgrounds shapes our kids and ourselves. The best holiday gift you could give them is a visit to your local indie bookseller to purchase one or both of these fine titles. And now on to who’s been naughty and nice…

2 LAZY 2 START FROM SCRATCH AWARD
BIG’s Oakland stadium proposal features the apartments and waterfront park from their Manhattan projects, snow-dusted pines from the Rockies, and a gondola worthy of a Disney theme park. There’s got 2B a baseball diamond in there somewhere.

THANK GOD IT’S OVER AWARD
Our long national nightmare of media speculation and mayoral grovelling ends with HQ2 split between New York and Washington.

NO AWARD BECAUSE HE’D CONSIDER IT CLUTTER AWARD
Dieter Rams, whose message of “Less, but better” has never seemed more timely.

Continues: Curbed

Critical Eye: A year in review

Illustration by Franziska Barczyk.

As 2018 winds itself to a close (just us, or has it seemed so long?), we’re throwing it back to some of Curbed’s most compelling stories of the year. Here, we’ve got eight powerful additions to Alexandra Lange’s Critical Eye column. One prevalent theme in Lange’s work from this year is that an architecture critic’s job isn’t just about single-building reviews. (Though, if that’s your bag, don’t miss her take on the new Menil in Houston.) We’ve got teen space! We’ve got post-#MeToo architect profiles! We’ve got Black Mirror! We’ve got 1960s-era tram cars in a 630-foot-tall stainless steel arch!

The end of the architect profile, April 19, 2018
In which our critic takes a stand against perpetuating the solo artist myth in architecture writing. Excerpt: “Something, anything, to keep your reader from the truth: that your subject is an abstraction-spouting workaholic with a huge team of people who have drawn, rendered, detailed, supervised, constructed the work in question. The profile lives to serve the simplest possible narrative of architecture: one man, glorious inspiration, a building.”

Why Postmodernism is the palate cleanser we need, February 1, 2018
Our love-to-hate-it relationship with postmodernist architecture may be more important to design progress than we think, and 40 years on, it’s at a preservation inflection point. Excerpt: “Boring architecture is not the endpoint but the banal before the storm.”

Continues: Curbed

Madame Critic: Alexandra Lange on Building a Foundation and Developing Her Voice

“I try only to write about places that I’ve actually experienced … thinking about my own body moving through it as a small and vulnerable person in the city. How it feels, how it works for the regular person, what kind of barriers there are, and just being hyper aware of how design is shaping the experience at a lot of different scales. That’s another kind of training – you train your eye in school, and then your body living in the city and experiencing a lot of different places.”

Read my whole interview with Julia Gamolina for Madame Architect here.