All image courtesy of Michael Ryan Charters and Ranjit John Korah
In a Los Angeles Times article last December, “The future is in the past: Architecture trends in 2014,” acting critic Christopher Hawthorne sought to make sense of a year that included Koolhaas’s Venice Biennale, Smiljan Radic’s Serpentine Pavilion, and periodicals like Log 31: New Ancients and San Rocco 8: What’s Wrong with the Primitive Hut? Through these examples and others, Hawthorne concluded that it was a year of overdue self-reflection, where in order to determine architecture’s future it was necessary to mine the past.
Building on these precedents, Hawthorne predicted that after years of baroque parametricism, in 2015 architects would use last year’s meditations on history as a practical foundation for new projects and proposals. An example of this can be found in the work of Michael Ryan Charters and Ranjit John Korah, a duo who recently shared the top-five prize for the CAF led ChiDesign Competition (part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial) for their project Unveiled. In a brief that called for “a new center for architecture, design and education,” and with lauded jurors including Stanley Tigerman, David Adjaye, Ned Cramer, Monica Ponce de Leon, and Billie Tsien, Charters and Korah proposed what could casually be summarized as a terracotta framework over a multi-story crystalline form of wooden vaults, but is actually something much more complex.
Spanning the history of twentieth century skyscrapers (those of Chicago in particular), Charters and Korah linked the formalism of mid century modern towers with the delicate materiality of the terracotta that clads the city’s earliest tall buildings. However, merging dichotomous conventions quickly leads to subversion. What emerges is a skyscraper-sized version of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s “veil and vault” concept, utilized at the Broad Museum, except here we have a terracotta and modern shell that conceals an “aggregate” of honey-colored wooden vaults.
During the day the building blends into its storied surroundings in the Chicago Loop, but lit up at night the exterior melts away and we are left with only the pierced geometry of the vaults. While the geode-like wooden form has unprecedented beauty, the contrast which makes sense for DS+R in Los Angeles seems less convincing for Charters and Korah in Chicago. The Broad’s “veil” was a necessity disguised in complexity, in order for the galleries to receive natural light, but none falls directly on the artworks. Material choices here do not have the same urgency. Charters and Korah summarized their decisions in the following way: "Unveiled proposes a new type of building for Chicago’s storied skyline; it celebrates novel building technologies that allow for inventive architectural opportunities, defining a place that serves not only the designers and students who use it each day, but the public as well by opening up generously to the city."