New architecture's impact on the urban realm, from Los Angeles to Glasgow to Rio

In the pages of RECORD, we like to explore a work of architecture not only for the strength of its design but for the impact on its surroundings. In this issue, we look at several new cultural projects that are having a profound effect on urban sites. Steven Holl's controversial addition to the Glasgow School of Art, opposite Charles Rennie Mackintosh's early 20th-century masterpiece, brings a sense of lightness—with its luminous translucent glass skin—to that gritty Scottish city, where it rains more than half the year. In Mexico City, David Chipperfield designed the Jumex Museum to stand up to its bigger and noisier neighbors, especially the shiny, curvaceous Soumaya Museum, which towers over it. Chipperfield's building shows its teeth—with a jagged roofline and the powerful solidity of its travertine cladding—as well as its generosity, with an expansive opening to a new civic plaza that is part of the scheme. In the heart of Los Angeles, Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis have created the architectural equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster for Emerson College, with a mélange of vibrant forms embraced by an enormous frame, which brings a jolt of new life to an anonymous stretch of Sunset Boulevard.

Cathleen McGuigan, Editor in Chief
Photo © Michael Arnaud

Speaking of Hollywood, one of my all-time favorite movies is Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 romantic thriller, Notorious. In the film, Ingrid Bergman agrees to infiltrate a cabal of Nazis in Brazil; and as she and U.S. intelligence agent Cary Grant fly to Rio de Janeiro, they (and the audience) see the city's dramatic beauty from the air. It was from that aerial view that Le Corbusier, who loved planes, said he sketched his snaking urban plan for Rio (never realized) in 1929. Of course, down on the ground, the city (and “its violent and sublime landscape,” as Le Corbusier called it) was—and is—very different.

Next month, with the World Cup matches playing in Rio and 11 other Brazilian cities, millions of eyes around the globe will be fixed on South America's largest country. While the economic boom of a few years back—along with the Cup and Rio's winning bid for the 2016 Olympics—launched a frenzy of plans for infrastructure and new architecture, the recent slowdown in growth is just one reason why Brazil presents as many challenges as opportunities for both local and foreign architects. Unfinished transit and other architectural projects, poor construction quality, and the protests of citizens from the burgeoning middle class and those living in favelas, exemplify some of the problems the country is facing. RECORD'S special report, “Spotlight on Brazil”, outlines both the successes and difficulties for architects who are working there.

One of Brazil's most famous Modern architects of her day was Lina Bo Bardi. While she was overshadowed internationally by Oscar Niemeyer, her tough aesthetic, softened by her explorations of Brazil's varied cultures and craftsmanship, is earning fresh appreciation through two new books and an exhibition devoted to her work (page 90).

Similarly, an American woman architect of an earlier era, Julia Morgan (1872–1957), is finally getting her due. Late last year, Morgan was selected as the 2014 AIA Gold Medalist, one of only 12 winners in the medal's 107-year history to be honored posthumously. Her achievements were stupendous, beginning with the fact that she was the first woman—from any country—to earn a degree from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, in 1902. Though she is by far best known for designing William Randolph Hearst's castle at San Simeon in California, she left behind a huge body of work—more than 700 completed projects, about 200 more than Frank Lloyd Wright.

RECORD is pleased to feature Morgan, along with the work of two other recent Gold Medalists, Holl and Mayne, in this issue.