Why take photographs of basketball courts but leave out the players? For photographer Bill Bamberger, basketball courts tell a compelling story by themselves. They are signs of play — and community life. The environment surrounding a court tells a lot about the community that created it.
In Hoops, a new exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Bamberger and curator Chrysanthe Broikos edited the 22,000 images of basketball courts Bamberger shot around the world over the past 15 years to just 75.
Bamberger is clearly inspired by aspects of their approach. The focus of this exhibition is entirely on one built object — the basketball court. But he also diverged from their path by highlighting the context — the environments surrounding the basketball courts.
In one photograph of a court at a charter school playground in Harlem, New York City, one can see the “color and the diversity of the place” (see image at top).
In contrast, in Phoenix, Arizona, the basketball court at a wealthy school almost blends into the landscape, its edges fading into the desert.
In a church playground in Kinihara, Rwanda, where Bamberger visited with his partner, who is an HIV/AIDS researcher, the “inventiveness” of the community is apparent — the handmade basketball posts are made of tree trunks, the backboard is made up of old wood planks, and the rim is fashioned from found metal. The space from which players shoot is demarcated by bricks embedded in the ground instead of the usual painted lines.
Basketball hoops pop up everywhere there is life — on the sides of buildings and homes and along streets. One of Bamberger’s favorite photographs is of a hoop on a grain silo in Portland, Oregon.
And one call tell from the pictures which hoops are well-used and loved and which have been abandoned. A hoop at an abandoned campsite in Tennessee, where a homeless family was living in an old bus, is a remnant left by people moving through.
Bamberger said some of the greatest hoops were found in communities facing incredible challenges. One charming court in struggling North Fork, West Virginia, shows the hope and vitality still there.
The Hoops exhibition shows you that if you see a basketball court somewhere, some unique group of people came together to built it. “Play is a necessity in community life.” Basketball courts are really community portraits.
Hoops opened just in time for the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments. The exhibition is on view through January 5, 2020.
Central Park Love Song – The New York Times, 6/28/18 “Even though Central Park, like the rest of Manhattan, is largely man-made, not natural, it is a place to experience in person, not secondhand through images, regardless of their authenticity, nor through narratives, no matter how illustrative.”
Gateway to What?– Curbed, 6/28/18 “The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Gateway Arch, a 630-foot-tall catenary curve—designed by Eero Saarinen and clad in stainless steel—stands on the west bank of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri. But really, it stands everywhere in St. Louis.”
The Manhattan Project, the secret US government program that produced the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II, left a complicated legacy in its wake. It brought the second world war to a close, but laid the groundwork for the Cold War. It was responsible for the deaths of over 125,000 Japanese citizens, the majority of whom were civilians. It ushered in the atomic age as scientists and businesses sought ways to use “atoms for peace,” leading to advances in medical imaging, the rise of nuclear energy, and even “atomic gardening.”
At a recent lecture, senior curator Martin Moeller delved into the planning, architecture, and cultural legacy of these cities — their lasting impact on the industries of the built environment. He began by pointing out that, in terms of design, there was little revolutionary about these towns. Precedents for planned communities existed in developments such as Olmsted and Vaux’s Riverside, Illinois; the Garden City Movement; and the work of Scottish biologist and city planner Sir Patrick Geddes.
What makes the cities of the Manhattan Project significant, however, was the scale of their design and speed of their construction. Moeller pointed out that, unlike earlier examples of community planning, these cities had to be entirely self-contained due to the nature of the work being carried out there.
In the case of Oak Ridge, architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) was responsible for the design of an entire city that would be home to 75,000 residents by the end of the war.
Moeller explained that SOM went from “being architects to being planners and civil engineers, and soon they were going to becoming construction engineers, interior designers, and even designers of the school curricula in the schools within Oak Ridge.”
In addition to being planned in utmost secrecy, Oak Ridge and other Manhattan Project cities had to be constructed at a breakneck pace. “During the height of the war, the contractors building these houses were turning over the keys to the government to one house every thirty minutes,” said Moeller.
The speed of construction was possible thanks to advances in prefabrication technology. Houses at Oak Ridge were constructed using Cemesto boards, a prefabricated product made of compressed cement and asbestos fibers, and were built in an assembly line fashion, a technique that developer William Levitt would later use in the construction of his Levittown developments.
Given the speed at which these cities were constructed, one of the more remarkable aspects of their design is the inclusion of green, walkable community space. “This is extraordinary,” argues Moeller. “This is an emergency situation, where people are thinking that we are in a race against time, and we’re being careful to preserve large trees and create greenbelt spaces between houses.”
This also raises provocative questions about modern day development practices. If the planners of these communities were able to take the time to preserve existing natural features and integrate green space under extraordinary circumstances, why do we find it so difficult to do the same thing today?
There were darker aspects to these cities as well. Land for the developments was seized from existing residents via eminent domain; property owners were told that the land was needed for a “demolition range.” In Oak Ridge, this primarily impacted poor subsistence farmers. In Washington, the government seized land from the Wanapum people, a Native American group that traces its identity to the region and the Columbia River that runs through it.
Race also played a part in the story of these cities. For example, segregation was designed into the plan for Oak Ridge. African American residents were forced to live in “hutments,” small, single-room structures with minimal protection from the elements. The hutments were separated from the city and further segregated by sex, dividing up families and adding further insult to the indignity of being forced to live in substandard housing.
Despite a complicated social and political legacy, for Moeller, the urban design legacy of the Manhattan Project is clear. “The real thing to come out of this, in terms of architectural and planning history, is the emergence of the modern architecture-engineering-construction firm.”
By the end of WWII, SOM had grown to 650 employees, and would eventually become “arguably the single most influential corporate architectural firm in the post war era.”
In their work on Oak Ridge, SOM took on an expanded role as “architect, engineer, planner — all these things really beyond the scope of what architects had ever done.” Because of this experience, “they were uniquely prepared coming out of WWII to design for the new world, creating corporate campuses and communities on a scale that we wouldn’t have even been conceived of before.” They paved the way for the business model that would come to define the planning and design industries in the second half of the 20th century.
What Does a Presidential Building Look Like?– Curbed, 3/22/18
“On February 27, former President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at a meeting at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the sixth public presentation on the plans for his presidential center in the city’s Jackson Park, currently under city and federal review for its impact on the historic landscape and environment.”
Young Landscape Architect Works to Shape the Future– San Diego Downtown News, 11/3/17
“Growing up in Tempe, Arizona, Magnusson was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, and had opportunities to explore several of his commercial, institutional and residential projects.”
Michael Maltzan Architecture to Expand ArtCenter College of Design– The Architect’s Newspaper, 11/3/17
“ArtCenter College of Design has unveiled renderings of a new, two-phase master plan created by Michael Maltzan Architecture that aims to reposition the college as an expansive, urban campus connected by pedestrianized open spaces, new housing, and student amenities.”
Lines Are Drawn Over Design for a National World War I Memorial – The New York Times, 11/8/17
“When it was built in 1981 as part of an architectural revival of Pennsylvania Avenue, Pershing Park was a downtown oasis of tree line and water fountain steps from the White House. In the years since, the park has fallen into disrepair and has become a haven for homeless people and pigeons.”
Cleanup Begins in NYC’s Most Polluted Waterway– Next City, 10/18/17
“Now, a long-anticipated cleanup has finally begun. Preliminary dredging began the first week of October, and the full project is anticipated to cost around $500 million, the Architect’s Newspaper reports.”
Memorializing Tragedy in an Era of Constant Mass Assaults – CityLab, 10/24/17
“July 22, 2011, still stands as the bloodiest day in Norway’s history since World War II. Twin attacks that day, first a bomb in Oslo and then, two hours later, a gun massacre on the island of Utøya, claimed 77 lives.”
Each April World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM) celebrates all aspects of landscape architecture. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) asked its members and followers to share pictures of their favorite examples of landscape architecture on social media with #WLAM2017 and a card that reads, “This Is Landscape Architecture.” The goal of the campaign is to educate the public about the profession and all it entails.
This year, approximately 1,700 people from 57 different countries posted nearly 7,000 times with #WLAM2017, reaching 2.9 million people. Each day during WLAM a different ASLA chapter took over our Instagram so we could show the breadth of the field.
For example, the Iowa Chapter decided to highlight off some of its public spaces.
This well-edited exhibition is perhaps the best of NBM’s recent triptych of landscape architecture exhibitions, which included a survey of the landscape photography of Alan Ward, FASLA, and a retrospective of Oehme van Sweden’s work. The curious flow of the exhibition enables discovery. Around each corner are Halprin’s surprising drawings and dioramas, and photographs graciously donated by some of the country’s leading architectural photographers.
The exhibition moves through 35 sites chronologically, from his early residential work through to his first forays into the public realm, from the hallmarks of his Modernist designs to his post-Modern work in the late 70s and early 80s, and, finally, his capstone projects before his death in 2009.
Some themes emerge. Throughout his career, Halprin enjoyed partnering with artists. He purposefully created room for art works, knowing they add rich, pleasing layers. Gould Garden in Berkeley, California, created from the late 50s to 1960, shows one of his early partnerships with artist Jacques Overhoff, who molded bas-relief panels in concrete around Halprin’s pool.
Halprin believed in cities. When many people abandoned the urban cores after the race riots, Halprin saw opportunities for regrowth. His Portland open space sequence, with its three-part necklace of Modernist parks, was created from 1965-70 and demonstrated his early commitment. Moeller argued “it changed perceptions of downtown Portland.” And New York Times architecture critic Ada Louis Huxtable, who was not generous with the compliments, called the sequence “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance.” (The sequence is now on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is in need of major repair. A $4.5 million rehabilitation effort begins next year).
Halprin was all about “animating the landscape through choreography,” particularly the movement of water. The first thing you see when you enter the exhibition is a 10-foot-tall watercolor drawing of water moving around rocks. But if you look closely, you will see Halprin drew arrows to indicate the currents’ directions; he was mapping the choreography of a shore eddy.
Moeller thinks Halprin was deeply influenced by his wife Anna, who was a dancer. “He adapted her ideas by ‘scoring’ for human activity.” In his UN Plaza in San Francisco, he applied a design approach he called “motation,” which is described in the exhibition as “scoring how perception of the environment changes depending on the speed and motion of the observer.”
The exhibition, of course, includes beautiful photographs of his masterpieces: the Frankin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is a culmination of his life-long collaboration with artists; Freeway Park in Seattle, which creates a sense of movement through water and sculpted concrete and initiated a new landscape type — the park over a highway; and Sea Ranch in California, which showed how ecological community design should be done.
Sea Ranch in particular is made fresh by new photographs that show how Halprin ingeniously used berms reminiscent of military forts to both hide buildings and pools and create wind blocks. As Birnbaum explained, “Halprin was one of the first to think of landscape as infrastructure.”
Many of Halprin’s landscapes are under threat of demolition or a slow death from a lack of maintenance. Birnbaum hopes this exhibition will help “raise awareness of their value.” It’s a bit ironic given Halprin’s influence can be found in so many contemporary projects. Birnbaum even sees his impact on the High Line in New York City, where James Corner choreographed a continual dance between observer and observed.