YBCA Celebrates Architects and Designers Building the Bay Area's Future
By Shoshi Parks
September 4, 2018
Photos courtesy Chris Brown/YBCA
In time for its 25th anniversary, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is expanding its popular triennial exhibition, Bay Area Now—a showcase of the region's most innovative artists—to include notable architects and designers whose visions take aim at solving some of our most pressing urban dilemmas.
Joining the curation of painters, photographers, sculptors, and mixed media artists are four local firms that are thinking beyond buildings, parks, and homes to consider "how ideas surrounding civic engagement, personal identity, solutions for climate change, or waste allocation can manifest themselves within the work, and propel the practice forward," says YBCA's Martin Strickland, who curated this portion of the exhibition. Two of those four firms are led by faculty from the College of Environmental Design: Associate Professor of Architecture Nicholas de Monchaux, co-principal of Modem; and Assistant Professor of Architecture Neyran Turan, co-principal of Nemestudio.
Helmed by partners de Monchaux and Kathryn Moll, Modem is a young practice that works on both ends of the scale of traditional architecture.
On the one hand, says de Monchaux, "we do a lot of collaborations with artists." On the other, he continues, "we do a lot of work on themes of resilience and designing for climate change; community-focused work at the very large urban scale."
These are common themes in the individual work of both architects. "We think about everything from the scale of ecology to the scale of software," says de Monchaux. "That's something very particular to the Bay Area."
Launched in Oakland in 2017, Modem's projects are diverse: For Mills College Art Museum's Archaeology in Reverse (Sept. 8 through Dec. 9), the pair created sculptural installations to highlight the architectural space of the galleries; for the Resilient by Design Challenge, they developed "iconic and implementable solutions to climate change and sea level rise."
For Bay Area Now, Modem has produced a 22-by-8-foot map of the Bay Area that is composed of typewritten text; changing degrees of density in the words relate to various geological and climate hazards. The lines themselves have been culled from Craigslist-type internet posts—people seeking rides, or missed connections—that give a little glimpse of Bay Area life at the micro level.
"We bring a lot of humor to the work that we do," says Moll. "In this case, even though we are fundamentally doing a drawing and mapping project, we are having a laugh at the same time."
There's a two-fold character to Nemestudio's work. It's a kind of a "pendulum," between mundane everyday practices and architectural details and larger questions of the environment and urbanism, explains Turan.She and Mete Sonmez, her partner in work and life, came up together as architecture undergraduates in Istanbul, Turkey, and later studied at Harvard Graduate School of Design.
After they completed their degrees, the pair moved to Houston and launched Nemestudio, making a name for themselves there in design competitions and through commissions like the 2014 LV House, a low-income housing initiative in which they improved upon the classic "shotgun" home.
Since 2016, Nemestudio has called the Bay Area home, and their work continues to make waves here and abroad for its juxtaposition of major environmental issues with architectural materiality.
In a recent installation at the Galata Greek School in Istanbul, called "Nine Islands," they addressed consumption of building materials—in Turan's view, many people tend not to think about where those materials come from or what their lifespan may be before they ultimately end up as waste—your marble countertop, from a quarry in Italy, may last just 20 years, as an example.
For Bay Area Now 8, Nemestudio is again tackling the issue of waste in a massive, triptych-like drawing representing a 19th century salon in their installation Our Junk, Their Ruin. In the piece, buildings and forms are made from e-waste and plastic garbage from the ocean. "The project really talks about a time in the future when waste is more abundant than resources; and an imaginary setting for architects where inspiration would come from waste," says Turan. "It's almost tragic and humorous. When you see the project, it's pleasing and nice, but slowly it gets you."