Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis, Madelon Vriesendorp, Zoe Zenghelis. Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture: Training the New Arrivals (Axonometric projection). 1972. Cut-and-pasted photolithographs and gelatin photograph on paper, 10 5/8 × 14 1/2" (27 × 36.8 cm). Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Takeo Ohbayashi Purchase Fund, and Susan de Menil Purchase Fund. © 2020 Rem Koolhaas

20 Ways of Reading through a Crisis

Thought-provoking articles and books explore design in the time of COVID-19.
May 13, 2020

MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design has assembled a trove of essential reading on how the current global crisis affects all aspects of our daily lives—from the clothes we wear to the cities we live in to the offices we may never return to—and how we might begin to design our future. Culled from newspapers and journals and bookshelves, and featuring short essays published just yesterday as well as a favorite poetry volume that has taken on new meaning today, we hope this selection will help you discover new ways of thinking through our current moment and the challenges it raises for configuring public and private life.

Articles

  1. At a moment of collective hand-wringing about regimes of cleanliness and hygiene, this article offers a timely architectural history of collective bathing as a progressive social project.

  2. An examination of how collectivism might shape a more resilient and equitable post-pandemic world, David Bollier’s piece brings to mind Stefan Gruber’s 2018 exhibition and accompanying ARCH+ issue, An Atlas of Commoning.

  3. Understanding the highly designed networks that connect global supply chains is fundamental to understanding the underlying economic consequences of this crisis.

  4. Two thinkers, Arundhati Roy and Achille Mbembe, reconsider how and why we “live with others,” in order to face the inequities of our shared histories and examine how to hold fast against the “brutality” of geopolitics, globalization, and extraction.

  5. Cities are not to blame: “Humanity will not and should not abandon our cities because of coronavirus. Rather, we should view this horrible pandemic as a spur to improve upon, to make universal, and to include nature in humanity’s amazing invention of the Sanitary City.”

  6. The current lockdown might be a chance to fix our cities.

  7. In a moment of social distancing, the need for greater access to open space is of the utmost concern. What might it look like if the vast tracts of land dedicated to car traffic were given back to pedestrians, who now must navigate urban corridors at a six-foot distance?

  8. Is the open-plan office dead? Can skyscrapers survive? Will our phones control everything from the lights to ordering coffee? Architecture critic Oliver Wainwright speaks to architects pondering the architectural consequences of COVID-19.

  9. Consider these 10 ways COVID-19 could change office design.

  10. What role does design play in a public health crisis?

  11. Design historian Alice Rawthorn’s Instagram series considers Design in a Crisis and Design in a Pandemic.

  12. Andrés Jaque, an architect whose work is represented in MoMA’s collection, and critic Ivan Munuera recently premiered an animated visual study exploring the vast universe of design elements deployed around the world in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

  13. Should masks be a fashion statement?

  14. Justin Davidson examines the resilience of New York, and how the city has adapted to, been shaped by, and been physically transformed by past epidemics and catastrophes.

  15. Read a simple appreciation for the divine work of Olmstead and Vaux, creators of New York City’s “lungs”—Central and Prospect parks. These parks prove their immense value and utility at times of crisis like this.

  16. How could museums eventually tell the COVID-19 story?

  17. In a series of five sweeping narrative surveys, educators discuss the impact of remote learning on architecture and design pedagogy.

Superstudio, Gian Piero Frassinelli, Alessandro Magris, Roberto Magris, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, Adolfo Natalini. The Continuous Monument: On the Rocky Coast, project (Perspective). 1969

Superstudio, Gian Piero Frassinelli, Alessandro Magris, Roberto Magris, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, Adolfo Natalini. The Continuous Monument: On the Rocky Coast, project (Perspective). 1969

Books

X-Ray Architecture, by Beatriz Colomina (2019)

Is a building a living body? Was modern architecture intended as a cure for the psychopathologies of the 20th century? In X-Ray Architecture, Beatriz Colomina, who teaches architectural history and theory at Princeton University, explores the intersection of medical discourse, imaging technologies, and modern architecture. A highly illuminating and enjoyable read, the book gives historical depth to our current crisis.

The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6000 Miles in the City, by William B. Helmreich (2013)

William Helmreich explores all 121,000 blocks in New York City on foot. The author, who taught sociology at the City College of New York, parses his peregrinations with his disciplinary tool book and discusses major issues such as gentrification, immigration, and ethnicity. In a moment where we find ourselves confined to our apartments, Helmreich’s ambitious account allows us to roam the streets of the City in our imagination. Helmreich died in March, of the coronavirus.

Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design

About the House, by W. H. Auden (1965/66)

In the current lockdown I am reminded of how our sense of home is grounded in physical, multi-sensory, and spatial experiences that act as powerful triggers of memory and identity. I have taken pleasure in revisiting this cycle of poems by W. H. Auden to look more closely at some of the domestic objects and spaces we take for granted. Haunted by a sense of his own mortality and Cold War anxiety, and writing as an émigré “transplant from overseas” (having relocated from Britain to the US during World War II), he starts with a prologue on “The Birth of Architecture” and “Thanksgiving for a Habitat.” In the poems that follow, he moves from intimate spaces such as the toilet (“Revelation came to / Luther in a privy / [Crosswords have been solved there] / Rodin was no fool / When he cast his Thinker, / Cogitating deeply, / Crouched in the position / Of a man at stool. / All the arts derive from / This ur-act of making”), to rooms that engage more of our social selves, such as the living room (“the catholic area you / [Thou, rather] and I may enter / without knocking, leave without a bow, confronts / each visitor with a style, / a secular faith: he compares its dogmas / with his, and decides whether / he would like to see more of us.”)

Juliet Kinchin, Curator

Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis, Madelon Vriesendorp, Zoe Zenghelis. Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture: The Baths. 1972

Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis, Madelon Vriesendorp, Zoe Zenghelis. Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture: The Baths. 1972

Madelon Vriesendorp. Animation background from Flagrant Délit (In the Act). c. 1979

Madelon Vriesendorp. Animation background from Flagrant Délit (In the Act). c. 1979