Rodolfo Machado at Wurster auditorium, UC Berkeley, on March 9, 2012. Photo by John Parman.

Rodolfo Machado at Wurster Hall


“Where were the students?” one of their professors asked me as we were leaving. It was a pity they missed the lecture, because Professor Machado had aimed to instruct, showing in detail how three of his projects moved from planning to completion, warts and all.


After a short visual summary of his work, Machado settled in to a more detailed look at the three projects. Of the most recent, an addition to the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he noted that the US architecture magazines had declined to give it a serious review. It’s true that he designs against the grain of parametric form making. While the first project he showed, the trapezoidal Olayan School of Business at the American University of Beirut, breaks free of the orthogonal nature of most of his work, it feels like handwork (as opposed to something computer-generated) from its earliest days as an element in his master plan for the AUB Campus.


Machado showed a watercolor detail from the plan that indicated how the sea would be visible as one walks down to the building. That detail was realized, he noted, but a planned roof garden wasn’t—the budget was cut, a big loss. This was one of his warts, mentioned to give students in the audience a sense of the real world in which even high design unfolds.


Interior view of Terracotta sunscreen at MBA floor of the new Suliman S. Olayan School of Business at the American University of Beirut. ©Fares Jammal.


Deliberately contextual, the Olayan School’s stone-and-patterned-block façade was sourced locally. He explained how the façade evolved in response to the faculty’s desire for light and views, adding in the Q&A that local traditions, some centuries old, persist “and labor is cheap.” The result is a beautifully detailed building, especially compared to the stripped down quality of the 1960s-era additions to the AUB Campus, also shown.


The second project was an arts-cultural complex in Silver Spring, Maryland, in an area that Machado described as “lacking context,” the victim of aggressive urban renewal (to the point of obliteration). Yet, planner that he is, he used the occasion to reinforce the area’s restored street grid and orient the new building to a revived pedestrian flow. This project also illustrated his interest in porosity—my word, not his, for the provision of multiple ways in and through, achieved or sometimes thwarted by security concerns. This impulse was one of the hallmarks of his plan for the UCSF Research Campus at Mission Bay, along with his innate concern for human scale and movement, attributes that were then systematically ignored by the university in application. “I haven’t been there in years,” Machado told me afterward. Good thing.


View of the Chazen Museum of Art from across University Avenue, with the original building on the left and addition on the right. ©Anton Grassl/Esto.


The third project was his addition to the Chazen Museum of Art, which Machado intended to follow with new work in Buenos Aires. The problem was to add on to an existing, SOM-designed museum that fronts a major campus promenade and view corridor. Describing the design competition, he recounted how he anticipated the iconic tendencies of his rivals by sketching and then criticizing what they were likely to put forward to the jury.


His winning design addressed the difficulties of adding on to the existing museum, which has an accentuated third floor, and the benefits of replicating that floor’s well-liked exhibition hall sequence. Disarmingly straightforward, his addition creates a new whole that enlivens the plaza it now adjoins on both sides. It saves its symmetry for the top floors, which house the exhibition rooms and the bridge between the two buildings. Viewed from the entry to the promenade, the expanded museum appears as two symmetrical wings of a single building. Viewed from within the promenade, they feel related but very different, with the addition opening out to the plaza to provide a new entrance to the museum.


In-the-promenade view of the new arts courtyard, entrance, and public lobby of the Chazen addition. ©Anton Grassl/Esto.


His appointed hour up, Machado stopped short of showing his new projects in Buenos Aires. I would have liked to see them. “Next time,” he offered. Perhaps by then the man and his work will be back in favor. It seems crazy to ignore an architecture that is as thoughtful as his. While he eschews the methods and formal moves that are now in fashion, Machado’s work clearly has a method and a formal logic. Seen head on, in elevation, a view favored by some of his photographers, it can seem abstractly compositional, almost two-dimensional, but this is a misreading. In reality, it is addressing place (in the present and future tense), human movement and engagement, and, in terms of the carefully composed façades, the micro-landscape of materiality, which he gives a dimensionality and variation reminiscent of the collages of Kurt Schwitters.



John Parman is a founding editor of


Additional photographs of the work mentioned can be found here. The Chazen is not represented on the firm’s website, but a slideshow is included in a short notice of the project that appeared in the February 2012 Architectural Record.


No Comments

> Submit

Select filter(s):


In amber morning light I boarded a vaporetto and floated down Venice’s Grand Canal. Bit of a switch from Dallas.


> Read More


The Art of Assemblage


“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”


-Richard P. Feynman


We enter a fabric womb, a cave-like space of soft stalactites that brush against us, shifting and pooling us into groups. We’ve stumbled into the world that is Give, an installation by artists Bird Feliciano and Juliana Raimondi.

> Read More


Contributor Profile: Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer


Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer are co-curators for StoreFrontLab‘s Season 2: City Making Series.

> Read More


Invisible Urbanism

Ian Quate at the opening of the summit. (Photo: John Parman)

How do you make yourself at home in a cauldron filled with demons? I’m quoting the founder of Soto Zen, but the question was also posed at a recent San Francisco summit. > Read More


Contributor Profile: Leah Nichols


Leah Nichols is a San Francisco-based urban designer and art activist. She currently works at SITELAB urban studio, implementing public realm possibilities within a range of scales, from 28-acre mixed use developments to chain-link fence installations.

Urban Symposium No. 1

The first Urban Symposium event, as a part of StoreFrontLab Season 2, kicked off with a full room of people, each with a party hat on and margarita in hand. > Read More


TraceSF launches City Makers salon

This month TraceSF introduces City Makers, a new salon series at StoreFrontLabHosted by Amanda Loper of David Baker Architects and Emily Gosack of Jensen Architects, City Makers grew out of a desire to hear more from the women at the forefront of City Making. John Parman, a founding editor of TraceSF, spoke with Amanda and Emily about the series, which opens on October 28 with  Laura Crescimano, a principal of SITELAB urban studio.

> Read More


Contributor Profile: Michael Willis

Michael Willis is a well-known Bay Area architect.


Knowledge City: Rethinking Heidelberg

Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day’s session. Photo: Michael Willis

Heidelberg, one of Europe’s oldest university towns, is looking at its future. Here’s a firsthand account of what’s ahead and what it might means for university towns here. > Read More


Carlo Scarpa In Person

“Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969,” photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.


When one turns the page of an architecture magazine and the work of Carlo Scarpa appears unexpectedly, a quiet inner thrill is felt. Since his passing in 1978, we seem increasingly moved by Scarpa’s caress of material, his strange but faultless sense of placement and proportion, the contemplative nature of his details. These appreciations are heightened by the knowledge that his output was relatively limited. > Read More


Contributor Profile: Max Levy


A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1970), Dallas architect Max Levy, FAIA, established his studio in 1984. He is best known for designs that connect people with nature in both rural and urban settings. > Read More


Planned Growth or Unplanned Strife?


Will San Francisco follow through on its carefully laid plans to accommodate a growing population, or will it continue to fight the same battles time and time again?

> Read More


Contributor Profile: Mark Hogan


Mark Hogan AIA, LEED BD+C is a licensed architect in the states of New York and California. His primary interests lie in housing, sustainable urban design and in enhancing digital design workflows. > Read More


Urban Activation Device & TXP

Spanish art & architecture collective Todo Por La Praxis is seeking collaborators and participants for their experimental research on activating the urban void. > Read More


When Cities Fall: Urban Histories and Political Memory

Destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

Our experience of the present is shaped by our understanding of the past. By ignoring the urban narratives of  monuments, structures, city parks, memorials…what messages are we missing for the present?  > Read More


Save SLO County!

Heading into Paso Robles from the west, 2013


Will San Luis Obispo (SLO) County remain predominantly agricultural, or will it sink into the same morass of rural sprawl that took out Orange County? It could go either way, but there’s still hope if we act now. > Read More


The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure is launching a public art program, The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra, the first West Coast performance project by the artist Liz Magic Laser and her collaborators, the actors Audrey Crabtree and Michael Wiener. > Read More

The Floods in Budapest

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The stone banks alongside the river contain the city. Despite them, here is the river, rising.  Silently, swiftly the waters swarm downstream; the swell of water does not much alter the river’s appearance.  You know there is more of it now only because benches, parks, and the bike road are being submerged.  It has not yet risen to the main city wall, about 20 feet higher; three more days of flooding expected.  

> Read More


Contributor Profile: Elizabeth Snowden

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Elizabeth Snowden is a Berkeley-based writer and editor. A graduate of Bard College, she has edited catalogues raisonnés on Picasso and Gris for Wittenborn Art Books in San Francisco.


Mr. Waka’s Dog House

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.


“Get out at the Sakuragaoka post office. Turn around and you’ll see a Lawson’s. Walk to it and then turn left. Walk up that street and you’ll see the Dog House on the right.” Typical Tokyo directions from the art impresario and entrepreneur Joni Waka. > Read More