Issue 10:
Emotion
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
03.20.2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release

Restricting herself to the construction material allows the artist to honor the life and legacy of her Mexican relatives, and of her own.

Monica Curiel, “Ropa Mojada Negro y Blanco” (2022)
Monica Curiel, “Ropa Mojada Negro y Blanco” (2022). (Photo: Ian Ace Photography)


When Monica Curiel was in her senior year of college, she received the kind of critique that has been known to cause students to rethink their life choices. “I don’t think painting suits you,” a professor told Curiel, who was born in Texas to parents who had emigrated from rural Mexico, before offering even more advice: “If you’re trying to make art that is reflective of Latin American culture, or Hispanic culture, it should really be colorful.”

Narrating that episode in a video interview one recent afternoon, a couple of years removed from it, Curiel speaks with joy and a dash of wry humor. Instead of absorbing her teacher’s guidance (if that is what you would call it), she did the exact opposite, and remained committed to the practice she was honing. Yes, it is true that her creations are not colorful; they are monochromatic, in rich black or white, muted gray or brown. But it is also true that her subtle, nuanced paintings and functional objects embody her harrowing life experiences while honoring generations of family members. They have won her a throng of admiring buyers, who have made her an ascendent figure in the worlds of art and design.

A classic Curiel piece is a model of extreme concision, showing how self-imposed restraints can yield unexpectedly liberating results. “Everything I make really is very, very simple,” the artist says, speaking from her studio in the Denver apartment that she shares with her husband. She makes almost everything from essentially one material: plaster, in forms like powder, spackle, and sheets. After applying the pliable substance to a surface, she may manipulate it with a trowel, let it dry, carve it, or sand it, to create beguiling sculptural abstractions that suggest flowing waves, curtains, or lines in the sand or gravel of a Zen garden. They radiate serenity, a sensation that is amplified by their candor: They reveal precisely how they are made, serving as records of her smooth, confident movements.

Monica Curiel, “Draped in Clay Verde” (2022)
Monica Curiel, “Draped in Clay Verde” (2022). (Courtesy Monica Curiel)


Curiel, who is 29, came to her workaday material in part out of economic necessity. “It was the pandemic,” she says. “I didn’t have money.” Fancier mediums, such as oil or acrylic paint, were out of the question. But her unusual raw ingredients also have a deep personal resonance for her. Curiel grew up helping her father renovate and flip houses, learning skills and an understanding of construction materials that she now uses for her own ends. (Her mother, a homemaker who also cleaned houses, helped out with the building jobs, too.) With the knowledge and dexterity that she once used to carefully grout tiles or seamlessly plaster walls, she is now conjuring artworks with allusive textures. They feel somehow alive.

“I chose plaster to be my material of choice,” Curiel says, “because I just think it’s magical.” That is a fairly unorthodox view. Plaster has conventionally served as an expendable or secondary medium in fine art—a means of creating models that can be cast in metal or affordable replicas of classical masterpieces that are housed elsewhere. In architecture, it is supposed to blend in or, at the very most, operate as decoration. Her artistic ethos reverses ideas about what is precious and what is disposable.

Curiel takes materials that are “looked down on, where she’s actually turning them into something beautiful,” says Alma Lopez-Moses, a co-founder and creative director at Aditions, a design studio in the Bay Area of California. During Milan Design Week last year, Lopez-Moses included one of Curiel’s rough and alluring white plaster paintings and other pieces in an exhibition of multiracial, United States–based creators she co-curated that had a poignant title: “This Is America.” “Laborers are [generally] invisible,” Lopez-Moses says. “The fact that she brings that up to the forefront is really special in her work.”

“I chose plaster to be my material of choice,” Curiel says, “because I just think it’s magical.”


Success has come fast for Curiel, but only after periods of intense crisis. She is sincere and charismatic, and has that rare type of confidence—casual but firm—that can come from enduring a lot. At age 19, a year into school at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, Curiel was diagnosed with cancer. She took time off for what ended up being brutal treatment, and beat the disease. She got back into school, at the University of Kansas, but “within about a month and a half, I got cancer again,” she says. There was more treatment, severe depression, and suicide attempts, but she came out on the other side. By her 25th birthday, Curiel says, “I could confidently say I was in good mental health. I was able to accept and appreciate what had happened.” At the same time, she now sees, “I didn’t know how to be a young person.” She spent time attending various universities, studying architecture, design, and fine art, graduating in 2021 from KU.

In hindsight, her peripatetic experiences were probably fundamental to her development as an artist. Always on the move, she learned to create a place for herself that felt like home. “If my environment is controlled and calm, I feel good,” she says. She aims to have her pieces imbue the rooms in which they are placed with that same sense of stability.

Monica Curiel. (Photo: Jimena Peck)
Monica Curiel. (Photo: Jimena Peck)


Curiel’s work is “like something that you would see in a very minimalistic wabi-sabi home,” says a fellow artist and friend, Pooja Pawaskar, who is based in Ottawa. Curiel makes improvisational movements to produce her paintings, which evince an openness to chance, as well as an acceptance of fate. “She’s working with plaster, but she’s also allowing plaster to do its own thing,” Pawaskar says. Its regimented use in construction is replaced with expressive freedom, a workaday material meant to be hidden repositioned as a means of pure expression.  

The wide range of schooling that Curiel undertook has made her comfortable working across disciplines. She is restless, eager to experiment. When she and her husband moved into their Denver abode, they did not have all the furniture that she wanted, and so she set about fixing that, building everything from a mantel to a lamp. She adorns them with plaster in an array of styles, teasing out one new possibility for her material after another.

Curiel’s free-ranging spirit—in which a painting, a candleholder, and a fireplace can all hold equal aesthetic value—recalls the guiding philosophies of various 20th-century avant-gardes and artists. (Squint at some of her most playful work and you may see a bit of Franz West, who was happy making both ribald sculptures and sensible chairs.) At the same time, she sees that notion as part of a long tradition in her family. “None of my family members consider themselves artists,” she says. However, “my dad grew up in an adobe home from, like, the early 1900s, that his great-grandfather built. And I grew up going to that house every year in Mexico, and now as an adult, and as a maker, I’m like, Our family is so full of artisans. They made out of necessity. They made an adobe stove, or a bench, or a chair, because it needed to be made.”

 A plaster chair and ottoman in front of the 2022 painting “Draped in Clay Marrón,” all by Curiel
 A plaster chair and ottoman in front of the 2022 painting “Draped in Clay Marrón,” all by Curiel. (Courtesy Monica Curiel)


Seeing the expanse of Curiel’s art, you get a sense of inevitability—that these are things that she cannot help but bring into the world. “Monica is a really genuine person,” says the designer Jerri Hobdy, the founder of the design brand Meno, who gave the artist a solo show last year at one of the spaces she has in Denver. “She’s more interested in the craft [than trends]. It just happens to be the right moment for her work to be sought-after.”

The surfaces of some of Curiel’s recent paintings are especially voluminous, bearing many sheets of plaster, gingerly layered. In “Draped in Clay ​​Marrón” (2022), for instance, these folds of material appear to billow from the panel that they are climbing. They could be pieces of clothing or linens that are being picked up by the wind. For now, they are held in place, but just barely. Any moment now, they will take flight.