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02.01.2006
Eavesdrop: Aric Chen

STILL MORE MAD-NESS

Whose side is the Municipal Art Society on? We hear that the lofty civic group, which lists preservation among its missions, is faced with skyrocketing rent at its present Villard Houses location and is now on the market to buy. But where did it set its sights? Across the street from MoMA, the current home of MAD, otherwise known as the Museum of Arts and Design. That institution, of course, is set to move into Two Columbus Circle, having won its ugly battle against preservationists to dramatically alter the building’s 1964 facade. And opponents of that plan are again crying foul, asking why the Municipal Art Society would try to benefit from MAD’s victory by snatching up its soon-to-be-vacated space. For its part, the group’s president, Kent Barwick, insists that it did its best on Two Columbus Circle’s behalf (though others disagree) and that, besides, their advocacy has nothing to do with their real estate transactions. Nevertheless, if they were trying to sleep with the enemy, it seems they got kicked out of bed. An insider tells us that, last month, Barwick and company thought they might seal a deal when they offered around $14.5 million for the MAD property. But it seems a higher bidder swooped in, prompting them to bail out when “it became clear that the museum was not honoring its agreement with us,” explained an internal e-mail that, according to our source, was addressed to Barwick’s board. So did MAD renege on a gentleman’s agreement? It had no comment, and neither did Barwick. And who was the winning bidder? A nonprofit, we’re told, called the China Institute.

ON THE HOT SEAT 
Stop slouching and take notice: a war is raging in the ergonomic chair industry. Last month, Humanscale filed suit seeking damages against Knoll, alleging that the latter’s Life Chair infringes on its patent for the counterbalance reclining mechanism (in other words, the hands-free adjustment) of its Niels Diffrient—designed Freedom and Liberty chairs. There’s a lot at stake; the Life Chair, for one, is mainly credited with Knoll’s 26.5% increase in seating sales in 2004 (the last year for which figures are available), when overall sales inched up by only 1.3%. And so Knoll responded by filing an action that challenges Humanscale’s claim and tries to invalidate its patent, saying in a statement that “it is regrettable that [Humanscale has] resorted to pursuing our chair in the courts rather than in the marketplace.” And so the, uh, posturing continues…

SUMPTUARY SCOFFLAW
Usually at architecture events, everyone checks their personality at the door. (Well, assuming they have one.) But last month, when Tucker Viemeister showed up at the Architectural League’s 125th anniversary dinner at the University Club, it was his shoes he had to leave behind. It seems the scruffy brand-meister was unusually well-attired for the black tie affair in a full tux getup—except, that is, for his red Converse sneakers. “Actually, they were a customized pair in velour,” Viemeister brags, “that my kids got me for Christmas.” Nonetheless, the Club’s maitre d’ remained unimpressed and sent Viemeister home, where he dumped the ruby slippers for something more acceptable and then made his way back to Kansas

Aric Chen