Search results for "Aaron Betsky"

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He Said She Said

Is the School of Architecture at Taliesin staying open or not?
When the news broke on March 5 that the board of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) had voted to keep the school open, it seemed like the 88-year-old institution was getting a reprieve. However, now that the March 10 deadline SoAT had offered the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to come to the table and negotiate has come and gone, the only path forward could be arbitration. The school and the foundation split in 2017 under Higher Learning Commission regulations and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to govern the relationship between the two. The current MOU also acts as the school’s de facto lease and is set to expire on July 31, 2020, unless extended. However, in a March 14 memo, the foundation announced that in a final decision, it would let the memorandum expire and provided a list of requirements the school would have to meet as it vacated both Taliesin locations. “The Foundation,” the memo reads, “will return to its own efforts to develop new programs in architect education that advance this legacy, [Wright’s] pedagogical ideas, and the integrity of Taliesin and Taliesin West as architectural campuses.” Whether these new efforts take the form of unaccredited programs, as previously suggested by Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the foundation, or another accredited program, remains to be seen. While the foundation claims that the school acted without its knowledge on its vote to stay open and the foundation’s staff only found out about the school’s decision through media reports, SoAT’s leadership says otherwise. In a March 9 call, Aaron Betsky, the former president of SoAT, and Dan Schweiker, the chairperson of the school’s board of governors, rebutted that assertion, saying the foundation had two representatives on the school’s board and would have been informed of any and all moves the school was going to take. According to both Schweiker and Betsky (who were joined by a representative from Chicago-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis, which is representing the school pro bono), they had secured pledges of support to continue the next semester with six students as well as a line of credit. Additionally, thanks to the outpouring of support the school had received after the news broke, alumni and fellows had pledged additional funds to keep SoAT running. However, the foundation never responded. March 10 passed, and now the only way forward will be, according to the MOU, through a mediator. The school claims that all it wanted was to renew the memorandum for another two years as a runway to adapt and change the school for the times and reevaluate its options, but the foundation refused. Yesterday, in an editorial for Dezeen, Betsky laid out his version of events:
“The school was given two choices: close immediately, or give up its accreditation and continue for one more year while developing programmes with the foundation. However, the school would have to continue paying the foundation's fees while not being able to recruit students, retain those who sought an accredited degree or raise funds. This would have been financially impossible, so the school was forced to take the first option and announce its closure.”
Betsky explained that the foundation ordered the school to close and that SoAT had changed its mind after seeing the outpouring of support from the architectural community and former students. If the foundation and SoAT fail to come to an agreement through mediation, the next step may be arbitration. AN will follow this developing story and update this article accordingly.
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You Betsky

Aaron Betsky appointed director of School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech
Aaron Betsky, the curator and critic who is leaving his position as president of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) when the spring semester concludes in May, has been appointed as the director of the School of Architecture + Design within Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies. He begins on June 20. Betsky’s predecessor, Hunter Pittman, will transition into the role of associate professor within the school, which is one of four that comprise the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies alongside the School of Visual Arts, the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, and the School of International and Public Affairs. “Aaron is a proven leader with demonstrated dedication to cross-disciplinary exploration, academic excellence, and educational innovation,” said Richard Blythe, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, in a statement released by Virginia Tech. “His international standing and connections in architecture and design are considerable and will undoubtedly help the college expand its global reach, activities, and influence.” Betsky was tapped by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in January 2015 to serve as dean at SoAT, and successfully lead the school, formerly known as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, through a turbulent period of pedagogical and financial uncertainty. From 2017 onwards, he served as president of SoAT which, for now, will remain open following a recent reversal of the board’s January 25 vote to permanently shutter it. Before taking on leadership roles at SoAT, Betsky served at the long-running director of the Cincinnati Art Museum (2006-2014), director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam (2001-2006), and curator of architecture, design, and digital projects at the San Francisco Museum of Art (1995-2001). In 2008, he served as artistic director of the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale. Betsky, also a prolific lecturer and author who has never shied from sometimes-controversial opinion, has also held teaching positions at the University of Cincinnati, the Taubman School of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan, Southern California Institute of Architecture, and others. His books include Queer Space (1997), Architecture Must Burn (2000), Landscrapers: Building with the Land (2002), and Architecture Matters (2017) alongside a number of monographs on architects including Zaha Hadid, MVRDV, and I.M. Pei. A regular contributor to Dezeen and a blogger for Architect Magazine, Betsky has also written on art and architecture for a wide range of publications including Architectural Record, Architectural Digest, ArtForumAN, and the New York Times. “I’m very excited about the opportunities offered by Virginia Tech,” said Betsky in a statement. “The School of Architecture + Design in particular has a stellar history of experimentation and leveraging its position within a land-grant institution to serve its many communities—particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but also beyond. I look forward to furthering the school’s commitment to using technology as a tool to build better cities and steward the landscapes we inhabit in ways that are not only beautiful, but also deeply sustainable for our planet into the future.”
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What Would Be Lost?

Opinion: To close The School of Architecture at Taliesin is to kill the experimental legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright
The following letter to the editor comes courtesy of Cruz García and Nathalie Frankowski. García and Frankowski are former Visiting Teaching Fellows at The School of Architecture at Taliesin, codirectors of WAI Architecture Think Tank, and current Ann Kalla Professors at the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. This is the fourth in a series AN from former students, lecturers, and those in Taliesin’s orbit. Last week we got some horrible news. The School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) would close by the summer of 2020. Our former home would officially become a museum, our former students would be left without their beloved school, the opportunity to educate future architects would disappear, and the unique offerings of an almost century-old institution would melt into air. Why, at the moment when the school seemed so vivid, the student work so exciting, and the educational programs so transcendental are we facing this fate? We paid close attention to the official announcements made by The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, former students, faculty, followers, but among the many questions, letters, complaints, and affirmations published by many parties since the fateful announcement, one thing remains unclear: what would be lost if the school closes? The following are five points about what will be lost with the closure The School of Architecture at Taliesin: 1: Without Accreditation in the United States, you can’t have an Architecture School Losing accreditation means losing all legitimacy in the formal education of architects under the current certification and licensing system. Contrary to the claims of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the legacy of the institution they claim to protect cannot be safeguarded with K-12 education and sporadic arts and craft workshops, that although necessary programs of outreach, won’t satisfy the required steps for the education of future architects. In his will signed on April 25, 1958, Frank Lloyd Wright stated the direct relationship between the Foundation and the education of Architects: ‘Since their inception the Foundation and the Fellowship have operated as the equivalent of a college in the preparation of American architects in which capacity they have rendered full service the past twenty-five years.’ Denying the students of the opportunity to at least obtain a diploma of equal value to a University rests legitimacy to a program devised to train future architects with critical thinking, technical and material skills. If the School follows the demand of the Foundation and loses its accreditation, it will lose all forms of professional, academic, and intellectual legitimacy. Without an architecture school, the Foundation can offer educational programs but cannot formally ‘prepare architects’, thus opposing the very reason the foundation was assembled by Frank Lloyd Wright. 2: Taliesin is one of the smallest schools with the most organic offerings. Lead by president Aaron Betsky, Dean Chris Lasch, a dynamic Faculty, and an enthusiastic group of students, Taliesin boasts with an incredible array of projects, initiatives, publications, and events that have brought it back to the center stage of contemporary architectural relevance. The spatial limitations of the premises (operating between Historical landmarks), and the necessity to oscillate mid-year between the Taliesin Campus in Spring Green, Wisconsin (too cold in the winter), and the Taliesin West Campus in Scottsdale, Arizona (too hot in the summer), create a series of unique opportunities for the students and faculty to migrate and in the journey experience some of the most stunning landscapes in North America. In the two campuses students and resident faculty assist with the maintenance of the fields, the kitchen, and events like lectures, and dinners, thus creating a self-sustaining community where architectural thinking and discourse are at the center stage every day of the week. Sharing living spaces with Taliesin fellows like Jane Houston (Minerva Montooth) who was Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s personal assistant, Indira Berndtson, whose mother Cornelia Brierly worked on the plan for Broadacre City, or painter and musician Effie Cassey, guarantees that the legacy of Taliesin is shared among generations living, breathing, thinking, and making architecture in these spaces. What can be more organic than learning like this? As quoted from the recent manifesto published by former faculty and students: “Organic are the ways the students, faculty, staff, former fellows, and the community at Taliesin learn from the landscapes of the rolling hills and prairies in Wisconsin, and the wild, blossoming desert in Arizona. Organic are the histories that are shared and the life that is lived in Taliesin. Organic are the experiments that the students execute living with and in nature, in their buildings that find new ways to relate to their material, historical, and architectural contexts. Organic are the future architectures to be devised by those who have lived and been educated at Taliesin.” 3: The learning intensity is unmatched Imagine being one of twenty students and spending several days a semester listening to lectures and exchanging ideas in the dining room with Tatiana Bilbao, David Adjaye, Wolff D. Prix, Hernan Diaz Alonso, Erin Besler, Lise Ann Couture, Michiel Riedjik, and Frank Gehry, among others. Imagine learning about the work and discussing ideas with these practitioners to then publish these exchanges in WASH Magazine, a Graham Foundation grantee student-run publication. Imagine living in constant contact with established and new positions and discourses. The School of Architecture at Taliesin is part of the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright but avoids reducing the experience of learning and practicing architecture to the mere aesthetic imitation of the late architect. Instead, the School anchors its foundations on the rich past of the two historical sites and the people that live in them while enriching them with a diverse plethora of ideas and positions of local and global relevance to the discipline of architecture. 4: Taliesin redefines design-build Challenging the design-build model across the country where students are often subordinated to the role of draftspeople while the professors take the accolades and awards, at Taliesin the students design and build (with their own hands) the shelters where they live during half of the Fall Semester and the Full spring semester. Recent projects like ‘Branch’, a rammed earth minimalist cube designed and built by Conor Denison, ‘Site 168’, Richard Quittenton’s post-internet take on desert concrete and Organic aesthetics, ‘Lander’, a commentary on dark ecologies and surveillance culture by Jan Sobotka, ‘Dwelling 17’, a built ontology of found contemporary desert objects constructed by Nelson Schleiff, ‘Ava’, an inhabitable miniature wooden palace built by Liu Xinxuan, and ‘Tali-Beach’, a student lounge built by Jose Amaya on the former ruins of a derelict structure in the desert, are just some of the latest shelter-thesis constructed by the most recent class of graduates. These students are not only going out to the world with the unique experience of living and learning in Taliesin for several years, but they have built architectural experiments for minimal and sustainable living as one of their many accolades. Through this hands-on learning-by-doing approach the students at Taliesin have also been able to offer practical, real, and innovative ideas to communities, like the recent project to transform a discarded early twentieth-century school into a teacher-preferable residential compound and community center in the town of Miami, Arizona. 5: Closing the school is an attack on architectural education In the current political and social climate, with ballooning tuition fees, the elimination of art programs across many higher learning institutions, and the deformation of educational institutions into businesses, the threat launched against The School of Architecture at Taliesin should be of concern to us all. The demand of the Foundation that The School of Architecture drops its accreditation shows a lack of understanding of the complexities and challenges inherent to the education of future architects. Assuming that Taliesin can be reduced to ‘organic’ slogans, aesthetics, and products may be a profitable business model, but abandoning a robust academic curriculum presents a toxic menace to critical inquiry, curiosity, and experimentation. Taliesin is an institution founded on a culture of critical rebelliousness that rejects, in the words of Frank Lloyd Wright, ‘little art of any but the most superficial kind—the formula or the fashion’, because ‘the capacity for spiritual rebellion has grown small and the present ideals of success are making it smaller every day.’ The tone-deaf insistence of the Foundation, in claiming that it will be offering other forms of education once the School closes instead of doing everything possible to keep alive the one thing Frank Lloyd Wright created the foundation for, shows that the leadership of the foundation doesn’t get it and is on the way to destroy the legacy it claims to protect. To close with words by Frank Lloyd Wright: “We don’t use the word organic as referring as something hanging in the butcher shop, organic means in philosophical sense, entity, where the whole is to the part and the part is to the whole.” By closing the School of Architecture, Taliesin can’t be whole.
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Continuing Education

Letter to the editor: Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy will continue at Taliesin
The following letter to the editor comes courtesy of Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. This is the third in a series AN from former students, lecturers, and those in Taliesin’s orbit. In 1932, Frank Lloyd Wright created the Taliesin Fellowship, a community of apprentices and their families who lived, worked and studied with Wright first at Taliesin in Wisconsin and later also at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. The program provided a total learning environment integrating all aspects of the apprentices’ lives with the intent of educating responsible, creative, and cultured human beings and building professionals. Over time, and after the Frank Lloyd Wright’s (1959) and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s passing (1985), the Fellowship transformed into a more formal architectural firm and institution of learning, and most recently an accredited and fully independent small college, continuing to operate at the both Taliesin and Taliesin West. This week, the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) announced that it was unable to continue its operations, and would be closing its doors at the end of the spring semester in June. That decision could be made only by the school itself, and not by the Foundation, which is committed to finding ways to continue the legacy of education that Wright intended at his homes. Taliesin and Taliesin West remain open and thriving. In the frenzy of the week’s announcement, some misinformation has been spread about how the decision to close the School came to be. Let’s set the record straight. The Foundation is committed to keeping the two Taliesin campuses as living sites—where people make architecture and learn design from nature and the experience of working at an inspiring complex of buildings. We are the largest financial supporter of the School, donating over the last several years shared services and the free use of our campuses to facilitate SoAT’s health and support its growth, and to fulfill the commitment of preserving the Taliesins to maintain them as living sites that are at the heart of the community. But to fulfill this commitment for the future, the Foundation needs to have a solid plan for programs that do this work, precisely so we aren’t a pair of “mere house museums.” SoAT is a completely separate entity from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. It was made an independent organization because its accrediting body insisted that SoAT be capable of standing on its own, financially and academically, and no longer be dependent on the Foundation for support. Two representatives from the Foundation serve on the SoAT Board of Governors, so the Foundation has been conversant with the school’s operational challenges. From the moment it became independent, SoAT built its budgets on aspirational, but unrealistic, projections for enrollment and fundraising that consistently weren’t met, leaving the School scrambling for operating and investment funds. The School later came back to the Foundation to request funding. We explained that we could not divert funds donated for preservation and other programs since these were needed to keep the historically fragile buildings’ infrastructure (that serves the School and our visitors) in good service. The Foundation does not have large cash reserves, and like most cultural organizations in the Valley, it too has to borrow money to cover the summer months when revenues fall. By mid-Spring of 2019, SoAT financial projections were so bleak that the SoAT Board made the decision to close its doors in August 2019 if student enrollment for the fall had not met a critical threshold by June 30, giving their students less than two months notice. Therefore, it was not unanticipated when Dan Schweiker acknowledged to the Foundation leadership in early November that the School’s business model was, in his words, not sustainable. He asked us to extend the donation of our facilities at no cost for as long as two years so that he could explore a new model that would include assembling a new board, eliminate accredited programs, move the School off of the Taliesin campuses entirely or used them only part-time, and/or merge the School back into the Foundation. Over many weeks thereafter, the Foundation asked Schweiker for guidance as to the School’s direction—without a meaningful response. In the meantime, the School’s President, Aaron Betsky, had tendered his resignation to be effective as of May—leaving the School with no defined business model and no leadership in addition to inadequate funding. Finally, in a mid-January meeting at Taliesin West with Schweiker, SoAT vice-chair Jacki Lynn, and the Foundation leadership, a plan was worked out based on a deep and shared commitment to maintain the dual legacy of cultural enrichment and professional education at Taliesin and Taliesin West. Contrary to what Schweiker and Lynn told The Architect’s Newspaper, that agreement provided for current second- and third-year students to complete their accredited degrees at the School and on our campuses; first-year students could accelerate their programs to graduate with accredited degrees as well. SoAT and the Foundation would also collaborate to create new programs to carry Wright’s legacy forward through hands-on education for architects, designers, and the interested public. Because these new programs wouldn’t require accreditation, we could save costs by bringing the School back into Wright’s Foundation. After a productive meeting, we stood together in my office and shook hands, congratulated one another on creating a successful path forward, which Schweiker and Lynn agreed to recommend and support before the SoAT Board. But this agreed-upon plan was neither recommended nor supported by them. Instead, that Board was presented with yet another financially speculative program to try to save the School, offering hopeful dreams as an alternative to a concrete path to a sustainable future. Rather than approve the agreed-upon plan and provide certainty for the students’ education and well-being, the SoAT Board chose to close the school and blame the Foundation for a failure to come to an agreement. To be clear: the Foundation sought a plan to transform the School for the 21st Century; the SoAT board voted instead to close the School. This decision to close was not communicated to the Foundation until we read the School’s press release. The School later came up with a new excuse for their decision; that the one-year extension to which they had agreed just one week earlier “was not financially feasible,” leaving unclear how they could have funded the two-year extension they proposed in November. Because SoAT is still struggling to figure out how to stay open through May, the Foundation has agreed again to donate shared services to reduce the School’s costs and ensure the students are as well served as possible under the circumstances. The Foundation will return to extending Wright’s legacy of educating architects, keeping the life and the spirit of what he created front and center at both Taliesin and Taliesin West. That legacy includes continuing the training of architects, preservation specialists, design professionals, and the interested public—all in the same spaces where he created the world’s most celebrated architecture. Since the School’s announcement, we have welcomed and opened dialogues with potential partners to create a new and sustainable educational model rooted in Wright’s ideas, and we will announce those plans when they are finalized. And we will keep the two Taliesin campuses as the places that Wright wanted them to be: Vibrant places where we advance the way we build and live, designing the future in harmony with the landscape, incorporating the arts in our work and our lives, building community. Wright said that “The mission of an architect is to help people understand how to make life more beautiful, the world a better one for living in, and to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life.” That’s what we do at the Foundation he created, and we’ll do that for as long as we are able.
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Major League

Opinion: Shame on the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
The following editorial comes courtesy of former Taliesin teaching fellow Ryan Scavnicky following the recent news that the School of Architecture at Taliesin would close come June 30 of this year. This letter is the first in a series AN will run in the following days from former students, lecturers, and those in Taliesin’s orbit. The gift shop at Taliesin West tells you everything you need to know about the closure of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SOAT). Look around it and you will realize there is little gained by the world of architecture from a room full of tourists paying top dollar for home decor with prairie-style motifs. One can smell the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation cashing in on the aesthetic legacy produced by the work of the late architect. Meanwhile, SOAT has continued and built upon that legacy for 88 years, serving as a home base for experimental architecture and providing a counter-narrative to the sterile classrooms of state schools. Through its ups and downs SOAT remains intact and healthy, with enrollment increasing from a total student body of two to 30 in the last five years. Recently independent, on the heels of receiving a full eight-year accreditation, and re-energized by the herculean efforts of president Aaron Betsky and dean Chris Lasch, the school at Taliesin was thriving. Why then, the decision to close?  The architecture community isn’t just mourning the loss of another accredited degree-awarding machine; this is the loss of a pedagogical apparatus whose contemporary presence is in dire need. When we are in school we learn information, but we also learn life skills and craft behaviors which we model off of our colleagues and teachers. We do that outside of the classroom. In an era of infinite access to information, the “living community” of SOAT is increasingly valuable. I am grateful to have served three semesters as the Visiting Teaching Fellow, having experiences with students beyond that which is provided by typical institutions of learning today: I drove sleeping students home from a field trip to Kitt Peak Observatory, asked for help in ridding my apartment of scorpions, washed the dishes, gave a toast, played Dungeons & Dragons, learned yoga, wandered the desert to yell at God, taught Rhino, and I even performed a rendition of En Fermant Les Yeux when entertainment options were running thin. These extreme moments of “ad hoc” were intertwined with everyday life as fluidly as you can imagine. The value of education via distinct experience in today’s attention economy society is certainly worth more to the world than the ability to sell a couple more gaudy stained glass earrings. SOAT made this immensely felt, and the students I was honored to teach are now cutting-edge cultural operators.  On my first day of work, I made jokes about feeling like an Oompa Loompa—that the school’s significance was to provide scale figures to make the tourists happy. At least then I had a value that was being used in service to the field of architecture. In my experience, the current leadership at the Foundation doesn’t care about the mission of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin because they will still be able to sell $250 chess sets and tired craft classes to beady-eyed baby boomers as a stand-in for the heralded school. Do you remember the plot of the movie Major League? Released on April 7, 1989, the film follows a professional baseball team in Cleveland, Ohio. Owner Rachel Phelps secretly wants the team to tank so that she can move them to sunny Miami. She attempts to do this by intentionally staffing the organization with oddballs and misfits who all have a major flaw in their game. Spoiler alert for those who still haven’t seen this cult classic—the ball club finds out about the scheme, and with nothing to lose, the team plays above expectations, eventually winning a playoff series with the New York Yankees. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is currently playing the part of owner Phelps, attempting to publicly eschew their role in putting the final nail in the coffin of Frank Lloyd Wright's grand and timely pedagogical legacy just to line their pockets. They made a mistake hiring such capable and passionate administrators. Although SOAT pushed passed many obstacles, there is no nationally-televised game for them to win. Meanwhile, the Foundation is sitting in box seats, resting on their Usonian gravy train and toasting our collective tears. Everything in the statement released by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is accurate; but if you believe that to be the whole story then I know a Saudi Prince who would love your email address and social security number. The failure of the School of Architecture at Taliesin to agree to terms with its landlord, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, is a real tragedy and we must learn from it. The architecture community needs to be acutely aware of the value of germinating a style recognized by popular culture and what that means for future commodification. We need to be cognizant of the potential impact outsiders can have on our field who fetishize and exploit the genius of our heroes. We must claim aesthetic territory and take no prisoners securing that value to be in service of architecture, lest any more establishments like SOAT become the victims of assassination by the very institutions sworn to protect them. Correction: The article originally gave credit for the accreditation to Betsky and Lasch, however, the process had begun before they started at the school.
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1963–2019

In memoriam: Henry Urbach

Henry Urbach was a born curator. He had an eye for good design; the intellectual heft to be able to judge what was not only beautiful but also meaningful or critical to both the discipline of architecture and wider society; and the gift of gab with which to articulate all of that. He was also able to put together some of the best exhibitions on architecture of the last few decades. He was a bit of a rebel and a doubter of received notions and authority, which stood him in good stead as he developed ideas through his chosen medium of collecting and showing work in and around architecture, but which often made it difficult for him to operate within larger institutional structures. His untimely death in Tel Aviv deprives us of one of the discipline’s most distinctive talents.

With two degrees from Princeton and one from Columbia, as well as a network that reached around the globe, Urbach was able to position himself during the end of the last century as New York’s primary broker of speculative architecture. He achieved that position through the work he did at his New York gallery, Henry Urbach Architecture. Picking up where the only other gallerist to have entered the field, Max Protetch, left off, Urbach assembled a stable of young designers and artists who extended the definitions of architecture. These included not only experimental architects and practices, such as LOT-EK, François Roche, An Te Liu, Lebbeus Woods, and Jürgen Mayer H., but also many artists playing with the forms and conventions of architecture, as well as photographers who both documented and penetrated our worlds.

What Urbach showed in his Chelsea gallery, tucked up into an upper level of a warehouse on 26th Street, helped to change our perception of space and place. Much of his work focused on questions of seeing and being seen, spectacle, and the intimate relation between the body and the buildings that housed or enclosed it. He worked on issues related to queer space, and his exhibitions often had a sense of the uncanny and the slightly illicit or forbidden. They burrowed into the hidden places of the city and opened up almost operatic panoramas of what the urban scene made possible.

When I was the curator of architecture, design, and digital projects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in the late 1990s, I was one of Urbach’s most eager clients. I found in his gallery a treasure trove of what I thought was some of the most important architecture and design work being done at the time, and quite a few of his pieces made it into my own exhibitions, as well as into the museum’s collection. When I moved on to direct the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, I invited him there to curate an exhibition on the relationship between architecture and the body. When Urbach was later appointed to my old position at SFMOMA after Joe Rosa vacated it and left for Chicago, I felt that it was a perfect choice.

Urbach organized excellent exhibitions and collected important work at SFMOMA, but, in the end, clashed with the museum’s rather conservative culture. He then moved on to direct Philip Johnson’s Glass House and do more good work there, but by then, the mark of what now appears to have been late-onset bipolar disorder turned his rebellious spirit and inquisitive mind toward swings between increasing paranoia and irrational exuberance. He moved to Israel and seemed to have found a new community and purpose as an effective and much-loved teacher, but the demons that had come to haunt him (as we like to think of such diseases) ultimately got the better of him.

It is a tribute to his family and friends that they have felt it important to let us all know, in their statement about his death, about his disease. There is a difference between having a different perspective, wanting to challenge accepted notions, and seeing the potential of what is not valued or condoned and having a medical condition that skews not only your views but also your relations with other human beings. At some point, Urbach’s ability to discern what few of us could or even wanted to see, often at the heart of our chosen avocation or in the environments we loved, and to pick, highlight, and explain such work, turned into something else, something that undercut his ability to use his great talents to move architecture toward productive confrontations.

I admit to being one of those who found it impossible, in later years, to engage in what I considered normal interactions with Urbach. Not recognizing his condition, I felt alienated and confused by his ideas and modes of interaction. I am sorry that I did not work through such difficulties, as now I will never be able to do so. What is more important is that we have lost an important life, a great spirit, and an agitator for experimental architecture. For all these reasons, we will miss Henry Urbach.

Aaron Betsky is the president of the School of Architecture at Taliesin and is the author of numerous books, including Making It Modern and Architecture Matters.

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New Fuksas

Studio Fuksas reworks Los Angeles's Beverly Center

The 886,000-square-foot Beverly Center first opened in 1982, in true Los Angeles fashion, on the site of a former children’s amusement park and next door to an active oil drilling site. Critic Aaron Betsky, appraising the structure ten years later in the Los Angeles Times, consecrated the blob-shaped mega-mall as “the Acropolis of shopping, dedicated to our national religion, consumption.” A new luxury-oriented $500 million overhaul by Studio Fuksas has only made that description more apt.

The eight-story edifice has undergone a midlife facelift that includes the addition of an undulating aluminum mesh facade over the building’s five above-grade parking levels. The expanded metal veil billows around the hulking mass, disappearing to mark three monumental entrances and a pair of glass-wrapped escalator bays.

The mall itself is laid out along the building’s top three floors, where a new 25,000-square-foot skylight and other reconfigured vertical openings bring crisp, white sunlight into its gleaming halls.

8500 Beverly Boulevard Los Angeles 310-854-0070 Designer: Studio Fuksas
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Did You Hear?

The best gossip from 15 years of The Architect’s Newspaper
To celebrate our 15th anniversary, we looked back through the archives for our favorite moments since we started. We found stories that aged well (and some that didn’t), as well as a wide range of interviews, editorials, and other articles that we feel contributed to the broader conversation. We also took a closer look at the most memorable tributes to those we lost, and heard from editors past and present about their time here. The Architect’s Newspaper has run an Eavesdrop column in its print edition that collects gossip from across the architecture community. It has served as a playful way to keep track of thoughts, feelings, and actions that have run in design's undercurrents. 2005 Architects in tight jeans "Zaha Hadid did it for Vitra. Winka Dubbeldam posed for Panasonic. But soon, it's one of the boys who's modeling for a Levi's advertisement. We went on the lookout when we heard about the company's casting call for male architects, between the ages of 18 and 45, for a New York ad shoot. Candidates has to be 'Real-looking men with good bodies, handsome, interesting, rugged.' (Notice that 'wears chunky black eyewear' was NOT listed.)" 2006 Sex and the icky "When this dirty old man isn't grossing out female co-workers by discussing the goings-on in their nether regions, we're told he can be found inducting new office interns—those poor interns!—with visits to a nudie bar." 2009 Pearls before SCI-Arc "Few talking heads can dent an architectural ego like critic, curator, and professor Jeff Kipnis, who moderated a chat at SCI-Arc on July 29 with Eric Owen Moss and Thom Mayne about Moss’ new installation at the school. Among Kipnis’ gems, he praised Moss’ garrulousness with the bon mot that he got paid by the hour for such events, and marveled at Moss and Mayne’s ability to argue with themselves—not among themselves, mind you, but each with his own self!" 2010 Eavesdrop: Knock Knock "This tidbit just in from the 12th International Architecture Biennale now underway in Venice. Approaching the entrance of the main exhibition hall in the Arsenale on opening day, Aaron Betsky, the director of the 11th architecture biennale, was refused admittance because he had no ticket. Betsky’s protests were met with an implacable shrug indicating, What have you done for us lately?" Check out a selection of our best interviews here and a fuller timeline of our articles here.
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Frank Lloyd…Wrong?

Frank Lloyd Wright's David and Gladys Wright House back on the market
It looked like Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraling David and Gladys House in Phoenix, Arizona, had been saved from the wrecking ball back in June of last year, but a deal to donate the building to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture has reportedly fallen through. Now the house is back on the market for $13 million, over $10 million more than when it first went up for sale in 2012. After being purchased in 2012 by homebuilder and architecture aficionado Zach Rawling, it appeared that the house, built in 1952, would be restored and put to good use. Rawling donated the building to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin for use as a learning center and in-situ design studio, which kicked off during the 2017-2018 academic year. Although the school was able to produce videos with several well-known architects at the house and successfully complete the scheduled studios there, funding concerns seem to have scuttled the partnership. In a joint statement released in June of this year, Rawling and the school's dean Aaron Betsky announced that due to conflicting funding obligations and an uncertain timetable, the school and house would part ways.
The relationship between the School and the House is formally manifested in the David Wright House Collaborative Fund, a supporting organization of the Arizona Community Foundation. The principal focus of the David Wright House Collaborative Fund was to develop a vehicle to raise the $7-million endowment on which the pledge of the House for the benefit of the School was conditioned. Over the past year, we have learned that the fundraising timetables of both parties do not lend themselves to a joint campaign.
The original terms of the donation, which required that the school raise $7 million by 2020, proved difficult. Additionally, Phoenix residents reportedly weren’t thrilled over the potential conversion of the house into an educational facility and were worried about the traffic and noise the transformation would bring. Interested in buying a progenitor to the Guggenheim? You can put down your $12.9-million bids here. AN will follow up on this story when updates become available.
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Design Architects

Architecture abounds at Design Miami 2017

The 14th edition of Design Miami will take place in Miami Beach from December 6-10, 2017, with a series of gallery highlights, auxiliary events, and design curios that will highlight architectural elements and lesser-known pieces from designers both old and new. Highlights include a solo show of furniture designed by Swiss architect Albert Frey for his own Palm Springs home, completed in 1949; a dining table by Chinese architect Ma Yansong of MAD, part of his MAD Martian collection, and an immersive “Isolation Sphere” by French architect Maurice-Claude Vidili from 1971.

New York’s Patrick Parrish Gallery has collaborated with MIT’s Self Assembly Lab to present a series of experimental robotic fabrication displays, including a 3-D calligraphy process that makes objects in a gel suspension. Salon 94 will show a monumental 11.5-foot-tall concrete bench titled Core by London-based designer Philippe Malouin. Clothing brand COS brings their successful Milan bubble installation to Miami this year, this time titled “New Spring Miami.”

The annual Panerai Design Miami/ Visionary Award goes to Mwabwindo School, a collaborative educational project in Zambia by Joseph Mizzi’s 14+ Foundation. The project is designed by Selldorf Architects and will feature original artwork by Rashid Johnson and newly-commissioned furniture by Christ & Gantenbein.

Other talks that are part of Design Miami include  about queer space with Rafael de Cardenas and Aaron Betsky, and “Spatializing Blackness,” with USC architecture dean Milton S.F. Curry, architect Sir David Adjaye, artist/designer Amanda Williams, artist Hank Willis Thomas, and Watts House Project cofounder Edgar Arceneaux.

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Bent Into Shape

How Ball-Nogues Studio crafted this sculptural steel pavilion for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
The Max Factor Building—built in 1974 by A.C. Martin & Associates as an extension to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles—has never really been well-loved. The forlorn hospital complex is made up of a trio of institutional towers placed atop a pair of parking structures that are arranged around what should be a courtyard but is actually a five-lane boulevard that delves underneath the main tower. In a 1992 review of complex for The Los Angeles Times, critic Aaron Betsky described the black glass and limestone-clad structures as an example of “purposeful blandness” and labeled the hospital an “anti-urban bunker of bad form.” Flash forward to 2017: The towers remain unchanged in their appearance but stand renewed along the podium terraces that flank either side of Gracie Allen Drive, where AHBE Landscape Architects and Ball-Nogues Studio (BNS) recently completed work on new healing gardens and a pavilion, respectively. According to Calvin Abe, principal at AHBE Landscape Architects, the terraces had been a forgotten public space at the hospital for many years, a fact Abe hoped his interventions could shift by reorienting the way patients and visitors arrived at Cedars, as they made their way from the parking structure to the hospital proper. Benjamin Ball, principal at BNS, explained that the neglected terrace “had not been given much consideration as public place for the hospital” when originally designed, a fact worsened by its sensitive location sandwiched between air intake grilles and operating rooms. The arrangement meant that any construction activity would have to be undertaken rather silently and without generating much dust. To boot, the site’s existing structural arrangement meant that improvements would need to be vigorously studied in order to guarantee that new loads were being resolved without disrupting the podium’s original structural grid. As a result, the project team came to consider the site as more of a performative skin than a static structure. The surface-level project tries to heal the “epidermis of the complex,” as Abe explains, referring to the outermost public region of the hospital, by “grafting a piece of living, breathing landscape above the existing parking decks.” To achieve this goal, the firm re-designed the two terrace areas as a series of multi-functional outdoor garden rooms—what they call “portable gardens” due to the fact that the structural requirements forbade permanent installation of these new planters. Even so, Abe was able to soften the edges of the terraces with wide swaths of tall grasses, wooden boardwalks and benches, and ancillary, succulent-rich beds framed in three eights inch thick stainless steel sheets. Along the north arm of the terrace, sinuous benches made from kiln-dried Brazilian hardwood pop in and out of their surroundings, sometimes nestled into supple berms, at other times sitting proudly under the sun above the boardwalk. The planted areas are mirrored in a more minimal and integrated fashion across the way, where the edges of the wide, wavy beds seamlessly transition from stainless steel border to wooden bench and back again. The north arm of the terrace is organized as a tripartite band of terraces, with a large wooden boardwalk sandwiched between the grassy precipice and succulent bed. At the center of the run, the path bulges out to make room for BNS’s pavilion, a looming husk crafted by humans and CNC machines out of woven networks of stainless steel tubes. Ball explained that his team wanted to contrast the prototypical architecture of the medical towers with a sculptural pavilion that could stand out on the improved terrace. To counter the geometric, stone-clad exposures of the towers, BNS designed a multi-lobed shade structure that would be inspired by self-supported concrete shell structures but be constructed out of CNC-shaped steel tubing. “We tried to develop a language that could only be achieved using this type of machine-shaped caged shell,” Ball explained. Ball described the pavilion as having “no hierarchy in terms of structure,” a quality that would instead be lended by the pavilion’s billowing forms, which themselves were finessed by the quotidien requirements of the structure’s lateral loads. The billowing form wraps over the walkway on one side and frames a smooth, J-shaped bench underneath a parallel and transversal lobe. When seen from the boardwalk, the structures appear squat and wide, a quality that disappears entirely when the pavilion is viewed from the opposite edge, where the shells rise proud of the boardwalk and slip past one another. BNS, working with local fabricator Hensel Phelps, worked to meld into reality a form that not only faithfully represented the computer-generated mass—Rhino and Maya were used, among other programs—but that also reflected what the CNC machines could ultimately produce. Ball explained that the design and fabrication teams had to work iteratively to establish limitations for the structure, adding that  the back-and-forth process ultimately “outlined the aesthetics of the project—It created the rule book, not the other way around.” The structure was eventually fabricated off site, assembled in its entirety prior to installation, and finally craned into place. Ultimately, the structure came within a two centimeter tolerance of the digital model, due in equal measure to the digital tools and the highly skilled craftwork of the fabricators. Ball explained finally: “To get a project like this to look polished and highly crafted, you need hand skills.”
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David and Gladys Wright House

Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture gifted a new Wright-designed home in Phoenix
The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix, Arizona, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (whose 150th would-be birthday was last week), has been donated to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. The house led a charmed life up until recently. Designed in 1952 by Wright for his son David, the 2,500-square-foot, mostly concrete house had come into the ownership of developers who wanted to bulldoze it and replace it with more profitable housing. News of this intention saw preservationists spring into action, but the standard procedures were scuppered as in Arizona, where private property laws hold strong, landmarking only saves a building for three years. On October 12, 2012, Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times explained the other, costlier method of saving the house: "The other prong of attack is to find some preservation-minded angel with deep pockets who will buy it from the developer. Preferably today." Cue Zach Rawlings. A custom homebuilding entrepreneur, Rawlings fell in love with architecture after exploring it across the country with his mother. As a young boy, he even caught a glimpse of the David and Gladys Wright house when he peered over the wall. Little did he know he would later save it. During his research, Rawlings came across architects John Lautner and Wallace Cunningham, both graduates of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin, in Wisconsin. Cunningham went on to work with Rawlings. "The first chance I got to call and hire architects while building homes, I called Wallace Cunningham," the developer said. Then one evening over dinner, Cunningham informed Rawlings about an Act of Demolition permit that had been filed for the David and Gladys Wright home. "I finished the dinner, got on the phone with my mom and told her I was flying to Phoenix in the morning,” said Rawlings, reacting to the news. "I asked her to please call the broker of the home and schedule a tour as soon as possible." Twenty-four hours after Cunningham and Rawlings had sat down, Frank Lloyd Wright's work had been saved from the wrecking ball. After that dramatic episode, Rawlings went on to meet Aaron Betsky, dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin in 2015. Over more food (this time lunch), Rawlings became inspired by Betsky's ambitions for the school, and the pair discussed the possibility of faculty members living there. Now the house will be donated to a fund under the Arizona Community Foundation for the sole benefit of the School.

"It’s transformative for the school and a fantastic opportunity," Betsky told The Architect's Newspaper. "One of the things that sets our school apart is living and working in Frank Lloyd Wright's built works—this addition only enhances that experience and lets us build on Wright’s legacy."

Betsky also acknowledged that "without doubt," some work has to be done on the house before educational programming can start there. A structural analysis has been carried out, though repairs to cantilevers and fixing leaks and touching up areas of corrosion also need to take place. Phoenix-based architect Victor Sidy is working on the building, as is landscape architect Chris Winters.

Arizonan architect Eddie Jones, principal at Jones Studio, will be teaching at the design studio specifically launched for the David and Gladys House. The studio will begin this fall and students will engage in the building and its six-acre site's renovation. (Originally, when Rawlings first purchased the house, it only came with a two-and-a-half–acre lot. Rawlings then bought adjacent lots to try and restore its original acreage.)

"This is all about the house becoming a place that can help students understand the relationship between the landscape and the built environment," remarked Betsky. He estimated that renovation work could take two-three years but admitted this was "optimistic." "We do not want to interrupt the [design] work going on inside," he said. Once restored there will be limited tours, and the house will be open to the public.