Search results for "Richard Meier"
I Saloni, the annual orgy of furnishings, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. And along with the expected round-up of avant-garde teasers, sumptuous stunners, and thoughtfully recyclable ingenuities, there was a full spectrum of highly-sophisticated lighting designs that transformed LED solutions from dreary requisites to exciting options.
With over 2,500 exhibitors, every one of the 321,320 visitors who pile into the swoopy 2.2 million-square-foot exhibition hall—or track down the hundreds of other displays sequestered in fresco-flaking palazzi, chic courtyards, retooled factories, and drafty warehouses around the city—can find their own selection of favorites. We decided to spotlight a solid 50, basing our choice on our own quixotic standards: technical interest, elegance without fuss, knowing wit, and ecological smarts. We tore through the halls and pounded the pavement until our heels broke in hopes of bringing back some lasting winners.
Julie V. Iovine
Flip Flop Story
Ren by Nemo
Kelvin LED Green
B2_Light Fields LED
111 Navy Chair
3M Sunlight Delivery System
The International Furniture Fair in Milan is a huge affair, attracting design talents, design makers, design dreamers, schemers, and trackers from all corners of the world who believe it is essential to their professions to be in the know about the most current matters of design. Few American architects seem to attend, which is curious given what an inquisitive and competitive bunch they usually are.
Even in a year when the slow economy has taken its toll on one of Italy’s largest and most profitable industries—furniture manufacturing is several times larger than the fashion business — innovations were on display. From the almost affordably engineer-able (organic LEDs) to the fringe of discovery (proto-plastics from insect resin), the fair thrives on possibilities made relevant. Fair newcomers 3M Architectural Markets showed off their research in developing a new delivery system that collects natural light from rooftops and then channels it to the deepest interior spaces. Stay tuned. Italcementi was there, too, touting a new formula for its smog-eating cement that’s even whiter than before—Richard Meier briefly appeared almost ecstatic.
There are always eye-opening things to see. And what’s equally impressive, the audience is whole-heartedly appreciative.
Crowds throng the fairgrounds by the thousands to check out market-ready and prototype pieces. At outside events known for agenda-setting concepts, hundreds more seek out the chance to see, for instance, German designer Werner Aisslinger’s installation of “the first monobloc chair made of natural fibers,” a sculpted throne of felt arranged alongside a ram chomping on hay. There was the great innovator Ingo Mauer’s towering moss and living coral chandelier for a client’s private chapel cum banquet hall and Shigeru Ban’s meticulously-wrought paper house, created to show off a new collection of determined-to-be classics from Hermes—with assorted Jean Michel Frank reproductions mixed in to guarantee the highest level.
No doubt about it, many Italian furnishings are a luxury and not likely to show up in the average conference room or corporate lobby, spaces in America that are both more budget-conscious and conservative about image.
Still, seeing so much inventive design and the vast sea of people who cannot get enough of it raises a disturbing awareness of what we can expect back home—a confidence gap between the aggressive shaping and resourceful materials that American architects put into their buildings and the banal, two-dimensional furnishings with which they fill them.
Italy is enamored of good design and to spend a week there breathing in that devotion is a visceral reminder of how much design can do. There’s no need to assume that because the furniture may be too avant-garde for most practical purposes that the fair has nothing to offer. If creativity, quality, and innovation matter to an architect, there’s no place better to find it in abundance.
The most curious image I know of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS)—the New York think tank that, from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, quite simply reshaped architectural discourse in the United States—appeared in a 1971 issue of Casabella. A cut-and-paste job, it pictured sixteen of the Institute’s members as a soccer team, wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the Institute’s logo, the Vitruvian man of Cesariano’s 1521 edition. Crouched, at the far right, is Suzanne Frank, then an intern, later the Institute’s librarian, and now the author of a new book, at once an unoffical history of the Institute and, as the subtitle reads, “an insider’s memoir.”
Founded in 1967 by Peter Eisenman (see image below: bottom row, third from the right, with an impish smile) with backing from MoMA and Cornell University, the Institute set out to bridge the gap between academic culture and the world of planning agencies. Installed in offices on 47th Street enlivened by reproductions of the Vitruvian man and Le Corbusier’s Modulor, the Institute admitted graduate students for yearlong fellowships to work on real projects commissioned by municipal and federal agencies. Reyner Banham, writing in December 1967 for New Society, went along with the Institute fellows’ self-description as “utopians”—with a caveat: “They are utopians of aesthetic order rather than of social order. They look to the city of good form, before the city of good men—but probably believing that the good form will breed good men, that a city which makes itself visually clear will become clear in other senses, too.”
The early years of the Institute (notwithstanding its later, unjust reputation as cerebral, arcane, and elitist) were marked by what can only be called a modernist engagement with the city, culminating in the building of a low-rise, high-density housing complex in Ocean Hill/ Brownsville, Brooklyn, a prototype sponsored by the Urban Development Corporation and designed by Kenneth Frampton (see image below: top row, fourth from the left, with a resolute, captain-like mien).
By the early 1970s, though, when the money and the political will to sponsor projects and research on public housing dried up, the Institute had already gone through an aggiornamento of sorts. Indeed, over the years the Institute embarked on a variety of other programs, going through several changes of faculty and through what Eisenman called, in a 1975 interview with Alvin Boyarsky just published in Brett Steele’s book Supercritical, several “palace revolutions”—the first already in 1969, when Colin Rowe had his students do theoretical designs instead of real projects, and Eisenman, in Frank’s retelling of the story, responded by locking Rowe out of the Institute, literally changing the door’s lock.
Over little more than a decade, the Institute became enormously influential, attracting architects, historians, and theorists to lecture, teach, exhibit, and do research there. Even a casual list of some of the protagonists (Diana Agrest, Anthony Vidler, Robert Slutzky, Rafael Moneo, Philip Johnson, Rem Koolhaas, etc.) commands attention. Eventually, the Institute expanded its educational operations (at one point it had graduate, undergraduate, high-school, and continuing education programs), organized extraordinarily intense lecture series, and mounted dozens of exhibitions (Mart Stam, Ivan Leonidov, Wallace Harrison, but also Aldo Rossi, Mathias Ungers, the Krier brothers, etc.) in the double-height main space of the offices it occupied from 1970, on the top two floors of 8 West 40th Street, just opposite the New York Public Library. The Institute also became a publishing house: it produced the aptly-named journal Oppositions (1973–84), edited by a pugnacious triumvirate made of Eisenman, Frampton, and Mario Gandelsonas (see image below: top row, third from the left) joined later by Vidler and then Kurt Forster; the monthly tabloid newspaper Skyline (1978–83); and, in the early 1980s, Oppositions Books (Rossi, Adolf Loos, Moisei Ginzburg, Alan Colquhoun).
Frank readily acknowledges that hers is not a scholarly book but a personal memoir, what Joan Ockman, in her foreword, calls “a labor of love.”(A few historians in Europe and the US are currently working on scholarly histories, most notably Ph.D. candidate Kim Foerster at the ETH in Zurich.) Frank’s history is in fact impressionistic; the author is at her best when she lets us into her personal recollections of characters, personalities, allegiances, and conflicts, as opposed to the narrative sections outlining the many activities of the Institute.
The last third of the book, a series of twenty-seven interviews that Frank conducted over the past decade with former Institute members, offers a wealth of valuable information (much of it anecdotal, certainly) and countless perceptive memories and thoughts: Julia Bloomfield, managing editor of Oppositions, discussing the journal’s graphic design (“the Massimo Vignelli ‘punch’”) and “the somewhat combative relationship” between Eisenman and Frampton; Andrew MacNair telling of a momentous 7:00 a.m. phone call with Eisenman (“[Robert] Stern and Frampton and I have gotten a grant to start a lecture series... we want you to run it, get your ass down here”); William Ellis (see image below: bottom row, third from the left) reflecting on the feat of Oppositions and on Eisenman’s organizational prowess (“an absolute impresario”); Joan Copjec recounting the formation in 1979 of a women’s group at the Institute to voice concerns about “the not-so-veiled sexism”; Suzanne Stephens telling of her editorship of Skyline, of articles paying ten cents a word, Christmas lists about books to give to architects, and where Johnson got his glasses or Eisenman his shoes (“it’s Churchill shoes for Peter, very Loosian”).
One of the most revealing stories is told by Stanford Anderson (top row, far right): in 1964 Eisenman wanted to form an association of young architects interested in new ideas (what would later become CASE, the Conference of Architects for the Study of the Environment, a prelude to the Institute), convinced Princeton to put up some money, and invited for a weekend-long meeting a group that included Anderson, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, and a young Emilio Ambasz (see image below: bottom row, fourth from the right, in jaunty Greek fisherman’s cap); on Sunday the question came up whether that kind of group discussion should continue: “Venturi immediately said, ‘Well, is it going to help my practice?’ Everyone agreed, ‘No.’”
Eisenman, whose name appears in almost every page of the book, declined to be interviewed: the figure most central to the myriad stories interwoven at the Institute emerges here as an eerie presence, towering over everyone else and yet disappearing—with uncanny parallels, perhaps, with his own architecture. In the 1975 interview with Boyarsky, Eisenman argued that the Institute never had a curriculum, or a philosophy: “Its only philosophy, if it stands for anything, is to serve as a vehicle for critical discourse, for challenging the prevailing empirical attitude in the United States vis-à-vis architecture—i.e. that it is something useful, something that can be marketed, a commodity.” A critical history of that discourse, of those conflicts theoretical and ideological, remains to be written. Or, perhaps, as with that other great 20th-century think tank called the Bauhaus, the history of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies may need to be told, written, and rewritten many times over.
Cesare Birignani studies architectural history at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.
Q&A: SUZANNE FRANK
As a young art historian with a Ph.D. on Dutch Modernist Michel de Klerk, Suzanne Frank arrived at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) in 1970, three years after its founding. Her husband, Dick, had photographed Peter Eisenman’s architectural models, and soon Eisenman would be designing a home for the couple in Cornwall, completed in 1975 and named House VI.
Frank remained at the Institute as a researcher then librarian until 1982. Her unauthorized memoir of those days was 12 years in the making. Clearly a labor of love by an historian eager to make a record of an extraordinary moment in architecture, Frank recounts much herself and then allows the transcripts from interviews with 27 other key players to fill in and amplify the story, vividly recounting everything from arguments over Italian architectural theory to how money was so short that office furnishings were picked up off the streets. Here, Frank recalls a few details from those heady days:
The Architect’s Newspaper: How did you come to be at the Institute?
Suzanne Frank: I was doing an art history Ph.D. at Columbia and they thought my research was good so they hired me to do research on a HUD-funded project, the Streets project, at least in the first year. I never had an office or anything, but I combed resources for studies of urban applicability and sorted heaps of photocopies of buildings in streetscapes. One time when I started talking to a fellow researcher, Gregory Gale, Eisenman told me to stop talking and get back to work. He himself was a schmoozer, especially at eight o’clock in the morning when few people were around.
Why did you decide to write a private memoir about The Institute?
It was a great time in my life. The projects they were doing were very interesting and important. What made me write it? I am a historian. I like to do research and write. I never dreamed it would take so long.
How easy was it to get people to talk?
There were 27 cooperatives. Tony Vidler didn’t agree; Rem [Koolhaas] agreed then backed out; and Peter said he’s not giving any interviews on the Institute. A doctoral student at ETH in Zurich, Kim Foerster, is working on the official history. I think he has done something like 100 interviews.
Was the focus on talk or on building, too?
They wanted to implement building. One of the student projects with a grant was to reorganize streets with buildings in a more public way. And they did it in print, but it didn’t happen because HUD took the money away when Bill Ellis insulted the HUD people when they were visiting.
They only built the one housing project that Kenneth [Frampton] worked on, Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn.
Did Philip Johnson supply funds for the Institute?
Yes, I don’t know how much, but I know he was an angel. People didn’t like his architecture; they hated the AT&T. He didn’t mind, and Peter was very close to him, so was Bob Stern.
There was also fund-raising for Oppositions by Julia Bloomfield. They were all pretty good at it. I mean, here was this little magazine with a leftist tinge, but they still got Exxon and Mobile to give to it.
Rumor has always had it that women had a hard time there. Was that your experience?
Peter hired women to have posts there but they were not as important, I think, at least in the beginning. Somehow they receded beside the men. Some say they were not treated well, and they formed a women’s group about it in 1979, but I was always treated with respect as the librarian, which was a joke because there weren’t many books.
In time, women had a very strong voice. Silvia Kolbowski started out as a receptionist and became the catalog editor with Frampton.
Did everyone get along?
The receptionists had a hard time; they were so overworked because Peter was always at odds and ends. They would start crying, and his wife at the time would have to console them.
Then there was a big argument between Frampton and Bob Stern—it was recorded in Skyline in 1980— after Kenneth’s book on modern architecture and critical history came out. Stern said that Frampton never looked at actual buildings but did everything in libraries and used miniscule photographs, and that he left out American sources. Kenneth said he retorted that he was an American admirer—I forget his phrase–and then he sent him into a “Spenglerian night” What does that mean? I don’t know.
What was the office scene like?
There were parties with lots of dancing. I remember one that Rem attended—he came to all the parties—but usually he wasn’t around because he was working on Delirious New York. Then Peter had his Indian dinners, they were very congenial. People sat next to the people they liked, and snubbed the ones they didn’t.
There were little cliques; everyone was equal except at times. Peter had special lunches, and when we were at the 40th Street office, he got goodies from Zabar’s. He’d have interesting people in, like his father- in- law to talk about Jackson Pollock. It was a very elite and selective crowd who went to those.
There was no hierarchy or, rather, there was and there wasn’t. There was a hierarchy because Peter was always the absolute, but he was friendly, very down to earth, and yet he was always the boss. He dressed very funny in a beige sweater with a hole in the back. He didn’t have very much money, but he managed to borrow from people and he went out a lot and ate very well.
Everyone else was always on diets. “Oh, you’ve lost weight. What’s your diet?” kind of thing. It was a big topic. They were all eating cottage cheese, hamburgers and ketchup.
What’s your final impression of The Institute after 40 years?
It was important. It stood for a really high level of thought and a high level of camaraderie. I am also relieved that I can finally go on to some other things now.
IAUS: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, An Insider’s Memoir by Suzanne Frank can be purchased for $42.30 plus postage at authorhouse.com.
In 2001 Richard Meier and the developer CoCo Brown set about to create a new kind of suburb on Long Island that blended the region’s tradition of excellent modern houses with affordability, geared to attract the upwardly mobile buyers flooding into the nearby Hamptons. Meier handpicked the architects, a mix of mid-career architects and marquee names of his generation, to design the spec houses that quickly devolved into high-luxury properties. Houses at Sagaponac, as the development was called, garnered worldwide attention, but only about a third of the 34 lots attracted serious interest and only eight of the original designs were built. The most recently built house of the original set, by Keenen/Riley, won a design award, but it has yet to attract a buyer.
The development may be getting new life with a new series of designs that better reflects the times. A decade later, Brown has passed away, and his estate sold the development to a new company called Sagaponac Dream Homes, connected to a builder, RoBoCo, which hopes to retain the project’s modernist spirit while offering more buildable, and affordable, options to the market. The average price of the new designs and lots is $1,050 per square foot, as compared to an approximate average of $1,200 per square foot for the Brown/Meier commissioned designs.
Working with real estate agents Brown Harris Stevens, the developers began the art of repackaging in earnest by showing the lots and the new possible designs at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in mid-March. “We’re foregrounding the marketing,” said Nilay Oza, a partner with Sagaponac Dream Homes. This time developers won’t be building on spec, either. Buyers will pony up for lot and design together. The developers have solicited designs from both the young and up-and-coming and the young and well-regarded, including ARO, Delle Valle Bernheimer, Resolution 4 Architecture, Leven Betts, David Biagi, Hanrahan Meyers, Thread Collective, Morris Sato Studio, Flying Elephant, Plaid, XTen Architecture, Cook + Fox, BVA, Tarantino Architects, and Zung Design. “We want to offer opportunities to younger architects at a point where it could make a difference in their career,” Oza said. Based on how the current batch performs this summer season, the developers are also considering an open competition for yet more designs, possibly as soon as September.
But that’s not all: the developers also plan to offer a 1954 Usonian house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Currently owned by the husband and wife team behind Tarantino Architects, the fully restored Bachman Wilson House in its current location in suburban New Jersey has been beset with potentially hazardous run-off due to surrounding development and needs to be moved. The buyer will have to pay to relocate the house.
Courtesy Jake Gorst
There’s more: preliminary talks are also underway between the developers and Jake Gorst, the grandson of Andrew Geller, about relocating a potentially threatened Geller House to the development. The whimsical Elizabeth Reese House features triangular punched windows with projecting flaps, and a rough-hewn interior with exposed beams. Currently up for sale, the tiny beachfront house would likely be torn down by a new buyer. It, too, could be moved. And there are still more empty lots for which the developers might offer up unbuilt Geller designs. “We like the idea of juxtaposing contemporary design with modernism of 50 years ago,” Oza said.
While design is very much still a driving force behind the Houses at Sagaponac, the new approach shows how much the world has changed since 2002. Most of the original unbuilt designs will likely survive as paper architecture, but Oza won’t rule out the possibility that some of those much-published houses could someday get built. “If someone wants to pay to build them they are welcome to,” he said.
(Updated 4-6-2011) As details emerge, be sure to track the comments on this post for the latest on Ai Weiwei. We have learned that the US State Department called for his release on Monday. According to VOA News, Mark Toner, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman saud, "The detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei is inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens, including China's commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we urge the Chinese government to release him immediately." Today, the Guardian reported that Ai Weiwei is under investigation for "suspected economic crimes" according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua which has since deleted the statement.
AN also received the following note of support for Ai Weiwei from Richard Meier. Please feel free to voice your messages of support in the comments.
Ai Weiwei deserves all of our support in his efforts to communicate with the world community of architects about the conditions that currently exist in China. We all hope that his immediate release will happen quickly in response to comments from all of us that support him in his cause.
(Original Report 4-4-2011) News that Chinese artist, architect, and activist Ai Wei Wei has been detained and disappeared as of April 3, 2011 broke yesterday in the International media. As reported by Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times, and more recently today by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, his detention and police closure of his Beijing studio coincides with what is known as the "Jasmine Revolution," a protest movement in the People's Republic of China that was inspired by the 2011 Tunisian Revolution and has prompted the Communist Party’s six-week crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, with many of those detained still not released, and others, such as pro-democracy writer Liu Xianbin, sentenced to 10 years in jail for subversion.
While his arrest is not unexpected, and indeed was anticipated by Wei Wei and others in his community, it is a devastating and saddening blow that follows upon the forced demolition of his Shanghai studio in January of this year, his recent house arrest in the wake of Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize, and his beating by Chinese police in August 2009, with emergency brain surgery required.
Wei Wei, the son of revered Chinese poet Ai Qing (regarded as one of the finest modern Chinese poets and himself imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party), is internationally recognized for his cultural and architectural practice as well as his tireless activism on behalf of social justice and political reform in China.
His many projects include the Bird's Nest (2008), a landmark design for the Beijing Olympic National Stadium (together with Herzog and De Meuron); Fairytale (2007), in which he sent 1001 Chinese citizens to Kassel, Germany as a cross-cultural exchange; and the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, which sought to uncover the names of the thousands of schoolchildren who died in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, many as a result of poor maintenance of school buildings.
His 2010 "Sunflower Seeds" exhibition, currently on display at Tate Modern, features 100 million porcelain seeds made in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen and forms a seemingly infinite landscape in the museum's Turbine Hall. As a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses, the project explores the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange and, as curator Juliet Bingham has remarked, invites us to consider such questions as "What does it mean to be an individual in today's society?"
We urge the Chinese government to respect Wei Wei's health and to insure his safety, and to release him immediately. His detainment and disappearance is a great tragedy and devastating blow to the international community. Wei Wei is an artist that feels a great love and compassion for China and her people, and we urge the Chinese government to recognize this fact and allow him and his family the freedom if not to speak freely, then to at least leave.
We strongly encourage you to raise your voice and to contact your elected representatives, government contacts, and civic institutions, to advocate for official statements and positions on his behalf as well as all of those that have been detained these last weeks in response to the Jasmine Revolution.
Across California many county seats are marked by historic courthouses, graced with stately domes, columns, and other references to ancient times. But a wave of new construction is bringing new courthouses of some contemporary distinction to more than half of the counties in California, from one-courtroom buildings high in the Sierras to a 71-courtroom facility in San Diego. The selection of architects is equally wide-ranging, with 36 firms ranging from established names like HOK, Richard Meier + Partners, and SOM, to small but well-regarded offices like San Francisco’s Mark Cavagnero Associates and San Diego’s Safdie Rabines Architects. In February the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), which is running the $6.7 billion modernization program, announced the commission of the last 13 projects for a total of 59.
“We’re not trying to make palaces, but we have an unparalleled opportunity to make a significant addition to 50 civic centers and downtowns,” said Clifford Ham, principal architect for the state’s Office of Court Construction and Management. “We’re going to be changing the context of a lot of communities.”
The wave of court building was prompted by legislation in 2002, which transferred responsibility for court facilities from the counties to the state, an arrangement that about half the states in the U.S. have arrived at. The funding comes from a bond measure passed in 2008 (Senate Bill 1407). To date, seven courthouses have been completed, with the remainder anticipated by 2016.
Judging by the designs revealed so far, there will be great variation in what the courthouse of the 21st century looks like: it could be a modern office tower or an updated lodge. Breaking ground this spring, AECOM’s Long Beach courthouse is a five-story glass-and-steel building with a large courtyard and naturally-lit courtrooms. Contra Costa County’s courthouse, designed by HOK, has a handsome limestone facade and a green roof. The more modest one-story, single-courtroom Plumas-Sierra courthouse by Nacht & Lewis has a pitched roof and wood-beamed ceiling. “We made a conscious effort to employ architects that may not have done court buildings before, instead of just the six or eight usual suspects,” said Ham.
New design guidelines emphasize functionality, durability, and ease of maintenance, as well as sustainability and energy efficiency (LEED Silver is currently prescribed). Each wave of projects has also brought the architects together for a design excellence forum. “You can sense the holistic attention they’re giving to the program, which is quite different from the usual project-by-project focus,” said Mallory Cusenbery of the Sonoma firm RossDrulisCusenbery, which is working on courthouses in Plumas and Sutter Counties. “I think it will help create a consistently high level of performance where the quality of all the projects are raised by the quality of the others.”
Crystal Cathedral Ministries, the gleaming Southern California mega-church conglomerate, has filed for bankruptcy, citing pressures from creditors and deep shortfalls in donations to its Hour of Power television appeals.
Once a pioneer in media ministries, thanks to the gentle charisma and entrepreneurial fervor of its founder, Reverend Robert Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral defined destination architecture in its era, with glass-sheathed buildings that pushed upward from the flat landscape by Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson, and a later addition to the Garden Grove campus by Richard Meier.
Those improbable architect-client combinations were rare cases where modern and postmodern design could be compatible with Evangelical Christianity. Who knew? As debts mount, could those structures have been part of the problem, and could they now be sold and put to other use, or seized by angry creditors?
The ministry’s future did not always look so grim. In 1955, the Iowa-born Schuller of the Reformed Church of America found a religious dimension in suburbia’s motor culture, before Orange County became a suburb. He turned a local drive-in movie theater into the country’s first drive-in church on Sunday mornings when he preached from the roof of a concession stand, and his wife Arvella played the organ by his side. Transforming a place that the movie industry categorized as a teenage “passion pit” into a sacred place required an act of faith and $10 rent every Sunday. The wager paid off.
Schuller also bet that commissioning Richard Neutra in 1958 to build a glass drive-in/walk-in church one mile away from Disneyland would give the ministry a unique profile. It did. Worshippers drove to the church with the high steeple and to the parking lots with terraced sight lines, and televised services began in 1970. Even with the church in bankruptcy, the Hour of Power still airs globally every Sunday. Only Face the Nation, Meet the Press, and 60 Minutes have been on the air longer. Schuller’s program has had a longer life than many buildings.
Neutra’s airy design—with a reflecting pool, walls that slid open, and a cross atop the Tower of Hope that could be seen for miles—established an affinity with Schuller’s message of love, light, and “possibility thinking” (his new, improved version of “positive thinking” from Norman Vincent Peale). The Jewish architect’s notions of bio-realism and therapy through architecture seemed a world away from Schuller’s Midwestern Calvinism that judged individuals by the “bottom line” of their achievements, yet the bond between the two was strong.
While graceful, the Neutra designs could only be called pioneering in Orange County. By 1964 Neutra’s Tower of Hope and Disneyland’s Matterhorn nearby were the two tallest points in the county. Neutra’s memorial service in 1970 was held at Garden Grove.
As the ministry grew, another act of faith sought to differentiate the campus from the sea of concrete around it. Arvella Schuller was inspired by Philip Johnson’s Fort Worth Water Gardens (1974) and Johnson was hired to design a new glass church that would be larger than the Neutra structure, where TV had taken over much of the space in the same way that residential subdivisions and commercial sprawl displaced the old drive-in theaters. Client and architect found a kinship again.
Johnson, an atheist who called himself “an artist and a whore,” became Schuller’s architect, and in 1980 the preacher got a new $21 million silvery glass house, the Crystal Cathedral, one of Orange County’s major tourist attractions. Worshippers sat in Johnson’s radiant space during the Hour of Power, or listened in parked cars, or watched it all as television panned from his stage set to fountains outside. The cathedral’s corporate sheen was reminiscent of Johnson’s Pennzoil building in Houston, and upscale enough to convince the congregants that they were the Episcopalians of Revivalism.
By 1990, Johnson added The Bell Tower or Campanile, including melodramatic life-sized sculptures that reminded you that the man who loved modernism also shared cultural roots with the Liberace Museum.
Thanks to Armand Hammer (providing introductions to Mikhail Gorbachev) and Rupert Murdoch (satellite access to the former Soviet Union), Schuller’s global reach widened. The architecture made for better television, according to Erica Robles, author of a forthcoming book on the Crystal Cathedral, architecture, and the media.
In 2003, the Crystal Cathedral campus expanded even further, and at greater cost, with a $40 million International Center for Possibility Thinking, a generic visitors center in embossed curved steel and glass designed by Richard Meier.
The dream-team campus’ financial collapse defies familiar tales of greedy right-wing evangelists enriching themselves and spending lavishly on homes and luxuries. The Hour of Power had no strong right-wing political agenda. Crystal Cathedral leaders were paid reasonable salaries and most of the construction, albeit by celebrity architects, was funded by contributions. In the past two years, as Robert Schuller’s children miscalculated on internet expansion and funded a lavish, money-losing production called Creation, those contributions fell 24 percent. (Most creditors are media firms or vendors, not builders.)
There’s no clear prophetic element to the Schuller fall from grace besides the inherent risk in passing the reins of an empire to one’s children. Charisma isn’t transferable, nor is it always genetic, as the Schullers have learned to their chagrin. Another lesson is that the risk to any mega-church depends on how leveraged it is, and on its dependency on the personal appeal of a single pastor.
So far, none of Schuller’s wealthy patrons has risen to ease the debt, although one might have found the money if Schuller’s message echoed Tea Party rhetoric. A revenue trickle comes from opening its parking lots to the public, yet a worsening crisis could force the Crystal Cathedral back to its roots. “A lot of those drive-ins didn’t make money showing feature films,” said Erica Robles. Possibilities range from flea markets to biker shows, to mergers with Christians who have capital. If I were choosing, the Meier building would be the first on the block. Jim Coleman, the Crystal Cathedral’s creative director and Robert Schuller’s son-in-law, swears that there are no plans to sell any of the campus architecture. “We are faithful people. Remember, the Israelites had their backs against the Red Sea when Moses took them there,” he said.
Where on the dark side might the Schuller empire end up if things don’t work out the way they did for Moses? What if they scheduled an apocalypse, and no cars drove in? Surely, icons for sale wouldn’t be a sin. God knows.