Search results for "Richard Meier"

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Quick Clicks> Architecture in Store, Meier is Gilt-y, Clean Air Square, and Suburban Slums
Just Architecture. The Van Alen Institute announced that NYC is about to welcome its first bookstore and reading room singularly devoted to architecture, Van Alen Books, located on 30 West 22nd Street. Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects (and one of the two candidates for the next PennDesign Architecture Dean) and architectural historian Anthony Vidler will be presenting their latest books at the opening party scheduled for next Thursday, April 21. Flash Sale Curator. Curbed shows today that there is no boundary for what architects can do. A popular flash sale venue, Gilt Groupe, is having a home products sale today at noon, curated by an architect, Richard Meier. Items up for sale include "a signed copy of Taschen's Meier, a mezuzah he designed for The Jewish Museum of New York, and his Architectonic Menorah," normally sold for $1K! Breathing Times. According to Streetsblog, New York's Times Square, visited by 250,000 pedestrians each day, has become much more breathable since the 2009 installation of pedestrian plazas (find out why Bill Clinton is a fan) on Broadway. Concentrations of two traffic-related air pollutants, nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide, have gone down by 63% and 41%, respectively! Suburban Slumification. Business Insider identifies 18 cities (including a less-than-expected Minneapolis) where suburbs are rapidly turning into slums. In the past, cities suffered crimes and poverty during recessions, while the rich stayed away in their safe suburban havens. But not anymore. Suburban slums are growing five times faster than cities.
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Talking Heads
IAUS fellows and friends at one of Peter Eisenman's Indian dinners circa 1974. Clockwise from lower left: Bill Ellis, Rick Wolkowitz, Peter Eisenman, Liz Eisenman, Mario Gandelsonas, Madelon Vriesendorp, Rem Koolhaas, Julia Bloomfield, Randall Korman, Stuart Wrede, Andrew MacNair, Anthony Vidler, Richard Meier, unidentified woman, Kenneth Frampton, Diana Agrest, Caroline 'Coty' Sidnam, Jane Ellis, Suzanne Frank, and Alexander Gorlin.
Courtesy Suzanne Frank


Team Vitruvius


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.”

Kenneth Frampton and Peter Eisenman   Cesariano's Vitruvian man on one side of the revolving door.
Kenneth Frampton and Peter Eisenman sporting matching haircuts at 8 West 40th Street, circa 1970 (left), and the revolving door with Cesariano's Vitruvian man strapped to a grid on one side. Le Corbusier's Modulor Man was pasted on the other (right).
Gregory Gale

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.

New Urban Settlements cover
The number 1 on the cover of New Urban Settlements designed by Robert Slutzky indicated that more were to come.
Dick Frank

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”).

  The IAUS journal Oppositions 5
The IAUS journal, Oppositions 5, edited by Eisenman, Frampton, and Gandelsonas.
Dick Frank

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.


A photo-montage from a 1971 issue of Casabella showed Institute members wearing sweatshirts with Vitruvian Man images and posing as a soccer team.
From Casabella, 1971



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.

  Peter Eisenman
Peter Eisenman displays brand loyalty.
Gregory Gale

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.

Large hall at the 40th Street location.

The large hall with balcony at the 40th Street location, the Institute's second home, lent itself to flexible uses.
Gregory Gale

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

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Sic Transit Sagaponac
New house option by Resolution 4 Architecture.
Courtesy Resolution 4 Architecture

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.

1954 Usonian House

1954 Usonian House by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy Tarantino Architects

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.

Elizabeth Reese House   Elizabeth Reese House
1963 Elizabeth Reese House by Andrew Geller.
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.

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(Updated!) A Call to Free Ai Weiwei, Artist, Architect, Activist

(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.

Sincerely yours,

Richard Meier

(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.

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California Court Appeal
AECOM's Long Beach Courthouse.
Courtesy AECOM

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.

Contra Costa Courthouse by HOK.
Courtesy HOK

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.”

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Arts & Letters Announces 2011 Winners
The venerable American Academy of Arts and Letters announced the winners of their various prizes in architecture to an impressive array of writers and practitioners. The judges were Henry N. Cobb, Peter Eisenman, Hugh Hardy, Richard Meier, James Polshek, Billie Tsien (chair), and Tod Williams. The Bruner Memorial prize emphasizes the artistic aspect of the trade and the jury selected Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam of Atlanta. The couple has been practicing architecture for more than 25 years. Tod Williams called out the "simultaneously humane and bold" aspects of their work which conveys an "optimistic and joyous" spirit. The award for Arts and Letters, which focuses on a "strong personal direction", went to William E. Massie of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and Julie VandenBerg Snow of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  James Polshek calls Massie a "free spirited constructivist inventor" and Billie Tsien noted the "invention within convention" in VandenBerg Snow's buildings. The winners for expressing architectural ideas though any medium were LA based Sylvia Lavin and NYC based Anthony Vidler. Peter Eisenman cited Lavin's "intelligence in a battle with mediocrity," while Richard Meier admired Vidler's "extraordinary contributions to the academic and architectural community through teaching and writings."
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Code Orange: You, Too, Can Be a Zoning Expert
You can’t miss the New York Department of City Planning’s 2011 Zoning Handbook—it’s bright orange. Clear and navigable, the book reads like an intermediate level foreign language textbook. The latest edition, like the 2006 version, includes user-friendly line drawings of buildings connected to cartoon balloons providing detailed information. The new handbook hit the agency's bookstore yesterday. A color coded map of NYC zoning ditricts. Recently, AN reported that a large chunk of Hell's Kitchen may revert from an M1-5 designation to an M2-4 designation. While that's not quite how we put it (our article noted that the proposed Hell's Kitchen commercial district would place height limits at 135 feet) a quick glance at the manual outlines the detailed regulations in surprisingly plain language. The manual goes deep but without getting bogged down in legalese or minutia, offering up the nitty-gritty on everything from parking regulations (none) to setbacks (starting at 85'). The illustration accompanying the M2-4 explanation features info bubbles that point at two parts of the building: the street wall and the set back, explaining that the building "cannot penetrate sky exposure plane, which begins 85' above the street line." Pretty clear. As expected, new zoning changes and an update of the Special Purpose Districts were added to the book. But it's the inclusion of recent initiatives that makes it worth checking out.  A press release from the agency noted that during the Bloomberg Administration 9,400 blocks have been rezoned. Much of this activity took place when the city prepared for a bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The release touts that smart growth and sustainable principles that took to the fore in the past nine years. New waterfront design guidelines make it into the text, as do incentives for buildings to provide bicycle parking. A couple of pages are devoted to explaining the FRESH Food Stores Program, a zoning incentive that encourages grocery stores to provide fresh food stores in underserved neighborhoods. A glossary of planning terms assumes the reader is completely new to the subject without being condescending. The book even goes so far as to define the term "building" (a structure that has one or more floors and a roof), but then the elaborates by defining detached, semi-detached, and zero lot line buildings. One section explains how to read zoning maps and another summarizes the NYC Zoning Resolution. There are explanations of the Inclusionary Housing Program, an update on Privately Owned Public Spaces (a.k.a. "POPS"), and a diagram for proper tree planting in parking lots. Public libraries, government officials, and community boards will get copies of the book, which can be bought at the agency's book store at 22 Reade Street for $35.
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Partying for the World Architectural Festival
The 2011 World Architecture Festival was in town beating the drum for their international competition at the Van Alen Institute last night. Paul Finch, the festival's program director, was joined by AN Editor-in-Chief William Menking and Van Alen Chair Abbey Hamlin in hosting the star-studded event. The frigid weather did not deter a distinguished crowd—white maned Richard Meier, red scarved Bernard Tschumi, man of the hour Thomas Leeser, Parks Commish Adrian Benepe—from celebrating what promises to be a hot ticket this November in Barcelona. With his English lilt Finch thanked the crowd for coming and promised his remarks would steer clear of Ricky Gervais territory. He briefly outlined some of the goals for this year's program, which included a bigger tent to incorporate interior architecture as well. While no hat was passed, Finch did say that the organization would be happy to take donations in any denomination. Jan Berman of MechoShade promptly offered to make a donation in lira.
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Mega-Church Meltdown
Major architecture for the mega-industry, from left to right, by Johnson, Johnson, Neutra, and Meier.
Scott Frances / Esto

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?

Philip Johnson's Bell Tower to the left of the International Center for Possibility Thinking by Richard Meier.

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.

The Crystal Cathedral by Johnson with Neutra's tower of Hope in the background.

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.

Richard Meier's International Center for Possibility Thinking built in 2003.

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.

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AN′s Twelfth-Hour Gift Grab 2010
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The Reign of TV in Spain
A recent trip to Barcelona for the World Architecture Festival (WAF) made clear to me just how well the nations of the European Union do at updating their historic centers. American tourists, of course, go to places like Spain to see medieval or Renaissance urbanism not contemporary cities. And that’s a shame because we could learn a great deal about how to build today and add intelligently to our own 19th and 20th century cities. The WAF takes place in a totally new city near the 2004 Herzog and deMeuron-designed Barcelona Forum, but even in the old city the Richard Meier-designed Macba Museum boldly asserts itself in the medieval core. Down La Ramblas from the quarter where the white Macba sits is another contemporary museum, the Santa Monica Museum, which is a kunsthalle. The museum does not collect art, but serves as a multidisciplinary center for art, science, thought, and communication. Even here Americans could learn a thing or two about contemporary culture, in this case, one of our favorites: television. The exhibition, "TV/Arts/TV" details the history of video art and includes all the pioneers of the movement including Dan Graham, Muntadas, Chris Marker, Gary Hill and Wolf Vostell. The exhibition is comprised almost entirely of spatially compelling installations that should be of interest to architects for its content and power to communicate with an audience. One piece, "From Receiver to Remote control... channeling Spain 2010", by New Yorkers Judith Barry and Ken Saylor with Project Projects, cork screwed through a dead end hallway with 91 photographs and 10 flat screens with audio that trace how television "transforms the social space of the home and family relations" (though the show closed on Saturday this piece has been extended through January). Based on an earlier version of the installation that focused on American television and the home, this piece compares some of the differences and similarities in television history between Spain and the U.S. in relationship  to the  'participatory.' It makes the point that "while television is often considered a monolithic entity, it differs from culture to culture. Tele-visual space produces personal and collective identities across 'national' and global boundaries where the viewer is implicated in questions of how media is democratized" and invites spectator participation. The narrowness of the hallway exhibition space and the displays on all the surrounding surfaces envelope museum-goers bringing us literally inside television as much as when we view a TV screen from a comfy chair at home.  With so many American artists involved, it's only a shame that I had to go Spain to see this thought-provoking work.
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The Meier Menorah

Starchitect Richard Meier is now in the Judaica business, sort of. He recently designed a limited edition menorah and series of mezuzahs for The Jewish Museum in New York. The menorah is based on the Meier Lamp, a piece that was originally commissioned by the Israel Museum in 1985. And just in time for Hanukkah (which begins December 1st), this limited edition menorah can be purchased through The Jewish Museum Shop. Meier's menorah is part of Design Edition JM, the first curated collection of modern Judaica by contemporary artists and designers. And he isn't alone wading into the (holy) waters of the Judaica market - Daniel Libeskind, Karim Rashid, and Jonathan Adler have also designed menorahs for that were available at Jewish museum shops. What inspired Meier (who himself is a member of the tribe) in his design? A collective memory of suffering and anti-Semitism. "In the design of the Hanukkah Menorah I was trying to express the collective memory of the Jewish people," explains Meier. "Each candleholder is an abstracted representation of an architectural style from significant moments of persecution in the history of Jews."  Together they serve as "reminders of the common past and struggles that Jewish people have suffered and their resilience and strength that is so wonderfully captured by the Hanukkah story." But wait, there's more... If your still want to own a little Meier and the $1,000 menorah is out of your price range, think smaller and think lintels - the architect also designed three pewter mezuzahs based on the English, Spanish, and Vienna towers found on the menorah. Retailing for around $125, they will be available for purchase exclusively through all three brick-and-mortar Jewish Museum Shops in New York City as well as online.