Search results for "whitney"

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MoMA the Demolisher
Dan Nguyen / Flickr

The Museum of Modern Art is in the unenviable position of destroying a relatively new building by a respected architecture firm. The former American Folk Art Museum building sits between the MoMA’s existing building and a planned tower designed by Jean Nouvel. The folk art museum’s former home, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsein Architects, was completed in 2001 and sold to MoMA only ten years later, in 2011, relieving the folk art museum from a heavy debt burden.

According to MoMA’s director, Glenn Lowry, the folk art museum initiated the transaction. “We entered into the process with an open mind,” he said a statement. “However, it was also with the understanding that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to integrate a building that was designed for a very specific purpose and as a discrete structure with the Museum’s plans for expansion.”

Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of MoMA's architecture and design department, told AN that the decision was an administrative, rather than a curatorial one. He called the decision “painful” for architects and others who appreciate Williams and Tsein’s work, and acknowledged that museums have a responsibility to the art in their care—including architecture. But, he said, the building “was designed as a jewel box for folk art,” and could not reasonably be altered to fit a different collection and a different purpose. Bergdoll added that some possible solutions, including retaining only the facade of the former folk art museum building or drastically restructuring it, would violate its architectural integrity and “denature its total design aesthetic.”

Facade of the American Folk Art Museum (left). Interior of Williams and Tsien's building shortly after it was vacated by the American Folk Art Museum (right).
Giles Ashford

Williams and Tsien’s firm has been inundated with press inquiries since news of MoMA’s demolition plans broke, but a public statement on their website expresses their sadness over MoMA’s decision. “The Folk Art building stands as an example of a modest and purposefully conceived and crafted space for art and the public; a building type that is all too rare in a city often defined by bigness and impersonality,” read the statement.

Williams and Tsein are no strangers to museum design. Their design for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia was completed in 2012, and they have undertaken two expansion projects for the Phoenix Art Museum. Their website lists several other cultural organizations as clients, including the HoodMuseum at Dartmouth College and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Meanwhile, the American Folk Art Museum, thriving in its scaled-back home on Lincoln Square, presents a cheerful public face. They have also issued a public statement via their website. “We remain grateful for the purchase of the building by our good neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art; the sale of the building was a necessary step for our resurgence.”

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Guggenheim Announces Expansion of Frank Lloyd Wright Museum
“What if we decided we needed a little more Guggenheim?” asked New York- and Athens-based group Oiio Architecture Office. In a shocking announcement on its Facebook page, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum today disclosed that it will be expanding—vertically: "We are pleased to announce that beginning today, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will begin construction to expand the original Frank Lloyd Wright design by an additional 13 floors." The museum has always faced spatial limitations,and as the Whitney has taken to expanding over the High Line, renderings for Oiio Architecture Office show the Guggenheim rising vertically from its Fifth Avenue site, continuing the building's signature spiral form. While this expansion is sure to garner criticism from preservationists, as the buildings is currently listed with both the National Register of Historic Places and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, representatives from the museum have stated that the proposed addition will respond respectfully Wright’s original design.
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Shiffman, Haggerty, Young Technologists Win Jacobs Medals
Last night, at the Frank Gehry-designed AIC building in far west Chelsea, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Municipal Arts Society honored an esteemed group of urban activists, designers, and community developers with Jane Jacobs Medals, a prestigious prize named for the ground breaking urban writer and activist. Ron Shiffman, founder of the Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development, was awarded the medal for lifetime leadership. Roseanne Haggerty of Common Ground and Community Solutions, received the award to new ideas and activism. A new award for technology and innovation was given to Carl Skelton, the founder of Betaville, and Cassie Flynn, Erin Barnes, and Brandon Whitney, the creators of ioby (In Our Backyards), a crowdsourced sustainability platform (the trio also donned Jacobs-like glasses after accepting their award). The event was originally scheduled for last November, but had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy, which damaged the IAC building as well as many of the galleries, businesses, and residences in the surrounding neighborhood. Social and environmental resilience were strong themes of the night, and Ron Shiffman closed the ceremony with a rallying cry for greater civic activism--a fitting message for an evening dedicated to Jacobs.
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Michael Asher, 1943-2012
Michael Asher's 1970 installation at the Pomona College Museum of Art.
Courtesy Pomona College Museum of Art

I was saddened by the news of Michael Asher's death last month. It was too soon perhaps. When he was alive his work did not get much attention from architects. In the art world, he was a giant with highly creative, fully engaging works and intensely figured out in-situ art installations. His teaching at Cal Arts was also legendary. His lifelong friend and fellow artist John Knight, who was my teacher at SCI Arc in late 70's and early 80's, introduced me to Asher’s work.

Michael Asher.
Courtesy The Art Newspaper

What made Michael Asher extremely relevant to architecture has to do with his work’s spatial concerns and their contextual narratives, particularly site specific and situationist manipulations of space often in a dialog with the viewer via the sculptural platforms. As Duchamp did with his readymades, Michael Asher also sought to connect art with people. Except in Asher's case they were decidedly engaged more direct interdependencies between art and architecture.

His “air works” is a good example of one of these sculptural platforms when Asher, inspired by the air movement inside a structure, installed a fan or combination of fans blowing air from the ceiling to floor in a conical spread, defining a territory in which a resultant interiority is felt by the body's sensory reception of the moving air. Often using an industrial Dayton air blower as art material, Asher in one of his first installations, experimented with the “air works” in appropriately titled exhibition called “Appearing/Disappearing Image/Object” in Newport Harbor Museum and later in Whitney Museum in 1968, “Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials.” In “air works” the invisible volumes created inside a museum space invited the viewer for interaction while on the other hand opened discussions for materiality in art and its breakaway independence from the formalism of the sculpture and its production process. Air works ultimately staged the viewer thorough a highly configured sensorial theater in its situated “site” strategically selected in the gallery.

Another project in relation to site/context/content integration is called Michael Asher Lobby. The actual reception/information area of a then newly opened Temporary Contemporary Museum in Los Angeles in its inaugural 1983 exhibition “In Context” for which the artist secured the aesthetic control of the lobby area of the Museum via a licensing contract for a specified time of twenty months.

Another view of Asher's 1970 installation at Pomona College Museum of Art.
Courtesy Pomona College Museum of Art

In doing so, the artist juxtaposed the institutionally occupied “site” with a privately controlled one. Practically owning the territorial and the artistic control of the space and its prestige value. He simultaneously established a privileged objectification and branding of the otherwise unchallenged architectural programs the public often accepts as granted and part of the “interior landscape.” A corporate looking lobby in this case became a context artist himself controlled directly. Michael Asher Lobby is also an insurgent decoy ironically exposing the museum's power recognition of the corporate and individual donation politics in the form of a plaque on a column and folded business cards on the information counter. They are the artist's performative materials in addition to a claimed lobby. They set the operational associations within the corporate aesthetics. All of this is packaged on Michael Asher's interactive platform. These are the texts of his discussions strategized within the politics of space. They are rigorously investigated conflicts, expositions of cultural control and production, masterfully situated, contextualized and made visible to co-exist with the conventional architectures and sculptures in the gallery space of the museum. These inserts and constructions have the content which architects (with the exception of Robert Venturi and few others) generally mute and ultimately compromise in exchange for purely physical forms, for one to one surface/mass affinity with traditional sculpture and often disarming themselves without much to say.

Finally, in his installation in Mies van de Rohe's Haus Lange in 1982 the artist took the existing floor plan of the house at the ground level and rotated 90 degrees. Thus the white exhibition walls protruding out of brick exterior walls of the house, exposing the idea that Mies designed the house on a grid system which is not easily apparent as the architect's later projects. In this project, Asher clearly employs the formal and abstract notions of making the sculpture. The existing floor plan re-introduced via the movement of the rotation, emphasizing its architectural formalism, re-contextualized. The result is purely sculptural, driven directly from Mies' floor plan of the house. Sort of reverse of what architects are usually concerned with, when the construction is the other way around. As it is generative, it is ironic and critical in the same time.

Even though they are separate projects, this project is also in a critical dialog with Daniel Buren's installation in Haus Esters next door, where Buren takes the Haus Lange plan and super imposes on the Haus Esters, creating new set of interior and exterior rooms in his Plan contre-plan. Both works remarkable examples of juxtaposing architecture and sculpture and there are some collaborative results arrived by both artists who were close friends as well.

Whether it is architectural, conversational, sculptural, political and social, Asher's work heavily engages context for developing the work. This is as to say, art exists everywhere and the artist must decide where to make it known to viewer. Most of this art happens during the oscillation of the objectification and de-objectification of the final work. In Michael Asher's art there is always the two, as in and as if figure to ground. The meaning of the work is found in the dialectic of these two things. Black room to white room, permanent to temporary, mark to demarcation, institutional to deinstitutional, meaning to another meaning and so on. If the dialectic is there, it has an intelligent plan.

Video> Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum Time-Lapse Construction Along the High Line
Renzo Piano's new Whitney Museum and adjacent maintenance building have been quickly rising between the High Line and the Hudson River in Manhattan, topping out on December 17, 2012. Now, the Whitney has condensed the entire construction sequence from its groundbreaking in October 2011 up through January 14 into one easy-to-watch time-lapse video. And if you just can't get enough of the Whitney under construction, you can watch live on this webcam or take a virtual fly-through of the new museum here. [Via Curbed.]
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Hudson Yards Breaks Ground as Manhattan’s Largest Mega-Development
Tuesday morning, New York's top power brokers gathered in a muddy lot on Manhattan's west side to mark the official groundbreaking of the 26-acre Hudson Yards mega-development. The dramatic addition to the New York skyline will comprise a completely new neighborhood of glass skyscrapers at the northern terminus of the High Line. The South Tower, the first structure to be built and the future headquarters of fashion-label Coach, will rise on the site's southeast corner at 30th Street and 10th Avenue, where Related CEO Stephen Ross, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and others celebrated the first turning of dirt as a large caisson machine bored into the ground. Representing the largest single piece of undeveloped land in Manhattan and the largest private development since Rockefeller Center, Hudson Yards will eventually house towers designed by some of the biggest names in architecture: Kohn Pedersen Fox, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, David Rockwell, SOM, and Elkus Manfredi with landscapes by Nelson Byrd Woltz. Hudson Yards is being developed by Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group, who made a deal with rail yards-owner MTA for 13 million square feet of development rights in May 2010. Speaking at the groundbreaking, MTA chairman Joe Lhota remembered back to January 1995 when, acting as the NYC finance commissioner, he realized the lost economic potential in the Hudson Yards site as it generated no revenue for the city. With Hudson Yards, though, Lhota said, "It's not only going to be a new source of revenue. It's going to be something you rarely ever see in New York: the creation of a new neighborhood." The 47-story South Tower by KPF recently crossed the 80-percent-leased line, anchored by Coach which nabbed 740,000 square feet in the 1.7 million square foot building. The footprint of the first tower sits just south of the rail yards, below where a platform will be built to accomodate further development, and adjacent to the High Line, partially straddling a portion of the wildly successful park. A large atrium at the base of the South Tower will overlook the High Line. The tower is being designed to achieve LEED Gold certification and will be complete in 2015. Once additional tenants are secured, KPF's second, larger North Tower with 2.4 million square feet will be built atop the rail yards and linked to the South Tower by Elkus Manfredi's shopping mall complex along 10th Avenue, which will contribute 750,000 square feet, the majority of the overall 1.15 million square feet of retail space at Hudson Yards. "As more tenants commit to the area, Related will build the platform and the additional towers that will be constructed atop the platform allowing us to realize our vision," Bloomberg told the crowd. The North Tower will feature an observation deck precariously cantilevering 80 feet out into Manhattan's air space. "We began with two basic principles," Bloomberg said. "We determined Hudson Yards should be a mixed-use community and an extension of the Midtown central business district." He cited affordable housing, schools, and world class commercial spaces as key to the areas success. "The second principle was recognizing that public policy decisions and infrastructure investment will be crucial to this new community." He lauded the 2005 city council approval of a 300-acre rezoning of the area and an agreement with the MTA to expand the 7 line west from Times Square to this area, a project he was quick to point out is completely funded by the city. West of the South Tower, the flagship cultural component of Hudson Yards will occupy a dramatic spot alongside the High Line. "Working with dynamic architects Diller, Scofidio + Renfro and David Rockwell, [the Culture Shed] is another step in New York City's development as the world's home for innovation in the arts. And that's what gets an awful lot of people to come here," Bloomberg said. "The Culture Shed will welcome all the creative industries—performance, exhibitions, media, design, and fashion week—and be a destination for community events." The 100,000-square-foot Culture Shed is expected to build on recent cultural additions lining the High Line like the new Whitney Museum to the south. Elsewhere on the site, 5,000 residences and a luxury hotel in towers by DS+R and SOM and a new public school will be built. SOM's 60-story "E Tower" features rounded corners and gradual setbacks as it rises, meant to evoke abstracted canyons and produce stunning views. It will house the hotel, residences, office space, and a health club. The "D Tower" by DS+R will stand 72 stories tall and connect with the Culture Shed. The tower's main design feature is called "The Corset," an intricately deformed portion of the building's middle where criss-crossing "straps" that make the building appear fluid in form. Eventually, more than 40,000 people will live or work at Hudson Yards. The entire development is organized around large public spaces, which appeared in a recent issue of AN. Running north from 33rd Street, another public space by Michael Van Valkenburgh, called Hudson Park and Boulevard, will house a new entrance to the expanded 7 Line subway, expected to open in 2014. Be sure to check out the full multimedia gallery below, featuring renderings of all the buildings that will comprise Hudson Yards, the site today, speakers from the groundbreaking, and views of the site's detailed architectural model.
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People In Glass Houses Should Have Fresh Flowers
Director Henry Urbach just announced a program that will reintroduce fresh flowers into Philip Johnson's iconic Glass House in New Canaan, CT, where they've been missing seen since Johnson and his partner, David Whitney, passed away in 2005. The arrangements will be created by local designer Dana Worlock, using Whitney's original plant selection and archival photographs of the home's interior as inspiration. Meanwhile, AN is participating in this week's Glass House Conversations about themes in this year's Venice Biennale, especially the relationship between critical compliance as espoused by David Chipperfield and Spontaneous Intervention and as featured in the U.S. Pavilion. Share your thoughts through September 2nd. The Glass House 199 Elm Street, New Canaan, CT 06840 Open Thursday-Monday, 9:30a.m-5:30 p.m. Tickets start at $30.
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Yayoi Kusama Covers a Meatpacking District Scaffold With Dots
We already knew that DDG Partners could pull together a classy "product," as they say in real estate parlance. But now the group has upped the ante by teaming with Yayoi Kusama, the 83-year-old Japanese show-stopping pop artist. Kusama's blockbuster at the Whitney has already spilled over into cross-marketing at Louis Vuitton with her ubiquitous dots climbing up the facade of their 57th Street Store. Downtown the artist's Yellow Trees will sprawl across protective netting on construction scaffolding at DDGs 345meatpacking, the group's new 14th Street project which could rival their comparatively quiet 41 Bond Street project. 345 promises to make a much splashier entrance, but with a hand laid Danish Kulumba brick facade, it could be Bond Street's equal in craftsmanship. The public won't see the results until September 30th, when the Kusama curtain will fall and the Kulumba will be revealed.
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Breuer Trove
Bridge at NYU Residence Hall in the Bronx (1961).
Courtesy Syracuse University Library

With the launch of the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive in April, Syracuse University reached the midpoint in digitizing their extensive Breuer collection. While the public and critics debate the merits of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital in Chicago or Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, the new website will add grist to the mill of Brutalist defenders looking for concrete arguments about the movement’s pedigree. Though Breuer and many of his disciples would likely eschew any stylistic labels, there are finds within the archive that arguably could be viewed as seeds for the Whitney Museum, a Brutalist bellwether on Madison Avenue.

The site delves deep into Breuer’s halcyon furniture-designing days at the Bauhaus and continues up through 1955, when some of his earliest experiments with a sculptural treatment of concrete begin to play out, including the theoretical Garden City of the Future from the mid-1930s and his hyperbolic parabaloids and formwork designs for New York University (NYU) in the early 1950s. All archival materials that could be obtained prior to 1955 are included. As World War II forced Breuer from Dessau to London and finally to Cambridge, Massachusetts, coordinating archival material involved a host of institutions outside of Syracuse, including the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, the Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, University of East Anglia, and Harvard University.

Hagerty House (1938) Cohasset, MA (left). Canopy at U.N. Secretariat (1958) Paris (right).
Courtesy Source

But the bulk of Breuer’s later works are still awaiting funds to complete the project. The 1955 cutoff was deemed appropriate as the period represents the time Breuer moved from early residential projects to big government and institutional work. Not yet online are the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and the Whitney, though harbingers of both projects can be found in the NYU file. The even-then-expanding university hired the architect, not once, but twice to design buildings for their Bronx campus then known as NYU Uptown, now home to Bronx Community College.

There is plenty of fresh material to mine. “People haven’t written on the concrete; they tend to focus more on the Bauhaus,” said the website’s project coordinator Teresa Harris. The gems revealed in the NYU file show Breuer’s initial experimentations with hyperbolic paraboloids. But the boomerang gesture of the dormitories on the Uptown campus overlooking the Harlem River is a dead ringer for the UNESCO project.

Chamberlain Cottage (1940-41) Wayland, MA (left), Litchfield High School (1953) Litchfield, CT (CENTER), Hunter College (1957-1960) Bronx, NY (right)
Courtesy Source

Breuer’s superb NYU lecture halls still astonish, with three huge concrete legs supporting a central hallway uniting the two rooms and Breuer’s intricately designed board-formed patterning. The website’s detail images of the formwork being installed are a delicious hint of things to come. In a 2008 telephone interview, Breuer assistant Robert Gatje recalled, “We used to call it ‘the bird,’” he said. “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know of any precedent or follow up.”

In a statement, Museum of Modern Art’s Barry Bergdoll said that the website would not only open a new generation of Breuer scholarship but could also open a “whole new set of questions about the profile and issues of American modernism from the 1930s through the 1970s.” Breuer’s legacy could be refined, but so too could the definition of Brutalism. “He hated to be called a Bauhaus architect,” explained Gatje. “He never liked the term Brutalism, but it was adopted by the architecture press. Breuer did his own thing.”

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MoMA, Develop Don’t Destroy
American Folk Art Museum.
Dan Nguyen/Flickr

Every year, The Art Newspaper, the august art tabloid out of the U.K., publishes its data-crunching Exhibition & Museum Attendance Figures for museums around the world. And once again the Museum of Modern Art figured prominently in the top ten of multiple lists, including presenting three of the 20 most popular exhibitions for the year (the design show Talk to Me was in fact number 20) and standing at number three for total art museum attendance.

MoMA has long since proved its might in terms of establishing an agenda for art, and particularly architecture stretching from Philip Johnson’s groundbreaking International Style show of 1938 to Barry Bergdoll’s Rising Currents exhibition two years ago. And so it is paramount that MoMA use its considerable clout and weigh in decisively on the fate of the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM), now standing empty and engulfed on three sides by MoMA, the building itself to the east and property it owns and plans to develop with Gerald Hines on the west and north. MoMA, in fact, owns the AFAM building having bailed out the struggling institution last summer when it was forced to give up its flagship due to fiscal mismanagement and retreat to a second-floor gallery near Lincoln Center. It’s hard not to hear the licking of chops: Jean Nouvel’s supertall for the site currently works its way around and behind AFAM but it would surely make real estate sense to simply gulp it up.

AFAM, a small masterwork by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, two outstanding talents in contemporary architecture, is a delectable morsel—only 40 feet wide, its most remarkable feature is its facade of 63 cast panels of white bronze, a material common to propellers and fire hoses but never before used architecturally, textured like concrete, and faceted with subtle origami-like folds. In one stroke, the architecture tells the story of the institution’s key interests: material, craft and scale. On completion, it was awarded ARUP’s Best New Building in the World for 2001 and graced innumerable magazine covers around the world. It was the first new ground-up museum in New York in 30 years going back to Marcel Breuer’s Whitney; one might say AFAM breathed warm, sensual life into a poorly understood and too easily dismissed architectural voice, Brutalism.

Something has to be done to prevent the cannibalism of a small icon by an as yet to be built icon, if only to prove that contemporary architecture is not instantly disposable. In an impromptu conversation with a Hines vice president, I was told that the developer would as soon see the building erased from the site, but that Hines was waiting to hear from MoMA, noticeably silent on the subject. Tod Williams and Billie Tsien are also hanging fire. At a press conference for the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Williams spoke with anguish and concern about the fate of AFAM. He knows that New York real estate is a take-no-prisoners game, but he is still hopeful, noting that one of the museum’s floors aligns perfectly with one of MoMA’s. Williams said he, too, has heard from no one at MoMA.

There are compelling reasons for MoMA to come up with a solution and a way to incorporate at least the AFAM façade into the new tower that will be conjoined to the museum only at a few interior levels. Several expansions of the museum have all included the original 1939 Goodwin and Stone facade. That may have been about preserving legacy, but saving AFAM could be on message, too. In its materials—apart from the white bronze, there is bush-hammered concrete, cast resin, and salvaged timber on the inside— it speaks to a modern interest in texture and fabrication that MoMA has left largely unexplored, and that could contribute to the museum’s professed commitment to a wider understanding of modernism.

Paul Goldberger has suggested online that MoMA turn AFAM into a home for its director, something like Saarinen’s house for the director of Cranbrook. Surely MoMA can do better (Besides, Glen Lowry is already comfortably ensconced in the Museum Tower). At a time when MoMA is talking the talk of responsible treatment of quality resources and of architecture’s ability to solve complex problems, it should act accordingly and find a way to incorporate not destroy AFAM.

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Eyes Have It
Jeremy Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Alexandra Lange
Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95

Time was, if you were interested in becoming an architecture critic, you read the work of other critics, gleaned what you could from it, then set out to develop a voice of your own, a process that generally involved both imitating and contradicting your predecessors.  If you read any books that could be classified as architecture criticism they were almost surely collections of a single critic’s work that had been assembled between two covers as a hedge against the brief shelf life of newspaper and magazine articles in a pre-Internet age.

Now, you can take courses in architecture criticism, a development that probably says more about the upsurge of popular interest in architecture over the last generation than it does about any specific desire on the part of students to join this miniscule profession. But still, the demand is sufficient to keep Alexandra Lange busy teaching architecture criticism at not one but two institutions, New York University and the School of Visual Arts. (I teach an architecture criticism course myself at Parsons The New School for Design, so I suppose we could say that downtown Manhattan is architecture criticism’s educational epicenter.)

So it should not be that much of a surprise that Lange has written a different kind of architecture criticism book, not an anthology of her own or any other single critic’s writing, but what amounts to a textbook. Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities is a how-to book for a profession that has never, so far as I know, had one before. It is based roughly on Lange’s course, and it is organized around six significant pieces of writing (appearing in full) that she believes have particular value as object lessons.

Marcel Breuer's Whitney Museum.

Lange selected some of my favorite pieces of writing to use as her paradigms, including Charles Moore’s essay of 1965, “You Have to Pay for the Public Life,” which might be called the beginning of the important academic discipline of Disneyland Studies, and which for me ranks as one of the seminal works of architecture criticism of the second half of the twentieth century. There is also a pair of excerpts from Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, the book that set in motion nothing short of a sea change in its field. Lange also devotes chapters to typical, but absolutely first-rate, journalism in the form of reviews by Lewis Mumford on Lever House, by Ada Louise Huxtable on the 140 Broadway skyscraper and by Michael Sorkin on Michael Graves’ ill-fated plan to expand the Whitney Museum. She focuses another chapter on Herbert Muschamp’s remarkable, intensely personal essay on Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; and one to a paper by Frederick Law Olmsted, “Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns,” from 1870, as a way of bringing landscape architecture into a broader discussion of urban public space.

With Mumford, Huxtable, Jacobs, and Olmsted, Lange is giving us what we might call the canon of architecture criticism. I might have tossed a bit of the late-nineteenth century critic Montgomery Schuyler into the mix; though his writing wasn’t exactly breezy—he was to architecture criticism as Henry James was to the novel—Schuyler pretty much invented the notion of architecture criticism as a part of journalism. He was a key early advocate of the skyscraper, a subject Lange devotes two of her chapters to, so it’s odd to see him not even make the index. She does refer to a number of other critics in the essays sandwiched between the major texts (Full disclosure: I am one of them, and my review of Norman Foster’s Hearst Building is contrasted with other skyscraper reviews) and so the book is by no means limited to her six anointed authors. But neither will it give you a broad sample of either contemporary or historic architecture criticism.

Writing About Architecture is what it says it is: a how-to book. Lange analyzes her key texts with great care and perceptiveness, and happily she is wide ranging in her taste. She seems as comfortable explaining Muschamp’s intensely idiosyncratic criticism as Sorkin’s indignant yet elegant and erudite rants, and she discusses them both with sympathy and intelligence. At the end of the day her heart clearly belongs to Ada Louise Huxtable, but then again, what architecture critic’s doesn’t?

If there is a problem with this book, it emerges out of the limits of the textbook genre, which seems inevitably to encourage authors to classify and categorize. Lange declares Sorkin an activist critic and Muschamp an “experiential” one. She says that Huxtable and Mumford are focused primarily on “the form of the artifact,” and that yours truly organizes reviews “the man, not the building.” That may be a fair enough conclusion to reach from the pieces she cites, but none of the critics Lange discusses in detail can, or should, be pigeonholed. Huxtable is an activist critic and an experiential critic; she is also a critic who uses history, and a critic who writes with an awareness of social, political, physical, cultural and personal context. Sorkin is more than an activist critic, Muschamp was more than an essayist about private architectural experience. And so on.

Lange is too smart not to know this. And she’s too good a writer to truly believe that other good writers can be put into simple categories. (The study questions that follow each chapter are also well meaning but cause her clear essays to conclude with a thud, as if they weren’t lively commentaries but lead-ins to homework assignments.)

Lange understands that the purpose of writing about architecture is to build a constituency for better design, to help people see, to help them feel some agency over the built environment—and to help them take joy in architecture’s great moments. She’s good at doing that herself, and this book will help others do it, too.

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Master Glass
Garden party at the Glass House in 1967.
Courtesy the Glass House

On April 2, Henry Urbach began his tenure as the director of the Glass House, the former weekend home of architect Philip Johnson and now one of the handful of modernist properties overseen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. After running an architecture-focused gallery in New York and a stint as chief architecture and design curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Urbach is settling into the more pastoral surroundings of New Canaan, Connecticut. He’ll be the first director to live on the Glass House property, moving into Calluna Farms, a 19th-century farmhouse that was the residence of Johnson’s partner David Whitney. And following in the footsteps of the very social Johnson and Whitney, as director Urbach plans to bring the party to New Canaan.

Henry Urbach.
Winni Wintermeyer

The Architect’s Newspaper: Before being appointed director, what was your relationship to the Glass House?

Henry Urbach: I first went to the Glass House in 2001 at Philip’s invitation. A mutual friend, Hilary Lewis, introduced us, and Philip was eager to know about the gallery I was running at the time. He was always curious about what “the kids” were up to. I spent a beautiful morning with him on the property. It was really a special day.

Then, a few years ago, I started to explore a new project about the Glass House as a curatorial laboratory, a complement to Johnson’s work as founding curator of modern architecture at the Museum of Modern Art. Curatorial practice in architecture lacks a sense of its own genealogy. I’d become interested in Johnson’s work at the Glass House—in particular, the architecture, art, and people he collected and displayed there. So I went back to New Canaan for a visit last year and, while there, was given a tour by a staff member who mentioned the search for a new director.

How does that project idea relate to your goals as the new director?

My ambition for the Glass House is to reanimate it as something not so different from what it was during Philip’s lifetime. Currently, it’s operating as a house museum, and we will continue with that public mission. But we also want to develop an intimate, vibrant center for contemporary culture that will host changing exhibitions, performances, and other events, with fellows and writers-in-residence. The Glass House is an ideal facility for producing a new conversation on culture, thanks to its proximity to—and distance from—New York as well as research institutions in the area, including Columbia, Yale, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. It is also an ideal stage for culture because of its extraordinary setting, with structures and landscape that can support a range of activities. I feel this is the best way to honor the legacy that Philip and David Whitney left to us.

That’s an ambitious, not to mention lively, vision for a National Trust property. Are the powers that be supportive?

Very much so. As part of a very thorough interview process, I was asked to state my “vision” for the Glass House, and I submitted a 12-page document outlining the idea of the Glass House as a house/museum/cultural center, a kind of 21st-century salon. I foresee a multidisciplinary approach to the projects I’m hoping to foster on-site. It’s an extension of something I’ve been working on for quite some time—an expanded notion of architecture as it reaches toward culture.

When it opened in 2007, the first few seasons of tours at the site were sold out. But over the years that level of demand may prove impossible to sustain. In terms of fund raising, what do you see as the next chapter for the Glass House?

There was a pent-up demand early on from people who hadn’t had the opportunity to visit. That demand has softened, and the challenge now is to give people a reason to come back and experience the site in new ways. There has been a recent change of leadership at the National Trust, and there’s genuine support for innovative approaches to historic preservation. It’s not just the physical elements and “look” of the site that we aim to preserve, but also the spirit of the place, its DNA. In my view, that means the Glass House should remain a site of cultural production, a place of innovation and discovery.