Search results for "Richard Meier"

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Eavesdrop NY 08
BEFORE SUBZERO, REFRIGERATORS WERE WHITE (OR AVOCADO) Eavesdrop jetted to pollen-crusted Raleigh, NC, with an eclectic herd of reporters from the likes of Sculpture magazine and The Jewish Daily Forward to tour the North Carolina Museum of Art expansion designed by Thomas Phifer. We were not disappointed. The 127,000-square-foot museum is an elegant, single-story box penetrated by courtyards, pools, and gardens. The interior and exterior details are so deliciously subtle that they seemed to elude some of the mainstream press, who asked him why he didn’t site the building to dominate the street. Articulate and precise, Phifer hypnotized the skeptics by explaining every strategy convincingly, and they hung on his every word. (Check out AN correspondent Thomas de Monchaux’s own critical appraisal in our next issue.) Later, as the tour wound down, and journalists were milling about in the lobby, Eavesdrop overheard two gentlemen relaxing on a bench and discussing the building’s aesthetics. The one with deep architectural insight commented to his older companion: “White. All the walls are white. Everything is white! I wondered what that was about, and then I remembered that Phifer worked for Richard Meier for years. That’s where he got his refrigerator-door palette!” Eavesdrop almost collapsed. CHANNELING WARHOL Attention, iPhoneys. “Is This Art?” is a new iPhone app “designed for people who have questions about the artistic integrity of their surroundings.” Using the iPhone’s camera, the app’s Pittsburgh-based developers claim they will instantly provide users with an “authoritative declaration of artistic importance.” This could work for architecture, thought Eavesdrop, which found three architecture-related submissions in its reservoir. The bloated, rainbow-colored “Hell, Yes!” barnacle on the New Museum in New York was panned with “I do not understand it; therefore, THIS NOT ART.” The merit of W.R. Dalzell’s apparently out-of-print book Architecture: The Indispensable Art was confirmed with “This work’s materiality is immaterial; therefore, THIS IS ART.” What is art, the cover or its contents? The same approval rating was bestowed on a bland window wall of a building that looks like a stillborn Dwell house. First one to submit a picture of Danny Libeskind’s Dresden Military History Museum wins. FAREWELL FEUD Raimund Abraham, who died in a car accident on March 4 in Los Angeles, had been a faculty member at Cooper Union since 1971, along with other long-timers such as Lebbeus Woods, Diane Lewis, and Kevin Bone. And while a memorial for Abraham in Vienna at the MAK Museum is planned for June 11 (including Peter Eisenman, Michael Rotondi, Wolf Prix, and Woods as speakers) in spite of his renouncing Austrian citizenship in 2002, factions at Cooper Union have proved so fractious that no date or program for a memorial in New York has yet been set. Send vintage Kelvinators and Frigidaires to
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The undulating facade of KPF's One Jackson Square grabs West Village views.
Paal Rivera/Archphoto

The best that most New Yorkers could hope for from the recent luxury condo boom was some exquisite new architecture to look at and improved immediate surroundings: cleaner streets, better services, less crime, and more night life. The success of these shiny new edifices—authored by some of the world’s highest-profile architectural talent—has been decidedly mixed.

The apartments have a striking amount of openness and intimacy.
Paúl Rivera/Archphoto

Too often, the designs have been flawed to begin with, or their detailing poorly executed by corner-cutting developers, or the locations haven’t caught up with expectations that they were to be the next big thing in posh living. On the other hand, when done right, they have contributed positively to the urban fabric of the city. Such is the case with One Jackson Square, an 11-story, 35-unit glass vessel at the intersection of Greenwich and 8th avenues, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) and developed by Hines Interests and RFR Realty.

The site itself, a smallish triangular plot, had been a parking lot since the 1930s. At that time, the row of brownstones that once stood there was demolished to make way for the 8th Avenue subway line. In the 1980s, the Landmarks Preservation Commission passed a proposal for a 15-story postmodernist clunker of brick columns and capitals, but it fizzled out due to lack of financing. In the meantime, the area itself had grown into something of a seedy patch. Jackson Square Park, which sits just across the street, was full of dead trees, litter, and the homeless.

Hines took an interest in the location in the mid-2000s. In order to prep the neighborhood for their new condo, the developer teamed with local business owners and residents and formed the Jackson Square Alliance (JCA). While taking its own steps to spruce things up, such as planting flowers, JCA motivated the Parks Department to usher out the bums and to conduct a renovation that involved repaving the square with bluestone and activating a Victorian-style fountain.

A screening room, designed like all the building's interiors by KPF.
Trent Tesch

In terms of the building itself, Hines was committed to floor-to-ceiling expanses of glass. “Glass was almost a requirement from the point of view of fulfilling this sort of luxury unit,” explained Trent Tesch, principal-in-charge of the project for KPF. “It was the only way to compete with the Richard Meier buildings or 40 Bond.”

Pulling this off in the Greenwich Village Historic District, however, required a rigorous public review process. KPF met with the community several times, having its design rejected at every turn. The Landmarks Commission, on the other hand, unanimously approved it. “We developed an argument based on the notion that the glass is going to change depending on the time of day,” continued Tesch. “It has a different reading in morning, afternoon, and evening.”

The curves provide not only great views but unique balconies.
Paúl Rivera/Archphoto

While contextuality may not be the first thing that springs to mind when gazing upon a glass-faced building in Greenwich Village, the project’s surroundings were at the forefront of the architects’ minds. The stacked, undulating, ribbon-like volumes that form each floor were a softening response to the diagonally intersecting streets at 8th and Greenwich avenues.

This theme was picked up in the lobby, a wavy corridor of sensuously curved wooden panels, CNC-fabricated by Situ Studio. KPF worked hard to make sure that the mullions of the windows—double-glazed, low-iron insulated glass units—do not line up, providing a texture and rhythm that Landmarks saw as complementary to the Village. In this spirit, the back walls of the building are red brick with punched windows.

The sinuous facade is mimicked by the lobby, custom fabricated by SITU Studio.
Paúl Rivera/Archphoto

This formal poetry on the exterior would mean little without comfortable living space on the inside. And KPF, which laid out the interiors and designed kitchens and bathrooms, delivered with spaces that feel at once spacious and cozy, and that provide ample daylight and views without sacrificing a sense of privacy. Their success can be read plainly in the sales records. Only five of the 35 units—which range from $2 million to $21 million—remain available at the time of this writing. Those that have sold have done so at an average of $2,080 per square foot. In a city where money talks, that’s as glowing a testimonial as could be desired.

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Gagosian Explosion
Gagosian Gallery is apparently trying to take over the world, with locations in New York, London, Rome, La Jolla, Hong Kong, and another coming to Paris. Its latest project is Richard Meier & Partners' expansion of its Beverly Hills gallery which Meier originally designed in 1995. The new space adds 5,000 square feet to what was a 6,600 square foot building. We were able to step inside the project, which opened today on Beverly Hills’ swank Camden Drive, and we weren’t disappointed. The extension combines Meier’s signature pristine white walls and abundant natural light (long acid-etched skylights on both sides of the space are semi-opaque, but still reveal the color of the sky) combined with the grittiness of a wonderful existing barreled vaulted wood truss roof, which was discovered when the firm removed the ceiling from the building’s former tenants, Umberto’s Hair Salon. A huge translucent glass and aluminum sliding door at the street also lets in glowing light, and provides an easy entry for oversized works. Inside the huge walls can support even larger art than before: the first exhibit features Andreas Gursky’s gargantuan, Google Earth-like manipulated photos from space. (Gursky didn’t make it to the press preview, our lone disappointment of the day). Future exhibitions will include Nancy Rubins’ outsized boat sculptures and Richard Serra’s Piranesian metalwork. The expansion also includes new second level offices, a private viewing gallery and a rooftop sculpture terrace, which will all be completed by July, said gallery director Deborah McLeod. So you’re probably wondering, what prompted Larry Gagosian to do all this expanding in this economy? According to McLeod the gallery signed its lease in September 2008, just before the bottom fell out of the economy. At that point they decided to not look back. “Larry is always interested in more,” said McLeod. Not to mention that working in this economy allowed the architects to find sub much easier, and for a much better price. “I think the timing worked out perfectly,” said Michael Palladino, Principal at Meier’s LA office.
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Canapes Chez Judd
It may be the original glass house in New York. Many years before Richard Meier’s Perry Street glass towers opened up domestic rituals to the public’s gaze, Donald Judd was living and working in one of the finest cast-iron buildings in Soho. The huge windows opened up his minimalist aesthetic to the public beginning in 1968, when he purchased the building and practically defined the “loft” look of New York for the public. Now openhousenewyork is offering a rare visit for a small group on March 11, with a tour of the building and meal catered by Christina Wang of the French Culinary Institute featuring “Swedish and Mexican” hors d’oeurves—Judd’s favorite. To reserve your place, contact OHNY.
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Beacon from a Distance
Architecture writer Robert Booth reports in The Guardian that the only two British jurors on the selection committee for the new U.S. Embassy in London pronounced that the Kieran Timberlake design was “not good enough to represent one of the great nations in London.” Whether in meetings or in a “Minority Report” remains unclear, the two Lords on the jury, architect Richard Rogers and developer/art collector Peter Palumbo, allegedly found the design boring and that they “fought to the death” to swing votes in favor of the Thomas Mayne scheme that they considered “touched by genius.” As other U.S. critics conclude that Kieran Timberlake did a decent job with a near impossible building type—fortified beacon of open government, welcoming to some but impenetrable to all—the dust-up also extended to whether or not the U.S. government will agree to pay sales taxes on the $500 million 12-story building wrapped in blast-proof glass and EFTE plastic. In further asides overheard at the reception in London last night where not only the winning design but also the three losers (in addition to those by Mayne’s Morphosis, Pei, Cob Freed & Partners, and Richard Meier) will be on display through March, several mistook the bowed and fragmented Meier entry as the work of Thom Mayne. To perhaps help with the grieving process, Meier himself quickly sent around a press release with detailed images of his own design, writing that “We're very proud of the work we did on the London Embassy competition. We proposed a timeless architecture to give the New London Embassy the authority of a landmark and felt that we had achieved this goal through economy of gesture, a delight in pure beauty, and respect for the public's need to be inspired and engaged by the buildings in their midst. We felt we had a very strong proposal and were honored to be among the four finalists. While we are disappointed we won't be working in London this year, we are continuing to expand our work overseas. We thank the jury for their consideration." In the end, Kieran Timberlake who are youngish, relatively conservative, adepts—at least by U.S. standards—at sustainable design, and not likely to express themselves too theoretically in person or form-making was a predictable choice for a government besieged by foes, whether real, anticipated, or only predictable.
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The Strong, Silent Type
KieranTimberlake's design, seen from Nine Elms Lane, is intended to anchor the redevelopment of the South Bank district.
Rendering by studio amd

The new U.S. Embassy in London, set for a prime site looking across the Thames at the buildings of Parliament, will be designed by Philadelphia architects KieranTimberlake, according to an announcement made today in London by U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis B. Susman and the Acting Director of the Bureau for Overseas Buildings Operations, Adam Namm.
KieranTimberlake’s winning design is a silvery cube sitting in a bit of a moat. The hologram look of three facades is the result of solar shading and blast-resistant glazing. The Philadelphia architects were chosen in a limited competition announced in November 2008 that also included Morphosis Architects, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and Richard Meier & Partners, all of whom made presentations in Washington, D.C. in January.

As seen from consular plaza, the facade will incorporate both energy-efficient shading and blast-resistant glazing.
All renderings by studio amd

The embassy is located on a prime, five-acre site near the Thames.

The cafeteria will offer views over the city and bring in ample natural light.

Groundbreaking is expected in 2013, with completion projected for 2017.

Check back for more details on the winning design, but meanwhile, here are the runner-ups, now on display, along with the winning entry, at the New London Architecture Center, 26 Store Street in London:

Richard Meier & Partners


Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
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When Zaha's In Rome
Roland Halbe

The MAXXI, the new Museum of 21st Century Art, recently inaugurated in Rome, is Zaha Hadid’s first built work in Italy. It was thus long awaited, above all by its critics. In reality, Hadid has numerous other projects under construction in Italy, all controversial and the source of infinite contestations.   

The MAXXI, in particular, was subject to the following criticisms: a) the work was impossible to build; b) even if it could be built, it would have cost much more than anything designed by Italian architects; c) it could never fit into the historical context of the city of Rome; d) the building would be a jumble of unusable space; and e) the running and management costs would be exorbitant.

The first criticism—that the building was perhaps impossible to build—was obviously disproven by its inauguration, though it must be said that the reinforced concrete structure is literally packed with steel, in order to ensure that it complies with Italian building regulations. This led to a few difficulties, though no particular delays. That fact that the construction site lasted for almost ten years is due to problems not directly imputable to the architect but, above all, to the slow distribution of the financing for its construction.

Regarding the second criticism, it must be said that the final cost of the project was 150 million euros (approximately $220 million) for a total of 215,000 square feet), or $1,150 per square foot. An excessive number if we consider that the cost of building Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was only 100 million euros, franchising license included. In Hadid’s favor, it must be said that the Guggenheim was inaugurated in 1997, and thus we must consider a reduction in buying power during this 12-year gap. What is more, public works in Italy, regardless of their architect, have always cost more than those constructed elsewhere. The Italian television program Report, which denounces waste and inefficiency in the country, has demonstrated, for example, that the cost of constructing rail lines or highways paid by the Italian state is double or even triple that paid by the French or the Spanish.

Roland Halbe

The third criticism is contestable, given that we each have our own parameters for judging the correct or incorrect insertion of a work within the urban context. Setting aside its strongest detractors, however, including professor Paolo Portoghesi, the building has been warmly welcomed. 

In reality, it is difficult to speak poorly of the new museum: the interior, above all, is impressive for the dynamic quality of its spaces and is extremely fascinating, even to those with a lukewarm attitude toward contemporary architecture.

Furthermore, to facilitate the museum's insertion within its context, Hadid agreed to keep the remains of a piece of the pre-existing military barracks. This move has proven strategic, as it demonstrates that even this Iraqi architect holds a place in her heart for a relationship with the history of the city. In formal terms it is, in my opinion, a grave error. The conserved barracks building disturbs the design of the project and impedes the strong and decisive presence of the new structure along the Via Guido Reni. What is more, for structural reasons this element was demolished and reconstructed “where and as it was,” and thus appears more akin to something from Disneyland.

A second design error can be found in project’s new fence. By defining the lot on which the building sits, it compromises the dynamic of the flows—the continuum—that was to have existed between the streets around the museum, the garden in front of it, and the entry hall.

To test the validity of the second-last criticism, relative to its functionality, we will have to await the spring of 2010 and the opening of the first exhibitions. In fact, with great cunning, the December inauguration was only for the building, which is currently empty. Why? Simple: to pretend that the project was finished in 2009 and not 2010, and to generate attention. What is more, the spring of 2010 will thus be witness to another inauguration and more publicity. Demagogy or a waste of resources? Maybe both. However, this is typical in Rome. Both Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis Museum and Renzo Piano’s Auditorium were inaugurated twice.

Helene Binet

What is certain is that the museum’s design as a continuous sequence of paths means it will not be easy to design exhibitions. Truth be told, it will be extremely difficult. However, I could not help but respond that all of the most interesting museums built over the last 50 years are difficult to work with, from the Guggenheim in New York to Bilbao. And if artists prefer white boxes, it is a good thing that institutions do not turn to talented architects but, as we have seen at MoMA, choose others with less talent and a more calming approach. 

The problem, however, is that the MAXXI’s exhibition program, at least as it has been announced, appears nothing short of depressing. We need only mention that the first architectural exhibition will focus on the work of Luigi Moretti, the architect of Benito Mussolini’s Gymnasium at the Foro Italico in Rome. In short: a protagonist of the 20th, and not the 21st, century.

Finally, the costs of maintenance. Just how much will it cost? There is no way to develop a precise figure. However, if anything can be made of a few offhand comments from Pio Baldi, the director of the foundation that manages the structure, they will be nothing short of exorbitant. The building pays the price of having been designed over ten years ago. Today, most likely, it would have adopted more sustainable and thus more energy-efficient solutions.

One could respond by saying that these issues were on the agenda back in 1998, when the competition was held for the MAXXI. This is true, they were. However, at the time no one paid any attention, at least not in Italy.

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Valley Highs
The Fairways at San Antonio Court by the Office of Jerome King.
Bernard Andre

When people talk about architecture south of San Francisco, they’re most likely talking about circuit boards or lines of software code. But while Silicon Valley will continue to do what it does best, design awareness has been percolating through the sea of concrete tilt-ups. When aesthetic considerations get filtered through the area’s deep-rooted ethos of functionality, what results are some very interesting design solutions.

Facebook's headquarters by Studio O + A. (Click For A slideshow of projects)
César Rubio

The social networking company Facebook’s new headquarters in Palo Alto is an excellent example of how to create urban texture and personality in sedate suburbia—on the cheap. The interior overhaul of the 1960s building was on the frugal side, said architect Primo Orpilla of San Francisco’s Studio O+A: “It wasn’t about the flash.”

Where he could, he brought out the industrial past, stripping floors down to raw concrete and reclaiming the truck dock with its roll-up door as an outdoor gathering spot. To heighten a sense of history, original walls were left white, while walls that were added in the remodel were painted in bright colors. There are no enclosed offices anywhere. “The company’s selling point to new recruits is that it’s very democratic and transparent, and it’s hard to show that in an old office building,” Oprillo said.

The Internet veteran eBay, on the other hand, had the challenge of building new for the first time, but needed to play nice with the existing five buildings on their corporate campus in north San Jose. Call it contextual design for office parks. “We hated the idea of duplicating bad 1999 architecture,” said Joe Valerio of Chicago-based firm Valerio Dewalt Train. So the architects duplicated just one section of the older facades, which were opaque with punched windows, and placed it on a projecting bay of the new building, using glass walls on the rest of the exterior. “It’s lighthearted, but it doesn’t scream ‘Look at me!’” Valerio said.

Some potentially iconic buildings could also be heading to the area. Renderings of a new Google headquarters by SHoP Architects were submitted to the city of Mountain View at the end of 2008, but the company put the plans on hold when office rents plummeted.

Another much-anticipated project is Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, which has been on the radar since 2006, when the company announced the purchase of 50 acres; a master plan has yet to be developed. On a faster track is Yahoo!, which is working with RMW Architecture and Interiors on the design of an immense campus with 3 million square feet of office space. Santa Clara’s planning department is currently reviewing the draft EIR for the project.

Meanwhile, as the offices are getting livelier, housing options are also expanding. As elsewhere, some of the most architecturally innovative approaches have been appearing in the nonprofit sector, where architects are unfettered by the concerns of market-rate developers. The most ambitious project in the area has been the $270 million, 8-acre Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life. A town-within-a-town, it combines 193 senior housing units with a family gym, community meeting spaces, and a performing-arts hall.

“Lots of people talk about mixed-use, but it’s usually 90 percent of this and 10 percent of that,” said architect Rob Steinberg. “This is really mixed-use, where we’ve taken elements that seemed at odds with one another to make a richer urban fabric.” The entire complex sits on top of a one-story parking garage and includes a winding pedestrian corridor that opens into public plazas.

Further south, the mysterious facade of sleek metal plates that appears along Highway 101 turns out to be the wall of an 84-unit affordable housing development, the Fairways at San Antonio Court. “This was a really difficult site,” said architect Jerome King.

Three other developers had tried to create housing on this 140-foot-deep strip, but couldn’t meet Title 24 sound requirements. King’s solution was to create a sound wall with an open-air corridor on the other side—imagine the walkways of a motel—that bridges five buildings interleaved by courtyards. Inside the units, separated from the freeway by the corridor and their own walls, “you can hear a pin drop,” according to King.

On the civic side, San Jose is currently working on a master plan for its Diridon transit station and the 500 acres around it. The station itself is intended to be a “showpiece of green, iconic architecture,” said city planner Jenny Nusbaum, which bodes well given the city’s last great gesture, which was to bring in Richard Meier to design its city hall in 2005.

According to Gail Price, the executive director of the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the AIA, “There’s gradually more attention in these communities to the value of intensifying development and making more public services available, desirable from both a fiscal and environmental point of view.” Price added, “We are on the cusp here between suburban and urban development.”


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Eavesdrop NY 20
NORBERT HAS LEFT THE BUILDING Two issues ago, we brought your attention to a lawsuit in which Reed Construction Data accuses the McGraw-Hill Construction Group of industrial espionage, mail fraud, and racketeering. Norbert Young, president of the construction group, which includes Architectural Record, was mentioned twice as the alleged spy supervisor. Since then, an internal memorandum on November 9 seems damning in its terseness: “I wanted to inform you that Norbert Young has left The McGraw-Hill Companies.” That’s it. No reason given, no thank you for years of service—just the name of the person-in-charge-for-now and a boilerplate pledge to sound leadership and innovation. Cold. THE POPE AND THE ARCHITECTS The Catholic Church works in mysterious ways. One day it’s condemning, the next embracing. Eavesdrop’s eyebrow arched upon seeing that Pope Benedict XVI had invited 500 artists, architects, musicians, film directors, and one Italian prima ballerina to meet him for a “dialogue”—the Pope did all the talking—between the Catholic church and the arts. Half of the 500 mostly Italian invitees accepted, and among the blessed were Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Mario Botta, Santiago Calatrava, and David Chipperfield. It gets stranger. Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the director of the Pontifical Council for Culture, organized the event as “the first of many initiatives to bridge the widening gap between spirituality and artistic expression.” At a news conference, he proclaimed that this gap is evident in the art and architecture of many modern churches, which he said “do not offer beauty, but rather ugliness.” Then *Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, cast more stones at modern architecture by adding, “Nowadays, many people live in the dreary outskirts of cities in ugly houses. They go to church, and it’s uglier still!” Eavesdrop begs his pardon and stammers that we didn’t come all the way to the Sistine Chapel to be insulted. Renzo Piano, Tadao Ando, and Richard Meier have built Catholic churches recently. Surely they are among those Ravasi acknowledged at the press conference as having pleased their parishioners. Or perhaps this backhanded compliment was aimed right at ’em: “Great modern architects do not want interference with the purity of their buildings.” GOT THE UGLIES Let and Vanity Fair anoint the Best; has gone rogue with its second annual list of the “World’s Top 10 Ugly Buildings.” Only two U.S. structures made the cut: John Johansen’s 1967 Mechanics Theater in Baltimore and Haigh Jamgochian’s 1962 crumpled Markel Building in Richmond. And Yes, Virginia, Libeskind’s Royal Ontario Museum addition made the list, too.
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Zaha Maxima
The museum opened to much fanfare despite taking more than a decade to construct at twice the expected cost.
Helene Binet

The opening of Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI (an acronym for Museum of the Arts of the Twenty-First Century) on November 14 in Rome was a momentous occasion for so many reasons. Although the museum’s design is revolutionary and extraordinarily complex by any standard, for a city that has long shunned new architecture—and is subject to the vagaries of Italian politics—its realization is something of a miracle.

A lobby in the serpentine museum.
Stairs criss-cross above one of the galleries.
Richard Bryant

Completed ten years after the international competition at a cost of €150 million (about $223 million), more than double the projected budget, Italy’s first national museum of contemporary art and architecture will encompass two institutions, administered jointly by directors Anna Mattirolo and Margherita Guccione.

Not long after groundbreaking in 2005, with only the foundations complete, the first installment of funds had already been spent and a government budget crisis made it unclear that the Ministry of Culture would be able to come up with more. Even so, the MAXXI has been largely immune to the type of controversy surrounding other recent architectural commissions, notably Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis, which Rome’s mayor made a campaign promise in 2008 to dismantle.

The MAXXI’s sleek exterior conceals a baroque belly full of drunkenly tilting walls, undulating ramps that dissolve into space, and vertiginous cantilevers rotated around a soaring double-story atrium. Hadid’s new Italian “creature,” as the behemoth 322,000-square-foot museum has been called, was unveiled with theatrical panache as modern dancers, choreographed by Sasha Waltz, guided spectators through the pristine empty space. It was also a creative way to inaugurate a museum sapped of the funds to mount a proper exhibition, thanks to cost overruns attributable mostly to the sheer technical difficulty of the construction.

Hadid’s exuberant conceptual scribbles were transformed into concrete structure largely thanks to a structural engineering team with expertise in the restoration and reinforcement of ancient monuments, an important consideration in such a seismically active area. “The whole structure is more or less floating; there are relatively few points that actually touch the ground,” said engineering consultant Federico Croci of Studio Croci & Associati. “But the most impressive thing about this building is the skeleton—it is like a wild animal.” The crisscrossing horizontal strips of the structure traverse inside and out, oscillating and twisting so that walls seamlessly become floors, ceilings, and windows.

The last time anything of this scale was constructed in Rome was under Benito Mussolini, who exploited the use of monumental architecture as a demonstration of power. The Fascist dictator left a significant modernist architectural legacy, including the iconic Palazzo della Civiltà in the EUR quarter, and the neoclassical Foro Italico sports complex just across the river from the MAXXI.

It is difficult to compete with the sweeping efficiency of dictatorships, especially under an epically unstable democratic government. But Rome’s monumental scale demands an architectural statement of suitably grand proportions, and MAXXI certainly fits the bill. Arguably the most successfully realized building by Hadid to date, this explosive colossus of glass, steel, and concrete could also be the Eternal City’s first contemporary monument, putting it back on the architecture map.

The question that remains is whether the new museum will be a welcoming host to the institution’s modest collection of contemporary art and architectural drawings, supplemented by an annual acquisition budget under $4 million. The response of Paolo Colombo, the former director of MAXXI who oversaw the commission, was clear: “I don’t care: The building itself is a masterpiece.”

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History in Turnaround
Johnie's Broiler in Downey, outside of LA, was abruptly torn down in 2007. A reproduction was recently completed.
Adriene Biondo

On April 11, 2002, the infamous demolition of Richard Neutra’s Maslon House in Rancho Mirage was featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Living section. For many, it was a shocking first close-up of what appeared to be a Wild West–style race to summarily destroy midcentury icons as fast as possible. Schindler’s famed Wolfe House in Catalina and his Packard House in Pasadena were demolished in 2000 and 2001. Gregory Ain’s Mar Vista tract home facade at 3542 Meier Street was demolished in 2002. A classic Cliff May Ranch home interior in Sullivan Canyon was gutted in 2002.

Myron Hunt’s famed Ambassador Hotel in Koreatown came down in 2006 along with the original Rand Buildings in Santa Monica. Although the Wolfe House and the Rand Buildings both went through local public hearing processes, they were still destroyed, the former because the building was deemed irreparable due to lack of structural maintenance and the latter for the greater good of the Santa Monica Civic Center Plan.

How was this allowed to happen? For one, Southern California is not only home to hundreds of works by renowned 20th-century architects and modernist mavericks, but it is governed by an equally unwieldy number of local city entities. Los Angeles County alone packs in 88 different municipalities. At the time of the Maslon House loss, Ken Bernstein, then director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy and now managing director of the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, told the Los Angeles Times that, “Many local governments have the misconception that if a building is not officially designated a local landmark, it does not need to be considered as a potential historic building. Under CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), a city has an obligation to decide if a building is significant or not. You cannot destroy historical properties without a review.”

The Stiles Clements-designed Lou Ehler’s Cadillac on Wilshire Boulevard in LA was demolished in 2008.
Larry Underhill

Yet few cities exert their legal authority or responsibility to question or stop property owners or developers in the process of permit requests to demolish residential, retail, or commercial structures. Cities not only badly need ordinances that can stay or halt demolition, they also need surveys of historic properties, and support organizations to convince people why the properties should be saved. Furthermore, they need their citizens to back some reasonable measure of preservation without stifling real estate development and the experimental architecture that continues to make LA an important metropolis for design.

On the positive side, the loud outcry following recent teardowns has clearly propelled the wheels of change here. It doesn’t hurt that midcentury modernism has been hot for a decade. Late modernist works ooze “Mad Men” cool, adaptive reuse projects have prompted turnarounds in several neighborhoods, and Los Angeles is the heart and soul, center and sprawl for postwar architecture. Still, as Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Hawthorne noted last month, “the effort to round up support for postwar buildings is often far from straightforward—and can easily prove a minefield of contradiction and irony.”

Bernstein is passionate about getting Los Angeles a state-of-the-art preservation program, including a revised Cultural Heritage Ordinance with the backbone to actually halt demolitions, and an upcoming citywide inventory known as Survey LA, which is near the end of phase one of its two-part, five-year plan.

While LA’s existing preservation ordinance was the first among major U.S. cities, the legislation is now one of the weakest in the country. Unlike in New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and Sacramento, where the municipal authorities can in fact prohibit demolition of structures, the existing LA ordinance can only enforce a limited stay of demolition, even for existing Cultural Monuments. Proposed amendments to the existing preservation ordinance—which were approved by the LA Planning Commission in September and are expected to be voted on by the city council in early 2010—not only strengthen the city’s power to stay and halt demolitions, but improve due process for property owners and developers, increase the cultural heritage commission’s board membership from five to seven so that consensus can be reached more frequently, and provide more protection for cherished individual projects to match the strength and success of LA’s Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) program.

Columbia Savings Building (Irving Shapiro, 1965) at Wilshire and La Brea, is seriously threatened with demolition.
Larry Underhill

A traditional-style house replaced Schindler’s Packard House in Pasadena.
Jennifer doublet

Richard Neutra’s Maxwell House has been relocated to Angelino Heights.  
jennifer doublet


Survey LA, largely supported by the grants, working papers, and continued partnership of the Getty, will be completed in 2012. And it’s about time: While LA has over 900 Historic-Cultural Monuments and 24 Historic Districts, only about 15 percent of the city has been surveyed to date.

The project’s first wave of localities will follow a rolling model, making survey work available for consideration as each neighborhood updates its community plan. Another step is the development of preservation education and training. Ken Breisch, director of the Historic Preservation Programs at USC—the only accredited preservation program in LA with both masters and certificate tracks— has seen a significant increase in participation in these programs since their inception six years ago. The program supports the growing rise of interest in postwar architecture, while Bernstein was proud to note that graduates are now working for local historic resource consultants who are piecing together Survey LA.

And while Schindlers, Neutras, Mays, and Ains have been bulldozed or remodeled beyond recognition, private citizens and public institutions have made some nice saves. Oscar Niemeyer’s Strick House in Santa Monica, his only project in the United States, was landmarked by the city and restored by Michael and Gabriel Boyd in situ in 2003. Just a year ago, Richard Neutra’s Maxwell House was precisely sliced like a Gordon Matta-Clark installation and moved by developer Barbara Behn on flatbed trucks from Brentwood to Angelino Heights to recapture the form, if not the context, of this classic 1957 work. In 2008, the homes of lesser-known but remarkable midcentury modernists like Romanian-born Haralamb Georgescu and Swedish-born Greta Magnusson Grossman were thoughtfully restored with complementary additions and renovations in Beverly Hills. On June 4, 2008, the MAK Center welcomed the Fitzpatrick-Leland House donation as part of its roster of Schindler projects available for public consumption and as home to the MAK Urban Future Initiative.

And on November 7, 2008, the LA Conservancy’s efforts to save the Driftyland Dairy-Port in El Monte from a strip mall demolition were rewarded with a unanimous vote of acceptance on the State Landmark Registry. This summer, Santa Monica opened the Annenberg Beach House, including docent-led tours of the Marion Davies guest house and dips in the original mansion pool.

Further afield, Jim Louder, owner of two Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in Torrance and West Covina, just finished a recreation of the almost-completely steamrolled Johnie’s Broiler in Downey. The new restaurant—Bob’s Broiler—opened for business on September 26. This teardown turnaround story was made possible by Los Angeles Conservancy volunteers who had procured copies of the original drawings for Johnie’s state landmark process. Without these, restoration would have been impossible, as a tenant’s demolition crew reduced the building to rubble in 2007. In 2008, Neutra scholar Barbara Lamprecht wrote successful statements of significance for the Poppy Peak and Pegfair developments in Pasadena, getting these projects on local, state, and national registries this year and greatly expanding the lexicon of highly regarded postwar developments. Similarly, the Eichler Balboa Highlands Tract in Granada Hills is now a proposed HPOZ.

Minoru Yamasaki’s Century Plaza Hotel in Century City is also under threat.
Fora Chou

Back in Palm Springs, Neutra’s famed Kaufmann House stands restored, unauctioned, and back for sale, while his nearby Miller House is being carefully brought back to life. On April 15, the city of Palm Springs approved a historic designation for Donald Wexler’s west facade of the Palm Springs Airport. And in the aftermath of the Maslon House demolition, Rancho Mirage completed their citywide historic survey and inventory in 2004, noting that the home was the most architecturally significant work within city limits prior to its demolition in 2002.

Nevertheless, threats still abound from developers weighing the value of maintaining existing structures versus tabula rasa visions. Some choice projects still on the chopping block include Minoru Yamasaki’s Century Plaza hotel in Century City, Luckman Pereira’s Robinsons-May department store in Beverly Hills, and Irving Shapiro’s Columbia Savings and Loan building on Wilshire Boulevard. Welton Becket’s Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s and his Century City Gateway West Building have already lost their battles and sit quietly on death row. Equally ominous is the financial fragility of projects in good hands. Cal Poly Pomona’s Neutra VDL House has stabilized its annual operating and maintenance costs through tours and architectural fundraising events, thanks to its energetic director Sarah Lorenzen. But it is in urgent need of $100,000 for roof repairs (plans for these repairs have been drawn up by Marmol Radziner) to stave off continued damage from rainwater infiltration.

While the economy has slowed the actual bulldozers, the LA Conservancy is busier than ever.

“We think this is the best time for us to tune up our preservation policies in advance of the next economic cycle,” said Bernstein. “There are still misconceptions as to what historic preservation means; that it will freeze a property in time. But I think there’s a growing understanding between preservationists and the economic community alike that preservation is a key component of economic revitalization.”

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Our Academy Awards
Or so they like to say, when referring to the Cooper Hewitt’s National Design Awards, or more accurately, the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum’s National Design Awards.  And that’s exactly what it was like: a little too much of a mouthful of an event. But it was also an undeniably bounteous banquet of everyone Who’s a Who in architecture and design of all stripes. The party was held last night not in the backyard tent as of old, but in the marbled bank hall palace of Cipriani 42nd Street. The stars were all out and too many to name as this year the museum was also celebrating its tenth year anniversary for the awards.  Herding everyone to table was not easy but a hush spread as gala chair Richard Meier passed the podium to Desiree Rogers, the White House social secretary who expounded on our nation’s children and the great role modeling that designers/architects could provide.  Everyone was impressed with themselves as next up was broadcast princess Paula Zahn, the evening’s tirelessly beaming emcee. And for the next three hours great awards were dished out (along with some seriously thick slabs of prime beef) to the very deserving and, among them, our especial friends SHoP Architects (winsomely introduced by Reed Kroloff) who received the Architecture Design Award; Calvin Tsao and Zack McKown (nicely roasted by Rodolfo Machado and Jorge Silvetti who recalled days when the four sculpted the great women’s hairdos of the 20th Century in the Long Island sands) who received the Interior Design Award; Constantin and Laurene Boym who gamely shared the mic just like Julia Roberts and Clive Owens might at the real Academy Awards; and Walter Hood of HOOD Design whose urban landscapes we want to know much more about. As often happens at the Design Awards, the presenters outshone the winners in matters only of sheer star dust: Chuck Close presented the Corporate Award to the Walker Art Center (the first museum ever to get one); John Waters riffed hilariously through the Boym’s disaster building paperweights; actress Eva Longoria had trouble with the teleprompter (everyone else handled their 4x5s or 8x11s adroitly enough) when awarding Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein the Fashion Award; Charlie Rose was so smooth I have forgotten which award he presented, but Armory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute was surely the bravest and coolest of them all when he bared his Pocket Protector & Pens when accepting the Design Mind Award for among very many other things, his Passive-solar Banana Farm.