Search results for "Richard Meier"

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Eavesdrop NY 17
HAPPY B-DAY, MR. ARCHITECT On October 12, Richard Meier turned 75. His birthday bash for 150 was held that night at the Four Seasons, or rather under a white tent on Park Avenue alongside the Seagram Building fountains. Eavesdrop didn’t find anyone on the B-List who was invited, but all the A’s were there including Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, David Rockwell, Robert A.M. Stern, City Planning Commission chair Amanda Burden with TV talker Charlie Rose, and President of the American Academy in Rome Adele Chatfield-Taylor with playwright John Guare. A Meier follower tells us that his 50th was held at his duplex on East 72nd Street, where he raised eyebrows by exiling his mother to a far corner of the room, while putting Burden on his right. Interior designer Rose Tarlow hosted his 60th birthday on the tennis court of the house he designed for Norman and Lisette Ackerberg in Malibu. This time, he was sent into his fourth quarter of a century by daughter Ana, who arranged everything in no-surprise white. No roasts among the toasts made by family and friends, with Meier himself going only slightly off-color in his effusive compliments to his lovely offspring. The cake was a layered white slab. ET TU, GUY? Buried but not deep enough for our eagle eyes is this passage in the October issue of literary journal The Believer, from an engaging interview with Guy Nordenson: “Frank Gehry’s relationship to engineering and construction says: the cruder the better. You visit the Disney Concert Hall and, in the office of the musical director, there’s this gigantic gusset plate that’s part of one of the trusses in the system. It’s exposed and fire-protected. One of the architects who worked on the project described it to me as a train crash in a room. It’s monumentally messy.” TURNING THE PAIGE It’s that time of the month again when bets are placed in showrooms across the nation. What is the future of Paige Rense and, for that matter, Architectural Digest? Authoritative rumor has it that AD’s eons-long editrix has been told she’s out at the end of the year. One shelter magazine editor-in-chief reports having been interviewed and insists that Condé Nast is going through the usual suspects one by one. We’re guessing that’s Deborah Needleman, editor-in-chief of defunct Domino; Stephen Drucker of House Beautiful; and Margaret Russell, the editor-in-chief of Elle Décor. But La Rense is not likely to shuffle off quietly. According to a prominent designer, she recently arranged a skit to impress bosses Si Newhouse and Chuck Townsend. Honorees on her coveted AD 100 list gave testimony to a group of advertisers that AD is still the number one shelter magazine in the world and that, hard times notwithstanding, they should continue to buy pages. Take away? Paige is essential to Si’s ongoing health and wealth. Another source says that Si only makes major personnel changes twice a year—right after Labor Day and right after New Year’s. Look for the other Louboutin to drop around January 2, 2010. Send engineering tips and ad pages shart@archpaper.com. A version of this article appeared in AN 17_10.21.2009.
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From Crawling to Left Standing
An installation by Ed Templeton at the new Roberts & Tilton galleries.
Courtesy Roberts & Tilton

It's no secret that luxury providers—from real estate to fashion to food—have been severely hit in this economy. You might expect art galleries to be among these. Yet despite the gloomy economic forecast and the closure of several local art spaces, a wave of Los Angeles–based galleries are expanding, driven by real estate opportunities or by the completion of plans envisioned when the economy was still booming.

 

The attitude among many galleries is that with property prices and construction costs dropping significantly, it's a good time to expand. Gallerist Michael Kohn, who nearly doubled the square footage of his eponymous gallery in Beverly Grove recently, summed up the mood of many: “There was a confluence of factors where either I do it now, or I may never do it.”

Susanne Vielmetter, who operates the Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in Culver City, recently signed a lease for a new space on Washington Boulevard. She commissioned architect Peter Zellner to give her a place with higher ceilings and better natural light. “A year or two ago, we couldn't find anything that was reasonably priced,” she said. Now, she claims, it’s much easier to negotiate advantageous terms with landlords. Zellner added that city permitting for this and other projects has been smoother than usual, probably because the slowdown has reduced the backlog for city administrators.

The new home of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, designed by Peter Zellner.
courtesy SVLAP

Major contemporary art gallery Blum & Poe, which kick-started the Culver City art scene with its Escher Gunewardena–designed gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in 2003, just opened a new 27,000-square-foot building across the street. The new gallery, designed by the same firm, features flexible ground floor exhibit spaces, an outdoor garden, private showing rooms upstairs, and even a small apartment for visiting artists.

Another arts heavyweight, Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, recently began plans for a major expansion overseen by Michael Palladino, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Richard Meier & Partners Architects. The expansion will double Gagosian’s square footage to 11,600 square feet, and is expected to open next year.

Others joining the parade include ACME gallery in Miracle Mile, which expanded last fall with a job overseen by Wayne Schlock at Blue Point Architecture + Interiors; and Roberts & Tilton, which just moved into a larger space—a former coffee-roasting factory rebuilt by Johnston Marklee.

A rendering of Blum & Poe's new 27,000-square-foot galleries, which is across the street from their original space.
Courtesy Blum & Poe

Most galleries justify expansion as a competitive advantage during the recession by making them more attractive to artists, who need more room as their work grows in scale. Blum & Poe plans to add more up-and-coming artists to its roster, while Gagosian plans to exhibit artists for longer shows. Vielmetter plans to use her additional space for private showings.

Pressure for outdoor space is driving some expansions. Gagosian’s expansion will include a rooftop sculpture garden. “Outdoor space is what LA uniquely has to offer. When the opportunity to do a roof garden came up, how could we not?” said Deborah McLeod, gallery director at Gagosian. Even a smaller gallery, like the Chung King Project in Chinatown, is moving to a slightly larger space later this year, with a back patio that owner Francois Ghebaly will do himself. With a few exceptions, many galleries have adopted a do-it-yourself approach over hiring an architect, moving into a relatively raw space or a previously occupied gallery.

The ceiling folds down into a desk at Roberts & Tilton.
Courtesy Roberts & Tilton

But some architects are getting the call. Zellner has worked on ten private commercial gallery commissions, half of which are in LA. The architect's “less is more” design philosophy for galleries has proven popular, eschewing the high-end luxury retail spaces popular almost a decade ago for more raw, industrial spaces. Even Gagosian, known for its luxe aesthetic, is striving for a simpler design. “We wanted something less finished. It's a bit of a surprise when you walk in,” said McLeod.

Not all galleries are expanding. In the past year, closings have included Carl Berg (who has since moved to a rent-free space in the Pacific Design Center without his former gallery partners), Bonelli Contemporary, David Patton, and Mesler & Hug, to name a few.

With such comings and goings, one question looms, said Zellner: “Is it a zero sum game?”

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Home Range
OBRA Architects' Centrifugal House features a shade pavilion made entirely of cedar garden lattice.
Courtesy OBRA Architects

Context is not always fixed, and not always what you expect. A West Village carriage house that’s had the same view since the Civil War may get ultra-2009 neighbors in the space of a year. Shelter Island, often thought of as an enclave of traditional architecture, has waterfront streets where some houses were built in 1970, not 1870. And the Hamptons? Shingle Style is open to a wealth of interpretations. 

These three houses, all completed within the last year, and all by up-and-coming New York City partnerships, treat their respective contexts with respect but preserve a questing spirit. There’s no blank-slate modernism—Christoff:Finio hoped to save the historic back facade of the burnt-out carriage house before adjacent construction did it in—but also no maintaining-property-values historicism. None of the architects want to admit a regard for the vernacular, but it creeps through in more abstract ways. There’s a utilitarian aspect to the carriage house befitting its historic supporting role. Both East End manses have the square footage and wood siding of the typical spec house. But their plans twist and turn to make the most of their physical context, the landscape. 

“They told us, ‘We want you to work in the vernacular language of houses in Southampton, the Shingle Style, maybe Shaker architecture,’” Pablo Castro of OBRA Architects said of his Centrifugal House clients: an investment banker and a film editor. “It was an uncomfortable moment for us. We’re always trying to run away from the idea of style.” The architects were given a program that kept growing and a budget that was static. While the clients had started small, they soon realized that for resale, the house had to maximize the potential of its five-acre lot. They ended up with seven bedrooms, a four-car garage, and 8,000 total square feet. 


TOP: Board and batten siding plus gables respond to the client’s demand for a sense of the vernacular, but their articulation is sleekly modern. ABOVE: A porch carved out of the facade is angled toward views of a neighboring agricultural reserve. below: Highly composed shafts of light add richness to THE interior.
 

COURTESY OBRA ARCHITECTS

 
 

Castro and partner Jennifer Lee turned to an early idea they had for the site, “the excluded middle,” a court between house and guesthouse that would channel views toward a neighboring agricultural reserve. They mashed this up with the narrow gabled communal houses of the Shakers and the oversize shingles of a Robert A.M. Stern, cranking the bar into the shape of “a donut somebody had taken a bite out of,” said Castro. “We still liked the idea of a vacant place where anything can happen. The house surrounds a void and spins out”—the centrifugal force—”toward the view.” 

The clients liked everything but the curve, so the donut became faceted, with oversize dormers breaking the difficult geometries of the roof (and, to my eye, referring to the “vernacular” of the Venturis). Because of the budget, interiors had to be kept simple, but you catch a glimpse of the Shaker in the play of light on the white walls of the long, turning hall upstairs. The odd angles and extra planes created by the insertion of the dormers increase the possibilities for such effects, and the corridor, which hides the next door or window around each turn, is full of surprises rather than a long march. The house also has three custom soapstone fireplaces, hearths that add another geometry and focus to rooms that stray from the rectilinear. 

Outside, OBRA Architects returned to shingles in search of a single material for roof and cladding (copper was their dream, but too expensive). “We wanted one material, one surface to give it integrity as an object,” Castro said. They ultimately chose cedar, board, and batten for the vertical walls, and shingles for the roof. Cedar was also used for the pool house, a double set of right-angle barn-like buildings, one solid, one roofed and sided in off-the-shelf garden lattice. Castro jokes that it is a “freckle machine,” but it’s also another twist on the requested traditional Hamptons architecture. 

While suburban style has become fairly common on Shelter Island, you can tell from the street that the one thing the YN-13 House is not is a cookie-cutter, shingles-on-steroids McMansion. If that’s context, Michael Morris and Yoshiko Sato of Morris Sato Studio want nothing to do with it. The houses across the street from their two-acre Shelter Island site are the ambitious architecture of an earlier era—Norman Jaffe’s 1972 three-house development, in which one is Corbusian, one Wrightian, and one has the over-scaled shingle roof that came to be Jaffe’s own calling card. “That’s the one we like the best,” Morris said. For their own site, on which they are constructing two 6,000-square-foot spec houses, “we decided to make contemporary forms of our choosing, and to have them fuse into the local ecology by being part of that fabric.” 


Above: The bleached cedar siding of morris sato studio's YN-13 house “fuses into the local ecology,” which includes a 1972 house by Norman Jaffe, while deep cuts bring light and breezes into the interior.
Courtesy morris sato studio

Boulders unearthed on the site will become retaining walls, and the windows that pop and pock the bleached cedar siding are oriented toward particular points of view and times of day. “In the center, we have a large cut in the volume, so what would be the darkest part of the house has direct sunlight coming in,” Sato explained. The four corners of the main floor all have doors that slide open (an oblique reference to Japanese shoji screens), allowing the landscape in and natural convection to cool the house. “That is a reference to vernacular buildings. There are systems that are useful to understand from the past, rather than stylistic ideas,” Morris said. The floors, made of Kota Brown limestone, will also retain and radiate heat, with their cleft surface suggesting a rougher natural terrain and a certain 1970s au naturel aesthetic. 




top and above: Windows pop and all four corners of the house have doors that slide open like Japanese shoji screens.
courtesy morris sato studio

 
 

Like the sliding doors, the vernacular Morris and Sato reference is Japanese. The exterior siding is an adaptation of the shitami-bari used on traditional urban houses in Kyoto and Kanazawa, which Sato translates as “downward-facing boards.” The horizontal cladding combines with vertical strips, allowing Morris and Sato to integrate the module on the house’s facade with that of the standing seams on the turncoat stainless steel roof. Rather than looking like a gable, the pitched roof folds down into the house on some sides, creating the illusion of Cubist-inspired flattening. YN-13’s closest neighbor will be their so-called Soula House, which serves as a gateway in the way they have developed the land, bringing the houses closer together and leaving the rest of the site untouched. “There’s a critique of individual houses centered on one-acre lots,” Morris said. “We imagine the site as a proto-urban thing, the buildings working together.” 

Christoff:Finio’s carriage house is another exemplary object within its landscape, though a minimum urban dwelling with a footprint of 20 feet by 20 feet and two floors. The architects even shaved a little more off that miniscule square footage to create an “urban garage,” a sliver of space behind a screen of flat steel ribs, each twisted 90 degrees, to provide a useful landing strip for bikes, bags, and garbage, and also a zone of privacy for a front door that originally opened directly onto Charles Lane.

The carriage house is owned by photographer Jan Staller, who lives and works in an 1860 townhouse on Charles Street that now neighbors Richard Meier’s third glassy residential tower and Asymptote’s first. Christoff:Finio had designed a penthouse and terrace for Staller to preserve his view once the Meier building was underway, so when the carriage house was gutted by fire, Staller asked them to build a two-bedroom rental unit between the existing party walls. As he now had a terrace, he no longer needed the 12-foot sliver of backyard, which was turned into part of the architects’ brief for the rental. 


TOP: The street-level glass wall of christoff:finio's carriage house is protected by a screen of twisted steel ribs, with a niche for bike storage. ABOVE: The rear facade is clad in eight-foot-long slate shingles. below: a wall-mounted kitchen extends outdoors into a sliver of backyard.
 
jan staller
 
 
 

“What was fun for us was designing this tiny little house, but making it feel bigger,” said Martin Finio. “We took the terrazzo-ground concrete on the first floor and extended it out into the yard.” The wall-mounted kitchen also runs seamlessly from indoors to out, with teak cabinets and stainless-steel countertops. The windows are big, but for the sake of privacy (as much for landlord as for tenants), they start at the floor and extend up only four feet. The back wall is covered in unusually long slate shingles (more typically used for roofing), three feet by eight feet, which turn into operable louvers for the upstairs bedroom windows. The wall is really only visible from Staller’s townhouse, and Christoff:Finio wanted to give him something interesting to look at, as well as refer to the clapboard siding more typical on a small house. “When you get direct sun on it, the cleft edge picks up light like a line drawing,” Finio said. Since it was to be a rental, the interiors are sturdily generic: white walls, white bathroom, gray tile. 

“What’s the vernacular of New York City?” Finio asked. “It’s always frothing and rebuilding. When we started building this project, we had this large glass opening on the front facade at the second level looking out at a brick warehouse. That came down, and Asymptote’s glass started up.” In other words, neighborhoods can change, tastes can change, and so can architectural context. Curtains are forever.

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrong-headed. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country.

In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world. These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.30.2009_CA.

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrongheaded. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country. In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world.

These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.

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Eavesdrop NY 14
THE PLOTS THICKEN Did The New York Times learn nothing from its error-riddled obituary of Walter Cronkite this summer? The famous newsman was 90 years old and in failing health for some time. His obituary should have been in the can for years. And yet there were seven inexcusable errors, which prompted a lengthy correction, which prompted a lame mea culpa from the public editor, which prompted an avalanche of snarky comments from readers. Back to the question, did the newspaper learn from this embarrassment? It did not. The obituary for Charles Gwathmey, who died on August 3 (according to the Times), was revised with a correction regarding the architect’s education. Turns out, that correction was incorrect and therefore had to be corrected. A correction of a correction spun the needle right off Eavesdrop’s Cringe-O-Meter. Gwathmey was interred at Green River Cemetery in the Springs hamlet within East Hampton town—famous as the final resting place of many artists, including Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Stuart Davis, and the poet Frank O’Hara. Steven Ross, the former Time Warner chief executive, is buried in a section added in 1987. According to a 2002 Times article (no corrections cited), his widow, Courtney Sale Ross, “paid $77,000 for 110 of the 400 plots left in the new section, creating a wide buffer between her husband and less affluent residents. The [cemetery] trustees later instituted what is known as the ‘Ross Rule,’ which permits no one to buy more than eight plots.” Eavesdrop is pleased that Mrs. Ross deemed Charlie worthy of eternal exclusivity. Most worthy. TRIPPINGLY OFF THE TONGUE While we’re reporting from the Hamptons, we’d like to bring your attention to more corrections needed, as yet not made. Dan’s Paper—”the largest weekly community newspaper in the Hamptons”—covered an event in East Hampton recently. According to the author, Dan himself, the people gathered “to hear a discussion about architecture in the Hamptons... featuring panel members Richard Meier, Robert Stern, and Paul Goldenberger.” Goldenberger, eight times. “Goldenberger is the longtime architecture critic for The New York Times,” Dan continued. Don’t tell Ouroussoff or Remnick. And on he goes. Meier “mentioned the home built by Robert Gwathmey for his parents in the 1950s, which he said, was a masterpiece.” The house Charlie Gwathmey completed for his parents in 1966 was also a masterpiece. Dan must have been on a tight deadline. Eavesdrop is on one, too, and apologizes in advance for all idiocies in the here and hereafter. Send corrections and columbaria to shart@archpaper.com

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrongheaded. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country. In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world.

These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.

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Remembering Charles Gwathmey
Charles Gwathmey passed away on Monday, but he was fondly remembered by his many colleagues, including Robert Siegel, Richard Meier, Michael Graves, and Peter Eisenman, in our obituary. We invite readers to share their own memories of this "fighter for modernism" in the comments section below. But please, be erudite, as Gwathmey would have had it no other way.
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Charles Gwathmey, 1938-2009
Gwathmey at the de Menil Residence, East Hampton (1983).
Norman McGrath

Charles Gwathmey, a member of the famed New York Five and a principal of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, died on Monday at age 71 after a battle with esophageal cancer. Known for meticulously conceived modernist designs influenced by Le Corbusier, Gwathmey launched his career with a house for his parents, completed in 1967, that earned him wide acclaim and would remain a touchstone throughout his career.


The Gwathmey Residence (1967)
Scott Frances/ESTO
 
 

Gwathmey and colleague Robert Siegel, who founded their office in 1968, designed major cultural projects including the American Museum of the Moving Image (1988), the renovation and addition to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (1992), and the International Center for Photography (2001), all in New York. Recent work includes the addition and renovation of the Art and Architecture Building at Yale, the Birchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, which is currently under construction.

Houses remained among the firm’s most lauded work, and remained a particular love of Gwathmey’s. “Virtually all of the residences were his lead,” said Siegel, his business partner for more than forty years. “He liked working closely with individuals.” Gwathmey’s groundbreaking house for his parents, the Gwathmey Residence and Studio in Amagansett, on Long Island, was “a great discovery project, a great learning project,” Siegel said. “That house was monumentally important for him. After that, the house for Francois de Menil [1983] stands out. It was a much larger, more complex project, much richer.”

Other longtime associates also recalled Gwathmey’s early house as his career-defining project. “When I think of Charlie, I think of the houses,” said his friend and frequent competitor Michael Graves. “His house for his parents stands as a testimony to all his work.”

Guggenheim addition (1992)
Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Gwathmey and Siegel attended high school together in Manhattan, and though they attended different universities and graduate schools—Gwathmey went to the University of Pennsylvania and Yale, while Siegel studied at Pratt Institute and Harvard—they were reunited in the office of Edward Larrabee Barnes. The two left Barnes’ office in 1968, following the success of Gwathmey’s house for his parents, which was designed in collaboration with Richard Henderson. Gwathmey quickly became the public face of the firm. “He was a great spokesman for our office, as well as for architecture in general,” Siegel said. The 40-person firm, Siegel added, will remain open.

With Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, Richard Meier, and Michael Graves, Gwathmey was known as one of the New York Five, also called the Whites, who embarked on aesthetic, formal, and volumetric explorations of architecture and became leading figures in the 1970s and 1980s. Le Corbusier’s idea of the Modulor—a system based on the proportions of the body—was an important influence. “What we all shared was a real understanding of the human scale, and you can see that in Charlie’s work, a real interest in the public and in human interaction,” Meier told AN.

Demenil Residence (1983)
Norman McGrath

While architecture passed through stylistic phases beginning in the 1970s—including deconstructivism, postmodernism, and computer-aided design—Gwathmey remained largely consistent. “He was a fighter for Modernism,” Eisenman said.


Astor place (2005)
david sundberg/ESTO
 
Whig Hall (1971)
Timothy Hursley
 
All images courtesy Gwathmey Siegel & Associates

 
 

Behind those closely held convictions, his peers remember Gwathmey as warm, honest, generous, and collaborative. Eisenman called him the “mediator” of the World Trade Center team that included Eisenman, Meier, and Steven Holl, one of seven groups competing for the master plan of the site.

Other important projects include Whig Hall at Princeton (1971), in which the firm inserted distinctive modern volumes within the burned-out shell of a neoclassical building, the Glenstone Museum (2006) outside Washington, D.C., and the United States Mission to the United Nations, currently under construction in Manhattan.

Some of the architect’s more recent work was the target of criticism, including the residential tower at Astor Place (2005), the Guggenheim, and Yale’s Art & Architecture Building, but Eisenman saw Gwathmey’s willingness to take on such complex sites as an affirmation of his spirit.Even though he was a macho guy, he was able to sublimate his ego while working on a lot of these great projects,” Eisenman said. “I don’t think many people could do that.”

Brad Collins, principal at Group C, which created a half-dozen monographs for the firm over the past two decades, said Gwathmey never stopped working, even while recovering from a battle with lung cancer several years ago. “That’s what instilled loyalty in staff and clients,” Collins said. “Charles was incredibly demanding, but it was only because he cared so much about the work.”

Gwathmey’s honors include a 1983 Medal of Honor from the AIA New York chapter and a lifetime achievement award from the New York State Society of Architects. Gwathmey also taught at architecture schools including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Pratt, and Cooper Union, and was president of the board of trustees at the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies, the experimental New York school that drew many luminaries from 1967 to 1984.

Readers are invited to share their own memories of Gwathmey by leaving a comment on the A/N Blog.

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Say No to Nouvel
The architects at Axis Mundi have proposed an alternative to Jean Nouvel's new MoMA tower.
Courtesy Axis Mundi

However that old cliché about idle hands goes, it does not apply to architects as a thoroughly-explored and self-initiated project by New York firm Axis Mundi proves. Principal John Beckmann and his six employees set out to do nothing less than re-imagine tall buildings, spurred on not by a commission or even a competition but rather by anger at the height, bulk, and “massive disconnect,” as Beckmann put it, represented by the 82-story tower at 53 West 53rd proposed by developer Hines with the Museum of Modern Art and designed by Pritzker-winning French architect Jean Nouvel.


While echoing nouvel's program, the proposed tower is all its own. (Click to view a slideshow of Axis Mundi's design.)
 
It rises to less than half the height of Nouvel's proposed tower, barely topping Cesar Pelli's Museum tower (Left).
 
COURTESY Axis Mundi
 
 
“Hines and MoMA have been jamming this down everyone’s throat. That’s not the way to go about it. There has to be more public debate,” said Beckmann about the Chrysler-topping tower that is progressing rather steadily through the city’s land-use review process. “A lot of community groups are disgruntled and aghast at the height of it. And when they added another eight floors recently and got bigger, we decided it would be an interesting site to tackle.”

Beckmann started with the visual inspiration of Italian hill towns in Umbria that are “disorganized but organically grown” and layered on some good old parametric modeling to develop the maximum number of different spaces, materials and densities that could be stacked somewhat higgledy-piggledy into a tower.

Construction-wise there are glass panels, steel panels, brick and concrete units, several making visual references to familiar facades by the likes of Louis Kahn, Richard Meier, Rio’s favelas and Corbu’s Unité d’Habitation. The very mix, the architect said, could make it “conceivably cost effective to build because the basic structure is concrete slab.” Engineers have been sought out and agree.

Part of the challenge was sticking to the same program as the Nouvel tower but with a lot less impact and more connections to the community: It would top out at 50 stories, with a 17,000-square-foot footprint and 32,000 feet of expansion space for MoMA. The base would hit the ground with a neutralized monumentality, akin to the negative space at Citicorp.  The Donnell Library, once across the street now in limbo, might find a new home in various volumes within the structure set aside for community uses.

The designers at Axis Mundi have been working on the project steadily since April, with no reward in sight apart from keeping busy at a slow time and staying mentally sharp. But that could change. Beckmann has been invited to make a presentation on July 22 during a City Planning Commission public hearing on the Hines project.

For the architect, however, the ideal outcome remains to stir some debate and, perhaps, “get a developer interested in doing it at another site.”

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Casey Up to Bat
Courtesy Design Trust for Public Space

Casey Jones, a principal at jones|kroloff, has been named the next director of the General Services Administration’s Design Excellence program, according to sources at the GSA. Jones will replace Thomas Grooms, the program’s current head.

As director of Design Excellence, Jones will oversee the architect selection and design process for the GSA, one of the nation’s largest development organizations, responsible for building and maintaining everything from border stations to federal courthouses. The program, created in 1994 by former GSA Chief Architect Ed Feiner as a way to improve the quality of federal buildings, has been a roundly praised success, commissioning award-winning work by architects like Richard Meier and Thom Mayne.

Jones, 42, is no stranger to Design Excellence. Before launching jones|kroloff—a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based design-competition advisory firm—in 2005 with Reed Kroloff, director of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, he worked on the GSA's Design Excellence program with Feiner. His return to the agency will likely raise the design debate that some observers said languished during the Bush years, when it received little support from the administration.

Jones’ prior experience at the GSA assured that jones|kroloff quickly became one of the go-to firms advising clients on architect selection, particularly in the cultural and educational fields. “I’ve looked at thousands of proposals; I’ve learned how firms are organized, what they've achieved, and how they present themselves,” Jones said in a 2007 interview with Architect. Reached for comment by AN yesterday, Jones was unable to confirm the appointment until the official announcement is made.

Last summer, Jones and Kroloff collaborated with David Rockwell on an interactive digital entry sequence, Hall of Fragments, to the main exhibition hall at the Venice architecture biennale. Before coming to the GSA, Jones was an associate director at the Van Alen Institute in New York. After graduating from the Universities of Virginia and Michigan, Jones began his career as an architect for Cooper Lecky, a Washington,D.C.-based firm, and Goshow Associates in New York.

Read AN's recent interview with Ed Feiner here.

Eavesdrop NY 11
Meier In A Box Pin-Up: Magazine for Architectural Entertainment features Richard Meier in its Summer 2009 issue. Turns out “architectural entertainment” is not an oxymoron after all, at least not at Pin-Up. Meier poses on the cover with the box containing his $1,800 limited-edition lifetime opus from Taschen. Box placement and the architect’s sheepish grin remind us of that infamous Justin Timberlake/ Andy Samberg SNL video skit. You know the one. It’s that musical DIY about how to create an extremely personal boxed gift. Coincidence, or is Pin-Up just living up to its tagline? Buy the issue and tell us what you think. Buy it now. Asymptote’s Buildable Blob Eavesdrop loved the “Build It Bigger” episode on Discovery’s Science Channel featuring the Asymptote-designed Yas Marina Hotel under construction in Abu Dhabi, which aired on June 1. Granted, every project in the UAE is the biggest, best, only, and first, but the Yas Hotel is truly an amazing grid-shell-veiled, buildable blob. Besides the building, the project’s second-most glamorous feature is the Formula One Grand Prix raceway over which the hotel spans with extraordinary finesse. The show revealed the complexity of both design and engineering and the effort required to fast-track it into existence. As the signature component of the $36 billion Yas Marina development, it must open its doors by October, making the raceway a literal reminder of the overall need for speed. Sidebar: Architects typically enjoy all the credit in the press, but Eavesdrop insists on credit where credit’s due. Introducing the engineers: Arup, Dewan, Tilke, Schlaich Bergermann und Partner, Waagner-Biro, Centraal Staal, Red, Taw, and Front, Inc. Shocked About Saadiyat Speaking of speed, the program’s host, Danny Forster, casually mentioned that 50,000 workers are needed to maintain warp-speed construction for the entire region’s multibillion-dollar developments. Now, that head count is big news: An 80-page report issued by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims “abuse and severe exploitation” of thousands of laborers at projects throughout the UAE, particularly those on Saadiyat Island (cue eye-rolling: Saadiyat is Arabic for “happiness”). HRW sent letters outlining the violations to Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando, and other architects who are building island happiness. The recipients issued instant denunciations: We’re shocked! Who could’ve imagined that tens of thousands of migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan could be vulnerable to exploitation? Here at Eavesdrop, we’re 100 percent not for it. Send peace and strong labor laws to eavesdrop@archpaper.com