Search results for "Richard Meier"

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Comment: Woodstock, My Woodstock
A day-glo homage to the Merry Pranksters' bus lies within Bethel Woods Center's staid exterior.
Courtesy Bethel Woods Center for the Arts

How do we go back when we don’t even know where to begin? The music and drugs have been well documented, but the sense of space, the softened corners, amorphous shapes, and communal élan of the 60s counterculture are less easily reclaimed. Where are the landmarks and monuments of the psychedelic revolution? Timothy Leary spoke of a Magic Theater and the Beatles sang of Strawberry Fields. Carlos Castaneda, in his 1968 best-seller Teachings of Don Juan, wrote of the sitio, a place of psychic strength.

I start by attending a press preview for the new Woodstock museum in Bethel, New York. My route is across the Delaware River and up through lovely rolling farmland, still bucolic, almost no development, with the sun sparkling on Lake Superior. The road winds through a pine forest with a mossy green glow and magic trees bending down. I can almost see the Caterpillar smoking his hookah, but not quite, and when I arrive at the new Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the TV vans and press busses are already lined up in the parking lot. The main complex stands atop the hill, oddly postmodern, built with local stones, hefty timbers, and copper roofs rising toward glass-sided cupolas. The complex was designed by Paul E. Westlake, Jr., principal partner of Cleveland-based Westlake Reed Leskosky (co-architects with Coop Himmelb(l)au of the Akron Art Museum), and seems more like a Republican golf club than a hippie hallucination. Richard Meier was chosen originally, but client Alan Gerry reacted with alarm to his “flying saucer” proposal and in truth, Meier’s antiseptic aesthetic might have been even less appropriate for a memorial to funky mud sliding. (It’s tempting to imagine what anarchic hippie designer/builders like Steve Baer or Lloyd Kahn might have concocted given the right stimulants: a revolving kaleidoscope? Geodome? Giant bird’s nest? Freeform rabbit hole?) But while the exterior architecture seems oddly out of sync, the exhibitions inside are worth the trip, as it were.

Richard Meier's original "flying saucer" proposal was rejected as too alarming for the nostalgia-soaked site. Cleveland-based architects Westlake Reed Leskosky designed the oddly postmodern complex, which was built with local stones.

The museum’s floor plan is a flowing, spiraling circle, sort of like a giant ying/yang button. An introductory section called “Back to the Garden” explains what happened with the civil rights movement, Elvis, the Beatles, assassinations, moon walks, and “Baby Boomer Emergence,” while a curving wall has a year-by-year timeline leading up to 1969, the year of the three-day love fest. Multi-colored walls are mounted with photo murals, hippie ephemera under glass, collages from the day, video testimonials, and displays such as an interactive map that takes you on a virtual tour of the original Woodstock site, showing the location of the main stage, the Hog Farm, campgrounds, woods, and even the Port-o-Johns. “The Bus Experience” is an actual school bus that has been painted with psychedelic swirls and doves á la the Merry Pranksters’ “Furthur” (sic). You can sit inside and watch rear-screen projections of cross-country odysseys to the festival playing on the windshield. (I imagine Cheech and Chong, smoking reefer, making all of this up 40 years ago, and puff, suddenly here we are, grayhaired, sitting in the pretty psychedelic bus watching movies…)

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 50-foot-high surround-sound immersion chamber that recreates the spatial/aural experiences of the festival, with thunder cracking overhead and roadies scurrying across the stage. Six video projectors play on four different screens and give a pretty good sense of actually being there, but even better is the hi-def video that ends the exhibition. Shown in a little amphitheater, it tells the story through the voices of the performers themselves. You can see how musicians like Santana, Hendrix, Joplin, et al. were inspired and felt at one with the half-million throng, motivated not by profit or fame (in this instance), but by the idea of something bigger and better than their careers, singing and playing from the heart. Everyone in the amphitheater, even the gnarly New York press, seems moved and teary-eyed after the 20-minute film ends. That’s the real thing, and something makes us want to stay and watch again. Maybe it’s because the performances seem so authentic and pre-digital now. Or is it that we all want to share an idealized moment in our collective past, a never-never land of possibility and lost innocence? We need a dreamy, utopian Woodstock, even if it didn’t really happen that way.

In the end, the thing you come away with is not the painted bus, the music, or Wavy Gravy’s handmade jumpsuit embroidered with mystic symbols. It’s the great green bowl itself, Max Yasgur’s former alfalfa field that dips down and away from the arts center. You walk past the “Peace Pub” and past the sprawling parking lot, and there it is, a sloping green expanse, catching the afternoon light in just such a way. It’s the real artifact, and possesses a presence that’s hard to describe, but you think “this must be sacred ground,” a place of connection and resonance that needs no interactive display or interpretive text to understand. Festival organizers spotted the naturally embracing amphitheater from a small plane buzzing over the Catskills in search of an alternate site, and it turned into an alternative city, new paradigm, Woodstock Nation. You can see where the stage was set up at the bottom of the slope, near West Shore Road. (There’s a little monument to one side and a split-rail fence surrounding the site.) You can crouch in the field and commune with the spirits here, not of the dead but of the living and loving and tripping multitudes (more than 500,000) who sat out in the rain, shirtless and happy. And for a moment, a kind of hush descends over the spirit, a quiet bliss. Woodstock, my Woodstock…

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New Scenery for the World's Stage
The U.N. complex comprises three principal buildings: the Secretariat tower, the domed General Assembly Hall -- built in 1949 and 1950 -- and the Dag Hammarskjold Library.
Ben Murphy

The cool modernist ensemble of United Nations buildings that Wallace K. Harrison called a “workshop for peace” will soon be a workshop for long-overdue renovations. After breaking ground last month on the northern lawn of the U.N. complex for a 175,000-square-foot concrete and steel temporary building to house U.N. conferences and the office of the secretary-general until at least 2014, U.N. officials will relocate thousands of staffers from buildings completed in 1950.

Actual work on one of the world’s most recognizable architectural ensembles comes after ten contentious years of preparation and a series of different plans for overhauling the asbestos-filled structures, which have serious leak problems and antiquated mechanical infrastructure. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, security concerns gave greater urgency to planning for any potential attack on the 18-acre site.

In 1998, the U.N. General Assembly, which represents all the organization’s 192 member states, voted to completely overhaul the buildings, which had undergone ad hoc alterations over five decades. An initial plan envisioned renovating the complex section by section while staff remained on-site, to minimize the need to pay high rents in New York’s booming real estate market. An alternate scheme would have involved building a second 35-story U.N. tower on a playground immediately south of the current ensemble. In 2001, an expanded visitors’ center was proposed under the North Lawn. The current plan relies on placing the U.N. leadership and conferences in a temporary structure on U.N. property, which will be demolished after renovation is completed, and locating most of the personnel in leased office space.

The cost for the entire six-year project, called the capital master plan, is estimated at $1.9 billion. The U.N.’s three principal buildings, designed by a team that included Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace K. Harrison, were built in 1949 and 1950 for $65 million on land bought for $8.5 million by the Rockefeller family and then donated to the international organization. A fourth building, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, opened in 1961.

Steven Pressler of Skanska, the construction manager, characterized the ensemble as “old, in need of a facelift,” and called the project “a big demolition job with a lot of asbestos thrown in; then building it back is almost building it like new.” Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering is the lead architect for historic preservation, and R.A. Heintges is consulting on the restoration of the curtain wall. HLW International is developing interior design guidelines and is designing the North Lawn building.

The Woodrow Wilson Reading Room, designed by Harrison, Abramovitz and Harris, holds the records of the League of Nations and is located in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library building, dedicated in 1961. Though not open to the public, the reading room, with its distinctive white pine paneling, will be carefully preserved.

“As with all institutions, the last place they wanted to put their scarce resources was in fixing up their own house, so the U.N. delayed the decision, because resources are scarce, and their mission is extremely broad, but after 9/11 it raised the priority of making this project happen,” said Michael Adlerstein, the architect who now heads the capital master plan. Adlerstein had previously been vice president of the New York Botanical Garden and was a student of George Dudley, author of the most comprehensive study of the design and construction of the U.N. Adlerstein’s predecessor, John Frederick Reuter IV, quit two years ago in frustration over the increasingly political nature of the process. “I am interested in building buildings, not ‘selling’ them,” Reuter said. “Perhaps the biggest challenge has been to convince member states, and particularly the host country, that the physical condition of the United Nations Headquarters is not a political matter." 

Selling the renovation has indeed been a challenge. The plan required the unanimous approval of the 192 U.N. member states in the General Assembly, and winning support in New York and Washington was yet another battle. In 2004, the organization held an architecture competition, restricted to Pritzker Prize winners, for a 35-story tower that would provide swing space for staff displaced during construction and eventually house U.N. offices that are now in rental buildings, at below-market rents, controlled by a public firm called the United Nations Development Corporation. Richard Meier, one of those considered, dropped out of the running, calling the cramped First Avenue site inappropriate for a building of that scale. (He subsequently designed four towers nearby on the East River waterfront for the developer Sheldon Solow; these are still in the approvals stage.) The commission was awarded to Fumihiko Maki of Japan, whose sleek grey column was chosen over entries by Foster + Partners and Herzog & de Meuron.


The site, however, was a concrete patch called the Robert Moses Playground, and construction required a vote by the New York State Senate to enable “alienation” of parkland, even though the plan provided for a riverbank esplanade of comparable size in exchange. The local New York City Council member, Dan Garodnick, points out that his district has the least parkland in the city.

Elected officials found that attacking the U.N. was even more effective than attacking the French. At the end of 2004, the State Senate delayed a vote, citing a history of unpaid parking tickets by U.N. personnel, alleged anti-semitism, and opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “I view Mr. [Kofi] Annan’s stonewalling on the release of oil-for-food documents to Congress as a potential cover-up for corruption and will use it as leverage to deny passage of state legislation,” vowed State Senator Martin Golden in a letter to the New York Times in January 2006. Golden carried the day. The matter never came to a vote, despite support from Mayor Bloomberg, then-governor George Pataki, and the Bush administration. “It was politics, pure politics,” said Edward Rubin, an architect who chairs the Land Use Committee of Community Board 6 in Manhattan.

In 2005, the ever-opinionated Donald Trump weighed in. After building his Trump World Tower on a site overlooking the complex, he was contacted by the Swedish delegation for some informal advice. He testified before the International Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate, and suggested that the U.N. sell its East River campus and use the profits to create a new building on the site of the former World Trade Center. Trump also offered to renovate the original East Side buildings himself for $300 million, warning that U.N. costs (which he said would rise to $3 billion) had been inflated by internal “corruption and incompetence.” Part of the problem, he added, was that the organization would be extorted for short-term office space by New York landlords—”There is no worse human being on Earth, okay?” Trump said. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged Trump to bid on the project, but he never filed a bid. “He would only do it if the U.N. were to have offered it to him, and under the rules of procurement, it would be literally impossible to source a project of this size to a single vendor,” said Adlerstein.

Some critics even wondered whether the iconic buildings were worth preserving. “I always found this futurist architectural experiment tacky,” said former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, who was frustrated in his effort to link U.S. support for the renovation to a general reform of the U.N.’s procurement process. “I found the General Assembly [building] to be vaguely fascist,” he added.

Even those who admire its architecture still call the complex a firetrap. In testimony before Congress in 2005, a U.N. official predicted that a serious explosion at the U.N. would spray asbestos throughout the neighborhood. And since it doesn’t even have a sprinkler system, the U.N. fails to meet New York City fire code.

Most of the renovation work, when completed, will be invisible to the visitor, said Adlerstein, although the sleek wood-paneled Security Council Chamber and the General Assembly will get interiors that are closer to their original bright colors than today’s muted seating. Since the manufacturers of some original materials are no longer in business, and certain woods used in conference rooms came from endangered species, approximations will be made, architects say.

The dramatic change will be in the east and west facades of the Secretariat tower. The leaking, corroded aluminum curtain wall will be removed to replace decaying surfaces and increase its energy efficiency. In the process, a layer of thermal film between the double-pane windows will also be stripped. “The original building was sans film, and had a cooler look. The film underneath the curtain wall had a bluish tint. After removing that film, the building will look more silvery and more transparent,” said Steven Pressler of Skanska.

Transparency—both literal and figurative—has always been an issue at the U.N. Surfing through U.N.-related chat on the web reveals the persistent view that the U.N. belongs to the “why pay less” school. Yet Adlerstein notes that by emptying each building before renovation, the project cut two years off of construction and saved $100 million, which will cover swing space rent in Manhattan and Queens. Additional savings come from the U.N.’s exemption from sales tax. Contrary to Mr. Trump’s belief, the project, he stressed, “was never a runaway train. It was a stalled train. The concern was that it wasn’t moving fast enough.”

But not so fast as to outrun auditors, Adlerstein explained, noting that value-engineering is still in progress. “We are being audited by several different groups at all times… Each member state is entitled to audit us and several do,” he said. “We have eternal audits.” With luck, though, diplomacy will carry the day.

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Rudolph Revisited
The restored Rudolph Building, above left, includes improved mechanical systems and new sustainable features. Gwathmey Siegel's addition, above right and rendered below, will house the History of Art department.
Courtesy Gwathmey Siegel & Associates


Paul Rudolph’s 1963 Art & Architecture Building at Yale University may be the most hapless masterwork in the canon of modern architecture, but its fortunes appear to be changing. This early example of brutalism is being restored to Rudolph’s original intention by one of his students, Charles Gwathmey, who received his Master of Architecture degree there in 1962. He has also designed a reverent addition, linked in name to a key donor from the same class and to be known as the Jeffrey Loria Center, which will house the university’s history of art department. The client is another student of Rudolph’s, Robert A. M. Stern, class of ‘65, currently the dean of the Yale School of Architecture. The entire project, budgeted at $126 million, is due to be completed by mid-August.

Paul Rudolph designed the building, known on campus as the A&A Building, while he was chair of the Yale School of Architecture. An intricately conceived, grooved, bush-hammered concrete structure with 37 levels on 10 floors, it was hailed by critics as a marvel of space, light, and mass. But its fortress-like appearance, rigid plan, and indifference to its neighbors won few campus admirers. In that era of political uproar, students saw it as an emblem of establishment arrogance. In 1969, it was severely damaged in a fire, the cause of which was never determined.

To make matters worse, Rudolph’s successor as chair of the architecture department was the postmodernist Charles Moore. He oversaw the building’s reconstruction, including the removal of asbestos insulation throughout. To address students’ needs, Moore permitted the ad hoc partitioning of the interior, significantly altering its spatial integrity. Over the years, other alterations further diluted Rudolph’s vision, causing him to ultimately disavow what had once been considered his crowning achievement. “The building was a victim,” said a rueful Gwathmey, who was a leading defender of modernism in the style wars of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Ironically, one of his chief antagonists was the young turk postmodernist Stern. While Stern calls Rudolph “the most talented architect of his generation,” his commitment to renovating his professor’s landmark is as a historicist.

While there is a renewed critical interest in Paul Rudolph, Stern notes that getting Yale to restore the much-derided building was “a hard sell.” The university only agreed because tearing it down would have been more expensive. While Gwathmey proudly recalls evenings in grad school “spent hunched over a drafting board with my rapidograph, working on the building’s plans,” he was not the original choice for the task. Stern first selected Richard Meier to design the addition and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s David Childs, class of ‘67, to undertake the renovation. But dividing the project between two architects proved unfeasible. Rumor has it that the collaboration between the teams was less than smooth, and that Meier’s addition blocked the panoramic views from the building’s upper-floor studios, one of its few cherished features, irritating the architecture faculty. Apparently in response to all this dysfunction, the renovation’s patron, Yale alumnus Sid Bass, whose Fort Worth home is one of Rudolph’s most celebrated residential designs, pulled his pledge of $20 million. More evidence, it seemed, that the building was jinxed.

Gwathmey professes ignorance of what exactly prompted the earlier team’s dismissal or Bass’s displeasure, conceding only that “it’s a challenging commission because the clients are all architects.” He added that Meier graciously provided him with his model of the building when he took over the project in 2005. Happily, when Bass saw Gwathmey’s new scheme he reinstated his gift, along with the stipulation that the renovated structure be known henceforth as the Rudolph Building.




The A&A Building as it appeared in 1963 (top), in bold contrast to Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery (center) across the street. The Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library (above) links the original structure to its addition.

Gwathmey’s firsthand knowledge of Rudolph’s design was of little use during the renovation. Intimidated by building next door to Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery, Rudolph not only designed numerous iterations of what he hoped would be the greatest modernist building of its day, but he also continued to tinker with his design even during the construction process. This was possible because the university had negotiated a time and materials contract with the builder. “The more complicated it got, the better he liked it,” Gwathmey chuckled. “Almost every day we discovered conditions that were not in the plans.” Unfortunately, Rudolph’s ambition surpassed the construction technologies of the time, and by the time the university was ready to renovate, the building was in poor condition, with rebar poking through the concrete in some places.

For Gwathmey, one of the worst indignities to Rudolph’s building was the installation of insulated fenestration composed of small busy panes, which detracted from the building’s spatial rhythms. He rectified matters by installing what are the largest panes of Viracon insulated panes ever fabricated. He has also restored Rudolph’s clerestories, his dramatic open spaces on the main floor and between the fourth and fifth floors, and the internal bridge. Gwathmey’s scrupulous attention to detail has extended to commissioning an orange carpet based on the exact specifications of a two-inch-wide swath of rug rescued from the original building, and to designing lighting fixtures fitted with energy-efficient metal halide bulbs that mimic the exposed incandescent ones in the suspended lighting system Rudolph conceived for the building.

One of the reasons students deemed the building arrogant was that while Rudolph fussed over architectural details like custom lighting, he neglected creature comforts like air conditioning, which made the building insufferable in summer. Remedying this situation posed a challenge because there was little tolerance in the ceiling for wiring and ducts. Gwathmey opted for an energy-efficient radiant ceiling panel system, which cut the ductwork by two thirds. (The project has a LEED Silver rating.)

Accessibility posed another contemporary challenge for designers. Few buildings could be more hostile to the disabled than the A&A. So that it would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Gwathmey placed additional elevators in the tower at the A&A’s north end, which he transformed into the fulcrum between the building and its addition. The tower also houses a handicap-accessible lobby and entrance for the main lecture theater, Hastings Hall. While there are still multilevel passages that are not accessible by wheelchair, there are now alternative routes.

Gwathmey has sought to give the adjacent zinc-paneled Loria Center an identity of its own, while engaging the A&A in a visual dialogue, matching the glazed void of its facade with a protruding limestone solid that similarly has three rows of windows. His addition consists of a three-story base with a tower rising to the same height as the Rudolph building. Its outdoor terraces on the fourth and seventh floors offer views of the building never before seen. Linking the two on the ground floor is an expanded glass and aluminum library, which for the first time brings together the university’s art, architecture, drama, and arts of the book collections under one roof. Gwathmey’s use of zinc and limestone is an attempt to remedy Rudolph’s supposed contextual indifference. Louis Kahn’s nearby Center for British Art is also clad in zinc, and the limestone not only picks up the hue of Rudolph’s concrete, but is also a material used throughout Yale’s old campus.

Ornery but brilliant, much like the man himself, the Rudolph Building will doubtless provoke and inspire many generations of Yale students to come. However, once a statement of a defiant modernity, it is today an architectural relic, making it an instructive icon as well.


It was a heavy evening on June 3 at the Taschen bookstore in Soho, where Richard Meier was signing copies of his latest tome, Richard Meier & Partners: Complete Works, 1963-2008 (Taschen, $150). A clutch of photographers wanted him to pose hoisting a copy. “It weighs too much,” he complained. 

The event, co-sponsored by AN, attracted a modest crowd where quite a few copies of the not inexpensive book were sold. Fans and old friends, among them Massimo Vignelli, who designed the book, all queued up to give the architect’s wrist a workout, while journalists swooped in and out. The man from New York wanted to know: What Manhattan building makes you cringe most? Answer: A building on the lower West Side that is thankfully out of sight of Meier’s Perry Street trio. Page Six asked: Where would you most want to build next in Manhattan? The diplomatic response was that Meier would most like to see the three towers he’s already designed for the Con Ed site south of the United Nations completed. Yes, but after, that? No, but those would be great to see built just as they are shown in the book. Next? A correspondent from Architectural Record groused that it was impossible to get Meier to talk about new projects with so many people around, while a Canadian style-magazine reporter likewise gave up posing lifestyle questions. (Hint: He likes white!)

Mid-event, a woman presented herself as wanting a copy signed to “Calvin Klein.” It turned out that Lucy O’Laughlin and her financier husband Gil Lamphere are the fashion designer’s neighbors, having bought the penthouse duplex that once belonged to Martha Stewart in the north Perry Street tower for $6.6 million. While Meier was signing, O’Laughlin asked for some free architectural advice concerning what kind of staircase she should install in her new duplex. Looking inscrutably blank, Meier suggested she ask Calvin what he did at his triplex (designed by John Pawson). She bought another copy of the book.

During a lull, AN asked Meier if he was upset about the new mayor of Rome vowing in his acceptance speech last month that he would tear down Meier’s Ara Pacis, built in 2006 to house an Augustine-era altar piece. Not at all, the architect replied. In fact, the brash statement boosted tourism so much that the building is now the third most visited site in Rome, after St. Peter’s and the Colosseum. “The people have been reawakened to its being there,” Meier said, “so it’s safe for now.”

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Meier's Ara Pacis Under Siege
Edmund Sumner/View/ESTO

Following recent runoff elections, Rome’s new mayor Gianni Alemanno declared his intention to dismantle the 2006 Richard Meier marble-and-glass sanctuary around the Ara Pacis, an altar dedicated by the emperor Augustus in 9 B.C.E. As one of the first postwar modern buildings to be built within the walls of the city’s ancient center, the new structure has been highly controversial from the start and was even referred to as a “gas station” by the art critic and one-time undersecretary of Italian culture Vittorio Sgarbi. Many criticized the way Meier—a Rome Academy fellow from 1976—was awarded the commission without a competition by then-mayor Walter Veltroni. Others simply objected to what they saw as its heavy-handedness.

The site, which sits alongside the Tiber River, was first reshaped by Benito Mussolini when he removed the famed Santa Cecilia concert hall from the Augustian tomb on which it stood. Mussolini capped the area’s arcaded reconstruction with the Ara Pacis, moving it from another site nearby. Mussolini’s ghost may be present still, because the night that Alemanno—the first right-wing politician to take the mayoralty in 30 years—won the election, scores of young men were seen throughout the city chanting “Duce!” Could it be that Alemanno’s real goal is to cleanse this immensely important space of the only thing not introduced by Mussolini into the current setting? 

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A Line in the Water

solow plan

On February 25, a City Council hearing began the last phase of public review on Sheldon Solow’s eight-building megaplan for the East 30s, and considered the urban conditions within the six-block river view site. However, changes to the waterfront across the FDR Drive from Solow’s project may drive more horse-trading over the project’s specifics.

The hearing, which featured testimony from representatives of the Municipal Art Society and New York Building Congress, raised all the issues on which Solow and the city have already come to terms. These included expanding a public playground from 5,500 to 10,000 square feet, reducing building heights, and shrinking the proposed office building’s overall footprint. Solow has also committed to a 630-seat school, which the city would build by 2012. The 8.7-acre plan by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Field Operations, and Richard Meier & Partners looks set to go forward, said Jasper Goldman, who testified for the Municipal Art Society, but unresolved problems remain. As Goldman explained, civic activists worry most about public use of 39th and 40th streets, which Solow’s plan removes from the street grid, and how the project may affect a waterfront park along the East River from 38th Street to the United Nations. “Everybody agrees the open space is well designed and likes the east-west orientation of the buildings, but people were nervous about the idea of it shutting down at 1 a.m. This is such a massive development that the public space should be a real public park.”

In addition, Solow would need to provide easements from his property to city and state agencies to enable a deck over the FDR Drive to the new waterfront park. Solow has endorsed the idea, but stopped short of pledging his money toward the project, which the Campaign for an East Side Waterfront Park projects could cost around $116 million.

Local City Council member Dan Garodnick, who founded the park campaign, has stressed his district’s paucity of open space. He may relent on some issues, like the impact on the skyline of four nearly identical towers, in order to secure funding for deck construction or concessions on opening 39th and 40th streets. At a February 21 announcement laying out the waterfront coalition’s agenda, Garodnick told reporters that he and the developer were “in the midst of discussions about height, density, and open space.” 

These issues should be resolved in negotiations before late March, when the Council will vote on Solow’s plan. Goldman forecasted that an easement will emerge as part of a deal. “What’s less clear is the idea that 39th and 40th streets will be public, and that’s what Council negotiations are for,” he said. “We said the developer should consider a Riverside South model, where open space is mapped as parkland but maintenance is contracted to a private entity.”

To Goldman, a new waterfront park would cap Solow’s development by tethering it to its most famous neighbor. “A waterfront park would create a place to enjoy looking at the UN Secretariat,” he said. But Solow’s flexibility about keeping his development fully accessible may determine how soon that park comes into being. 


Eavesdrop: Anne Guiney

Since our co-workers no longer find it amusing when, on answering the phone, we yell out, “Hey M____, someone from Emperor’s Club V.I.P on line 3 for you!” we’ve had to look elsewhere for entertainment. We were flipping through the Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair the other day and came across Ingrid Sischy’s piece on the Palazzo Chupi, Julian Schnabel’s ulcer-pink stuccoed Venetianoid building in the West Village. Seeing as the remaining units range from $27 to $32 million, the spread is as close as we will ever get to checking out the details inside, so we took a look. It is charming, in its way, though it looks about as Venetian as Alec Guiness looked Saudi in Lawrence of Arabia. But great eyeliner! Anyway, tastes more refined than ours also took a look: Johnny Depp, Martha Stewart, and Madonna have all wandered through. The latter, however, liked the building more than the view: According to Sischy, Madonna looked out at Richard Meier’s Perry Street tower across the way and declared that compared to Chupi, it looked like a housing project. Meow!

As luck would have it, the very next day we found a possible solution to our Chupi-less living situation, right there in our inbox! “HELLO DEAR,” the note began warmly, “I HAVE A CONTRACT FOR YOU.” It continued on: “I WAS GIVEN CONTRACT TO DESIGN AND BUILD A STATE UNIVERSITY, FOR THE STATE, I GOT YOUR EMAIL FROM ARCHITECTURAL WEBSITE.” We calculated that our cut of cut of this $40,000,000 project in Nigeria is 40 percent, which gets us halfway to a duplex! Problem is, we are a gossip columnist, not an architect, and so just as Mr. Chris Chinedu of Current Technologies needs our help with a little bank transfer (and design skills, natch), we need yours, dear readers! We’ll cut you in at half—just send along your contact and banking information, and your social security number, and we’re in business!


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Piano to Build at Ronchamp
Plans for nuns' quarters and a new visitor center at Ronchamp, one of Le Corbusier's most celebrated works, have drawn the ire of the Swiss master's followers.
Ezra Stoller/ESTO

With a plan afoot for Renzo Piano to add buildings to the site of Le Corbusier’s famed Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, a perfect storm of good intentions in conflict is brewing. At issue are ultimately two types of pilgrimage: the original religious one of contemplation and prayer, and the latter-day architectural version. 

The Association Œuvre Notre-Dame du Haut that owns Ronchamp is within weeks of seeking a permit to build a new visitor center, a cluster of 12 habitats for nuns, and meditation space down the slope from Le Corbusier’s 1955 masterwork. And when a building permit is granted, the Fondation Le Corbusier, the Paris-based keeper of the master’s flame, has said that it will sue, reluctantly. “We are trying to make sure the site is preserved for eternity,” said Michel Richard, the foundation’s director. “We are afraid that in 10 years, the sisters will go away and they will be replaced by a B&B.”

“It is the most poetic building by Corbusier,” said Piano in an interview in his Manhattan office. “But he made it to be a place of worship, not just a sculpture. It proves that a secular person could create a place of religious feeling.”

According to association director Jean-Francois Mathey, son of Francois Mathey, who was involved in hiring Corbusier in 1950 to build the chapel (on the site of a 1799 church destroyed by World War II bombs), the idea to invite a group of nuns to live on the site came about a few years ago as a bulwark against creeping tourism. The site attracts some 100,000 people a year. 

“We feared that with so much traffic, the spiritual quality of the chapel—not the architecture itself—would little by little disappear,” Mathey said. “It should be a place of silence and prayer, not a fun fair.” The association decided to invite a “praying presence” of nuns from the Clarissine order (more commonly known as the Poor Clares) who would be tucked into Piano-designed cells on the far side of the hill. Corbusier himself had consulted with the association about adding a monastery, but concrete plans were never developed. 

Since Ronchamp is a cultural landmark, the French Ministry of Culture is required to approve plans for change and they did, unanimously, six months ago. The association, however, did not seek the benediction of the foundation. “That was probably a mistake,” said Piano. There have been three or four meetings between the architect and foundation that Piano described as very helpful, especially about measurements and materials. For its part, the foundation said that it was not flatly opposed to a new program for the site, nor against Piano. “We are well aware that Renzo Piano will take all precautions called for,” said Richard. “They should just build farther away.” 

The association considered several architects besides Piano, including Tadao Ando, Glenn Murcutt, and Jean Nouvel. In the end, the first two were deemed too far away, while the idea of Nouvel was rejected because “he would only design something Jean Nouvel,” said Mathey. “We loved Piano’s museums in Basel and Berne. He is a poet and a philosopher, too.” 

Piano himself was somewhat hesitant, and not because of the complexities of building respectfully next to an icon. After all, he has designed additions to several icons, including Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum (in a preliminary design stage) and Richard Meier’s Atlanta High Museum (2005). But the Ronchamp project is by far the smallest in his office, very sensitive, and with a relatively miniscule budget of $13 million. “There would be no reason to put myself in this funny situation were not a work of passion,” he said. 

Piano did not even start to design until he had walked the site last winter, driving stakes into the ground where it would be possible to build without being seen from the top of the hill where the chapel sits. According to French law, any changes within 500 meters of a designated landmark are open to the scrutiny of the Ministry of Culture, but the grounds around the chapel building are not subject to this landmark protection. Thus, although the new structures will be invisible, they do come to within 60 meters of the chapel. Piano plans to reforest the flanks of the hill with some 800 evergreens and native deciduous trees, spending one-third the entire budget on landscaping. 

Jean Louis Cohen, the preeminent Corbusier scholar who is on the board of the foundation, also walked around the site last summer. “Maybe you wouldn’t see it, but you would feel it,” said Cohen in an interview in which he showed slides documenting the chapel from every possible angle from below the hilltop. “The harmony of the place would be disturbed; it would lose the sense of being a pilgrimage and impoverish the chapel itself.” 

The plan includes a new visitor center to replace the current one—a makeshift pink box at the base of the hill. Renderings show a simple split shed with a dynamic bifurcated roof jutting in directions that echo the swoops of the chapel’s roof. The tilting roof planes would be made of both zinc and green-roof materials, making it appear as if it were rising from the forest floor. It has been positioned to allow people parking their cars to get a glimpse of the chapel up the steep hill. The nun’s cells are even simpler at 120 square feet, bermed into the hillside in the woods just below the knoll’s clearing and invisible from the top. Piano is thinking of giving each cell a high-tech light scoop, similar to those at the High Museum, but here atop 20-foot columns that would draw light through the trees into each cell. 

Mathey explained the opposition is the only barrier to going ahead. “They thought someday of recovering the chapel. Now, since Renzo Piano is going to put his mark on the hill, they don’t like it,” he said. (The foundation was alerted to the association’s plans to move forward by an article [.pdf] that appeard in August in the Catholic newspaper Le Croix.)

Getting a permit to build will not be difficult, as the Ministry of Culture has already approved the plans. Once a building permit is issued, there is a two-month period, something like a marital banns, when the opposed can step forward. “The foundation is well aware that we’ll have to do something,” said Richard. 

While presenting the plans for Ronchamp in his Meatpacking District office overlooking the site of the new Whitney museum he is designing, Piano took a break from simultaneously meeting with representatives of The New York Times about the trees on the roof of their new building and taking an interview with Newsweek about the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. At lunchtime, his old colleague and friend Richard Rogers and his wife Ruth arrived. Asked if this were a project he would take on, Rogers looked incredulous. 

“I am mad, aren’t I?” Piano said, with a laugh. “But I like risk.” 


Piano insists the new buildings will be all but invisible to chapel visitors.

The nuns' residences are hidden amid the trees, but a variation on Piano's High Museum light wells will provide ample natural light.

A site plan gives a sense of the location of the nuns' quarters, at left, and the new visitor's center, located near the road at the bottom of the drawing.

A model of the nuns' residences. The orange chimneys are the light wells.

In addition to housing for the nuns, a small sanctuary will also be built amid the trees.

A model of the new visitor's center. As the topography shows, it will be built into the surrounding landscape, like all the new buildings.

One of Piano's signature drawings illustrates the relationship between the residences, their light wells, and the trees.

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Westwood, Ho!

Suspended walkways at Viñoly’s CNSI. BRAD FEINKNOPF

While the red brick Italian Romanesque core of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is an ubiquitous presence on LA’s western skyline, the school is not often on the lips of those discussing great contemporary Southern California architecture. That may be about to change, as Westwood has been altered by three new campus structures by architectural heavyweights Richard Meier, Rafael Viñoly, and I.M. Pei.

The new buildings—still intended, say campus officials, to blend with the school’s overall aesthetic—include Meier’s recently-completed Broad Art Center, Viñoly’s just-finished California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), and Pei and his son C.C.’s nearly-completed Ronald Reagan Medical Center. They are part of an ambitious expansion plan for the campus, which already has a population of nearly 40,000 and hundreds of acres of prime real estate. 

“The existing style of the campus is extremely important in making any decisions regarding architecture,” said campus architect Jeff Averill. “New buildings must have a contextual response to the campus. We have a framework, a palette of materials that we use. Of course, there are exceptions, and these three new buildings have more exceptions than other projects.”

Completed last fall, Richard Meier and Partners’ Broad Art Center is a welcome top-to-bottom renovation of the original Dickson Art Center by William Pereira. Completed in the early 1960s, the cast concrete building was ill-suited to making art from the get-go, due to its low-light, dense studios and poor ventilation. Then, damage from the Northridge earthquake of 1994 was so extensive that renovation or demolition was the only answer. 

Richard Meier and Partners’ Broad Art Center. TIM GRIFFITH

“This space is all about creating the best possible light and space for teaching and making art,” said principal architect Michael Palladino of Richard Meier and Partners. “Our goal was to pull all the weight off the face of the building and to reuse it at an appropriate scale. We took a lighter concrete system, created proper sun control on the south side, and made the building more transparent,” he said.

Perhaps most significantly, the circulation was moved from an inner corridor to cantilevered corridors located outside so that the expanded studio spaces receive both natural circulation and natural light throughout the day. “The building can be naturally ventilated nine months of the year,” said Palladino. Teak slats on the west-facing facade, brick paving in UCLA’s familiar, four-hued red palette at the east facade, and off-white cast concrete are all nods to the campus aesthetic.

The south campus is receiving its share of construction as well. Located in what was once a cramped bit of space over an existing parking structure, the spectacular CNSI, finished by Rafael Viñoly Architects in December, completes a group of contemporary-style science buildings known collectively as the Court of Sciences. Structures by Ralph Johnson and Cesar Pelli flank the CNSI and help to create a dense south campus network of buildings. 

Set on a relatively small footprint, the CNSI is meant to bring together several scientific disciplines. The seven-story building, of which three floors were constructed over an existing parking structure, centers on fostering collaboration among scientific teams. “The design reflects how this work is performed: Large undetermined technical spaces with unexpected modes of circulation that encourage random activity,” said Viñoly.

The exterior of the CNSI is deceptive; its clean brick and metal facade belies the hive-like interior courtyard. As if spun by an industrial arachnid, the chaotic web of pathways suspended above a portion of the parking structure connects various corners of the building. Though jarring at first, these suspended walkways are meant to illustrate the larger aim of this burgeoning technology. “It’s all about creating connections across disciplines,” said Averill. “The walkways and inner courtyard are indicative of that. The connections across this space are an expression of the idea of this building.” 

By far the most monumental and expensive building being completed on campus is the Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Designed by Pei Partnership Architects, this building will entirely replace the old UCLA Medical Center.

At a cost in excess of $850 million, the Medical Center will be among the most technologically advanced hospitals in the world. “The kind of things that are incorporated into the building in terms of function and technology take health care into a new era,” said Averill. Utilizing more than three million pounds of travertine—clearly evident on its facade—the one million-plus-square-foot, 10-story hospital is on a four-acre site at the southwest corner of the campus.

Patient rooms will all be equipped with technologies like wireless internet, robotics, and digital imaging capability that enable a level of medical care unavailable even ten years ago. “The Center makes any other project on campus pale in comparison,” said Averill. “It is so much bigger than anything else.”

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And the Award Goes To...

In December, the American Institute of Architects announced this year’s top honors, and by its choices, seems to be making a statement about the importance of interdisciplinary and sustainable approaches in architectural practice. Renzo Piano received the Gold Medal, Stanley Tigerman earned the Topaz Medallion, and KieranTimberlake Associates netted the Architecture Firm Award. The 25-Year Award, which recognizes a building that has stood the test of time, will go to Richard Meier’s Atheneum in New Harmony, Indiana. The awards will be presented at the American Architectural Foundation’s Accent on Architecture Gala in February at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Renzo Piano stands presents a model of the High Museum of Art (left). The New York Times Building is his most recent U.S. project. COURTESY THE HIGH MUSEUM OF ART; FRIEDER BLICKLE 

In winning the Gold Medal, generally considered the AIA’s highest honor and a lifetime achievement award of sorts, Piano was recognized for the impressive scope of his oeuvre. “His work demonstrates the complete range of architectural concerns,” Thomas Howorth, chair of the nominating committee, said in a statement. “It is sculptural, beautiful, technically accomplished, and sustainable. He integrates the diverse disciplines that combine in contemporary building into cohesive, humane environments.”

Piano came to the world’s attention for his work on the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, which he completed in 1977 with fellow Pritzker Prize winner Richard Rogers. He has gone on to create an internationally recognized body of work, including his expansion of the Morgan Library and his design for the New York Times Building, both in New York City, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum in LA, and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. He is also involved in Columbia University’s controversial plan for a new campus in West Harlem.

Stanley Tigerman (left) leads a class at ARCHEWORKS (right), the alternative architecture school he founded in Chicago. COURTESY TIGERMAN MCCURRY ARCHITECTS

Tigerman won the Topaz Medallion, an award in recognition of an outstanding architectural educator presented jointly by the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He has been teaching for almost five decades, including repeat stints at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Tigerman is a nonpareil instructor whose impact on the students he has taught formally and informally for so long is magnified many times over by the informed and passionate love of architecture those students, now teachers and practitioners themselves, bring to the world,” Jane Weinzapfel, principal at Leers Weinzapfel Associates Architects , wrote in her nominating letter.

But Tigerman said that more than his teaching, the judges were impressed with ARCHEWORKS, an interdisciplinary design school that he and Eva Maddox founded in 1994. The school brings together a range of professionals to tackle social issues through architecture, art, and design. Tigerman sees the medallion as a recognition of not only his work but also that of the school. “They realize that there are other ways to educate a designer,” he said. “It’s nice that they are still recognizing this approach.”

Stephen Kieran (right) and James TImberlake (left) are the principals of KieranTimberlake Associates, whose Loblolly house uses advanced prefabricated technology. COURTESY KIERANTIMBERLAKE ASSOCIATES

The AIA has honored KieranTimberlake Associates before, awarding it the first Latrobe Fellowship in 2001 to help the firm pursue its R&D–driven approach to architecture. That research-driven approach helped it win the Architecture Firm Award, in addition to its commitment to sustainable design. “They see the holistic approach to what we do,” partner James Timberlake said of the AIA. 

Stephen Kieran, another partner, said he is pleased to have won the Firm Award because of what it represents. “What’s really gratifying is that it’s not about a building,” he said. “What we’ve won so far has been for our buildings. This is an award for a collaborative process that creates all these buildings; it’s really an award about what we believe, which is the power of collaboration.”

With the recognition of these architects, the AIA may be trying to lead the industry in a more progressive direction, Tigerman said. "It's in the air," he said. "There are three things kind of floating around: The first is a multidisciplinary approach, the second is global issues, and the third is social cause. The AIA is sending a message that ethical practice and ethical behavior seem to count."

Richard Meier, who won the Gold Medal in 1997, completed the Atheneum in 1979, and the project has been lauded ever since. In 1979, it won a Progressive Architecture award, and in 1982, an AIA Honor Award. According to juror Peter Eisenman, it is one of Meier’s seminal works.

Eavesdrop: Anne Guiney


Forget about the mortgage crisis, folks—when shelter magazines fold, you know the economy is going to pot! The powers that be over at Condé Nast closed down the 106-year old House & Garden the other day, and doomsday scenarios have been flying fast and furious amongst those of us who think about toile wallpaper and the care and feeding of amaryllis. According to our Nast-y mole, H&G’s long-time editor, Dominique Browning, and publisher, Joe Lagani, were not particularly simpático, and the latter quit smack dab in the middle of the magazine’s first ever Design Happening, a series of events pegged to New York Design Week. Lagani had apparently been beefing up advertising sales, so his departure, the specter of coming economic trouble for H & G’s target demographic, and a world already overstuffed with shelter magazines seem to have spelled the end.


Imagine the surprise of the editors at Architectural Record when an obituary on New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp came in from their critic Joseph Giovannini. The first sentences: “When Herbert Muschamp died on October 2, at the age of 59, it was as though a planet dropped out of our architectural constellation. From his first book in 1974, File Under Architecture, he was a fixture in our sky of thought…” This, about the man whom Record had an-nounced its intention to sue for tortious interference just a few years before! Editor Suzanne Stephens had been working on a book about the rebuilding of Ground Zero, and Muschamp announced that she couldn’t include the work he had commissioned from various chic architects for an issue of the Times’ Sunday Magazine, though she had already received permission from the Times legal folks. The squabble reached a crescendo on a design world-packed flight back from the 2004 Venice Biennale, when Ms. Stephens was seated in the same row as our planetary critic, who bellowed, “I DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO LOOK AT YOUR ******* FACE!” The lady had a sharp retort. Meanwhile, the architects involved were forced to take sides: Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier, Fred Schwartz, Charles Gwathmey, and Peter Eisenman, and all the younger firms withheld their permission, presumably at Muschamp’s bidding. Rem Koolhaas, Steven Holl, Rafael Viñoly, David Rockwell, and Alexander Gorlin felt no such compunction and gave the OK. Suffice it to say that the editors at Record toned the obituary down for the print edition, but posted the original online in all of its stellar style.

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Eavesdrop: Editors

At Pentagram star Michael Bierut’s roast at the Architectural League, tout le monde was in attendance; the speakers included many of our local design world’s most talented and glib: Suzanne Stephens sang and danced in his honor around the room. WNPR host and general polymath Kurt Anderson called Michael delusional, a liar, and slightly psychotic—and those were the compliments! And to think that I thought he was just a nice, fun guy! Wendy Josephs, Karen Stein, Annabelle Selldorf, Marilyn Taylor, Rosalie Genevro, Diana Agrest, Margery Perlmuttter of the Landmarks Commission and the Pentagram partners (including a very pregnant Lisa Strausfeld) were at the Century Club. That legendary place has a reputation for being a men’s club, but look at the guest list—were there any men there?

Robert Stern’s selection to design the George W. Bush Library, located in Dallas at Southern Methodist University, continues to be the talk of the town—Is it good for Bob, or perhaps it is bad? Is it good for architecture? What about New Urbanism? (Karl Rove has a house at Rosemary’s Beach near Seaside, Florida, by the way, so he must be a fan of the movement.) Is Stern following Philip Johnson’s motto that architecture is the second oldest profession? And put yourself in his position: If you were asked to do it, and didn’t like the President’s politics, would you have turned it down? And though Bob won’t be designing the exhibits, of course, one wonders: will there be an Abu Ghraib room? Speaking of Mr. Stern and the architecture school over which he presides, Richard Meier will be the Davenport Professor of Architecture at Yale this spring. Word on the street is that the position is a form of payback for having been fired from the job of designing the addition to and renovation of Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building, a project the university then gave to Charles Gwathmey. What else could entice Dick up to New Haven?

And speaking of academia, Tom Hanrahan of hMa was spotted chatting with Zaha Hadid recently—was he courting her for a position at Pratt, where he is dean? The two were at the Mercer Hotel, her regular roost while in New York City—courtyard rooms only, naturellement, the street is far too noisy—and who should run up to her in the lobby but Sean Penn, who breathlessly exclaimed “I’ve always loved your work!” If Frank Gehry has Brad Pitt as an acolyte, surely the formidable Ms. Hadid deserves someone a little edgier like Sean Penn?

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