All of the back issues of The Architect’s Newspaper have recently become available online as the publication has joined a digital archive of virtually all of the major U.S. architecture and design magazines of the 20th century: the US Modernist Library. This free, searchable database is the work of George Smart, founder and director of USModernist, a non-profit based in Raleigh, North Carolina, whose mission is to document, preserve, and promote mid-century and modernist residential architecture. Smart refers to himself as an accidental archivist, which turns out to be an accurate description. First: What Smart is not. He’s not an architect, a student of art history, architecture, or architectural history. For most of his life, his primary professional identity has been as a management consultant. But in January 2007, Smart's life changed when he visited Fallingwater. Entirely overcome, he returned home, purchased Styrofoam and model material, designed what eventually became his own modernist home, and started researching local North Carolina modernist architecture. It turns out he had a lot close to home: he found over 2,400 houses in the state. This is largely because of the efforts of Henry Kamphoefner, Dean of the School of Architecture at North Carolina State from 1948 to 1973. But online, there was little to be found beyond the greatest hits of the most famous architects. As Smart spoke with friends and neighbors, he realized that many were interested in modernist architecture, in part because so many had grown up in modernist homes. He started a website, then organized local tours, then dinners, then movie nights, then Modernist House networking happy hours. The launch of a podcast about modernist architecture, US Modernist Radio, took Smart’s work beyond the state. At around the same time, a local realtor dumped off a huge trove of old architecture magazines to Smart’s garage. He started to scan them and to add them to his website. The periodicals date to the late 19th century, including Progressive Architecture, Architectural Record, Architecture, and others including the entirety of The Architect’s Newspaper. The magazines complement a second database of photos and records documenting the residential work of all major mid-century U.S. architects. Volunteers around the country now regularly send in photos of these homes, and a bevy of researchers help to fill in gaps where information is missing. This little project has become possibly the largest online digital archive about residential modernist design in the world. With more than two and a half million pages, the site is enjoyed by up to a million people annually. Obviously, this is more than a casual side gig. Smart speaks to communities all over the United States, teaching them how to start a local organization that will document, preserve, and promote these houses, which are being torn down at an alarming rate. He has found that the enemy of preservation is almost always vacancy, which leads to a domino-effect of neglect and, often, to demolition. As the writer, academic, and architectural historian Alan Hess noted, “When we tear down buildings it’s like we’re committing cultural amnesia; we’re destroying part of our memory. And no person can survive with amnesia.”
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Atlanta's nature-filled Serenbe community allows residential architecture to pop
Set deep within the Chattahoochee Hills of northwestern Georgia are four carefully-curated, close-knit communities each designed to emulate architectural styles that could be found around the world. Serenbe, a 1,000-acre neighborhood housing over 350 homes outside Atlanta, offers its residents vastly different aesthetic experiences from hamlet—as they call them—to hamlet via the power of placemaking. Conceived over 15 years ago by Atlanta restauranteur Steve Nygren, Serenbe is designed around a quartet of individual hamlets—Selbourne, Grange, Mado, and the upcoming Mado West—all connected by a few roads and miles of nature trails. The entire site has become a sprawling live and play destination that attracts a diverse group of young families, part-time residents from Atlanta’s core, as well as retirees. Since opening, some have called it a New Urbanist enclave, while others see it as an oasis that provides both access to ample greenery and comforts of city life like walkable downtowns and unique cultural opportunities. For the design-minded, what’s most curious about Serenbe are the various building types packed within each hamlet. From straight-laced Southern homes to metal-clad boxes and Scandinavian-inspired apartment complexes, Serenbe’s architecture is an education in the field of residential design itself. According to Nygren, each hamlet’s architecture is largely influenced by the purpose it serves. For example, Selborne, the first hamlet completed, serves as Serenbe's culture and arts sector. Its Main Street resembles an American downtown with touches of Italian influence found on the building ornamentations. The structures in Grange, which houses Serenbe’s agrarian efforts, evoke both a farmhouse and agro-industrial feel. Mado, a two-part hamlet that’s now under construction, is Serenbe’s sector for health and well-being where the architecture takes on more minimalist designs inspired by Copenhagen and cities in Sweden. Though it may sound like Serenbe is a cookie-cutter community full of non-site-specific architecture, and, if you go there, the whole community will look practically pristine in every way and almost too idyllic, the reality is that the build-out of Serenbe has been meticulously planned to maximize authenticity. Dictated by the Nygren family and the new architecture firm, Serenbe Planning and Design, led by Steve Dray and Cecilia Winston, every adjustment made to an existing home, as well as every new structure built, goes through an extensive design review process where the site, architectural language, floor plan, and other community guidelines are considered before a design decision is made. All the materials used for construction must be original, sustainable, and in keeping with the style found throughout each hamlet. What’s more is that Serenbe’s architecture, much like the popular outposts of Atlanta restaurants on site, is actually an eclectic mix of Serenbe’s strict style and that of other outside architects. Collaborators have included Bill Ingram Architect, J Ryan Duffey Architect, Peter Block Architects, Kemp Hall Studio, and Smith Hanes Studio. AN toured Serenbe during the Nygren Placemaking Conference where the Nygren family annually spells out the story of Serenbe and how it functions as both a business and living destination. Part of what attracts people to Serenbe, according to its residents, is the collection of surprising structures populating the hamlets and how, architecturally, they express the personalities of the people living there.
As the semester closes out, select Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) students are likely reflecting on one of the fall’s more atypical visiting teachers. Murray Moss, the figure behind the eponymous Moss, one of the 21st century’s most iconic design galleries and stores, has been taking his knowledge of art and design to RISD, where he delivered two lectures that were followed by graduate workshops at the RISD Museum. When I met with Moss in the lobby of his hotel, he was in a genial mood, sort of unabashedly prepared in his self-professed unpreparedness (a fib; he had quite a bit of material to riff on) for his lecture later that night, titled “Interdisciplinary Design Becomes the Norm.” “I'm not a lecturer,” he admitted, “but I thought, well, at this point I could try anything. What do I have to lose?” The first lecture, delivered this past October, was titled “In Search of a Narrative.” In it, Moss asked design students to consider the narratives and histories objects embody and tell. Sort of. “An object can't tell you anything,” Moss told me in the lobby of his hotel, speaking of his own approach as a curator of design and about what he enjoys about working with students, “but a person can. They can share the way they see what they've done...If what they start to say to me is interesting, then I start to like the thing.” He has, he claims, “never in [his] life seen a trend.” I asked Moss about the increasingly blurry boundary between art, architecture, and design—something that has come to define young gallerists like Jay Ezra Nayssan of Annex LA or Benoît Wolfrom and Javier Peres of Functional Art. “My question would be, why do you ask?” Moss responded. “It's like, what is interdisciplinarity? Why do you care? Who told you that's something you were supposed to waste five minutes on.” I pointed out he was about to “waste” an hour on it. “I know. But I didn't know what it was. I always get in this mess. I pick a topic, because I think it's going to be good, and then five minutes after I agree to do it, it turns out, I read something and I'm like, ‘This is a horrible subject.’ And I'm stuck with it.” His talk, which opened with winking self-deprecation, was, however, decidedly not horrible. He used his subject and its title, which he admitted he picked before he wrote the lecture, as a launching pad to undo the expectations built into the title. If interdisciplinarity is already the norm, then what’s next? “What’s emerging,” Moss told students “is much more radical.” He suggests that “we must pass through, it seems, interdisciplinarity in order to attain anti-disciplinarity.” He suggests that instead of being siloed into fields and disciplines and their correspondent singular methodologies, or even working together with other disciplines, thus still acknowledging those disciplines, we must work in the spaces between disciplines or after them all together that is, anti-disciplinarity—increasingly relevant today. Speaking to students he told them to “check [their] opinion bags at the door,” before exploring the possibilities of learning and creating beyond disciplines and without the confines of taken-for-granted foreknowledge. He then showed off the work of designers, artists, and mathematicians who he says work in the spaces between disciplines, including Ingo Maurer, Maarten Baas, Cathy McClure, and Haresh Lalvani. Although Moss professed disgust at the idea he might have any legacy as a “motivational speaker,” he still has a deep belief in learning and in encouraging new generations to think widely and chase new ideas, part of his motivation for teaching with a radical ethos that looks at the personal and looks for thoughts that exceed and even destroy traditionally held boundaries. “I think that we owe it to the younger people to encourage them to soar.”
WeWork Hard, WePlay Hard
WeWork is using user data to chart their meteoric expansion
With a quarter million members in 283 buildings across 75 different cities (and another 183 locations in the pipeline), WeWork is on an expansion tear that’s grown to include retail, education, and maybe even full neighborhoods somewhere down the line. With the company’s first ground-up building, Dock 72, nearly complete in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, AN spoke with the designers and researchers who are making WeWork’s growth possible and tried to divine where the company is going next. In a conversation on the future of data and workplace design at the William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg, Devin Vermeulen, creative director, and Daniel Davis, director of fundamental research, discussed how WeWork is “refining the future of the open office.” Most architecture firms design offices as one-off projects and rarely collect feedback once the spaces are occupied, but because WeWork both designs and manages their co-working spaces, the company can collect post-occupancy data. Through the collection of data via user feedback and integrated sensors, the company has created a massive pool of information from which to build its design guidelines. Planning a floor layout within the constraints of existing buildings can prove challenging, and WeWork is constantly tweaking and updating its offices based on tenant feedback. Every WeWork location outputs a massive amount of what Davis calls “data exhaust,” the information collected as a byproduct of tenants going about their day. Davis points out that data is just a proxy for user interaction, and the feedback collected through WeWork’s room booking app or surveys is just one metric of how their occupants feel. The design of each location changes accordingly based on a user’s needs. Underutilized conference rooms can either be reconfigured to make them more appealing—cramped rooms can be reorganized, and dark rooms can be lit differently—or repurposed into different uses entirely. There’s no reason that a lesser-used conference room can’t be turned into a lounge if it draws tenants. Feedback is aggregated and forms the core of WeWork’s design guidelines worldwide. The key to translating those guidelines across 22 countries is that, as the senior vice president and head of design at WeWork, Federico Negro, describes, only 90 percent of the guidelines are used across all offices. The remaining ten percent varies to adapt to local markets. When WeWork expands into a new city or state, it hires local architects to adapt its traditional model. This might mean a long communal table in Scandinavian offices as everyone gathers to eat lunch together, or larger meeting rooms in China, where one-on-one meetings are eschewed for team gatherings. The local architectural team is vertically integrated with the maintenance staff and utilizes feedback on trash routes, the ease of changing light bulbs, and other practical considerations when creating a layout. As hyped as the bromance between Bjarke Ingels and WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann has been, the Danish architect won’t be contributing much to the company’s day-to-day architecture work; the first “chief architect” will be focusing his attention on marquee projects like the WeGrow pilot school. The ultimate goal of the collaboration is to help WeWork expand into neighborhood planning, something outside of their current design scope. WeWork’s furniture and lighting solutions may appear similar to what's used in other spaces, but everything at WeWork is designed and fabricated by in-house teams. The resultant pieces are tested in WeWork offices, tweaked, and rolled out as kits-of-parts for designers to mix and match as they see fit. On a recent visit to WeWork’s New York City headquarters in Chelsea, the sixth-floor lounge had recently been revamped with plants, technicolor couches, and custom lighting fixtures. The airy palette might have seemed novel to those familiar with the company’s darker coworking spaces of five years ago, but as WeWork grows and matures its aesthetic, what works in the headquarters will ultimately trickle down to its older locations. Negro describes the process as rolling out design like “software updates." Circulation has been given special emphasis in the company’s design considerations, according to Davis. While his team’s algorithmically-generated desk layouts may optimize the number of seats in a WeWork office, guiding people to navigate those spaces in a certain way helps encourage face-to-face interactions. The most obvious intervention is the staircase; at the Chelsea location, the stairs have been relocated to the center of the floor and connect to floating “sky lobbies." Each floor is anchored by its stair, and circulation flows around it out of necessity. That circulation can help guide and divide the energy of the floor, keeping raucous lounge get-togethers distinct from the more subdued private call booths or conference rooms. The company is continuing to expand into both new industries and client groups. During the time of writing this story the company announced that it would be jumping into the real estate brokerage game with WeWork Space Services. Enterprise clients like IBM now compose 25 percent of WeWork’s tenants and represent a new design challenge for the company, but having core information from its prior tenants is helping the design team navigate the transition, said Negro. As open offices continue to evolve, architects and interior designers have tweaked layouts and materials to optimize worker comfort and balance privacy concerns. Will the increasing availability of data help designers refine their solutions in the same way WeWork has done?
According to a recent article on azcentral.com, Phoenix’s Warehouse District is in the midst of a renaissance. Or is it? The man behind several adaptive reuse projects in the neighborhood says not so fast. “It’s like every five years someone gets excited about it and writes the same article,” said developer Michael Levine. While he admits there’s been an uptick in interest in the mid-century industrial buildings, he doubts his fellow landowners’ motives. “If you give them enough money...they’d have the [buildings] demolished,” he said. Levine grew up in Brooklyn and attended Parsons, where he considered becoming an architectural designer before a retrospective on the work of Gordon Matta Clark convinced him to switch to art. “I wanted to get my hands dirty,” said Levine. After college, Levine moved to Phoenix, doing all kinds of work, from residential contracting to building visual displays and starting an art gallery. When he began manufacturing for multinational companies, he needed a larger workspace, and moved into his first warehouse. “Basically the buildings are like big three-dimensional sculptures,” said Levine. Eventually, the buildings themselves became Levine’s subjects. He renovated his first warehouse in 1992, his second in 1999. Phoenix, it turns out, is a particularly difficult place to be a champion for adaptive reuse. For one thing, the city didn’t have that many warehouses to begin with. “The best warehouse in Phoenix would be the worst in Detroit,” observed Levine. In addition, said Levine, the city’s reluctance to embrace the International Building Code combined with its early adoption of ADA standards to make it “almost impossible to save a building.” Even a recent preservation program hasn’t done as much as advocates might have hoped for the Warehouse District. In 2006, the city, aware that its pre–World War II building stock was rapidly dwindling, launched a special category of grants (funded through the city’s bond program) specifically for preserving warehouses. “It hasn’t been quite as successful as we’d hoped, but it hasn’t been a complete failure,” said Kevin Weight of the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office. The office had hoped there might be another bond issue, but then the recession hit. “We really don’t have the incentives to offer that we did before, so that’s part of why it’s not moving as quickly as we’d like,” said Weight. According to Levine, the problem is that would-be renovators have to compete with new construction. “The real story of the Warehouse District is it’s the cheapest land in town,” he said. Preservationists have scored a few big wins, as in 2007, when a lawsuit spared the Sun Mercantile Building (an E.W. Bacon-designed warehouse built in 1929) from a condo project. But the trend still seems to favor new over old. “They demolish 10, 13 buildings, then save one building,” said Levine. “It’s been like tokenism.” There are a few bright spots in the Warehouse District’s recent history, including several of Levine’s projects: 605 E. Grant Street (1917), originally owned by the Southwest Cotton Company; The Duce (525 S. Central Ave, 1928), built for Anchor Manufacturing Company; and Bentley Projects (215 E. Grant Street, 1918), first occupied by Bell Laundry. Then there’s 22 E. Jackson Street, the 1930 Arizona Hardware Supply Company building renovated by Dudley Ventures. A number of additional warehouse buildings have been listed on the city’s register of historic buildings. Levine cites the recent relocation of several of Arizona State University School of Art graduate student buildings to his 605 E. Grant Street. “The fine artists get it...ASU has finally gotten it,” said Levine, though he went on to express dismay at an ASU urban planning professor’s embrace of a nearby luxury-apartments project. That said, the Warehouse District renaissance doesn’t yet seem to have reached the tipping point. The city’s out of money to assist preservationists, at least for now. And Levine thinks that some of the recent interest in the neighborhood may be a passing craze. “However much they love it, unfortunately it’s a fashion thing to these people,” said Levine. “It’s really cool to be in a brick building...For me, I really want these buildings to be around for another 100 years.”
At Cosentino’s launch of Dekton, AN had an opportunity to sit down with Daniel Libeskind. The world-renowned architect designed an outdoor sculpture, Off the Wall, made from the new material that weathers like stone but has manufactured advantages of specialized color, texture, and form, thanks to Cosentino’s particle sintering technology (PST) that simulates metamorphic rock formation at a highly accelerated rate. It originally debuted this spring at Salone del Mobile in Milan. AN: You studied music in Israel. Do you find any of your classical music training to inform your design and architecture work? Daniel Libeskind: Totally. Even though I was a virtuoso performer I continue to use that sense of my relationship to music very deeply in my work. Architecture and music are closely related in many ways. They’re both very precise: In music, even a vibration cannot be off by a single half note. And it’s the same with architecture; the geometry, the spatial character of a building must be accurate. And in the end, they’re very similar in the sense that despite their scientific basis and precision, they have to register emotionally. In other words, we don’t think about the music, or an atmosphere that affects us spiritually. From the way a score is written and has to be performed by an orchestra, an architect doesn’t build his building. Sometimes he is not apparently there; the architect is more like a conductor of a concerto. It’s full of closeness for me. To continue the musical analogy, would you say the style of your work is more traditional and evenly phrased like Mozart, or neoclassically experimental like Stravinsky? Music to me is not really in categories of classical or rap or rock or medieval or Gregorian. Really, it’s a universal language of rhythm, sound, and tempo. I would say each of my projects has its own musical quality. Acoustics themselves are so important in my work. In the Jewish Museum in Berlin, I designed an entire void for the acoustics. And let’s not also forget that our sense of balance isn’t in our eye but in our inner ear. All of these things converge on my set of interests. What are your impressions of the acoustic and/or technical qualities of Dekton? I think Dekton is a great material. First, it’s not just reusing old materials. It brings qualities of porcelain, glass, and quartz together through a new technique of creating the material. Which I think has a lot of incredible characteristics, both acoustical, visual, and also tactile. The sculpture you designed in Dekton for Cosentino has a spiral quality with intersecting corners that suggest an indoor/outdoor application. It’s a spiral, that organically grows but also uses the tectonic means of planes to ascend through movement toward light. Each face has a different quality of light and movement because of where it’s placed, so it is a sculpture but its also an architectural microcosm that suggests an ability to create spaces that are really fluid and very tectonic. Any ideal applications for Dekton, not just for your practice but for architects in general? I think in large-scale walls—because, you know, architecture contains walls—to create a beautiful sense of light and resilience with the material. It has great technical qualities—rigidity and imperviousness to water—and also aesthetically in terms of color, texture, and materiality. And for exteriors, because I’m working on buildings in mega scales, I think it’s a very good material because if you think of other cladding materials, you can’t really compete with this technical ability. The interior/exterior possibilities are also exceptional. Most of my buildings have a sculptural form. They’re never just a box; they’re spatial forms that most often have never been seen before. In that sense, the question of inside/outside is very important because in my work there’s no division like a cube where its very clear. Those buildings, like that spiral I’ve created for Cosentino, are both inside and outside simultaneously. It can be used in floors that merge into walls that merge into soffits and Dekton can achieve that seamlessly in large scales. Do you foresee Dekton playing a role in any of your future projects? Oh definitely. We’re working on a number of large-scale building projects around the world and I’m determined to use it because I love the material. For example we have a very large project in Sao Paolo that hasn’t been made public yet. We also have some creative opportunities in China and Singapore. Back to music, do you have a favorite band or album you’re currently listening to? I’m from the era of CDs—not records!—but not yet MP3s. On my table lays music that spans millennia: ancient Greece, the latest rap recordings, Helmut Lachenmann, one of the great composers from Germany. Music is always fantastic. A model of Libeskind's Off the Wall is on view at the Center for Architecture in New York, as part of the Surface Innovation exhibition that runs through the end of October.
2013 Architecture & Design Film Festival Tribeca Cinemas 54 Varick Street New York 212 941-2001 “Erecting a building is like making a movie….both processes involve blending light and movement into space and time. A model is like a script: at best it’s a promise and at worst it’s a safeguard. And, as with a script, a moment comes when you have to test your model against reality. You must start shooting the film, start erecting the building." —The Interior Passage We can see these starts when the two art forms come together in the 4th annual Architecture & Design Film Festival at the Tribeca Cinemas where 25 films will be screened through October 20. This year, the trend is toward process films that chronicle movements and initiatives (planning, education, preservation), portraits of buildings more than individuals, and Modernism referenced even when it’s not the direct subject. The festival kicks off with The Human Scale (which also opens at the IFC Center on October 18). The film asks, “What is the scale for measuring happiness in a city?” and uses Danish architect and urban design theorist Jahn Gehl’s work concentrating on the pedestrian and cyclist to pose answers. Referencing Corbusier, Gehl said, “If anybody at any time wanted to pay professionals to make a city planning idea which would kill city life It could not have been done better than what the Modernists did.” The film focuses on Copenhagen, New York, Dhaka (the fastest-growing city in the world with 1,000 new residents per day), Christchurch, NZ, Melbourne, and Chonqing, China. “You Measure What You Care About” shows how data sets of people’s behavior led to pedestrianizing central Copenhagen. Similarly, Jeanette Sadik-Khan, NYC Commissioner of Transportation, looked at how 90 percent of Times Square real estate was allotted to cars, which only accounted for ten percent of use. This statistic was flipped to give over 90 percent to people in plazas, bike lanes, and Bikeshare stations. Another side of the Bloomberg administration’s legacy can be seen in My Brooklyn, which could almost be an ad for Bill deBlasio’s “Tale of Two Cities” New York. Examining gentrification vs. diversification, the film zones in on downtown Brooklyn and the redevelopment of the Fulton Street Mall which was the third-most-profitable shopping area in the five boroughs (behind Fifth and Madison avenues). With rezoning, this vibrant retail area that catered to African-American and Caribbean populations, has been transformed into a luxury, high-rise residential area despite the promises of local developers. The real estate feeding frenzy and deal making is examined in the vein of another recent film, Gut Renovation, also from the personal point of view of a displaced white female Brooklyn resident. Frustration with the corporate world and abundant idealism led two architects, Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, to start Studio H: a design/build high school curriculum with the mantra “Design, Build, Transform” heard in If You Build It. Their approach is a practicum in design thinking, and they were invited to teach a class in rural North Carolina by a forward-thinking superintendent who was soon dismissed. (They agreed to stay on without salary.) The students learn basic tools to visualize their ideas—drawing, model-making—which were turned into inventive, practical projects like chicken coops and a farmer’s market structure for their economically depressed town. A formative influence was Miller's Cranbrook thesis project, a house he constructed in Detroit that would be deeded to a family contingent on their payment of utilities for two years but went unmet and was abandoned. He concluded that the end user has to have a stake in the process. Optimism was also a motivator of the “pilgrims and émigrés” of Cape Cod in Built On Narrow Land. This spit of land at the tip of the peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay became a haven for freethinkers, artists, and the modernist architects who gave a physical form to their lifestyle. The Bohemian Brahmans who owned large swaths of land that enabled this development was embodied by Jack Phillips (of the Phillips Exeter Academy family), an amateur architect who briefly studied with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer at Harvard, and became the Pied Piper for mid-century modernism here. His instructors followed him, as did Serge Chermayeff (father of Ivan and Peter), Georgy Kepes, Paul Weidlinger, Charlie Zehnder, and other modernists and Bauhaus alumni that taught in Boston at MIT and Harvard. Gropius’s daughter Ati, and Ruth Hatch who commissioned the stunning Jack Hall–designed Hatch House are among the witnesses who lead us through this summertime oasis amidst the more conventional New England Cape Cod gabled cottages. Modernist architecture in Moscow, which was borne from a similar forward-thinking spirit that embodied the Russian Revolution, has a more problematic fate today. The title of the film, Away from All Suns!, is taken from Nietzsche who wrote: “The advent of modernity had swept away all foundations. Modernity is liberation and total destruction...What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving?... Away from all suns?” This unmooring is threatened by commercialism, illegal destruction, and new building as we are shown life behind the walls of three buildings: Ogoniok Printing Plant and Zhurgaz Apartment House (1930-35), the only surviving El Lissitzky building currently under threat; Communal Student House of the Textile Institute (1929) by I.S. Nikolaev, built to house 2,000 students and now under “restoration”; and Narkomfin Communal Apartment House (1928-30) by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinus, considered the model for Corbusier’s Unité d'Habitation and currently on UNESCO and World Monuments Fund watch lists, is now a ruin occupied by guerrilla artists before it is turned into a hotel. We also get a brief glimpse of Tatlin’s Tower being paraded through the streets. Modernism is more cherished in a few building portraits: The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat, is a much-loved house in Lone Pine, California between Death Valley and Sequoia National Park. Commissioned by the unassuming Richard Oyler, who boldly wrote to the famous architect, charming Neutra and causing him to fall in love with the site. Neutra created an un-ornamented, post-and-beam structure with expansive glass that fit organically into the site (they even dug a swimming pool out of giant rocks in a mini-quarry). The realtor, Crosby Doe, who specializes in mid-century modern houses, said the experience of seeing the Oyler House for the first time was on par with Macchu Picchu. The house is now owned by actress Kelly Lynch and screenwriter Mitch Glazer (she is interviewed), who also own John Lautner’s Harvey House in Los Angeles. Another adored building is Fagus—Walter Gropius and the Factory for Modernity. Built in 1911 in a small town near Hannover, it was the architect’s first major building that he chronicled extensively in photographs. Light, elegant, and beautifully proportioned, it is still used as a factory for making shoe laces, run by the original commissioning family. A palace for work, Bauhaus archivist Annemarie Jaeggi said it “defies gravity.” The Interior Passage portrays a more contemporary building, Sanaa’s Rolex Learning Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the prestigious institute of technology. It follows the selection process from 12 invited firms including OMA, Zaha Hadid, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro through the difficult engineering tasks solved by bridge builders to make this low-slung, flowing building stand up (the large central shell was cast in one pour over two days and nights, a mammoth logistical feat involving 20 simultaneous mixing trucks). A fascinating mingling of Swiss precision and Japanese minimalism, this film doggedly stays with the process until students fill the single expansive, unbroken fluid space of undulating floors and ceilings punctuated by glass-walled and domed bubbles. It takes the library as a building type one step beyond OMA’s Seattle Public Library. Perhaps the person who is able to best put architecture into a wider context is the Pritzker Prize winner in Tadao Ando—From Emptiness to Infinity. He thinks “we have to intensively deal with the present,” and encourages a young employee to communicate more with people, rather than just his computer because “this impacts on architecture and our society. Because communication, life, and architecture belong together.”