Search results for "Adolf Loos"

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The Inside Track
Courtesy Steelcase

The Austrian fin-de-siècle modernist Adolf Loos wrote a satirical sketch about the controlling architect that remains a sharp cautionary for architects today. To recap: An architect visits the home he has designed for a client who is nervous that the architect might find something awry. The client feels relieved, however, that he is at least wearing the bedroom slippers the architect designed for him. Loos delivers the punchline: “Of course,” thundered the architect, “but for the bedroom! They completely disrupt the mood here with those two impossible spots of color. Can’t you see that?”

The attitude that only the architect has a feeling for what’s right for a space that he or she designed persists to this day and has become an especial hindrance, particularly when it comes to interior design projects where so much, if not everything, is going to be subjected to uses and layers of accumulated stuff well beyond the purview of the creator’s vision.

It is high time to get over the Gesamtkunstwerk frame of mind, and bring to interiors some of the collaborative zeal now invigorating architects’ relationships with engineers and landscape designers. Many larger firms have interior design departments, but how closely do the architecture and interiors staffs really work? Is reviewing a variety of suggestions really collaborating?

Recently, at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, it was very clear that architects and interior designers do not often travel together to look at what’s new in furniture or furnishings, a joint effort that could improve a project’s success in terms of comfort-guaranteed style, integrated technologies, and comprehensive sustainability. Not to mention, the chances for a more sophisticated color palette, perhaps the easiest piece for an architect obliviously to misconstrue. “As soon as people get educated, they get scared of color,” bemoaned Alexander Girard, an architect who loved nothing better than offsetting something minimal with a splash of extravagance in form and color. The recently opened Miller House in Indianapolis wouldn’t be the masterpiece it is without that input.

Not that hyperbolic contrasts are the all-purpose solution. But something has to move architects beyond the Gran Confort as specification of last resort whenever an important seating arrangement is required. It cannot be that there are no other choices; the alternatives out there are legion. It feels more as if the architects themselves do not have the confidence to try something beyond certified classics.

One of the driving strategies in architecture today is research, whether it’s into climate change, material explorations, or digital feats of derring-do. That same curiosity needs to be brought to bear on interior design knowledge, not in order to create total works of art, nor to impose a spurious sense of order to a necessarily flexible space, but rather so that architects can be seen as engaging fully in the complete spectrum of design processes. Architects want to be taken more seriously as problem solvers, but first they need to be trusted with the spaces that people care about the most: the rooms where they live.

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Talking Heads
IAUS fellows and friends at one of Peter Eisenman's Indian dinners circa 1974. Clockwise from lower left: Bill Ellis, Rick Wolkowitz, Peter Eisenman, Liz Eisenman, Mario Gandelsonas, Madelon Vriesendorp, Rem Koolhaas, Julia Bloomfield, Randall Korman, Stuart Wrede, Andrew MacNair, Anthony Vidler, Richard Meier, unidentified woman, Kenneth Frampton, Diana Agrest, Caroline 'Coty' Sidnam, Jane Ellis, Suzanne Frank, and Alexander Gorlin.
Courtesy Suzanne Frank

 

Team Vitruvius

 

The most curious image I know of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS)—the New York think tank that, from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, quite simply reshaped architectural discourse in the United States—appeared in a 1971 issue of Casabella. A cut-and-paste job, it pictured sixteen of the Institute’s members as a soccer team, wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the Institute’s logo, the Vitruvian man of Cesariano’s 1521 edition. Crouched, at the far right, is Suzanne Frank, then an intern, later the Institute’s librarian, and now the author of a new book, at once an unoffical history of the Institute and, as the subtitle reads, “an insider’s memoir.”

Founded in 1967 by Peter Eisenman (see image below: bottom row, third from the right, with an impish smile) with backing from MoMA and Cornell University, the Institute set out to bridge the gap between academic culture and the world of planning agencies. Installed in offices on 47th Street enlivened by reproductions of the Vitruvian man and Le Corbusier’s Modulor, the Institute admitted graduate students for yearlong fellowships to work on real projects commissioned by municipal and federal agencies. Reyner Banham, writing in December 1967 for New Society, went along with the Institute fellows’ self-description as “utopians”—with a caveat: “They are utopians of aesthetic order rather than of social order. They look to the city of good form, before the city of good men—but probably believing that the good form will breed good men, that a city which makes itself visually clear will become clear in other senses, too.”

Kenneth Frampton and Peter Eisenman   Cesariano's Vitruvian man on one side of the revolving door.
Kenneth Frampton and Peter Eisenman sporting matching haircuts at 8 West 40th Street, circa 1970 (left), and the revolving door with Cesariano's Vitruvian man strapped to a grid on one side. Le Corbusier's Modulor Man was pasted on the other (right).
Gregory Gale
 

The early years of the Institute (notwithstanding its later, unjust reputation as cerebral, arcane, and elitist) were marked by what can only be called a modernist engagement with the city, culminating in the building of a low-rise, high-density housing complex in Ocean Hill/ Brownsville, Brooklyn, a prototype sponsored by the Urban Development Corporation and designed by Kenneth Frampton (see image below: top row, fourth from the left, with a resolute, captain-like mien).

By the early 1970s, though, when the money and the political will to sponsor projects and research on public housing dried up, the Institute had already gone through an aggiornamento of sorts. Indeed, over the years the Institute embarked on a variety of other programs, going through several changes of faculty and through what Eisenman called, in a 1975 interview with Alvin Boyarsky just published in Brett Steele’s book Supercritical, several “palace revolutions”—the first already in 1969, when Colin Rowe had his students do theoretical designs instead of real projects, and Eisenman, in Frank’s retelling of the story, responded by locking Rowe out of the Institute, literally changing the door’s lock.

New Urban Settlements cover
The number 1 on the cover of New Urban Settlements designed by Robert Slutzky indicated that more were to come.
Dick Frank
 
 
 
 

Over little more than a decade, the Institute became enormously influential, attracting architects, historians, and theorists to lecture, teach, exhibit, and do research there. Even a casual list of some of the protagonists (Diana Agrest, Anthony Vidler, Robert Slutzky, Rafael Moneo, Philip Johnson, Rem Koolhaas, etc.) commands attention. Eventually, the Institute expanded its educational operations (at one point it had graduate, undergraduate, high-school, and continuing education programs), organized extraordinarily intense lecture series, and mounted dozens of exhibitions (Mart Stam, Ivan Leonidov, Wallace Harrison, but also Aldo Rossi, Mathias Ungers, the Krier brothers, etc.) in the double-height main space of the offices it occupied from 1970, on the top two floors of 8 West 40th Street, just opposite the New York Public Library. The Institute also became a publishing house: it produced the aptly-named journal Oppositions (1973–84), edited by a pugnacious triumvirate made of Eisenman, Frampton, and Mario Gandelsonas (see image below: top row, third from the left) joined later by Vidler and then Kurt Forster; the monthly tabloid newspaper Skyline (1978–83); and, in the early 1980s, Oppositions Books (Rossi, Adolf Loos, Moisei Ginzburg, Alan Colquhoun).

Frank readily acknowledges that hers is not a scholarly book but a personal memoir, what Joan Ockman, in her foreword, calls “a labor of love.”(A few historians in Europe and the US are currently working on scholarly histories, most notably Ph.D. candidate Kim Foerster at the ETH in Zurich.) Frank’s history is in fact impressionistic; the author is at her best when she lets us into her personal recollections of characters, personalities, allegiances, and conflicts, as opposed to the narrative sections outlining the many activities of the Institute.

The last third of the book, a series of twenty-seven interviews that Frank conducted over the past decade with former Institute members, offers a wealth of valuable information (much of it anecdotal, certainly) and countless perceptive memories and thoughts: Julia Bloomfield, managing editor of Oppositions, discussing the journal’s graphic design (“the Massimo Vignelli ‘punch’”) and “the somewhat combative relationship” between Eisenman and Frampton; Andrew MacNair telling of a momentous 7:00 a.m. phone call with Eisenman (“[Robert] Stern and Frampton and I have gotten a grant to start a lecture series... we want you to run it, get your ass down here”); William Ellis (see image below: bottom row, third from the left) reflecting on the feat of Oppositions and on Eisenman’s organizational prowess (“an  absolute impresario”); Joan Copjec recounting the formation in 1979 of a women’s group at the Institute to voice concerns about “the not-so-veiled sexism”; Suzanne Stephens telling of her editorship of Skyline, of articles paying ten cents a word, Christmas lists about books to give to architects, and where Johnson got his glasses or Eisenman his shoes (“it’s Churchill shoes for Peter, very Loosian”).

  The IAUS journal Oppositions 5
The IAUS journal, Oppositions 5, edited by Eisenman, Frampton, and Gandelsonas.
Dick Frank
 

One of the most revealing stories is told by Stanford Anderson (top row, far right): in 1964 Eisenman wanted to form an association of young architects interested in new ideas (what would later become CASE, the Conference of Architects for the Study of the Environment, a prelude to the Institute), convinced Princeton to put up some money, and invited for a weekend-long meeting a group that included Anderson, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, and a young Emilio Ambasz (see image below: bottom row, fourth from the right, in jaunty Greek fisherman’s cap); on Sunday the question came up whether that kind of group discussion should continue: “Venturi immediately said, ‘Well, is it going to help my practice?’ Everyone agreed, ‘No.’”

Eisenman, whose name appears in almost every page of the book, declined to be interviewed: the figure most central to the myriad stories interwoven at the Institute emerges here as an eerie presence, towering over everyone else and yet disappearing—with uncanny parallels, perhaps, with his own architecture. In the 1975 interview with Boyarsky, Eisenman argued that the Institute never had a curriculum, or a philosophy: “Its only philosophy, if it stands for anything, is to serve as a vehicle for critical discourse, for challenging the prevailing empirical attitude in the United States vis-à-vis architecture—i.e. that it is something useful, something that can be marketed, a commodity.” A critical history of that discourse, of those conflicts theoretical and ideological, remains to be written. Or, perhaps, as with that other great 20th-century think tank called the Bauhaus, the history of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies may need to be told, written, and rewritten many times over.

Cesare Birignani studies architectural history at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.


 

A photo-montage from a 1971 issue of Casabella showed Institute members wearing sweatshirts with Vitruvian Man images and posing as a soccer team.
From Casabella, 1971
 

Q&A: SUZANNE FRANK

 

As a young art historian with a Ph.D. on Dutch Modernist Michel de Klerk, Suzanne Frank arrived at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) in 1970, three years after its founding. Her husband, Dick, had photographed Peter Eisenman’s architectural models, and soon Eisenman would be designing a home for the couple in Cornwall, completed in 1975 and named House VI.

Frank remained at the Institute as a researcher then librarian until 1982. Her unauthorized memoir of those days was 12 years in the making. Clearly a labor of love by an historian eager to make a record of an extraordinary moment in architecture, Frank recounts much herself and then allows the transcripts from interviews with 27 other key players to fill in and amplify the story, vividly recounting everything from arguments over Italian architectural theory to how money was so short that office furnishings were picked up off the streets. Here, Frank recalls a few details from those heady days:

The Architect’s Newspaper: How did you come to be at the Institute?

Suzanne Frank: I was doing an art history Ph.D. at Columbia and they thought my research was good so they hired me to do research on a HUD-funded project, the Streets project, at least in the first year. I never had an office or anything, but I combed resources for studies of urban applicability and sorted heaps of photocopies of buildings in streetscapes. One time when I started talking to a fellow researcher, Gregory Gale, Eisenman told me to stop talking and get back to work. He himself was a schmoozer, especially at eight o’clock in the morning when few people were around.

Why did you decide to write a private memoir about The Institute?

It was a great time in my life. The projects they were doing were very interesting and important. What made me write it? I am a historian. I like to do research and write. I never dreamed it would take so long.

  Peter Eisenman
Peter Eisenman displays brand loyalty.
Gregory Gale
 

How easy was it to get people to talk?

There were 27 cooperatives. Tony Vidler didn’t agree; Rem [Koolhaas] agreed then backed out; and Peter said he’s not giving any interviews on the Institute. A doctoral student at ETH in Zurich, Kim Foerster, is working on the official history. I think he has done something like 100 interviews.

Was the focus on talk or on building, too?

They wanted to implement building. One of the student projects with a grant was to reorganize streets with buildings in a more public way. And they did it in print, but it didn’t happen because HUD took the money away when Bill Ellis insulted the HUD people when they were visiting.

They only built the one housing project that Kenneth [Frampton] worked on, Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn.

Did Philip Johnson supply funds for the Institute?

Yes, I don’t know how much, but I know he was an angel. People didn’t like his architecture; they hated the AT&T. He didn’t mind, and Peter was very close to him, so was Bob Stern.

There was also fund-raising for Oppositions by Julia Bloomfield. They were all pretty good at it. I mean, here was this little magazine with a leftist tinge, but they still got Exxon and Mobile to give to it.

Large hall at the 40th Street location.

The large hall with balcony at the 40th Street location, the Institute's second home, lent itself to flexible uses.
Gregory Gale
 

Rumor has always had it that women had a hard time there. Was that your experience?

Peter hired women to have posts there but they were not as important, I think, at least in the beginning. Somehow they receded beside the men. Some say they were not treated well, and they formed a women’s group about it in 1979, but I was always treated with respect as the librarian, which was a joke because there weren’t many books.

In time, women had a very strong voice. Silvia Kolbowski started out as a receptionist and became the catalog editor with Frampton.

Did everyone get along?

The receptionists had a hard time; they were so overworked because Peter was always at odds and ends. They would start crying, and his wife at the time would have to console them.

Then there was a big argument between Frampton and Bob Stern—it was recorded in Skyline in 1980— after Kenneth’s book on modern architecture and critical history came out. Stern said that Frampton never looked at actual buildings but did everything in libraries and used miniscule photographs, and that he left out American sources. Kenneth said he retorted that he was an American admirer—I forget his phrase–and then he sent him into a “Spenglerian night” What does that mean? I don’t know.

What was the office scene like?

There were parties with lots of dancing. I remember one that Rem attended—he came to all the parties—but usually he wasn’t around because he was working on Delirious New York. Then Peter had his Indian dinners, they were very congenial. People sat next to the people they liked, and snubbed the ones they didn’t.

There were little cliques; everyone was equal except at times. Peter had special lunches, and when we were at the 40th Street office, he got goodies from Zabar’s. He’d have interesting people in, like his father- in- law to talk about Jackson Pollock. It was a very elite and selective crowd who went to those.

There was no hierarchy or, rather, there was and there wasn’t. There was a hierarchy because Peter was always the absolute, but he was friendly, very down to earth, and yet he was always the boss. He dressed very funny in a beige sweater with a hole in the back. He didn’t have very much money, but he managed to borrow from people and he went out a lot and ate very well.

Everyone else was always on diets. “Oh, you’ve lost weight. What’s your diet?” kind of thing. It was a big topic. They were all eating cottage cheese, hamburgers and ketchup.

What’s your final impression of The Institute after 40 years?

It was important. It stood for a really high level of thought and a high level of camaraderie. I am also relieved that I can finally go on to some other things now.

IAUS: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, An Insider’s Memoir by Suzanne Frank can be purchased for $42.30 plus postage at authorhouse.com.

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100 Acres at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
Andrea Zittel's Indianapolis Island at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's new 100 Acres sculpture park.
Courtesy IMA

“Who needs another Richard Serra sculpture plunked down on a lawn?” asked Indianapolis Museum of Art Director Max Anderson. “What we wanted was something that was a space, an experience that was art, a landscape that would always be changing.” 100 Acres, the museum’s new art park of that size, manages to fulfill that vision: a place where art appears out of, or is part of, the landscape, creating spaces and inhabitable objects that may or may not outlast the passing of a few seasons.

The site for this new showcase—a hybrid of landscape, art, and architecture increasingly prevalent around the world—is a former gravel pit between a bend in the White River and a tow canal that separates the new park from the Olmsted & Olmsted landscape of the museum grounds proper that holds more traditional “plunk art.” After the pit was donated to the museum several decades ago, it continued as a wilderness, its void, denuded of Indiana limestone, filling up with water and becoming a popular swimming hole.

Park of the Laments (Top) by Alfredo Jaar. Free Basket by Los Carpinteros.

Once the museum raised enough money to recuperate the area, it hired landscape architect Edward L. Blake, principal of the Hattiesburg, Mississippi–based Landscape Studio. Blake’s work in itself is a lesson in what (landscape) architecture can and increasingly does do: It is an act of recuperation and subtle adjustment, wherein he removed most of the non-native “blow-ins” and planted trees and bushes to define larger and smaller spaces, winding paths through the park to connect it all together. Spaces appear and sequences evolve, what can be is preserved, and the new appears as a comment on or in contrast to the old.

A small visitor center, designed by the Arkansas architect Marlon Blackwell, serves not so much as a focal point but as a respite in the woods, providing geothermally produced warmth or cooling in a triangular volume lifted off the floodplain between a sandwich of Ipe wood planes. It is the only piece of more or less traditional architecture. The one other inhabitable and enclosed space is a fiberglass volume by artist Andrea Zittel that floats in the middle of the lake. Inhabited in the summer months by art students and accessible by rowboat, its blob-like shape might seem a condensation of current theories on computer-assisted form-making, but for the artist it is a simple, non-referential form.

Four pieces from Jeppe Hein's Bench Around the Lake, with Andrea Zittel's Indianapolis Island at bottom left.

Near the Zittel piece, a rusty boat appears to make its way across the lake. It is part of Eden II, an installation by Tea Makipaa, and includes a guard tower on the shore. In this bit of set design, invisible performers, whose voices you hear in the tower, worry about illegal immigrants trying to come onshore, and gunfire rings out somewhere in the woods. You can watch it all from an undulating bench, a work by Kendall Buster, which traces the shoreline and provides a place for local fishermen to pass the day. Another set of benches designed by Jeppe Hein pop up throughout the park. They are part of a continuous ribbon that, at least conceptually, runs through the park, surfacing mid-curve or swerve to give you a place to sit and rest.

The most complete space is a square carved out by the usually strident political artist Alfredo Jaar, Park of the Laments. A path guides you into a tunnel that slopes into the ground before you rise on steps into a raised platform surrounded by loose stone walls. It is an isolated, empty, demarcated space, where he encourages you to contemplate all those who have been displaced or lost in wars. It might, however, also become a party space, a place for a picnic, or a site for sunbathing. It is above all a clearly human-made space, a monument of sorts that stands in contrast to the near-chaos of the landscape surrounding it.

 

Stratum Pier (top) by Kendall Buster. A visitor's center designed specifically for 100 acres by Marlon Blackwell Architect.

The Park of the Laments is, however, not the best space in the park. Much more successful is Team Building (Align) by the artist duo calling itself Type A. It consists of two aluminum rings suspended between trees. At the summer solstice, they project a perfect circle in the middle of the little clearing they define, but the rest of the time they inscribe a much more complex and allusive space, a moment of the difficult, shifting, and elusive perfection you find, like Adolf Loos’ gravemarker, in the middle of the woods.

The most exuberant space, however, is Los Carpinteros’ Free Basket. Its blue- and red-painted steel loops surround two basketball backboards, mimicking possible throws and leaps. It forms the park’s back door, and has become a popular place for neighborhood kids to play in and with the art. Here, 100 Acres achieves its goal of art as a real part of community everyday life, which comes out of and provides an alternative to both the natural and the human landscape from which it arose. Over the years, Anderson said, the museum might add a few pieces, and a few might fade into the landscape as they deteriorate. But 100 Acres will remain a place where landscape becomes art, and art that looks an awful lot like good architecture.

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House Hunting with Buckminster Fuller
Fuller in Manhattan (c. 1931).
Courtesy MIT PRess

Becoming Bucky Fuller
Loretta Lorance
MIT Press, $29.95

Fuller Houses: R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Dwellings and Other Domestic Adventures
Federico Neder
Lars Müller Publishers, $39.95

Ever the anomaly in the world of architecture—from his early days peddling standardized concrete masonry units to his later forays into geodesic domes—Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) remains an enigma, even after finally being invited into the inner rings of the architectural pantheon. Following on 2008’s Starting with the Universe, organized by the Whitney Museum, come two books—one on him, one about his ideas—centering on Fuller’s epic struggle with the evolution of the Dymaxion House.

Chart indicating 4D color progression (1928). (Click to zoom)
 

Loretta Lorance focuses on Fuller’s biography and on the Dymaxion House in Becoming Bucky Fuller, which she declares a “revisionist study.” The other, Fuller Houses by Federico Neder, uses Fuller as an armature to explore the ideas and images surrounding his development of the Dymaxion House as something less concerned with an “object than with the project.” As narrow as the former is, the latter is broad. And this concern with the project, Lorance has determined, follows out of Fuller’s failure at producing the object.

Lorance argues that Fuller revamped himself as a visionary of domestic architecture when he could not mass-produce his Dymaxion House. Fuller spent the better part of the late 1920s to 1930s developing various prototypes of what eventually became the only two built Dymaxion Houses, which were recently coupled into an exhibition at the Henry Ford museum. Despite his unwavering belief and determination that his designs were the future of domestic architecture, Fuller eventually realized architectural, societal, industrial, and most importantly, investor support were not forthcoming. Thus he decidedly repositioned himself, according to Lorance, as an idealistic visionary.

Fuller’s development as a salesman and a dedicated entrepreneur, for better or worse, is well documented. He tenaciously engaged possible investors, presented questionable patents, and requested that the AIA support his project. The AIA flatly rejected Fuller on the grounds that they do not support mass-produced architecture. Lorance uses these opportunities to discern the factual Fuller from the fictional—such as his presenting the Dymaxion as a project ready for production—by highlighting discrepancies between accepted history and “fact.”

However, only in the last chapter does Lorance delve into “revisioning” Fuller’s history. The evidence for this emerges from the autobiographical notes Fuller wrote in 1939 for a colleague at Time, Inc. for an unpublished article. Fuller consciously came to terms with his failing enterprise and focused on promoting the visionary, futuristic aspects of his design. This document provided the historical base for all subsequent interviews and histories. This is the revisionist study, and Lorance painstakingly provides the lead up to it.

Third Dymaxion House by Anne Hewlett Fuller (1932).

As much as Lorance focuses on Fuller’s personality during the development of the Dymaxion House, Federico Neder focuses on the cultural context happening concurrently to Fuller’s perpetually transforming project. Readers encounter Diego Rivera, Adolf Loos, Frederick Kiesler, and the ever-present Le Corbusier, among others.

Fuller Houses categorizes itself around themed chapters on innovation, enclosure, lightness, form, control, and the artifact that the Dymaxion House ultimately became. Each calls upon contemporaries of Fuller to explicate the timeliness of his theories, practices, or their advanced nature.

The first, “Flying Fish,” tackles the influence of progress and innovation that ultimately yielded to aerodynamics. As such, Fuller presented the Dymaxion as an engineering and technological feat that reduces friction with the natural environment and reduces the physical labor of inhabitants so they could devote themselves to other, more pleasurable or self-enriching endeavors.

Fuller with the first model for the Dymaxion House (1929).

One of the odder pairings is the discrepancy between the stark lines of Adolf Loos’ 1903 apartment and the overly textured and cushioned interior. This was the exact approach Fuller took to make the unfamiliar form of the Dymaxion seem more domestic to potential investors. Neder reveals this as the root of the discrepancy between yearning for technological advancement and a cushy lifestyle.

In the chapter “Industrial Dance,” the image of Diego Rivera inspecting Fuller’s Dymaxion Car initiates the conversation between the intermingling of the machine and the organic, such as Rivera represented it in his murals. However, while Fuller’s rounded forms, Neder points out, coincide with aesthetic developments, they really evolve from his technological investigations. The chapter concludes with comparing Kiesler’s Endless House to the Dymaxion House as both projects combine “in a single gesture the sensuality of form and the precision of geometry.” Neder notes that the former failed to escape abstraction and the latter couldn’t escape the limits of technology.

Neder’s final pages continue the vector of these themes into contemporary investigation—the sinuous forms, techno-aesthetics, and prefabrication. Ultimately, both books illustrate that the Dymaxion House at different stages of its development meant something different even to its designer, either as a product of the day or a vision of the future.

4D Tower (1928).

I found Lorance’s book not difficult to read but difficult to enjoy. Its highly academic tone and structure focuses on personal minutiae and rests well in the hands of researchers. Written chronologically, the book progresses from event to event, strung together with quotes and citations, dry facts over compelling narrative.

Conversely, Neder’s book reads as a comparative history that ties together architectural and artistic achievements to create a context of creativity. Anecdotes and disparate references make interesting revelations and connections. These create a richer understanding of the items that intrigued Fuller’s investigations as well as the broader society into which Fuller loosed his provocations.

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Artistry on the Line
The Heller House, Beverly Hills (1950)
All images courtesy Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

The exhibition of Richard Neutra’s drawings at the LA Central Library adds another dimension to the meticulously composed images (most by Julius Shulman) that we’ve seen time and again. Here is the man behind the work, and the preparatory studies that fed into familiar buildings. An idealized self-portrait in charcoal is juxtaposed with the utopian vision of Rush City Reformed. Luxuriant plantings soften the rigorous geometry of the houses. A spiral parking structure Neutra sketched for Frank Lloyd Wright in 1924 draws on the curvilinear forms of Eric Mendelsohn, with whom the fledgling architect worked in Berlin, and it anticipates the rounded bays of houses he would build in LA. Curator Thomas Hines, author of the definitive Neutra monograph, has made an inspired selection from the UCLA archives to portray an architect who was also a gifted artist and a modernist with a strong romantic streak.

Universal Pictures Building, Los Angeles (1932-33)

Christmas, 29 Palms (1938)
 
 

Handsomely installed and thoughtfully explained, the drawings are arranged chronologically to trace Neutra’s career, from his early years in Europe through his 45-year practice in LA. They are also grouped by theme, to show how skilled he was in capturing the spirit of places he explored, natural forms, and the context in which he built. It’s fascinating to jump from the hothouse world of Vienna, where he mingled with such giants as Gustav Klimt, Arnold Schoenberg, and Sigmund Freud, to the tabula rasa of the American southwest. That was the fulfillment of Neutra’s dream, in the bleak aftermath of World War I, to escape the winters of northern Europe and live on an idyllic tropical island.

Adolf Loos turned the young man away from ornament and traditional architectural forms, and his earliest architectural drawing—a house for an estate in Berlin—has the same purity of line as his last. In contrast to R.M. Schindler, who constantly reinvented himself, Neutra was rigorously consistent. There are fascinating glimpses of unrealized projects, including an austere gym deftly linked to a Spanish-style villa in Santa Monica, a rooftop solarium composed of glass louvers for his VDL house in Silverlake, and the competition entry he developed with Schindler in 1926 for the League of Nations Headquarters in Geneva. The sketches show how comfortable he was with the language of Mendelsohn and Wright, and how quickly he found his own voice in the Lovell Health House, a timeless icon in the Hollywood Hills. They also reveal his importance as an innovator, pioneering prefabrication and novel systems of on-site construction, as well as developing new models for schools and affordable housing.

This exhibition is a layered artifact of extraordinary significance. It puts an archival collection on view in the most democratic forum in LA, at the heart of downtown. It illuminates the creative process and the multiple skills of an architect who, like so many other talented immigrants from Europe, enriched a provincial outpost. And there’s a poignancy in seeing how little of this vision realized. Though Neutra was prolific beyond the dreams of today’s architects, completing about 300 houses in addition to commercial and public buildings as far afield as Cuba, Frankfurt, and Karachi, he was repeatedly foiled by philistines and know-nothings, whose successors still have a decisive voice in the shaping of LA. Parents disparaged his model schools as “factories,” and the Elysian Heights housing development was condemned as “creeping socialism” during the red-baiting hysteria of the early 1950s.

League of Nations Headquarters, Geneva, with R.M. Schindler (1926)

And yet, we should be grateful for what was achieved, on paper as well as on the ground. Besides organizing three symposia, LAPL exhibitions director Gloria Gerace commissioned an innovative audio guide. Ray Kappe remembers the sliding glass wall in a Neutra classroom where he studied at age 13. Actress Kelly Lynch speaks of the unpretentious simplicity and livability of the Oyler house in Lone Pine, which she and husband Mitch Glazer restored. Leo Marmol and other Neutra specialists describe their close encounters. You can listen to these tributes by dialing 213-455-2927. It’s a great way to build anticipation for the exhibition itself.

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New Academic Leaders Upstate, Downstate


COURTESY Cornell

Kent Kleinman will head to Ithaca as dean of Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.
 

After a year and a half as chair of architecture, interior, and lighting design at Parsons the New School for Design, Kent Kleinman is moving to Ithaca, New York to become dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell. In September he will fill the post vacated by Moshen Mostafavi, who left Cornell after three years to take over as dean at the Harvard GSD. Prior to coming to Parsons, Kleinman had been chair of architecture at SUNY Buffalo and has taught at Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley, as well as at several universities in Europe. A scholar of European Modernism, Kleinman has written books on Mies van der Rohe, Adolf Loos, and Rudolf Arnheim, and has won a P/A award for his design work. “Under his leadership, we look forward to strengthening the college’s distinguished academic programs, expanding interdisciplinary connections and moving forward with plans for the college’s new facility, Paul Milstein Hall,” said university president David J. Skorton in a statement, referring to the College’s OMA-designed home, which is nearing completion.

Back downstate, historian, curator, and consultant Andrew Dolkart has been named director of the historic preservation program at Columbia, succeeding architect Paul Byard. “Andrew is a terrific candidate. He’s an extraordinary teacher, a great writer, but most of all his passion for the built environment is an inspiration to his students and his colleagues,” Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, told AN. “If you think about it, preservationists often have the longest view into the future,” Wigley added. “I think Andrew will be instrumental in developing the next generation of collaboration-minded preservationists.” Dolkart is a well-known figure in New York’s preservation community, and he has sat on the Landmarks Preservation Commission as well as written numerous articles and books on the city’s architectural history.

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House In Town

With New York City's real estate boom, few parcels of land have been overlooked. Even the city's tiny infill lots have become hot propertyyand the perfect sites for reinvigorating the town house type. According to architect and town house expert Alexander Gorlin, these narrow and long residences are the building blocks of the city.

The dense residential urban fabric of Manhattan and Brooklyn was historically defined as much by the blocks of town houses as by the voids between themmthe unbuilt lots that until very recently were a prominent part of the streetscape. Their constricted sites have long made town houses an absurd economic proposition. Multifamily residences have obvious economies of scale and higher returns. Moreover, building a town house has its unique problems in New York: With no staging area for contractors and the need for expensive underpinning of the neighbor's foundations, prices can range from $500 to $1,500 per square foot. But the phenomenal rise of real estate prices and ability to flip even small properties (this, the town of million-dollar studios), it has become economically feasible to build on these empty parcels. With the city's small infill lots being snapped up at unparalleled pace, the experience of walking in the city has been forever changed in a relatively short period of time.

The town house as a building type in fact reaches back to Crete and Pompeii, a city built almost entirely of these narrow-fronted single-family structures. Le Corbusier describes them in great detail in his 1923 Towards a New Architecture. He admired them for the great variety of space and light they allowed within a standardized plan, which fit in with his theories about the potential industrialization of housing, and the relationship of the part to the whole in the house and the city. Leon Battista Alberti and Andrea Palladio also wrote at length about town houses, and in his 1516 socialist tract Utopia, Renaissance scholar Sir Thomas Moore described his ideal city Amaurote as composed of town houses: The houses be of fair and gorgeous building, and on the street side they stand joined together in a long row through the whole street without any partition or separation..

As a former Dutch colony, New York City inherited the town house type originally from Amsterdam, though the local variations derive equally from London precedents. The stoop is of Dutch origin, while the common half-level dropped floor is drawn from the London type. These references persisteddperhaps too persistently. From the massive construction of brownstones and classical townhouses in New York in the late 19th and early 20th century, one can count one hand the number of modernist takes on the town house. There's the glass block front of the Lescaze House of 1937 on the Upper East Side; the lacy stone faaade of Edward Durrell Stone's own uptown house; George Nelson's streamlined Fairchild House of 1941 at 17 East 65th Street; Philip Johnson's Miesian Rockefeller Guest House of 1950, in Midtown; and Morris Lapidus' home and office at 256 East 29th Street, of 1950. The great breakthrough in modern town houses in New York are the ones by Paul Rudolph, primarily his own mirrored extravaganza, designed in 1972, overlooking the East River.

All these houses owe a great debt not only to the modern movement but to a number of houses that areebut almost never referred to asstown houses. Sir John Soane's own London town houseeactually three linked houses, built from 1792 to 18122is one of the best examples. On the exterior it is stately and reticent; inside the house is an archeology of the architect's mind, exploring the house as the site of life and death with a sarcophagus and dome of heaven above. His architectural innovations have inspired Philip Johnson and others for their insight into the town house typology. Le Corbusier's series of town houses of the 1920ssthe Ozenfant House and Studio (Paris, 1922), Maisons Guiette (Anvers, 1926), Maison M. Cook (Boulogne-sur-Seine, 1926), and Maison Plainex (Paris, 1927))are also very important. Despite his loathing for the street and urban life in general, Le Corbusier designed these town houses as respectful neighbors of the urban street wall. On the interiors, however, all hell breaks loose, following the French tradition of the asymmetrical planning of the hotel particulier. The masterpiece of the modern town house is without a doubt the Maison de Verre, designed by Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet in 1931 for the French gynecologist Dr. Dalsace. It is an obsessive exploration of the relationship between technology and the sensual domestic interior. Its striking translucent glass block facade provides privacy and recalls Adolf Loos' dictum that a cultivated man does not look out the window... It is only there to let light in, not let the gaze pass through.. On the interior, industrial details of structural steel bolted columns are surrounded by articulated wood cabinets framed by wrought iron and steel on a rubber tile floor. Its unlikely juxtapositions of materials has provided a model for the town house interior for over 75 years.

Loos himself designed numerous town houses that explored his Viennese contemporary Sigmund Freud's idea about the psyche, that the dream has a faaade like a house.. The Tristan Tzara House in Paris of 1926 contrasts a symmetrical faaade with a labyrinthine interior of stairs, different levels, volumes and materials. Even the Schroeder House by Gerrit Reitveld in Utrecht of 1923, one of the seminal houses of the 20th century, is really a town house. At the end of a block of traditional Dutch houses, it takes the same rhythmic dimensions and explodes into a series of planes, De Stijl primary colors, and interior sliding panelsscontaining lessons that have been rediscovered time and again by contemporary architects.

The New York town houses depicted here show the latest exploration of the ancient building type that is at once inflexible in its constricted frame, generous with opportunities in section, street expression, and circulation, and rich with challenges in lighting, budget, and construction.
Alexander Gorlin, FAIA, is the principal of Alexander Gorlin Architects. He is the author of Creating the New American Town House (Rizzoli, 2005).

 

Town House
Upper East Side, Manhattan
Alexander Gorlin Architects

 

Peter aaron esto / courtesy alexander gorlin

Unlike other urban infill projects that build to the lot line, this jewel-box of a house, which occupies a 25-by-100-foot lot on the Upper East Side, is set back 25 feet from the street. It actually occupies the footprint of a previous structure, a 1958 two-story modernist town house to which architect Alexander Gorlin wanted to pay respect. He also preserved the glazing and mullion rhythm of the original ground-floor faaade, extending them upward, to the renovated second floor and a newly added third floor. In the original house""sandwiched by two big apartment buildingss?it got darker as you went up,, said Gorlin. He made the quite natural decision to glaze both front and rear elevations, and also funneled light through the home via a skylight-topped open staircase. Further, he floored the hallway of the top level with glass blocks, which allow light to penetrate below.

 

 

Gorlin converted the basement into a children's playroom, reserving the entrance level for spaces for entertaininggkitchen, dining, and living room. Private bedrooms fill the second floor and the top floor contains a guest room, office, and an acoustically isolated media room that opens to a terrace. The husband is in the music business so the media room is the ultimate space in the house,, explained Gorlin.

 

 

Cathy Lang Ho

 

Feifer-Chun Residence
Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
Tina Manis

1  bedroom
2  bathroom
3  kitchen
4  terrace
5  office
6  hall
7  patio
8  living
9  entry
10  garbage

 

The clients of this ground-up infill house wanted a suburban house in an urban setting,, said New York architect Tina Manis. They wanted a garage and a big backyard. But they also wanted a rental unit and separate entrances. The challenge for Manis, formerly a project manager at OMA who broke off on her own five years ago, was to design a structure that allowed all the home's future inhabitants to have open views and space as well as privacy. The first two floors are the owners' unit, with a second-floor terrace that overlooks their backyard. The rental unit has its own street entrance, leading to the top floor and a terrace facing the street. Basically, they want the rental to be invisible,, said Manis.

 

 

 

courtesy tina manis

In suburban style, the faaade is wood-sided, though in this case, the elegant cedar-birch panels are arranged in alternating widths and patterns, forming a moirr pattern. The different textures create a screen (left, top) that cleverly hides the owner's entrance, the garage door, and the tenant's entrance. The project features an all-glass back faaade (left, below) that opens to their backyard.
Andrew Yang

 

Town House
Far West Village, Manhattan
Matthew Baird Architects

 

 

 

courtesy matthew baird architects

In addition to being architect Matthew Baird's first ground-up building, this 5,000-square-feet West Village town house also has the distinction of being the first single-family home built in the district in the last 14 years. A former architect at Tod Williams Billie Tsien Associates, Baird used a single, prefabricated 40-foot-tall steel plate to create a sense of privacy within the buildingga feature not unlike the massive metal-alloy faaade employed at Williams and Tsien's Museum of American Folk Art. Inside, the house, which sits on a 20-by-60-foot lot, features such striking spaces as terrace and kitchen that are completely open to each other, a double-height media room, and plenty of skylights. The project is both forcefully modern and context-appropriate, in scale and even material (Baird argues that the house's industrial feel relates to the surrounding Meatpacking District), despite neighbors' initial disapproval of the project.
ANDREW YANG

 

1144116 Hudson Street
Manhattan
BKSK Architects

 

courtesy bksk architects

1  master bedroom
2  second floor terrace
3  kitchen
4  dining
5  entry hall
6  bedroom
7  living room

 

This 19,000-square-foot residential conversion includes an existing five-story 19th- century commercial loft building and an adjacent narrow, vacant 1,615-square-foot lot. We wanted to acknowledge the recent history of the site in our design,, noted George Scheiferdecker, a principal of BKSK Architects. Having something transparent is a reminder of that long-standing gap in the city fabric.. The infill structure has a glass and aluminum faaade. Due to current zoning laws, it is only 45 feet deeppmuch shallower than the adjacent building to which has been attached. With the street appearance of two separate buildings, in fact, the new structure is united, with individual apartments occupying full floors. The new, glazed half is open in plan, housing the kitchen, dining, and living room spaces. Bathrooms, bedrooms, and storage spaces are housed in the more closed existing structure. The new, enlarged ground-floor is now available for lease to one or two commercial tenants while a two-story penthouse was added to the twin structures.
Aaron Seward

 

courtesy bksk architects

 

Donovan Residence and Studio
South 3rd Street, Williamsburg
Standard Architects

 

courtesy standard architects

This three-story apartment and studio for the artist Tara Donovan is a two-level addition to a one-story garage on Williamsburg's south side. For all intents and purposes, it is a new building. Standard Architects developed a scheme in which three very distinct spacessa ground-floor working studio and garage, and second-floor private studio, and a third floor apartmenttare linked by dramatic, skylight-lit stair that runs up diagonally along the side of the three spaces. We had to sacrifice a little bit of floor space, but Tara was really enthusiastic about the idea of the single stair,, explained principal John Conaty.

 

 

The new building is in scale with its neighborhood, but unlike the tenements nearby, is oriented almost entirely toward the rear of its 18-by-100-foot lot, which overlooks a park with mature trees. The street faaade is divided into three distinct elements: Corten steel clads the ground level, while two tilting planes of concrete shield the upper two floors from view. A glazed strip demarcates the division between the floors. In contrast, the rear of the building is almost entirely glazed, and a top-level roof deck is visually connected to the park below by a second-story terrace.
Anne Guiney

 

 

 

270 21st Street, Brooklyn
Coggan + Crawford

 

 

What began for New Yorkkbased Coggan + Crawford as a renovation/addition to an aluminum-sided three-story walk-up turned into a total overhaul. The mid-century building needed so much structural reinforcement that, at a certain point, the architects found themselves faced with gutted and stripped remains. We started with the concept of marrying old and new and we and we wanted to stay with that,, said principal Caleb Crawford, even though the whole new building is basically new..

 

courtesy coggan + crawford

The buildinggnow home to three full-floor apartmentssis clad in stucco in front, presenting a simple face to the street, while halfway back the skin changes to corrugated metal. Front windows are smaller and irregular, while those on the south-facing rear are expansive, to allow for added light throughout the building. The architects sited a skylight-lit stairwell, which leads to the front door of each flat, at the center of the building, to divide the long, narrow spaces.

 

 

The rear elevation features an attached fire escape, which links to each floor as well as a roof garden. Crawford had planned for a green roof and solar panels, both of which were dropped for budgetary reasons. With energy-conserving materials and controlled sun exposure, Crawford still hopes the home will be Energy Star rated.
Jaffer Kolb