Search results for "Met Breuer"
Meet the Met
Building of the Day: The Met Breuer
The Met Breuer, which opened in March of this year, houses the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s expanding modern and contemporary collections within its modest 29,000 square feet of exhibition space. When the Met moved into the building, its main goals were to restore and rejuvenate the space while still preserving the patina of the past. To that end, the Met gave the former Whitney the kind of exacting precision and gentle care it uses on its most treasured art objects.
That precision and care resulted in a building that both honors Breuer’s original vision and updates the space to meet the challenges of contemporary museums. The Met enlisted the help of Beyer Blinder Belle, a firm that specializes in the revitalization of historic buildings and has significant experience with the restoration of other midcentury modernist icons (Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport and Wallace Harrison’s Lincoln Center Promenade are two great examples). The restoration of the building took just under a year.
The updates that the Met and Beyer Blinder Belle incorporated show an informed understanding of Breuer’s subtle, graceful materiality and his ingenious structural engineering. A multitude of restoration and revitalization techniques needed to be devised for the various materials used in the building, which includes terrazzo, concrete, walnut parquet, and the famed gray granite exterior. The bluestone floors were treated with a natural, black wax to bring a soft luster while the walls, which required both chemical cleaners and water, were treated with a gentle, painterly approach. Breuer designed with the effects of time on materials in mind. The Met and Beyer Blinder Belle followed this example by leaving the bronze handrails of the staircase unfinished, allowing them to show their wear.
The lobby showcases the updates made for a contemporary museum with greater visitor numbers. The space was completely redesigned with multiple ticket sales points, self-service kiosks, and a substantially decreased retail footprint. Additionally, the lighting in the lobby has been updated to Breuer bulbs that can dim and provide a warmer uniformity of color temperature. The plexiglass and stone information center originally installed has been changed to a LED screen.
For the time being, the Met and the Whitney share ownership of the building. The Met will occupy the Breuer masterpiece for eight years, with a possible extension to 15 should the Met Breuer prove to be a success.
Despite its fame, the Breuer building is not a New York City landmark. Perhaps with a new tenant and renewed interest in the space, the building will get the recognition it deserves. Otherwise, its fate will be another question for the city and architecture lovers, should the Met end up vacating.
About the author: Anna Gibertini is a freelance journalist based in the New York metropolitan area. She contributes regularly to The ArtBlog, a Philadelphia-based arts and culture publication, and has had work published in Charleston, South Carolina’s Post & Courier and Syracuse, New York’s The Post Standard. She recently graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s in arts journalism.
Building of the Day: Zaha Hadid’s 520 West 28th Street
A famous experimental college flourished in Black Mountain, North Carolina, from 1933 until it closed in 1957. Josef Albers taught there for 17 years, while Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer designed one of their first U.S. commissions and Buckminster Fuller attempted his first dome structure at the college. Last October, at its Lake Eden campus, Adam Void and Chelsea Ragan—artists who had settled in western North Carolina—invited a group of 18 colleagues to join them in planning a school inspired by Black Mountain College. Less than a year later, with guidance from the group, Void and Ragan launched a call for faculty, organized a curriculum, gathered tuition from students, and rented a building for a month-long experiment in community and education.
Black Mountain School—not officially affiliated with the original college—is founded on the proposition that higher education is caught in a perpetual spiral of increasing tuition and institutions unable to adapt to students’ needs. “In the face of extreme tuition cost, corporatized profit-driven learning, and a one-size-fits-all curriculum that defines the limitations of public and private higher education, we are presenting an alternative,” reads the school’s online prospectus. “A non-hierarchical approach to organization, self-directed study in a wide range of subjects, as well as communal activities and events combine to provide students and teachers with the ability to learn from one another openly in an inclusive environment.”
This summer, a group of around 100 artists, designers, and teachers came together in the rented lodge at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly—Black Mountain College’s campus prior to Lake Eden—to launch the experiment, share cooking, cleaning, and administrative duties, and participate in courses that ranged from guided hikes, identifying wild plants, and “relinquishing self,” to more structured lectures on the histories of hip-hop and contemporary art. Then, as now, the school’s location in Black Mountain, 15 miles east of Asheville—on a campus where the alternative community coexisted with Christian summer camps—placed it in the nexus of cultural change dominating local and national politics.
“We think we’re kind of in that time right now where we’re in between worlds,” Void said. “Something is coming, but we’re not quite sure what. But we’re definitely a part of that transition.”
Educators and students traveled from all parts of the country and as far as London and Quito, Ecuador, to participate in courses like the Gilles Deleuze–influenced “A New Image of Thought” by New York–based Alexander Chaparro, “No Math Architecture” by New York artist Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, and “Analog Data Management” by Clocktower program director Joe Ahearn.
“I came here not knowing what the plan was, but knowing there was a lot to be learned by what happens when people start things fresh,” said Ahearn, who participated in last year’s planning session and also helps organize Brooklyn’s Silent Barn alternative space. “At the same time there’s a degree of accountability that’s placed on the whole thing by its connection to the history of the space and to Black Mountain College.”
This author taught a course that proposed to use building-scale video projection as an urban interventionist medium to interact with the surrounding community in western North Carolina. It turned out that in March, after the class was submitted, the state legislature passed a regressive law prohibiting transgender people from using gender-appropriate bathrooms.
“I applied just at the point when I wasn’t aware what was going on,” said Luan Joy Sherman, a student from Savannah College of Art & Design. “I don’t think it had been signed into law yet. When I crossed the border it felt really heavy and it felt really violent. As a trans person I’m not welcome here, I’m not recognized here, I’m not valid here.”
The class opened up discussion within the school about the bathroom law and gender identity and framed a collaborative action in public space that would address the question directly. The students connected with local advocacy groups Tranzmission and Southerners on New Ground, and Sherman and filmmaker Adam Rush, another faculty member, quickly designed text-based projection installations intended to create a safe public space in downtown Asheville for sharing information and expressing solidarity with the trans community. On a Saturday evening in late May, students and faculty gathered on a slope of grass to view the projections while passersby stopped to chat and drivers honked in support.
“I feel really healed now,” Sherman said. “In a short period of time I’ve gotten over the hump of something that’s really big and is the biggest experience with personal injustice that I’ve ever felt.”
Void and Ragan hope to continue the experiment in the coming year. It was not without its controversies—more than one artist showed work that many considered racially insensitive—and the school will eventually need a stronger pedagogical theory to become more than an education-themed artistic residency. But like the original Black Mountain College and independent architecture schools like the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, Terreform’s ONE Lab, and many of the “radical pedagogies” throughout history, it clearly responds to a perceived need for an alternative to the current model.
Hip to be Square
LOT-EK and Socrates Sculpture Park reveal renderings of “The Cubes”
A new book delves into Mellon Square, the modernist landscape masterpiece at the heart of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is slowly, and fitfully, reappraising its modernist legacy of corporate towers, postwar infrastructure, and neighborhood-obliterating “urban renewal.” In this complex and frequently polarizing narrative, the role of landscape is perhaps only now being properly addressed in academic and political discourse regarding the past, present, and future potential of communal civic space.
Mellon Square is the second volume in “Modern Landscapes: Transition and Transformation,” a timely series from Princeton Architectural Press. As series editor Charles Birnbaum notes in his foreword, if Lawrence Halprin’s Denver Skyline Park (the first site in the series) has suffered “disastrous alteration,” this 1950s landscape at the heart of Pittsburgh has “in contrast (…) been very well chronicled, documented, and analyzed” resulting in “a renewed, enhanced, and revitalized Mellon Square.”
Principal author Susan Rademacher concurs. She has written a compact volume, presenting with modest clarity, a rich spectrum of knowledge from local history and detailed plant selection to technical refinements particular to the project. Emphasizing Mellon Square’s centrality in the self-image of Pittsburgh, Rademacher calls it “a symbol of Pittsburgh’s astounding capacity for reinvention and self-improvement” and potentially “a model for the national movement to preserve modern landscape.”
Mellon Square was the first modernist urban park situated above a subterranean parking structure by Mitchell & Ritchey. Fifteen years earlier, Dahlen Ritchey, a Carnegie Tech and Harvard alum, had assisted Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer on their luxurious Frank House in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill. The main design heroes of Rademacher’s book are John O. and Philip D. Simonds, Pittsburgh landscape architects and environmental planners. John, also a GSD man, published his seminal Landscape Architecture shortly after Mellon Square’s completion in 1955.
Other key figures in Pittsburgh’s “renaissance” include then-Mayor David L. Lawrence (a Democrat), Richard King Mellon (a Republican), and Edgar Kaufmann. Kaufmann not only engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to imagine fantastical infrastructures at the juncture of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, he also commissioned a master plan titled Pittsburgh in Progress from Mitchell & Ritchey. Displayed at Kaufmann’s Department Store, a mere block from the future Mellon Square, this Corbusian-inflected plan heralded an urban agenda for the 1950s, radiating back from that historic origin of the city.
Rademacher delves deeply into the design process, a complicated story for many an urban project, yet especially so here with a business elite keen to impact the fabric and the perception of the city. Not by chance, Mellon Square functioned something like the plaza at Rockefeller Center. (No ice-skating, although early proposals did include flamingos and penguins and a circular platform for sea lions, along with less sculptural bling.) Yet the square was clearly envisaged as the centerpiece of what Rademacher describes as “an integrated complex for the Mellon enterprises.”
Indeed, there are three Harrison & Abramovitz-designed landmarks for Mellon-related businesses in the immediate vicinity: the sober U.S. Steel/Mellon Bank Building, the innovative Alcoa Building directly overlooking the square, and later, the U.S. Steel headquarters, a towering paean to weathering steel at the intersection of Pittsburgh’s two urban grids. Disliking the orthogonal paving proposed by Simonds & Simonds, Sarah Mellon Scaife’s fondness for St. Mark’s Square led to the harlequinade pattern that brings Mellon Square its graphic elegance, especially when viewed from the surrounding towers.
In a 1973 article, John listed the project concepts as a platform (“a vast tray”), a structure (with “footings spaced out on the floor of a prehistoric stream bed some sixty feet below”), an island (“surrounded by and cut off from the rest of the city”), a space (“expanded, modulated, and articulated by all means at the architects’ command”), a focal center, a civic monument (“a source of pride and lasting inspiration”), a gathering place (“human in scale and human in its appeal”), and an oasis (“the welcome relief of foliage, shade, splashing water, flowers, and bright color.”)
Inevitably perhaps, some problems ensued—with tiles, flower beds, and wiring—eventually, “the main fountain and lighting no longer worked.” According to Rademacher, “despite efforts (…) continued maintenance did not remain a priority”. It was not until 2007 that the Parks Conservancy, then the guardian of Pittsburgh’s verdant sequence of robber baron-era parks, got involved. In 2008, the Conservancy published its Mellon Square Preservation, Interpretation and Management Plan. Soon, a planning team was in place, led by Patricia M. O’Donnell of Heritage Landscapes.
Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece goes into considerable detail on both the birth and now the rebirth of this important mid-century landscape set in a city that is itself experiencing economic and social renewal. The book may be slim, yet it is packed with information—a slight drawback of its dimensions is the small size of many illustrations. Rademacher has performed a service for Pittsburgh and for other U.S. cities unwilling to jettison the recent past and the timeless value of offering, “a place of pure delight—an inviting refreshing environment,” to quote Simonds.
Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece Susan M. Rademacher With essays by Charles A. Birnbaum, Patricia M. O’Donnell, Richard C. Bell and Barry W. Starke Published by Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95