Search results for "Met Breuer"

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Safe! (for now)

Endangered Marcel Breuer building gets a reprieve
For once, a Brutalist building gets a stay of execution. The Planning Commission in Fairfax County, Virginia, overruled its own staff recommendation yesterday and voted not to approve a developer’s request to rezone land in Reston so a developer can tear down the only Marcel Breuer-designed building in Virginia to make way for residential development. The planning department staff had recommended demolition of the former American Press Institute headquarters on Sunrise Valley Drive, a 48,000-square-foot building that opened in 1974, and rezoning of the land to make way for multi-family housing. The planning commission voted 6 to 6 on the question of rezoning the property for residential development, and that was not enough for the developer to obtain a demolition permit. Technically, it means that the planning commission forwards the developer’s rezoning application to the county Board of Supervisors with a negative recommendation. The vote came at the end of a sometimes heated hour-long discussion about the importance of the Breuer building and the groundswell of support it has received from preservationists, including an online petition signed by more than 1,300 people from as far away as Europe and South America. Several of the commissioners said they were impressed that the building was getting international attention and so many people wanted to see the building saved. Before the meeting, the commission received a flood of letters, emails and other materials from groups that want to see the building preserved, including the American Institute of Architects and New York architect Robert Gatje, who worked with Breuer for many years. “The world is now aware that this building exists,” said commission member Julie Strandlie. Commissioner James Hart, who studied architecture at the University of Virginia, said he was impressed by a site visit to the building that the group took on June 2. He said the building is in good shape and raved about the acoustics in the conference room. “I was favorably impressed by the use of natural light and shadows,” he said. “It brought the outside indoors” to the extent that some rooms “appeared to have trees in them,” he said. Hart also said the county was wrong not to recognize the Breuer building’s significance. “This was a major screw up,” he said. “I hope this is a wake up call to us that we need to make sure something like this does not happen again.” The commission also voted unanimously to direct the Board of Supervisors staff to conduct a countywide survey of properties to make sure there are no other buildings that deserve protection but don’t have landmark status. Preservationists had argued that the Breuer building should be saved because it was the first building in Reston designed by an internationally prominent architect, that it was a significant example of Breuer’s sculptural use of precast concrete panels, that it was important in developer Robert Simon’s early plan for Reston, and that it was associated with a long list of noteworthy journalists. Carol Ann Riordan, the last director of the American Press Institute (while the organization was in Reston) and founder of a group formed to save the building, praised the commission for its decision not to approve demolition. She said her group wants to see the Breuer building preserved and reused, perhaps by another non profit. “We’re all very pleased and elated that the planning commission took this stance, which was a very brave stance,” Riordan said. “It is an architectural treasure and deserves a second life. It’s part of Reston’s rich tapestry. There is still much work to be done. But the end game is that the API building had a mission—lifelong education, transformation, building community—and we would like to see it passed on to another group that has a mission along these same lines.” Riordan said she was most impressed that planning commission members admitted that the county “screwed up” in not recognizing the significance of the Breuer building and then voted not to support the demolition rather than letting the building be torn down anyway. “It takes a lot of guts to say ‘we screwed up,’” Riordan said. “I find that very courageous.”
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Petition Under Way

Virginia’s only Marcel Breuer building threatened with demolition
Another Brutalist building by noted architect Marcel Breuer is threatened with demolition, this time in Reston, Virginia. The endangered building is the former American Press Institute (API) headquarters, located on a four acre site at 11690 Sunrise Valley Drive. It's Breuer’s only structure in the commonwealth of Virginia. Opened in 1974, it has been a place where newspaper publishers and editors attended meetings held by the non-profit API, founded in 1946. The $3 million, 48,000-square-foot building was constructed in the part of Reston that was reserved for non profit organizations, and its design is an example of Breuer’s sculptural use of precast concrete panels. It was the first building in the then-new town of Reston to be designed by an internationally prominent architect. The API closed in Reston in 2012 after merging with the Newspaper Association of America. Now a private developer controls the building and wants to raze it to make way for residential development. The Fairfax County Planning Commission is scheduled to meet on June 16 to consider the developer’s application to rezone the land and obtain a demolition permit.  If the planning commission and the county’s Board of Supervisors approve the plan, the building will be razed so single- and multi-family housing can be built on the site. An online petition has been created at ipetitions.com, asking county leaders to save the Breuer building. “For nearly 38 years,” the petition states, “tens of thousands of news media executives—representing a “Who’s Who in Journalism”—attended leadership seminars in the nonprofit’s Breuer-designed headquarters in Reston. The API building is historically and architecturally significant. It is a crucial chapter in Reston’s rich history. It should have a second life instead of being torn down.” A coalition of architectural and history experts, both local and national, has questioned the demolition plan. The group includes the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board; the Fairfax County History Commission; the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Historic Resources; residents of Reston and other parts of Fairfax County; architects; historians; preservationists; journalists who have participated in programs at the building, and people who have worked in the building. Some preservation advocates say the building would be ideal for conversion to a regional library and that the county has money in its budget to do that. “The more brutalist reminders of Reston’s awesome concrete past, the better,” says the writer of the Restonian blog. Others say it reflects the vision of Reston developer Robert Simon, who aims to encourage construction of architecturally significant buildings in his planned community. At a meeting in May, the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board passed a motion and sent it with a letter to county officials pleading that “The Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and County agencies consider further historical and architectural evaluation and specific heritage resource significance of the American Press Institute building, and consider appropriate land usage that could lead to the preservation and/or adaptive reuse of the building…so that informed decisions can be made based on professional analysis.” The review board members had written previously that they believe "the property has a reasonable potential for meeting the criteria for listing on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.” On May 17, David Edwards, Architectural Historian for the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Historic Resources, wrote: "It is our opinion that the API building reaches the level of exceptional importance…and strongly encourages its preservation…. If the API building were to be demolished, the community and the state would lose the work of a master architect. Additionally, and maybe more importantly, Reston would lose a building that is part of its community’s distinctive architectural history.” Despite those and other warnings, staffers for the county’s planning commission have recommended approval of the rezoning application and demolition permit. As of today, the petition to save the Breuer building has more than 1,300 signatures, including signers from Europe and South America. An architect and furniture designer who worked at the Bauhaus in Dessua, Germany, and received the AIA Gold Medal in 1968, Breuer was born in Hungary in 1902 and died in New York in 1981. Breuer designed the 1966 Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue in New York City, which was recently converted to the Met Breuer, a satellite for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Beyer Blinder Belle guiding the conversion. Breuer also designed the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, the Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters in Washington, D. C. , and, while he was head of the cabinet making workshop at the Bauhaus, the Wassily chair. The Virginia building is one of several Breuer structures in the United States that are facing an uncertain future. In New Haven, Connecticut, his 1970 Pirelli Tire Building is vacant and its base has been modified. In Atlanta, Georgia, public officials are considering construction of a new library to replace Breuer’s 1980 Central Library and Library System Headquarters building at One Margaret Mitchell  Square NW. Preservationists there have been circulating a petition asking the Fulton Public Library Board to save the building and rename it after Breuer.
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The Met

$600 million Chipperfield expansion for Metropolitan Museum of Art put on hold
Slightly more than a year after British architect David Chipperfield was selected to redesign portions of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the project has been put on hold. Museum officials disclosed last month that they plan to temporarily suspend design work on the $600 million expansion project as part of an institution-wide effort to restructure finances and address a $10 million deficit. They said the restructuring would be a two year process and that a time frame for resuming design work on the expansion would depend on the pace of fundraising for it. The Chipperfield project will “be quiet for a while,” The New York Times quoted museum president Daniel Weiss as saying. “The pace of the project is slowing,” Weiss said, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Met’s disclosure came in the same week that Museum of Modern Art officials announced a $100 million gift from entertainment mogul David Geffen to help fund their expansion, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Three floors of the museum’s new galleries will be named The David Geffen Wing in recognition of the donation, museum officials said. In March of 2015, officials at the Met announced that the museum selected David Chipperfield Architects to design an expansion, which most likely would involve demolition of the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing in the museum’s southwest corner, to increase exhibition space for modern and contemporary art and to double the size of the Roof Garden above the Wallace Wing. At the time, Met officials indicated Chipperfield also might become involved in redesigning other areas of the museum, including “adjacent galleries devoted to the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, as well as additional operational spaces.” In effect, he was being tapped to take on the design role at the museum that Kevin Roche had for many years. Demolition of the 110,000-square-foot Wallace wing, which Roche designed and which opened in 1987, would need approval from New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and others. In April of 2016, museum leaders disclosed that they plan a series of budget cuts and that the timing of the Chipperfield project would be affected. They said the schematic design phase has been completed and that they will wait to proceed with any more design work until money for the project has been raised. Other aspects of the restructuring include a reduction in staff through voluntary buyouts or layoffs or both, a hiring freeze, and scaling back some exhibition programming, as well as efforts to maximize revenues. The cutbacks follow a period of expansion for the Met, including the opening of the Met Breuer satellite museum inside the former home of the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue, and a reported $3 million campaign to develop a new branding approach for the institution. Chipperfield’s previous museum projects include the Neues Museum in Berlin, Museo Jumex in Mexico City, the Saint Louis Art Museum and The Hepworth in Wakefield, England. Last month, Chipperfield’s design for a new Nobel Center in Stockholm received approval from the city council there. The Met has been drawing more than six million visitors a year, even before the Met Breuer opened. According to a 2014 report in The Art Newspaper, it ranks as one of the three busiest museums in the world in terms of attendance, after the Louvre and the British Museum.
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Future uncertain for Breuer’s Central Library in Atlanta

Although Marcel Breuer's is most famous for designing the UNESCO Building in Paris and the Met Breuer (the former Whitney), the architect also designed a monumental public library in Atlanta. The future of that building, like so many Brutalist structures, is now in jeopardy.

It wasn't always this way. In the mid-1960s, attitudes towards the architect and his future building were solicitous: The then-director of the Atlanta library system was so impressed by the Whitney (completed in 1966) he urged the library board to invite Breuer to design the Central Library. After negotiating a 275-page program, and significant delays in funding, the project was completed in 1980. The six-story, 265,000-square-foot library featured a 300-seat theater, a restaurant, with space for more than 1,000 patrons and one million books. On the exterior, precast concrete panels are bush-hammered for texture, while inside, floors two through four are connected by a massive concrete staircase.

During the 2008 recession, the city asked voters to approve a $275 million bond referendum to expand two library branches, build eight new ones, and renovate others. If the county could come up with $50 million, over 30 percent of the bond could go towards…replacing the Breuer–designed library with another library.

Although critics like Barry Bergdoll have praised the structure as a perfect example of the "heavy lightness" that characterizes Breuer’s Bauhaus–influenced forms, the Brutalist aesthetic did not play well in Atlanta. Whether this indifference expressed itself through lack maintenance is difficult to determine, but the building has deteriorated, and programs have shrunk: In the mid-1990s, the theater closed after part of its ceiling collapsed while the restaurant was shuttered at the end of that decade. In 2002, the city spent $5 million to renovate the building, adding colorful walls and carpeting to improve its public perception.

As preservation petitions from groups like Docomomo attest, many municipalities struggle to preserve modern architecture, especially buildings that are seen as not user-friendly, or those that are "aesthetically challenging." Stephanie Moody, the chair of Atlanta’s library board, has asked the county to consider reallocating the funds for the central library for use at other, more popular branches. The remaining cash would be used to buy land and build a new library to replace the main branch.

Moody told local blog Creative Loafing that downtown doesn’t need a library the size of Central. County commissioner Robb Pitts framed the situation bluntly: “[Funding] would be for some renovations plus the construction of a brand new Central Library to be located in Downtown Atlanta. Period,” he said. “They’re not renovating the existing one. It’s very clear that the construction [of a new one] is what the voters called for.”

Although the building is listed on the 2010 World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Sites, its fate remains undecided, for now.

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Welcome to the new website of The Architect’s Newspaper
When the Architect’s Newspaper was founded in 2003, the internet was not much more than a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye. “WebLogs” had just started to pick up speed, and the social network Myspace had just hit the market, ready to take over from Friendster. Which is why it is so amazing that we managed to have the same website for the last 13 years, without a relaunch. The Architect’s Newspaper was started “in part, out of frustration that so many important architecture and design stories never find a place in the news dailies, the city weeklies, or design monthlies…We will bring you news, big and small, with a catholic sensibility about what architects and designers might consider newsworthy.” The first print issue had a story announcing the curator of the 2004 Venice Biennale, a preview of the new Morphosis design for the Cooper Union, and an article about the then-nascent “U.S.-Dutch-Austrian blob axis.” While much has changed since these early days—there is no need for two pages of event listings—the independent ethos of the paper has lived on, very much to the too-often-unsung credit of publisher Diana Darling and editor-in-chief William Menking. Both in print and online, AN has been a critical voice both in the city of New York and across the country, with four regional editions: East, West, Midwest, and Southwest. These regional papers and contacts in places like Oklahoma City allow us to cover territory often left uncovered. The in-depth coverage and analysis includes zoning measures, preservations fights, transit issues, and other political issues alongside more traditional design coverage. We also are always expanding our coverage of international issues and our engagement with the discourse that affects us all. Our new web editor Zach Edelson will continue this, while putting his own twist on what is happening today. This relaunch aims to carry on our tradition as the most authoritative architecture and design coverage in the United States in a new, contemporary format that can do the content justice. On the old website, the “news” page and a “blog” falsely divided print and web-only content into confusing silos. This will no longer be the case. Fresh, up-to-the minute coverage of architecture, cities, products, and technology will finally be showcased alongside long-form editorial content from leading authors both established and up-and-coming. We hope that the new website will more accurately convey the quality and breadth of the writing. We will also be able to feature more and larger images in a more interactive display, giving readers more visual insight into the projects we feature. The new site will also work better on mobile devices. Now is a time of tremendous growth for The Architect’s Newspaper. We have launched a series of “Late Edition” email newsletters that feature local architecture stories from each of our four regions. You can sign up for one or all of them here. We have also started AN Interior, which is a burgeoning design and culture magazine with a focus on the latest innovations in architectural interiors and products. Look for more online coverage in this area moving forward. Please bear with us as we work out the kinks, and let us know what you think of the new site. We would love to hear your feedback about how it functions and what is working and not working! Here are a few of our most recent stories that will give you a chance to test out the new site! MoMA to Close galleries dedicated to architecture and design  State of the City Why the Met Breuer matters Designing the Border Wall? Why is SHoP designing SITE Santa Fe? OE House by Fake Industries Zaha Hadid passes away How Graves, Koolhaas, and Piano would have altered Marcel Breuer’s iconic Madison Avenue museum Marina City gets landmark status Salt Shed: In Praise of the Urban Object The Memphis Movement Lebbeus Woods: Blogger
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Why the Met Breuer Matters
Today, March 18th, at 10 am, the Met Breuer officially opened in the former Whitney Museum at Madison Avenue and 75th Street. The Marcel Breuer-designed building has been restored and updated by an in-house design team and New York-based Beyer Blinder Belle. I had the opportunity to tour the building with the architects and Jorge Otero-Pailos, Associate Professor and incoming director of the Historic Preservation program at Columbia University GSAPP. For a full schedule of The Met Breuer’s opening weekend events, visit their website.
The Architect’s Newspaper: What do you think the Met Breuer means architecturally? Jorge Otero-Pailos: Consider the first show that they are mounting there: Unfinished, Thoughts Left Visible. I think it is in part the Met’s way of signaling their view of the building. They are putting this question of the “unfinished” in relation to the building as their opening show. This is something that I’m very interested in because a work of architecture is never finished in the sense that a work of art could be finished.  With art you can express that work is purposely left unfinished by the artist, but in architecture, even if the architect would have wanted to finish the building, it is constantly being transformed and switched and replaced. Now, part of the interesting thing about all of these brutalist buildings of the 1960s is that they shun away from what we call finishes, you know, like drywall and like trim and like paint, so the building itself evokes this sense of incompleteness, but in a that incompleteness is also showing a type of directness, or an idea about materiality and construction technique being on the foreground, which was prevalent in brutalist architecture. How does the intervention express this? It’s a very subtle work and I think it’s the kind of work that will be imperceptible to most people.  I think that’s one of the really interesting things. There has been a major investment in upgrading the building done on the part of the Met, and it will appear to most people as if nothing has happened.  That in itself is radical in today’s day and age, because we are so used to the trend that the institution needs to have a mark, that it needs to be present, that the branding needs to sort of appear and that the new needs to be expressed somehow, and that the present needs to be expressed.  But here, the present is being expressed as a choice, as a choice to pick a building as opposed to the choice to build a building, which to me is very different and unique, sort of a real different idea about the city, even, than the idea of having to build and having to express the institution somehow.  So this suggests a type of separation between the identity of the user and the identity of the building, which is quite refreshing. So there is a separation between identity of the institution and the building? Yeah. I mean, there is this distance between the two, they coexist, but they are not the same.  I think that’s quite interesting, given the fact that most buildings go up today are so overtly trying to give expression to some sort of corporate identity or city identity or trying to embody the user or the financier or, it seems to me that this loosening up of that relationship is really important as a contribution. What is also refreshing is the role of the architect in the process, because what you would typically have is all of the discussion, not so much about the building, but about the personality and intentions of the architect. Here, we’re forced into a discussion about the building, about the object itself—its qualities, its successes and failures. We think about what it enables us to do and not do, what kinds of shows can be in there and not be in there, what kinds of audiences can be attracted to it, not attracted to it.  So it’s about the building, and that, I think, is really extraordinary today when you look at architectural journalism or even criticism, so much of it tends to fold back on the biographical and the figure of the architect as the source of what gives unity and that becomes the criteria for judgment of the work. I think it’s a hard thing in today’s reality to even conceive of having to rethink this building and engage with it, and I would say that, that’s the exciting part about it, that here people are going to be looking very closely at the building, be looking for signs of change, and they’re going to find that it’s been very carefully manicured to appear as if nothing has changed where a whole lot has happened. What is the relationship of the building to Breuer? It is interesting that a building, in a sense, can have a life after its architect that it doesn’t have to be beholden to that, and that it doesn’t require a new architect in order to be relevant for today. We often hear so much about the need to hire a contemporary architect in order to make the existing building feel contemporary. And I think here, the fact that the architect has chosen not to leave their mark. Beyer Blinder Belle has chosen to hide their mark, which is very different and suggests that the building can be contemporary. The process by which the building can become relevant and contemporary again is not necessarily through the mediation of a contemporary architect, but that it is concerned about whether people will like it or not. Will people come back? And so, will people choose it?  And that sort of leaving it up to the public without over-manipulating it is, I think, a really daring thing that the Met is doing. Yeah.  How does that contrast with the New Whitney, the last big museum to open up in New York? They, in a similar way, kind of take that back seat.  At least, my reading of that Renzo Piano building is it’s really taking a back seat to a lot of other factors, like the city and the “public” and the city and the art, in a way.  But it’s in sort of a different way, maybe. Do you see a difference in the way the institutions are treating the idea of museum experience? I think what I would compare is not so much the new and old buildings, but the last exhibition that the Whitney put up and the first exhibition that the Met is putting up.  Whereas in the last exhibition at the Whitney, they basically devoted the whole museum to Jeff Koons as a type of “hurrah of a contemporary artist,” to make the building feel contemporary by using this blockbuster exhibition of a major artist, versus this notion of the “unfinished,” which is a much more, let’s say, intellectual proposition, less reliant on individual name recognition, and more suggestive of a relationship to the building— a relationship between the art and the building on a conceptual level. These are completely different types of positions on the building from the point of view of the institutions. What do you think is the Met’s point of view about the Breuer building? Well, I think that they’ve treated it more like an art object than a building. I think, for example, it is actually sort of telling that Beyer Blinder Belle has decided to leave the image of human touch, you know, the rub, the lifting of the patina of the bronze railings, to leave that as if it still retains that human touch, as if nothing has been redone, and then to redo all the other pieces where there is not that sort of focalization of attention, where you don’t put your hand. I think that, to me, is super interesting. So they basically, looking at that lobby, it has been the focus of all the attention, and it has been treated as basically an artwork, like another one of the Met’s interiors. They collect interiors. When you look at the Met’s collection, it has a very large collection of period rooms where you have a Frank Lloyd Wright period room and you have an early American Colonial period room and a French parlor period room. I think that sensibility of the period room is very interesting, and it’s a little bit the way it has been installed. Also, that big display is like a label for the whole building, like an object needs a label, right? Especially in museum studies. And when you walk into a museum, you look at a painting, it always has a little label next to it. And so that screen is, in a way, the label for the building. It tells us what the building is now, how it’s being used and what to attend to and so on. I think the potential for that screen is very high. I wonder what they are going to choose in terms of artists or people to design that screen. It should be site-specific. But it would begin to question this relationship between the label and the object, and I think that’s really quite interesting. Is this the biggest period room? I don’t think so. I think I would pick Grand Central for that. That’s a big period room. The Met Breuer is probablt the biggest period room of the Met. How do you think that the visitor experience changes with the addition of the public café space in the courtyard, which will be unticketed? Opening up the bottom courtyard to the public is really quite a radical move. That courtyard has been closed to the public for a very long time, and to recuperate that as a public space, so we can walk off the street and go downstairs and have access to the garden in that sunken court, I think is really an extraordinary move. It sort of completely changes the entrance of the building and the experience of the building from the street, and the experience of the visitor off the street.  I think that will make it a huge success with New Yorkers and with visitors that this has been given over to the public in a serious way, as opposed to just the paying customers. And I think that in a lot of very successful adaptations of historic buildings and museums or expansions or whatever, there is always a rethinking of the entrance and of the entrance sequence and of the entrance experience. It’s just very important to so-called directors of visitor experience today, but also to architects. If you look at the work of Renzo Piano, he always switches the entrance on the building. Look at his work at Isabella Gardner Museum, or at the J.P. Morgan Library. He always shifts the entrance of the building, of the historic building and makes you enter in a different way and circulate through the existing buildings in a different way. And by circulating through them in a different way, you rediscover them, because the sequence is different, the expectations are different.  So I think that opening up of that bottom court does that. It really changes the whole entrance, even though you’re still walking through that bridge. The other thing to remember is that enduring institutions in Manhattan have always moved around, I mean, changed buildings. Madison Square Garden started in Madison Square and is now on 34th Street occupying its 4th building. The Whitney itself is now occupying its 5th building.  Columbia University used to be downtown; it’s now uptown. A bit like hermit crabs, institutions change buildings as they evolve. I think the Met Breuer is interesting because it invites us to look at at the buildings that institutions leave behind and ask questions about their continued relevance within the cultural life of the city. What does it mean for an institution to take over another institution’s building? What sort of institutions will be able to inhabit the New Whitney after the Whitney is gone? Or what sort of institutions will be able to go into MoMA after MoMA moves out?  What will be left? Will it be an object to be shared by everyone in this city? To what degree city is a part of the conception of the architecture, I think is really important. If you look at the Folk Art Museum versus the Breuer building, two very different attitudes about museum expansion and how to deal with an existing significant work of art, of architecture. Now, the Whitney benefited from the fact that it is in a landmark area. It’s in the Upper East Side historic district that protects it. Which was not the case for the American Folk Art Museum. But these are different attitudes to buildings of the recent past, if we can call them that. I think that’s very interesting as a point of comparison of what’s happening in New York City. I mean, it speaks to different attitudes from different types of institutions, different understandings of their duty of care. And interestingly enough, the Met just really started thinking about architecture as a department. They haven’t had an architecture department; whereas MoMA has had the oldest architecture department in the country, for that matter. Maybe that’s a modern versus a sort of pre-modern attitude toward conservation? Or maybe they’re two competing contemporary views. And I think in that is also the degree to which the public is allowed to be involved in the choice and in the discussion about what to do with a building. I think it’s been interesting in both cases. Buildings are constantly unfinished. And so, to get to a point where Beyer Blinder Belle and the Met are actually making in-fillings in the blemishes of the concrete invisible, where they have to actually push the envelope of technology to make that in-fill, to me, is really suggestive of a different type of sensibility, a different way of collecting the present towards the future. I think that, for me, that’s one of the most important things. I mean, there are certain buildings that as New Yorkers, you can’t imagine the future without.  And that is part of the future. That is part of a future that is more realistic than this sort of frictionless future where there is no resistance from reality. I think that is part of what this building does. It just resists. It was built to resist the city, right? Interview edited and condensed for clarity.
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Minnesota’s Modern Love
St. Columba's nave is among Minnesota's finest midcentury worship spaces.
Peter Sieger

Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury
by Larry Millett
University of Minnesota Press, $50

In his new book, Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury, author Larry Millett reminds readers: “Midcentury modernism was more than just a style. At its heart, it offered the prospect of a world unchained from the past. Behind the movement lay a whole way of thinking about how to live, work, and play in the new suburban communities that sprang up after World War II.”

Perhaps never more so than in Minnesota, where a burgeoning, postwar population in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul began to sprawl beyond city boundaries across the fields and prairies, in large part because of the tract houses built quickly and inexpensively by Orrin Thompson Homes. Young couples could afford to marry and raise families in the new ramblers and drive their new cars on new highways connecting their cookie-cutter suburbs with new shopping malls and office buildings.

In fact, Millett opens his book with a 1953 image of Minnesota’s first cloverleaf highway interchange, built in 1937 just outside of Minneapolis in a soon-to-be first-ring suburb. There’s an argument to be made here: that midcentury modern—the good, the bad, and the ugly—is suburban. In his book, however, he covers not only modest suburban ramblers, but also how the reach of midcentury modern encompassed a remarkable array of architectural typologies in locations (rural, suburban, and urban) throughout the state—consider Marcel Breuer’s church at Saint John’s Abbey and University (Collegeville); Eliel Saarinen’s Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis); Eero Saarinen’s IBM Building (Rochester); the Northwestern National Life Insurance Building by Minoru Yamasaki (Minneapolis); and Victor Gruen’s Southdale Center (Edina), the first enclosed shopping mall in the United States. Midcentury modern also encompasses Ralph Rapson’s Guthrie Theater (razed), along with such no-less-venerated venues as the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale (mothballed), the now-iconic Dairy Queen in Roseville (still dishing up soft serve), and St. Paul’s Porky’s Drive-In (razed).

 

In addition to the square, affordable rambler, midcentury modern birthed other housing types, from the long, one-level ranch house, to compact metal Lustron homes, to the flat-roofed, glass-walled, open-plan, architect-designed residence. Millett includes 12 such “high-style” homes throughout Minnesota—by Frank Lloyd Wright and Twin Cities’ architects Elizabeth Close, Ralph Rapson, and Gerald Buetow, among others. But his investigation goes even deeper.

As Millett also points out, midcentury modern, which dominated architecture and design from about 1945 to the late-1960s, “penetrated like oil into the social, political, and cultural machinery of the times.” So while delving into these projects and more in a nearly 400-page book rich with photography and illustration, Millett also places Minnesota’s love of midcentury modernism in a broader context.

He traces Minnesota’s development and practice of midcentury modernism to three sources or “strains.” One was the work of such European architects like Adolf Loos, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, the Saarinens, Alvar Aalto, and Le Corbusier (“who was very fond of American concrete grain elevators, a building type invented in Minnesota in 1989”). Millett describes how these architects’ work and influences, combined with elements of art deco and art moderne, produced such Minnesota architects as Rapson—a proponent and practitioner of the International Style.

California’s ranch houses (even though their emphasis on outdoor living didn’t translate well in Minnesota’s tough winter climate) and the corresponding commercial version (affectionately named Googie) were the second source of influence. A third strain apparent in Minnesota’s midcentury modernism was the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly his Usonian houses. Millett goes on to add that materials developed during World War II—laminated wood trusses that were used instead of steel, as well as prefabricated structures and prestressed concrete—also influenced the design and construction in midcentury modernism in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Despite these influences, Millett stresses that, “midcentury architecture in Minnesota was mostly a homegrown product.” Today, many of buildings designed by local and regional architects are sorely in need of preservation. The former architecture critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Millett is an architectural historian whose previous books include Lost Twin Cities and Once There Were Castles: Lost Mansions and Estates of the Twin Cities. Both books, as their titles suggest, discuss the architectural treasures Minnesota has lost to the wrecking ball.

Millett’s new book concludes with a call to action. Though the “architectural legacy of the midcentury era in Minnesota is decidedly mixed,” he writes, citing instances of “drably utilitarian” public buildings, “excesses of urban renewal” in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and ill-planned suburbs, “the time has come to look at ways to protect significant works of the period.” Many of these works are now eligible for National Register of Historic Places designation.

What need to be saved, Millett continues, are not just individual “high-style homes” and the churches that have become “masterpieces of American architecture,” but entire neighborhoods of midcentury residences. The problem, he continues, is that “architectural modernism, especially in its high-style manifestations, has always had an elitist aura, and the general public has never really warmed to it.”

Minnesotans, with their no-nonsense approach, nonetheless cultivated a singular midcentury sensibility worth saving.

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How Graves, Koolhaas, and Piano would have altered Marcel Breuer’s iconic Madison Avenue museum
This month, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is opening the Met Breuer, replacing the Whitney Museum of American Art that called the Brutalist showpiece home for nearly five decades. Last year, the Whitney moved to Renzo Piano's building in the Meatpacking District. The Met is renting the Breuer (now the Met Breuer) on an eight-year lease while David Chipperfield works on a new space for contemporary art. The site of the Met's latest acquisition, however, has a colourful past, fending off near misses from Graves to Koolhaas and Piano.  AN Takes a look at what so nearly could have been.                                 In 1989, the New York Times ran the headline: "The Whitney Paradox: To Add Is To Subtract." Such was Paul Goldberger's distaste for what Michael Graves had originally proposed to lie adjacent to Marcel Breuer's building. Indeed, Graves' Postmodern proposal gave rise to Goldberger questioning: "What value does the Breuer building have, both as a work of architecture unto itself and as a part of the streetscape? And how gingerly, therefore, should it be treated?" Built in 1966, Marcel Breuer's Modernist granite building may be the epitome of abstract architecture, having remained detached for so long, shooing away any potential plunderers of its monumental message. Breuer, a Hungarian and product of Gropius' Bauhaus, went so far as to erect concrete walls to resist interaction with adjacent buildings, keeping them at arm's length.
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Nice To Met You
Ed Lederman / Courtesy Met Breuer

The iconic Marcel Breuer–designed Whitney Museum is set to reopen March 18, giving back one of the city’s most beloved architectural spaces. The building will be reborn as the Met Breuer; the Metropolitan Museum of Art will repurpose our old concrete and granite pal as a contemporary arts outpost in an eight-year lease. The agreement includes a restoration and series of contemporary interventions to bring the museum up to speed.

Courtesy Met Breuer
 

“We wanted to take the building from harsh back to handsome,” said Met exhibition designer Bika Rebek, referencing a 1966 Ada Louise Huxtable article that called the quasi-Brutalist Breuer building “harsh and handsome.” Over time, the Whitney had removed many of the warm, “handsome” parts including rich wood details and colorful carpets.

Courtesy Met Breuer
 

The Met’s in-house design group and architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) had three main goals in mind at the outset: To create a welcoming visitor experience, to treat the building as a work of art, and to establish a Met identity within the building.

These three goals presented challenges. “We had to figure out how to update the building without erasing history,” said Brian Butterfield, senior exhibition designer at the Met. Four interventions will provide this update, including the removal of the flag display in the front, a large media screen in the lobby, a new welcome desk with a subtle, angular form that nods to Breuer’s geometric twists in the original building, and a new public café space with a row of trees by Swiss landscape designer Günther Vogt.

Courtesy Met Breuer
 

BBB led the restoration, which included refurbishing the bush hammered concrete using a precise matching aggregate. They also refinished the floors and updated the wood and metal around the stairs, leaving the patina to show where hands had worn it away over the years.

The Met Breuer will open with its lobby and lower floor un-ticketed. The outdoor area below Madison Avenue will be open to the public, drawing in patrons and passersby. The inaugural exhibitions, also opening March 18, will be Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, which focuses on a wide range of unresolved artworks by the likes of Cézanne and Jackson Pollock; and Nasreen Mohamedi, a retrospective of the Indian artist’s career that includes more than 130 paintings.

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Building from Scratch
 

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston Through January 24

On January 9, 1940, at the Museum of Modern Art, Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius presented their design for a North Carolina college in the hope of raising construction funds. Set on the shores of a lake, lifted on pilotis, and skewed at various angles, the complex appeared to undulate gently on the waterfront, and the architects were photographed with its model for the New York Herald Tribune. Breuer scholar Isabelle Hyman believes the project “would have been a major contribution to modern architecture in America had it been realized”—but the college could never afford it. Later that year, A. Lawrence Kocher, former managing editor at Architectural Record, joined the faculty and drew up simpler plans. The legacy of this hand-to-mouth institution is on view in the exhilarating Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957, at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) through January 24. In a show that engulfs the mind with weavings by Anni Albers; color and material studies by Josef Albers; manuscripts by John Cage; dances by Merce Cunningham; paintings by Jacob Lawrence, Robert Rauschenberg, Willem de Kooning, and Elaine de Kooning; and much more, architecture is a weak link. But close attention reveals a rich period of experimental design and hands-on construction. Initially a tenant in a plantation-style YMCA, Black Mountain College (BMC) opened in 1933 with ten instructors, 19 students, and a unique cooperative ethos. In 1937 the college bought land on Lake Eden, and for four years the community lived on one site and built a campus on the other. Kocher had championed modern design and ideals since the 1920s, and in three years at BMC he designed the main Studies Building (1941) and auxiliary buildings; supervised construction by students, faculty, and a local builder; and taught architecture as a soup-to-nuts process. One wing of his Studies plan was realized: A 200-foot-long rectangle framed in wood and sided in corrugated transite, with one end resting on stone and the remainder on concrete pylons. Throughout the 1940s, students and faculty raised buildings for ceramics, science, woodworking, and farming, mostly—but not always—in a modern idiom. A handful of photos and drawings gives a sense of the mix. Student Claude Stoller, brother of photographer Ezra, was job captain on an acoustically sensitive house for music teacher Heinrich Jalowetz (1941). Woodworking instructor Molly Gregory supervised construction of farm buildings and furniture. Recent graduate Alex Reed designed the neovernacular Quiet House (1942), a memorial to a young boy, and the community built it with hand-gathered stones. Instructor Paul Beidler designed the Music Cubicle (1945) of concrete, wood, and two glass walls leaned outward for acoustics’ sake. In 1947–48, when there was no resident architect due to the postwar building boom, students designed and built the Minimum House themselves—an organic–industrial blend with two walls of corrugated aluminum, one each of glass and stone, and wood cabinetry. The “pot shop” (1950–53), designed by three ceramics instructors and architect Paul Williams, is an ad hoc agglomeration of volumes in concrete blocks and wood, with varied monopitch rooflines and an open shed framed by angled steel ribs. In 1948, visiting instructor R. Buckminster Fuller engaged students to build his first geodesic dome of venetian-blind slats. The project was named the Supine Dome when it failed to rise—an outcome Fuller had anticipated, as he was teaching students to build with maximum efficiency. “You start with this supine thing,” he said, “and then keep fortifying until . . . it’s standing up.” In 1949, his students built a functional dome of aircraft tubing and cable. On display are two of Fuller’s pristine, beautiful Great Circle Sphere Models, one of steel wire and one of aluminum strips. Photography students and faculty captured many architectural moments on film and a few are mounted wall-size. There is something thrilling about the construction photos, a sense that these doughty young people gained a profoundly different kind of experience than any American student has since. A young woman in a plaid button-down shirt and polka-dotted headband mixes cement; a coed group, calf-deep in mud, digs a drainage ditch. Architecture is not the show’s focus, but more details would have been helpful. Even in the excellent catalogue, material descriptions are scant, many buildings are not shown, and references to the local vernacular are brief. We are told that the Quiet House “integrated seamlessly with the original rustic cabins and lodges,” and it appears so, but we can’t see those buildings. Just as Albers’s color studies revealed changes in a color’s appearance based on its surroundings, the works of rural BMC would speak in different tones in a setting more subtle than the ICA’s white boxes. But brilliant work and inspired lives need no translation, and the show succeeds in resurrecting a rare chapter in American cultural history. If it makes us hungry for more on the college’s little-known design-build program, that is enough. (The curious can visit the architecture section of blackmountaincollegeproject.org, a web archive maintained by scholar Mary Emma Harris.)
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Archtober Building of the Day 20> Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Cooper Robertson When the Whitney Museum made the move from its iconic Breuer Building to a new location in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, the institution was “returning to our downtown roots,” Larissa Gentile, New Building Project Director for the Whitney, told today’s Archtober Building of the Day Tour attendees. The museum’s shiny new steel-clad, Renzo Piano–designed building, which opened in May, is situated between two linear parks running through Manhattan. Piano conceived of the building as a link between the High Line, just east of the museum, and Hudson River Park, just west. Visitors to the Whitney never feel far from either of these green spaces—on each of the eight floors of the museum, strategically located windows frame scenes of the Hudson River and out onto the city skyline. The interplay between interior and exterior is a defining element of the new Whitney. Gentile described the institution and the architect’s intentions for the building to engage in a dialogue with its urban context. The building has eastward-facing terraces on each level of the museum, connected by an outdoor staircase. These “outdoor galleries” not only give museum-goers iconic views of stretching across Manhattan, but also allows those strolling down the High Line, or driving down the West Side Highway, an opportunity to see some of the museum’s impressive collection. The exterior staircase allows visitors to move between gallery floors outside, so as to alleviate some internal circulation issues that might arise given the museum’s record-breaking number of visitors. On the ground level, the museum lobby is a porous and open glass space, meant to feel like an extension of the pedestrian streetscape. Passersby glimpse what is going on in the museum—indeed, today, although the museum was closed to the public, people walking by were privy to the installation process of the new Frank Stella exhibition underway. “Exposing the machine of building, and revealing the institution as an entire organism, was an exciting opportunity for the museum,” Gentile told us. Throughout the building, staff offices, research spaces, conservation labs, and educational facilities, that, in the old building, were either non-existent or tucked away, are now revealed to museum-goers. The new Whitney has greatly increased gallery space. Each gallery was designed to be column-free and highly flexible, so as to allow curators and artists to reimagine the space with every show. The gallery size and ceiling height varies from floor to floor, giving the museum a distinctly different feel as you travel throughout it. The top floor gallery is bathed in natural light from a skylight above. Some galleries are much more intimate, displaying smaller paintings and works on paper, while more spacious areas of the museum house impressive sculptures and installations. In addition to adding more gallery space for the museum to display its 22,000-object permanent collection and creating new educational and conservation facilities, the new, soon-to-be certified LEED Gold museum building also houses a flexible theater space with multiple projection options, and retractable seating, allowing the museum to host lectures, performances, and installations. As Gentile told our tour, “No space here has one function.” The highly mutable building provides the opportunity for the institution and visitors alike to engage intimately with both the cultural and urban milieus this city has to offer. Alex Tell is the Committee's Coordinator for the AIANY | Center for Architecture.
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Archtober Building of the Day 3> North Hall and Library, Bronx Community College
Archtober Building of the Day #3 North Hall and Library, Bronx Community College Robert A.M. Stern Architects Alex Lamis, FAIA, and Dennis Sagiev met a windblown gaggle of enthusiasts on the educational plateau of the Bronx: the former University Heights campus of NYU. Now Bronx Community College, it is a repository of ambitious plans. The first was the Jeffersonian campus plan of 1892 by Stanford White with its iconic Gould Memorial Library (1900) framed by the venerable Hall of Fame (1912). Marcel Breuer made his Modernist marks on the hilltop in 1956 and on into the 1960s. At North Hall it’s all about respect. The gang at Robert A. M. Stern Architects went straight to fitting in alongside the White masterpieces. The library itself is sturdily traditional in its up-to-the-minute technology hub – the information commons is awash with stand-up computer desks with scrolls. “A pent-up need,” according to librarian Theresa McManus, resulted in a project that “sends a message to the students.” There’s new building technology in the panel precast brick construction. And RAMSA designed an ironic postmodern histri-ionic column. Lamis explained that the fake rivets were part of the “artistic representation” of the structural steel. Historically, Lamis noted, the library is a “center for the retention of culture in its place.” Tomorrow’s excursion is to the Queens Botanic Garden.