Search results for "Met Breuer"
Beyer Blinder Belle restoring Marcel Breuer’s Whitney building for 2016 reopening under the Metropolitan Museum
The inaugural season of The Met Breuer features a major cross-departmental curatorial initiative to present a historic examination of unfinished works of art; the largest exhibition to date dedicated to Indian modernist Nasreen Mohamedi; and a month-long performance installation, by Artist in Residence Vijay Iyer. Upcoming exhibitions include a presentation of Diane Arbus’s rarely seen early photographic works (July 11– November 27, 2016), and the first museum retrospective dedicated to Kerry James Marshall (October 25, 2016 – January 22, 2017).The building has been vacant since the Whitney decamped for its new Renzo Piano–designed Meatpacking outpost perches astride the High Line. Meanwhile Uptown, Richard Morris Hunt's grand Beaux Arts beauty is in the midst of a conceptual plan by David Chipperfield Architects that will eventually guide the redesign of the complex's Southwest Wing.
The beloved Marcel Breuer headquarters for the Whitney Museum of American Art at Madison Avenue and 75th Street was in fact the institution’s third home since Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded it in 1931.
With the May 1 opening of a fourth, Renzo Piano–designed Whitney location at the southern Gansevoort Street source of the High Line (and with the Breuer building secure in the operating and contemporary curatorial hands of the Metropolitan Museum), the time is right to understand its architectural origins and creative pedigree.
Miss Vanderbilt grew up in what still holds the record as New York’s biggest residence: the 103-room 1893 Renaissance Revival house built for her father Cornelius II. It stood until 1925 on the Grand Army Plaza site that now features the Bergdorf Goodman flagship as opened in 1928, designed by the 20th century maverick Ely Jacques Kahn.
The Mansion was designed by the Beaux Arts trained architect George Browne Post, whose greatest surviving trace is the newly glistening, hipster-haven Williamsburgh Savings Bank at the foot of its name-sharing Bridge. (If still standing, the old Vanderbilt mansion could by birthright be home to great-grandson Anderson Cooper…)
As a wealthy self-defined bohemian and skilled sculptor, daughter Gertrude set out in 1907 for Greenwich Village, where she created her first studio in a former stable at 19 MacDougal Alley, the mews-like cul-de-sac between West 8th Street and Washington Square North. This first burst of gentrification was steadily followed by the acquisition of four 1830s Greek Revival brownstones, numbered 8 to 14 along West 8th Street proper, as well as the alleyway stables attached to each.
As her real estate footprint grew, so did her circle of fellow contemporary artists and the impulse to collect and display this collective accomplishment. The amalgamation of now interlaced buildings, which she started to call the Whitney Studio Club, set the stage. It was her home, her workplace, her personal kunsthalle, and a welcoming salon for artist friends often shunned elsewhere. Here was held, for example, the first exhibitions of John Sloane and Edward Hopper.
Perhaps of foremost initial design importance was her own personal sculpting studio built atop 19 MacDougal, conceived by her artistic fellow traveler, Robert Winthrop Chanler, as multi-media gesamtkunstwerk of painted bas-relief, decorated surfaces, and stained glass windows. (The Chanler Studio in particular has been on the World Monuments Fund’s renowned Watch List since 2012.)
When the by then Mrs. Vanderbilt Whitney’s offer to donate 700 contemporary artworks by Americans was refused by the Metropolitan Museum (Hopper? No thank you.), as well as soon after by the Euro-centric Museum of Modern Art, she created the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931. Taking matters into her own hands, Gertrude launched it for the display and appreciation of contemporary art—the 20th-century up until then and proceeding onward. She did so with her long-time assistant, Juliana Force, recognized ever after as the Whitney Museum’s first director.
These two women—besides their art collecting—were also an important, unsung catalyst for modern interior design and the evenly-illuminated white cube aesthetic that still sets the standard of museums worldwide, even as they keep growing in scale and room-denying flexibility. This architecture unfolded in a warren of early 19th century domestic residential interiors with attached stables, whose generous volumes emerged with the removal of stalls and haylofts. The result helped foretell the formal future of museums, even as its historic role goes largely unnoticed today.
Mrs. Whitney and Ms. Force did so in partnership with the design team consisting first and foremost of her son-in-law, architect Auguste Noël, and his umlaut-free firm of Noel & Miller Architects. Like Jacques Kahn, this team was Beaux Arts trained, yielding to the classically descended vocabulary of art deco and especially its later offshoot, moderne, which heralded capital-M Modernism. They worked with a society interior designer of like urbanity, Bruce Buttfield.
In 1954, the Museum decamped for its second home, which was a building on West 54th Street just west of Philip Johnson’s reconfigured MoMA sculpture garden, west of where the Taniguchi’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Educational and Research Center stands today. It too was designed for the Whitney/Force duo by Philip Johnson, but it turned out the shadow of its ziggurat neighbor was too strong both physically and metaphorically and off they went to commission the great Breuer reverse juggernaut masterpiece, which opened in 1967 as an instant landmark on the Upper East Side. Contextual it was not.
It was at this time that the old Whitney Studio and Museum crucible on West 8th Street became the New York Studio School (NYSS), opening in the academic year 1964/65. Now at the half-century mark, this Whitney legacy holds a place as a leading independent school of fine art pedagogy grounded in the traditional atelier of life study and a rigorous pedagogy to provide the springboard for a professional career. It resolutely does so in the heart of Greenwich Village, existing today as a precious trace of New York’s first Bohemia on what is now a street undergoing rapid commercial and residential gentrification. Stepping inside, the visitor today discovers a fascinating palimpsest of the old townhouses and former stable voids altered as galleries with then-radical recessed bands of ceiling lights and moderne details of travertine floors, aluminum railings, and jazzy doorjamb thresholds. This glimpse of design modernism and its tie to American art of the 20th century as it prepared for global supremacy in the wake of World War II is a sort of secret cultural treasure, living and breathing still as a place for making art.
The Whitney’s return downtown brings it closer to home as still evident to the roving architectural eye. Take a look when next passing by.
I met Jordan in the fall of 1952, quite by accident, having jumped from a diving board and landed on him in the Lawrence Anderson–designed pool at M.I.T. We were both about to begin the five-year program in the School of Architecture under Pietro Belluschi’s deanship.
Cambridge appeared to us to be the center of the world of architecture then, and we enjoyed the relief from the cold winters and intense charrettes by often heading to northern Vermont to go skiing on weekends. He was a natural athlete and excellent skier. It was a good counter measure to the close-in detailed design work at the School of Architecture where India-ink drawing was the norm of presentation, and we often worked through the night.
After a year, as Fulbrights he went to Italy and me to France; we travelled through Spain and Morocco, and I became familiar with Jordan’s unremitting enthusiasm and positive personality. He wanted to see and do everything, even feasting with a Moroccan family where they gave us each a lamb’s eye as a delicacy that we weren’t expected to refuse.
Our friendship developed through an obvious mutual love of architecture and in spite of different personalities. He was the perennial optimist seeing his father’s firm, Kelly+Gruzen, quickly succeed, and I more the pessimist, having fled Germany with my family at the start of World War II, often worried about the future.
I joined the firm in the early 1960s when Jordan’s father, Barney, ran the office with an iron fist. Staff was often terrified of him, yet he was mindful of talent. (Lew Davis and Sam Brody first met there years earlier.) Barney was tough, often chewing on the yellow tracing paper as he reviewed designer’s sketches, but Jordan lobbied more for a collaborative atmosphere and in 1967 helped to turn it into a partnership, bringing in six new partners. While Barney unlocked the door, Jordan pushed it wide open.
That same year, we were invited in competition with a select group of architects, including Breuer, Johnson, Barnes, and Conklin+Rossant, for a new stables building in Central Park at the 86th Street transverse. We won with an underground design. However, the mention of the word Polo, by an East Side newspaper, killed the project. That just emboldened Jordan, and the firm soon found itself amending the Civic Center Master Plan, with the design of the new Police Headquarters and later the Metropolitan Correction Center and Court House Annex, by depressing existing roadways, changing the on-off ramps of the Brooklyn Bridge, and eliminating a proposed pedestrian bridge for an at-grade extension of Chambers Street. This, along with adjacent affordable residential projects including the first all-concrete Chatham Towers, signaled a triumph of the new firm, now known as Gruzen+Partners.
Jordan helped create the office atmosphere that ambitious designers needed. Over more than 40 years there were close to two-dozen new partners that came through the office to make their contribution. He enjoyed the collaboration and the excitement of large new projects making a difference. In the ensuing years, much thanks to Jordan’s heady optimism, the firm grew and became immersed in several new building types, including correctional facilities, starting with Leesburg Prison, known as the “Glass House”; hospitality with the re-design of the old Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt, including an unusual garden room well over 42nd Street; Higher Education through the development of the East Campus Master Plan and the School of Health Science and Health Services at M.I.T. with Mitchell & Giurgola; international work with the American Embassy in Moscow with SOM as well as new towns in Tehran and Isfahan; and residential design with significant projects throughout New York State for the Urban Development Corporation, including the Schomburg Plaza Apartments at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue. For many years the firm continued developing follow up work in these areas.
Each decade our office moved, finally arriving at its largest quarters with two floors on West Street directly south of the World Trade Center and a few blocks walk from Jordan and Lee’s apartment on the South Cove in Battery Park City. In less than a year after the move, September 11th struck and everything, including the very survival of the office, was placed in jeopardy. For Jordan, it was a double whammy, having to flee first the office and then his home, which temporarily acted as a refuge for our staff until they all were evacuated across the river to safety. Throughout this ordeal, Jordan rose to the occasion, convincing the authorities to let us return to our gutted office to rummage through the ruins looking for material to salvage, particularly critical computer records. Having no home or office for the next seven weeks for Jordan was a challenge and an adventure.
In less than 2 months, after splitting the staff into groups working out of ten different offices, generously provided to us by other architects, we were back in business in a new and finer space at the edge of the Meat Packing District. Over the next few years, Jordan returned to the Middle East, particularly to Dubai, for which he had great enthusiasm. He always loved the idea of taking on new challenges, just as the accomplished skier and sailor that he was. His continued interest in New Jersey with projects in Newark and Hoboken, a Ferry Terminal in Weehawken, and El Museo Del Barrio on 5th Avenue, replaced his travels.
His final and most difficult challenge was faced with the same upbeat attitude with which he lived his life. Knowing that his days were numbered, he focused on his summerhouse under construction in Amagansett. Just days before he died, he visited the house with his wife Lee and his family. He showed us around, pointed out unusual details, and expressed the delight of an architect surveying his project and envisioning the final product. The completed house he will never see, but the optimism with which he lived his life is there for all of us to take note and learn from.
Six months after the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) opened the revamped OLIN-designed Fifth Avenue Plaza (David H. Koch Plaza), the institution announced its decision to hire British architect David Chipperfield to redesign its Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art. Renderings have yet to be released, but the larger scope of the project includes increasing gallery space for the collection, doubling the size of the Roof Garden, adding on-site storage, and improving wayfinding and accessibility to and from Central Park. The renovation may also extend to the adjacent galleries for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. This project, along with the Fifth Avenue Plaza, marks the first phase of a larger plan, dubbed “Building the MET of the Future,” developed with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners.
“The goal in our work with David and his team is to take a giant leap forward in the presentation of modern and contemporary art at the Met within the broader context of our collections across different cultures and more than 5,000 years of history, and to be able to better tell the multiple narratives of the art of our time,” said Thomas P. Campbell, MET director and CEO, in a statement.
Chipperfield was chosen following a yearlong selection process. The architect is known for his impressive museum work, which includes the rehabilitation of the Neues Museum in Berlin and the new Museo Jumex in Mexico City, housing the largest private art collection in Latin America.
“David Chipperfield’s global architectural experience and sensibility, along with his commitment to the collaborative aspect of creating architecture, make him a perfect partner on this milestone project,” added Campbell.
The project buoys the MET’s greater mission to broaden its contemporary art programming. In February, a substantial gift from donors established two new curatorships in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, to support the museum’s expansion into the now vacant and former home of the Whitney at 945 Madison Avenue. (Beatrice Galilee assumed the new Daniel Bordsky Associate Curator of Architecture and Design last year.) Its residency at the landmarked Marcel Breuer-designed building will commence in 2016 with a show called Unfinished.
Planning for the Southwest Wing is already underway, but will first have to undergo an extensive review process with the city and community and obtain approvals before breaking ground.
Since Henry Smith-Miller and Laurie Hawkinson founded the firm in 1982, and were joined in 2005 by Christian Uhl, they collectively have produced private and public architectural projects of the highest design quality. In a city like New York, where corporate firms and international brand names get most the large glamorous projects, it is easy to forget how good our own homegrown studios can be. The firm’s principles are role models of how to practice as professionals and stay involved in public debates and education. Both Smith-Miller and Hawkinson teach at major design schools in the Northeast and are committed to focusing the firm on institutional and government projects of the highest quality. Collectively they have remained engaged with contemporary culture.
But commitment to these issues is even more meaningful because the work coming from their design studio has proven to be carefully planned and executed. In all of their projects, they thoughtfully address the program and needs of the clients, but it is their meticulous attention to detail, from site placement (as demonstrated with their Second Dune Project) to the formal massing of their Corning Glass Studios that sets them apart from other designers. This fastidious approach is evident in every aspect of their work, including such features as the doors and handrails, which provide a more tactile experience of space.
The firm’s small office staff occupies one of the most charming old spaces left in Soho, whose snug layout encourages dialogue and fosters collaboration. They, unlike many firms in New York of their generation, have successfully completed projects in the city, but the bulk of their work is in other locales, from Upstate New York to California.
Second Dune House
East Hampton, New York
This 5,400-square-foot Long Island guesthouse is embedded into the second row of dunes back from the Atlantic Ocean—a ridge known as “Second Dune”—a strategically safer location than the volatile oceanfront. The ridge’s east-west orientation demanded a different plan from the traditional “Villa in the Park” estate. The first floor slips into the ridge and cascades down its southern slope with an outdoor terrace bookended by two outdoor pools and courts. Splayed first floor piers support a folded concrete plate green roof, with a terrace that offers second level outdoor space accessible by an outdoor stair.
Wilce Student Health Center
This 4,500-square-foot addition to the Wilce Student Health Center is located on the pedestrian West Mall of Ohio State University and is meant to accommodate a growing student population. A new textural precast facade, carefully developed in SMH’s studio, mimics the original building—a 1960s Marcel Breuer-type precast concrete construction. A rooftop terrace allows students and faculty to overlook the West Mall, creating social space for the medical facility.
Zerega Avenue EMS Station #3
Bronx, New York
EMS Station #3 is the first to implement the FDNY’s new comprehensive EMS program, improving response capability with more vehicles, staff, and support spaces for New York City. With a green roof landscape by Scape/ Landscape Architecture as a fifth facade for the adjacent Castle Hill Housing Towers, the design introduces FDNY vehicles into the neighborhood along with sustainable solutions, including reduced storm water, porous paving, captured storm water reuse, natural ventilation, and daylighting. Ventilation at the top of the mezzanine space takes advantage of prevailing winds that can be drawn through the garage doors to cool the space and dry wet equipment.
Hot Glass Theater, Corning Museum of Glass
Corning, New York
Smith-Miller + Hawkinson designed the Corning Museum of Glass, which opened in 2001. In 2012, Corning requested the original enclosed digital theater be retrofitted to accommodate the Hot Glass Show for 150 viewers. By opening the theater to the surrounding spaces, including the lobby, café, and landscape, the spectacle of glass blowing is visible to the entire museum. The project includes the design of all the glass blowing apparatuses as well as a custom ventilated stage and new seating. The space is designed with foamed aluminum panels to disperse heat and dampen sound, while lighting and digital displays are choreographed to respond to the artist’s production of glass objects.
In her prologue for Building Seagram Phyllis Lambert begins with a question: “How could Philip Johnson ever have dreamed of being the partner of Mies van der Rohe? Why would my father [Samuel Bronfman, CEO of the Seagram Company] have placed me, without managerial or professional experience, in the position of selecting the architect for the Seagram building? And why would he have agreed to my appointment as director of planning for the building?”
In the years that followed the completion of Seagram, Lambert was to become a distinguished architectural historian, an effective preservationist, and a leading philanthropist. In 1963 she earned a degree from the School of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, on the campus designed and built by Mies. By then, however, Mies no longer taught there, but his influence prevailed. Later, after achieving a license to practice, she was to become architect and planner for other family related projects. In the summer of 1954, however, her credentials were understandably few. Only 27-years old, a 1948 graduate of Vassar, and recently divorced from a French banker after a 5-year marriage, she was living in Paris, working as a sculptor.
In June of that year she received from her father a sketch by Pereira & Luckman, an architecture and planning firm in Los Angeles. It was an image depicting the basic design theme for Seagram on the site finally chosen—Park Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd opposite the Racquet and Tennis Club and Lever House. With the hapless desire to please his daughter, Bronfman described the design as “Renaissance Modernized” recalling the visit they had once made together to the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. “I found it horrifying,” Lambert writes.
She promptly sent an eight-page closely typed letter with marginal notes in her own hand to “Dearest Daddy,” in the hope of making him aware of his folly and begging him to abandon the Luckman plan. It is a remarkable document, a facsimile of which is reproduced in full in an appendix of her book. A noteworthy paragraph lectures her eminent parent on the ethics of building. “You must put up a building which expresses the best of the society in which you live, and at the same time your hopes for the betterment of this society. You have a great responsibility and your building is not only for the people of your companies, it is much more for all people, in New York and the rest of the world.” As the story goes, her letter by itself left him unmoved. He responded with a telephone call suggesting that she come home to choose the marble for the ground floor of the Luckman building that, in spite of her, he soon intended to construct. Her mother, believing that “Daddy” simply wanted her to come home from Paris, suggested he invite her to New York to possibly be of some real help. Lambert, however, explains, “It was the fire and conviction with which I wrote of the importance of the role of architecture in society and my belief that my father really wanted a great building that must ultimately have engaged his attention at a moment when the business-as-usual procedures that Seagram executives and professionals were applying to the project could hardly have galvanized him.”
Lambert believed herself to be living in an era when “the greatest contemporary architects, who were equal to those of the Renaissance were still alive.” She soon chose to come to New York to begin a comprehensive search to find the right genius for Seagram. Lou R. Crandall, president of George A. Fuller Company, the construction firm that had been chosen by Bronfman to build the yet to be fully designed skyscraper, had the intelligence to intervene in Lambert’s behalf. He persuaded her father that his daughter’s knowledge of architecture made her the ideal leader for this effort. He joined her and Philip Johnson in a six-week period during which the three visited the offices and significant completed work of Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, I.M. Pei, Paul Rudolph, Eero Saarinen, SOM, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Minoru Yamasaki, among others. Johnson, known for the Glass House and Brick Guest House on his estate in New Canaan, was about to leave his post as curator of architecture at MoMA to develop his practice, and as it turned out had been spending his time well with Lambert and Crandall.
Their criterion was first aesthetic, then pragmatic. To be chosen was a creative and inventive architect whose strengths Lambert would come to understand and approve, if she hadn’t already. Ideally there would be a built urban skyscraper or two in his portfolio. Nevertheless, although manifestly successful, he must not be overburdened by major projects at the moment. Mies met every measure including a very important one—he shared Lambert’s conception of the ethics of building and the meaning of form. She quotes him, “Form is not the aim of our work, but only the result,” and adds that in 1922 he stated, “We should develop the new forms from the very nature of the new problems.”
Crandall, without whom Lambert might never have prevailed, favored Mies because working with him would be “do-able.” It was widely known that Le Corbusier, though the boldest vanguard choice, would be anything but. Lambert writes,” When Mies met my father at his apartment in New York (the conversation was facilitated by the presence of my mother and Philip Johnson, who both spoke German), they took each other’s measure with genuine respect.” After the selection of Mies, Crandall was highly influential in the formation of the Seagram design and construction team. It was he who suggested that Johnson and Mies become associated on the project. Mies then offered Johnson a partnership for the work in gratitude for the more than 25 years that the younger architect and curator had critically supported his architecture. On December 1, 1954, five months after her famous letter to “Daddy,” Crandall named Lambert director of planning. Design began, the site was cleared, and construction promptly followed. The official designation of the Seagram building as complete occurred on September 29, 1959.
Lambert’s 306-page book is a straightforward account of what it was like to hold the power of client during the years of building Seagram, but it is ever so much more than that. The new skyscraper had become a great financial success. The company occupied 128,387 square feet of the space and the rest was filled with tenants paying among the highest office rents in New York City. Because Seagram no longer dominated the distillery industry, and there were other incentives, by 1976 her brother, Edgar M. Bronfman, who succeeded his father as CEO, began to consider selling the building (the senior Bronfman had died in 1971). In February 1980 the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America bought it. As the major tenant Seagram could and did establish controls over the building’s future architectural life. Thus began Lambert’s long and successful battle to get the tower, the plaza, and the Four Seasons Restaurant established as a New York City landmark in 1989.
In the book’s epilogue “Changing Hands” Lambert gives an unflinching account of the end of her family’s connection to Seagram. Edgar Bronfman had been selling the family’s liquor businesses to competitors, thereby enabling him to buy media and entertainment companies. These investments were failing. By 2002 Seagram no longer existed as a business because all its assets were gone, which was followed by its departure from the splendid building Mies created 43 years before. Yet, thanks to Lambert’s intensive efforts it is safely landmarked and remains an unforgettable presence in the city. But sadly, Seagram doesn’t live there anymore, except in Lambert’s honest and comprehensive book.
Ours is a strange profession. On one hand we fancy ourselves to be on the forefront of technology, using cutting edge 3D modeling to design and BIM to build. On the other we romantically cling to the feudal method of prolonged apprenticeships where wisdom is personally disseminated from master to disciple in the laborious process of initiating the next generation into the architectural guild. It begins in school with the studio system where the desk crit is sacred and reigns supreme. And that is how I met Harry Seidler.
Under any other circumstances, our paths would likely never have crossed. He is of a different era and lived at the opposite end of the planet. Since Australia was so far removed physically from the East Coast, pretty much everybody in our neck of the woods at our level was totally unfamiliar with his work even though he had actually just won the Royal Australia Institute of Architects Gold Medal prior to getting on the plane. Harry Seidler was returning to a Harvard where the pure Modernism he preached was falling out of favor and the school was transitioning into what would become Post Modernism. Harry’s experience there as a student was so transformative in his life that it occupied a hallowed place; he really wanted to recreate the aura of the Harvard he remembered. He reached out to the students. And so we became the audience for his insights and memories.
In the architectural fraternity, there are barely six degrees of separation, allowing you to claim relationships that are at least one or two steps removed. You couldn’t actually work for Aalto, but you could know someone who had. And there was Harry who could talk about drafting Baker House, his time in Breuer’s office and of collaborating with Nervi as his structural engineer. Well, no longer were we lowly little students. We began to see ourselves as part of this grand architectural tradition.
Max Dupain; John Gollings
No good deed goes unpunished. Needless to say, just out of school, when there were no architectural jobs to be readily had, it seemed like an excellent time to make a grand tour. So, off I went to Sydney. Not only did Harry spend a week with me and take me to visit most of his buildings, but I got to sleep in the guest room in the house at Killara. It was probably the first time in my life I saw world-class art that wasn’t in a museum and began to appreciate that the pictures on the wall could create a dialog with the architecture that surrounded them. It was breathtaking and eye opening at the same time.
He was born in 1923 into an upper middle class Jewish family in Vienna. With the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s he and his older brother were sent to boarding school in England. When the war broke out a couple of years later, the two teenagers were interred as enemy aliens first in England and then in Canada with the result that Harry didn’t see the rest of his family again till the war was over. The Canadians had a program that would pay for free education if you were under 21. It got Harry out of the interment camp in 1941 and into the University of Manitoba, but didn’t help his brother. He studied engineering, which gave him a strong technical background.
Harry discovered the Bauhaus and decided to go to Harvard where Gropius and Breuer had landed. His timing was off and he missed the admission process, but ended up being specially accepted on a full scholarship to the Master Program by Gropius as one of the most “talented students of his class.” And what a class it was. All through his life he would begin his slide show with a picture of his fellow classmates. There was Gropius, Franzen, I.M. Pei, circulating among the dozen students. Star pupils are often hired by their teachers; when Breuer decided to open an architectural office in New York his first employee was his former teaching assistant, Harry Seidler fresh off a year at Black Mountain College where he had completed his education with Albers.
Eric Sierins; John Gollings
Meanwhile his mother and the rest of his family had immigrated to Australia. She hadn’t seen him in years and began writing him letters begging him to come and visit. He really didn’t want to leave because he had a fabulous job. So, the letters became progressively more enticing until she invited him to build her a house in Sydney. Even then, he played hard to get, but agreed to do so if she would agree that he could stop off in Brazil for a short apprenticeship in the office of Oscar Niemeyer. She agreed. He got to Australia in 1948; the initial plan was to only stay till the house was completed.
The house he built for her bears more than a striking resemblance to the ones that he was working on for Breuer, especially the never built Marion Thompson house. The Rose Seidler House effectively brought modern architecture to Australia. Everything about it was innovative from the plan to the materials to the furniture; much of it had to be imported. Nothing like it had ever been seen in Sydney before; instantly it became an icon. Not only was it widely published in architectural journals, but it became the backdrop for photo shoots for clothing, cars, or anything modern. It led to a series of houses.
Here are all the ingredients for his future career: a world-class education, a network of international connections, a deep understanding of structure, the integration of art and architecture, and very supportive clients. It is no wonder that in short order he became Australia’s most famous architect. He didn’t disappoint. He was all of 26, in fact, when Breuer invited him to set up an office in Los Angeles three years later. He was much too busy.
After the houses, his next major building was Australia Square, which, when it was completed in 1967, became the tallest lightweight concrete building in the world. Nervi was its structural engineer and the pair went on to collaborate on many projects. In the end, Seidler built over 180 buildings, mainly in Australia but also in Vienna and Hong Kong before he died in 2006. Over the course of his 60-year career at least a dozen monographs on his work were written by Chris Abel, Philip Drew, Kenneth Frampton, and Peter Blake, among others. What makes this one different is that it tells a bigger and different story.
Vladimir Beglogolovsky, who wrote the book and curated the accompanying travelling exhibition, was introduced to Harry Seidler’s work after Harry died. So his perspective is strictly historical and curatorial. Because he came in after the fact, he approached it from outside. His story is a little different than the man I thought I knew. The insights and the way things are framed add a level of richness to Harry’s work that I hadn’t appreciated.
He rightfully reached out to some of the people Harry knew and worked with to capture the flavor of his life and some of the people who impacted it. So there are pieces by Norman Foster, by Oscar Niemeyer, by Kenneth Frampton. There are also interviews with some of the artists who collaborated with Harry, such as Norman Carlberg, Lin Utzon, and Frank Stella, and some of the people who played a major role in his life, such as his wife Penelope. They are absolutely wonderful because you can listen to her reminisce about her marriage, the commissions, and some of the development of the buildings. It makes him and them come alive.
The book was designed by Massimo Vignelli, which is fitting as they were friends and collaborators. Its layout is very elegant and simple. The photos are absolutely gorgeous. In a pre-Photoshop world, nothing is out of place. Every picture beautifully composed; the skies are blue, buildings are white, and the sculptures are in primary colors. The earlier black and white images are stunning too. Harry loved photography and took many pictures when he traveled with his Leica, and he traveled widely. Taschen even published a book of them in 2003, The Grand Tour, which Vignelli also designed.
When architects want to find out about buildings, they generally turn to the web rather than sifting through a “coffee table” book about someone’s work. Book sales have plummeted accordingly. The architectural monograph has become a rite of passage for the architect with pretentions, conferring gravitas and a level of significance on the work, whether deserving or otherwise. It is touted as a marketing vehicle as much as a critical one with the consequence that architects tend to take matters into their own hands, and often self-publish them to control the message. The accompanying writing veers between the hopelessly dense or virtually nonexistent and the resultant books become quite one-dimensional. One tends to forget how powerful a good monograph about a strong body of work can actually be and how it can tell an amazing story about an incredible person who played a significant role in the development of Modern Architecture that transcends its time and place.