Search results for "Paul Goldberger"

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Cincinnati Hosting Symposium on Preserving Modern Architecture in the Midwest
Cincinnati's 1938 Frederick and Harriet Rauh House by architect John Becker is a success story of preserving modern architecture. The house was nearly demolished for a McMansion several years ago, but the Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) initiated a restoration project in September 2011 and the revolutionary International Style abode is now complete after just over a year of renovation. The CPA will celebrate the renewal of the Rauh House by hosting a two-day symposium, “Preserving Modern Architecture,” taking place on April 24 and 25. The first day of the symposium will focus on classifying the Modernist legacy and the forces that shape it while the second day will address conservation efforts by reviewing current preservation undertakings. The symposium examines case studies in Ohio and the Midwest, including discussions like, "What’s Worth Preserving? Identifying the Best of Midwestern Modern Architecture." Architecture critic Paul Goldberger will deliver a keynote lecture on "Public Awareness of the Early Modern Architecture and Preservation Implications." In the wake of the demise of Chicago's Prentice Women's Hospital, Preserving modern architecture has become everyday dialogue in the architecture world, and other structures such as the Edward Durell Stone-designed Upper West Side school making way for a luxury tower and the Edo Belli-designed Cuneo Memorial Hospital in Chicago may not survive the threat of demolition.
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Goldberger Sets Sail With Gehry and Lynn
Some recent tweeting by Paul Goldberger revealed that the Vanity Fair contributing editor had set sail off the coast of L.A. with architects/ seamen Frank Gehry and Greg Lynn. Broadcasting from FOGGY, Gehry’s Beneteau First 44.7 fiberglass sailboat, Goldberger sent out a rakish pic of Gehry at the wheel. (The name “FOGGY,” in case you couldn’t guess, it based on F.O.G., the maestro’s initials; the “O” stands for “Owen”). We hope to hear more about the voyage in an upcoming VF article and that the story involves pirates and lost treasure.
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Ada Louise Huxtable, 1921-2013
Ada Louise Huxtable, 1921-2012.
Garth Huxtable/Courtesy Landmarks 45

I first met Ada Louise Huxtable snickering gently over the latest irony. It was around 1994 at an event at the Museum of Modern Art. She was being rounded up with Paul Goldberger and Herbert Muschamp for an Augustinian age portrait snap of New York Times architecture critics. She was flattered but amused: in her opinion, the paper had done everything to get her off architecture criticism where her frank appraisals of developer greed were causing problems up the line. Later she told me, she wept with joy when getting the MacArthur grant in 1981 because it meant she could quit.

But we didn't really start to communicate until much later when she wrote to compliment me on an acid review in The Architect's Newspaper of an exhibition of Santiago Calatrava's strangely saccharine sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her nose for pretentious posturing was sharply honed, but her reporter instincts were even more precise. She wanted to know everything that was going on everywhere--in New York. It wasn't that she had no interest in the wider world of architecture, after all she was on the Pritzker Prize jury for years, but her inclination was to focus on what needed attention in the here and now across all boroughs. There was plenty of concentrated wealth, power plays, civic ambition, and glorious opportunity to mirror all the world.

We met for tea and gossip at her mini-penthouse on Park Avenue, an exquisitely beige aerie blending New York intellectual with Italian rationalism, which is to say books and beige marble. I tried to take mental notes on every historic moment in architecture she recalled in anecdote but soon quit as her own interests were in plumbing current events. And she was up to the minute tracking all the architecture blogs, emailing in the middle of the night with a far flung circle of friends offering the inside dope on this or that latest development.

As we worked together tag teaming stories for the Wall Street Journal, she wrote whatever story mattered most to her, and delegated those she couldn't visit personally to me via her beloved editor, Eric Gibson, who made sure that there was the best and easiest way for her to get to anything she did want to see. As a deadline writer myself, I could only marvel at the depth and breadth of her research; she never fell back on opinion alone. She tracked down every official description, back-room back story, engineer plan and planning department waiver before she even began to think or set finger to keyboard. Criticism without informed reporting annoyed her.

The personalities and doings of architects were not all that interesting to her either, except when they wrote her wounded letters with aggressive undertones. Those provided for hilarious anecdotes. But more and more often she spoke of Garth, her husband who died in 1989, and was the true love and ballast of her life. She recalled with unfaded delight how she came home one day with a Pulitzer Prize, the first ever given for distinguished criticism, and Garth handed her the trash to take out because that was her job.

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Raise the Roof?
Dougtowne / Flickr

When Paul Goldberger gave the Vincent Scully Prize lecture in mid-November at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., he was pressed, during a question and answer session, for his opinion on a hotly debated local matter: Should the “Height of Buildings Act,” which limits D.C. building heights to 90 feet on residential streets and 130 feet on commercial streets (160 feet along one stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue), be relaxed?

“Probably not a good idea,” Goldberger said, to considerable applause. “There’s something very nice about an American city in which you do not have skyscrapers.”

The Height Act, passed by Congress in 1910, following a public outcry over construction of the 12-story Cairo Hotel, came to be viewed as politically sacrosanct protection against over-development near the National Mall. But that changed last July, when U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, joined with D.C.’s non-voting congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to lead a hearing on the Height Act’s costs.

In early November, Issa and Norton announced a study of the act, by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the District of Columbia Office of Planning (OP), to focus on areas of federal government interest, including the topographic bowl of L’Enfant’s plan for the city.

The future of the Height Act has provoked intense argument among urbanists. Some argue that the limits restrict the supply of built space, driving up already-high D.C. rent prices. Others contend that D.C. isn’t as built-out as people assume.

Present for Goldberger’s talk was Harriet Tregoning, D.C. planning director, who will lead the District’s work on the study. Dismayed by Goldberger’s comments, she posted on Twitter: “Why [is the Height Act] framed always as this ‘limit vs. no limit’?” She added, by email: “The alternatives in reconsidering the federal interest in the height of buildings are not just to retain the current limits or eliminate height restrictions. In much of the city, we expect to continue to have a federal limit on building heights, albeit a possibly different or more varied limit.”

In other words, people shouldn’t worry that downtown Washington will become a skyscraper canyon if the Height Act is amended. Tregoning’s boss, Mayor Vincent Gray, has proposed relaxing the limits well outside the monumental core, across the Anacostia River, in Wards 7 and 8.

Because the Height Act is a federal law, changing it would not obviate the need for D.C.’s local government to change zoning to allow taller buildings.

Freedom to build tall could lure developers to the city’s poorer precincts. Others have proposed that building heights be raised along the already prosperous corridors of Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues, which climb hills hundreds of feet above the Mall.

Another complaint lodged against the Height Act is that it cramps the form of the city’s new buildings, giving D.C. architecture its boxy, squat appearance. Architect Shalom Baranes, who has designed countless District buildings, agrees with that assessment. The basic problem, he explains, is that to achieve the maximum density on a commercial site in D.C., architects must locate a building’s exterior walls at the site edges and have them rise vertically without interruption.

Raising the limit as little as 12 or 14 feet, Baranes believes, could allow more variety in massing. “Raising the height limit by one or two stories across the District would not adversely affect the city’s horizontal character,” Baranes wrote in an email, “but would allow buildings to have more variety three-dimensionally.”

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Prime Real Estate
Courtesy 16 Acres The Movie

16 Acres
Directed and edited by Richard Hankin, Written by Matt Kapp, and Produced by Mike Marcucci
www.16acresthemovie.com

On September 11, 2012, no politicians spoke at Ground Zero. That absence contrasted with 2011’s tenth “Tin” Anniversary event, when Michael Arad’s Memorial Plaza opened, with speeches by Presidents Obama and Bush, governors Christie and Cuomo, former mayor Giuliani, and former governors Pataki and DiFrancesco. What came next, however, was considerably less uplifting: the freezing of funds for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, marking the continued dysfunctional normal for the World Trade Center site, which has been rebuilding since the attack in 2001.

Now, after seeing the intelligent documentary 16 Acres, which opens with Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken,” we come to understand what is behind the saga of building at Ground Zero.

The film was shown at the Architecture & Design Film Festival, in New York in October. Our main guides through this feckless roundelay are two journalists, Philip Noble, author of Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero (2004), and Scott Raab, who has written about the site for Esquire since 2005. With a wicked sense of humor and resigned irony, these keen observers analyze and synthesize the actions, decisions, and motivations of a parade of characters. Interviewees include George Pataki, Larry Silverstein, Danny Libeskind, Roland Betts (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation-LMDC), Janno Lieber (WTC Properties), Kenneth Ringler (Port Authority), David Childs (SOM), Michael Bloomberg, Rosaleen Tallon (family member), Chris Ward (Port Authority), and Michael Arad.

 

It’s an impressive collection, but obvious omissions include Paul Goldberger, who wrote his own book, Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York, (2005) about the same subject; John C. Whitehead, chairman of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and chairman of LMDC; and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Telling this story in film brings these personalities and their motivations to vivid life and shows their true colors (Pataki as a political opportunist and obstructionist, Silverstein as a sometimes tone-deaf-but-earnest businessman). Then there are the made-for-the-camera, fig-leaf media events like the laying of a cornerstone on July 4, 2004 (an irrelevant act, as cornerstones are not used in modern skyscrapers). That event had been prompted by Pataki’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Convention.

Subsequently, the cornerstone’s siting drew objections from the New York Police Department as too vulnerable, and was moved. As a result, the Freedom Tower scheme had to be scrapped and redesigned. (The irrelevant cornerstone was finally removed and now sits behind the engravers’ headquarters on Long Island. Raab, meanwhile, fantasizes a scene of dumping the rock on Pataki’s front lawn, ringing the doorbell, and racing away as fast as possible.)

Along with fantasy, the film lets us steep ourselves in the site itself, via reminders of the fits and starts of building at Ground Zero, the alphabet soup of stakeholders, the complicated rebuilding efforts. In contrast, 7 World Trade, also designed by David Childs and sited directly across the street, involved only Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority and was completed in 2006.

After the destruction of the twin towers, an immense architecture and planning opportunity arose for the city on what Raab called “perhaps the most valuable 16 acres on the face of the earth…at the center of the cosmos and fair game.” But the ensuing saga can now be viewed only as a series of scrambled opportunities and mixed messages.

These skeins are effectively sorted out in this smart film. Nobel highlights that these yet-to-be-built office buildings were being asked to embody the nation’s collective response—defiant renewal, a symbol of vengeance, and a symbol of healing. But as Paul Goldberger said in his book, “The greatest conflict was not between those who wanted to build and those who wanted the site to remain empty but between those who saw the priority of new construction on the site as primarily commercial and those who saw it as primarily symbolic and cultural.” Rather than void the pre-existing agreement with the leaseholder and rethink the use of the 16 acres, the arrangement remained, thus dictating that the rebuilding utilize the equivalent space for the same designated purposes.

A prime example of the zig-zag trajectory is the competition for the master plan (largely interpreted as the design of buildings themselves), which turned out to be a charade. First, the LMDC, created by Pataki and Giuliani to oversee the rebuilding, chose a design by THINK (Shigeru Ban, Frederic Schwartz, Ken Smith, Rafael Vinoly). Pataki, however, disregarded the agency’s choice and instead selected Libeskind’s proposal.

Yet neither THINK nor Libeskind had the chance to realize their schemes, since leaseholder Larry Silverstein, who was paying for the rebuilding (as well as $10 million per month in rent to the Port Authority whether any buildings existed or not), wanted his own architect, David Childs. A shotgun marriage between Liebeskind and Childs didn’t work. Nobel tells the story of how SOM staff removed the large illuminated model of the Freedom Tower while it was being displayed at yet another Pataki press conference, this one at Federal Hall.

The last Libeskind remnant—a “stick on top,” reaching to the symbolic 1776 feet—was even lopped off as the model exited the hall, never to be seen again.

Michael Arad, who had to make his own compromises on the memorial, said, “It’s easy to think about all of the strife, all the disagreement, to focus on this didn’t go right, that didn’t go right…Actually, in the big picture, something did go right, really right.”

At present, four towers are in various stages of completion on the 16-acre site: 1 World Trade (no longer called the Freedom Tower), by David Childs; 2 World Trade, by Norman Foster; 3, by Richard Rogers; and 4, by Fumihiko Maki. As Philip Nobel said, “It’s an incredibly healthy thing that the city responded to September 11 in classic New York fashion by beating each other up, and grandstanding, and political manipulation. And you can say, ‘Oh, that’s awful,’ or you can say, ‘What a wonderful thing that New York healed this big wound with more New York.’” Let’s hope that it’s worth the wait.

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Giveaway> Tickets for Designers & Books Fair in Manhattan
This year is the first ever Designers & Books Fair in Manhattan and The Architect’s Newspaper is giving away two Exhibition Floor Tickets to one lucky reader to attend the event. The fair, presented by the Designers & Books website that reveals architects' favorite reads, runs from Friday, October 26 to 28 at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. The event will exhibit leading design book publishers and sellers from the United States and Europe along with discussions, interviews, and presentations from an international panel of designers including Todd Oldham, Hal Rubenstein, Michael Bierut, Steven Heller, Paul Goldberger, Tod Williams and Billy Tsien among others. There will also be rare and out-of-print book dealers, with up to 40 percent discounts, book signings, and demonstrations on calligraphy, letterpress printing, and bookbinding. To win a ticket, post a comment below with the title of your favorite architecture or design book. We'll choose a random winner Thursday at 1:00p.m. EST. For more information about the fair, the schedule, and to purchase exhibition floor or panel tickets, visit the Designers & Books’ website.
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A Call to Critical Arms
Paul Goldberger.
Courtesy National Building Museum

It’s been a dizzying year for readers who follow architecture critic Paul Goldberger. Recently deposed as architecture critic at The New Yorker, he quickly rebounded as a Vanity Fair contributing editor, giving the glossy additional gravitas. Now the National Building Museum has added Goldberger to its illustrious roster of Vincent Scully Prize winners. The award carries a purse of $40,000. “I don’t know that I’ll ever be on another list that includes Prince Charles and Jane Jacobs,” Goldberger told AN.

The first Scully award went to its namesake, Vincent Scully, professor emeritus of art history at Yale. In a statement, Goldberger recalled the influence Scully had on him at Yale: “In a very real way I owe my career to the lessons I learned from him, which is why, for me, there could be no higher honor than to receive the prize that carries his name.”

The Scully jury seems to have taken a shining to many a Yalie. Though awarded fourteen times—on occasion to multiple partner firms like Venturi Scott Brown Associates—sixteen individuals have taken home the prize. Eleven have some had some affiliation with the university. They’ve either gone there, taught there, or, in the case of the Aga Khan, given part of his award money to the institution. It’s a clubby little group with Goldberger himself having served on the Scully jury from 1999–2005.

The speech Goldberger plans to deliver at the museum on November 15 will no doubt stir the kind of applause that famously followed his mentor’s lectures at Yale. The address will hit on themes that many in the profession have been mulling over for the course of this tumultuous year in the architectural press: the state of architecture criticism, the changing role of mainstream media in a digital world, and the rise of citizen journalists.

“It’s a paradox about the great degree of interest in architecture and yet a diminishing amount of outlets,” Goldberger said, wondering out loud whether the buzz in social media is the equivalent of what is being lost in the general media. He added that it’s a complex issue when a mass of voices drown out the opinion of the specialist. “There is a profound value to expert guidance,” he said.

The very heart of his career is based on sharing architecture with a mass audience in an unpretentious manner, and Goldberger, an avid Tweeter, said he wouldn’t consider reversing course. “My whole life has been trying to communicate to a broader general audience—that’s the most important thing of all to me,” he said. “But I feel that things have gone too far—crowdsourcing doesn’t always bring you where you want to be.”

He paraphrased literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn’s belief that the critic’s first allegiance is to his subject and not his readers. “Democracy is a great thing but it doesn’t always lead to the best architectural decisions,” he said. “Committees can make things happen, but they can’t create works of art.”

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Picnics, Monuments & Memorials: Two Centuries on Two Blocks
Literally in the shadow of One World Trade is a memorial for September 11 that has been overrun by tourists since the days after the disaster. Its quiet dignity has been maintained, outlasting the dozens of hawkers who sold Twin Tower replicas just a few feet away. The memorial bears but one name, "Mary Wife of James Miles," who died on September 11, 1796. Today's New York Observer weighed in on the New York Post's claim that tourists are turning the September 11 Memorial into a glorified playground. "When the construction barriers finally come down, the lines will be gone, people will come and go as they please. They will pray and they will play, and that is how it should be," wrote the Observer's Matt Chaban. As the debate continues as to what constitutes appropriate behavior at the memorial, one need only walk one block east to take in two century's worth of history on how New Yorkers memorialize. Mary Miles's headstone sits in the churchyard of Trinity St. Paul's Chapel, which served as the de facto memorial while the official one was being built. Without overt police supervision the small parish took on the unenviable task of welcoming millions into its historic walls and grounds. Its open gates and churchyard oaks have greeted office workers, picnicking parents, and frolicking children alike. It's a clear example of what one hopes the memorial across the street will become. But the parish has a deep heritage of combining daily life with the act of memorializing. After all, the nation's first official monument, commemorating General Richard Montgomery, fronts the church facade. While churchyard cemeteries were once a familiar sight in American cities, the construction of Paris's Pére Lachaise in 1804 ushered in the era of the rural cemetery. In America, Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts opened in 1831, followed by Greenwood in Brooklyn in 1838. The pastoral landscapes acted as some of the country's first landscaped parks, where families often picnicked and played. By virtue of its location in one of the most densely populated area's in the world, the new memorial is anything but rural. But that doesn't preclude the notion of parkland that the memorial has the potential to encompass—even as city life continues amidst it. Decisions surrounding new World Trade Center were the result of a very democratic process, from the thousands of square feet of retail that are planned to abut the memorial below ground, to the swirl of pedestrian traffic above. Just last week, Paul Goldberger told AN, “Democracy is a great thing but it doesn’t always lead to the best architectural decisions.” A lot of voices were at play here. But if the history just one block east portends, when the construction and security barriers finally come down, the carnival atmosphere will dissipate and the memorial will eventually inhabit its rightful, respectful sense of place.
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Goldberger Discusses Themes for Scully Prize Speech
It's been quite a year for architecture critic Paul Goldberger, and almost as dizzying for his readers as for him. But the The New Yorker's loss has turned out to be Vanity Fair's gain, giving the glossy additional gravitas. Now the National Building Museum has added Goldberger to its illustrious roster of Vincent Scully Prize winners. "I don't know that I'll ever be on another list that includes Prince Charles and Jane Jacobs," Goldberger said in a telephone interview. The speech he plans to deliver at the museum on Thursday, November 15th will hit on themes that many in the profession have been mulling over for the course of this tumultuous year in the architectural press: the state of architecture criticism, the changing role of mainstream media in a digital world, and the rise of citizen journalists. "It's a paradox about the great degree of interest in architecture and yet a diminishing amount of outlets," he said, wondering out loud whether the buzz in social media is the equivalent of what is being lost in the general media. He added that it's a complex issue when a mass of voices drown out the opinion of the specialist. "There is a profound value to expert guidance," he said. The very heart of his career is based on sharing architecture with a mass audience in an unpretentious manner—and Goldberger, an avid Tweeter, said he wouldn't consider reversing course. "My whole life has been trying to communicate to a broader general audience; that's the most important thing of all to me," he said. "But I feel that things have gone too far—crowdsourcing doesn't always bring you where you want to be." He paraphrased literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn, saying the critic's first allegiance is to his subject and not his readers. "In other words he's not interested in crowd pleasing," he said.  Goldberger didn't shy away from addressing the fascistic dangers of applying the same theory to architecture as to criticism. Nevertheless, the tendency to crowdsource architecture, like crowdsourcing criticism, creates a cacophony, not a vision. "Democracy is a great thing but it doesn’t always lead to the best architectural decisions," he said. "Committees can make things happen, but they can't create works of art."

Criticism in Crisis? So What

An architect wrote to me recently in near anguish that architecture criticism is in crisis. The case seems pretty compelling:

In December, the website Slate rubbed out its architecture critic post filled by Witold Rybczynski. In March, The New Yorker gave the heave-ho to The Sky Line column established in 1931 by Lewis Mumford and for the past almost 15 years written by Paul Goldberger. And at the New York Times new architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, ten months on the job, rarely writes about individual buildings.. Anyone can write architecture criticism, says Alexandra Lange in her new book Writing About Architecture (reviewed for AN by Goldberger), but that may be just another way of saying that no one is currently doing so with real authority.

Is the media giving architecture the shaft? It certainly felt like it when former New York Times managing editor Bill Keller blogged with imperious condescension about architecture as “a genre that can be, at its worst, precious and narrow” where buildings are treated “as if they were gowns on the red carpet.” A whiff of hostility hovers as well over the controversy surrounding Frank Gehry's Eisenhower memorial design which should have been making slow progress from concept through revision towards realization but has been stopped in its tracks by compulsive and eagerly covered nit-picking with no sense of trust that Gehry has long since proved his abilities.

Recently Goldberger and I chatted about the media’s versus the public’s interest in architecture. Where the former seems soured on the subject, the latter seems more engaged than ever by the look of crowded community board meetings (often for NIMBY’s sake, sure, but true civic interest is also on abundant display), the proliferation of design-themed blogs and ample coverage on major sites such as the Huffington Post, and even Bjarke Ingels’s clips from the TED conferences that attract an average of half a million online viewers. The audience seems to be there, even if it is moving away from thoughtful consideration in the traditional sense and more in the direction of play-by-play commentary.

Still Goldberger and I have both had our share of experiences where editors—those easily distracted gatekeepers to readers—dismissed architecture coverage as so much insider baseball or acted suspicious of it as an extension of someone's marketing plan. Architects have not helped with over-complicated narratives that too often read like parodies of complexity rather than accurate representations of all the intricate forces that comprise building.

Perhaps it’s time to give formal criticism a rest. Remember that the last time architecture was a popular subject matter for public intellectuals was during the reign of postmodernism when Tom Wolfe among many others had a heyday reducing a moment of intense intellectual foment into a gong show.

Today again, architecture is at a moment of tremendous transformation when to be successful buildings must address a wider array of imperatives—social, financial, technical, sustainable, contextual—than ever. Patronage displays and destination building are a thing of the past. Even China emerged rather quickly from its fever dream of building to impress the world, while the latest Olympics in both London and Rio are stalwartly avoiding show-off structures in favor of lasting infrastructure.

Architecture criticism may no longer have important friends or fans in the general media. What better time for architecture commentary to find a new voice—not one that engages strictly with any one aspect, whether of form or social responsibility, but one that takes on the entire gamut.  Instead of bemoaning a crisis in criticism, architecture writers and also educators could start down that new path by focusing on plain writing making sure that it is as compelling, comprehensive, and clear as it can be. And for that there is always an urgent need for, as Mumford understood (even as he carped short-sightedly about the disappointments of Rockefeller Center), architecture remains an “index of civilization” well worth the widest possible attention.

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MoMA, Develop Don’t Destroy
American Folk Art Museum.
Dan Nguyen/Flickr

Every year, The Art Newspaper, the august art tabloid out of the U.K., publishes its data-crunching Exhibition & Museum Attendance Figures for museums around the world. And once again the Museum of Modern Art figured prominently in the top ten of multiple lists, including presenting three of the 20 most popular exhibitions for the year (the design show Talk to Me was in fact number 20) and standing at number three for total art museum attendance.

MoMA has long since proved its might in terms of establishing an agenda for art, and particularly architecture stretching from Philip Johnson’s groundbreaking International Style show of 1938 to Barry Bergdoll’s Rising Currents exhibition two years ago. And so it is paramount that MoMA use its considerable clout and weigh in decisively on the fate of the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM), now standing empty and engulfed on three sides by MoMA, the building itself to the east and property it owns and plans to develop with Gerald Hines on the west and north. MoMA, in fact, owns the AFAM building having bailed out the struggling institution last summer when it was forced to give up its flagship due to fiscal mismanagement and retreat to a second-floor gallery near Lincoln Center. It’s hard not to hear the licking of chops: Jean Nouvel’s supertall for the site currently works its way around and behind AFAM but it would surely make real estate sense to simply gulp it up.

AFAM, a small masterwork by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, two outstanding talents in contemporary architecture, is a delectable morsel—only 40 feet wide, its most remarkable feature is its facade of 63 cast panels of white bronze, a material common to propellers and fire hoses but never before used architecturally, textured like concrete, and faceted with subtle origami-like folds. In one stroke, the architecture tells the story of the institution’s key interests: material, craft and scale. On completion, it was awarded ARUP’s Best New Building in the World for 2001 and graced innumerable magazine covers around the world. It was the first new ground-up museum in New York in 30 years going back to Marcel Breuer’s Whitney; one might say AFAM breathed warm, sensual life into a poorly understood and too easily dismissed architectural voice, Brutalism.

Something has to be done to prevent the cannibalism of a small icon by an as yet to be built icon, if only to prove that contemporary architecture is not instantly disposable. In an impromptu conversation with a Hines vice president, I was told that the developer would as soon see the building erased from the site, but that Hines was waiting to hear from MoMA, noticeably silent on the subject. Tod Williams and Billie Tsien are also hanging fire. At a press conference for the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Williams spoke with anguish and concern about the fate of AFAM. He knows that New York real estate is a take-no-prisoners game, but he is still hopeful, noting that one of the museum’s floors aligns perfectly with one of MoMA’s. Williams said he, too, has heard from no one at MoMA.

There are compelling reasons for MoMA to come up with a solution and a way to incorporate at least the AFAM façade into the new tower that will be conjoined to the museum only at a few interior levels. Several expansions of the museum have all included the original 1939 Goodwin and Stone facade. That may have been about preserving legacy, but saving AFAM could be on message, too. In its materials—apart from the white bronze, there is bush-hammered concrete, cast resin, and salvaged timber on the inside— it speaks to a modern interest in texture and fabrication that MoMA has left largely unexplored, and that could contribute to the museum’s professed commitment to a wider understanding of modernism.

Paul Goldberger has suggested online that MoMA turn AFAM into a home for its director, something like Saarinen’s house for the director of Cranbrook. Surely MoMA can do better (Besides, Glen Lowry is already comfortably ensconced in the Museum Tower). At a time when MoMA is talking the talk of responsible treatment of quality resources and of architecture’s ability to solve complex problems, it should act accordingly and find a way to incorporate not destroy AFAM.

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Eyes Have It
Jeremy Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Alexandra Lange
Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95

Time was, if you were interested in becoming an architecture critic, you read the work of other critics, gleaned what you could from it, then set out to develop a voice of your own, a process that generally involved both imitating and contradicting your predecessors.  If you read any books that could be classified as architecture criticism they were almost surely collections of a single critic’s work that had been assembled between two covers as a hedge against the brief shelf life of newspaper and magazine articles in a pre-Internet age.

Now, you can take courses in architecture criticism, a development that probably says more about the upsurge of popular interest in architecture over the last generation than it does about any specific desire on the part of students to join this miniscule profession. But still, the demand is sufficient to keep Alexandra Lange busy teaching architecture criticism at not one but two institutions, New York University and the School of Visual Arts. (I teach an architecture criticism course myself at Parsons The New School for Design, so I suppose we could say that downtown Manhattan is architecture criticism’s educational epicenter.)

So it should not be that much of a surprise that Lange has written a different kind of architecture criticism book, not an anthology of her own or any other single critic’s writing, but what amounts to a textbook. Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities is a how-to book for a profession that has never, so far as I know, had one before. It is based roughly on Lange’s course, and it is organized around six significant pieces of writing (appearing in full) that she believes have particular value as object lessons.

 
Marcel Breuer's Whitney Museum.
 

Lange selected some of my favorite pieces of writing to use as her paradigms, including Charles Moore’s essay of 1965, “You Have to Pay for the Public Life,” which might be called the beginning of the important academic discipline of Disneyland Studies, and which for me ranks as one of the seminal works of architecture criticism of the second half of the twentieth century. There is also a pair of excerpts from Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, the book that set in motion nothing short of a sea change in its field. Lange also devotes chapters to typical, but absolutely first-rate, journalism in the form of reviews by Lewis Mumford on Lever House, by Ada Louise Huxtable on the 140 Broadway skyscraper and by Michael Sorkin on Michael Graves’ ill-fated plan to expand the Whitney Museum. She focuses another chapter on Herbert Muschamp’s remarkable, intensely personal essay on Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; and one to a paper by Frederick Law Olmsted, “Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns,” from 1870, as a way of bringing landscape architecture into a broader discussion of urban public space.

With Mumford, Huxtable, Jacobs, and Olmsted, Lange is giving us what we might call the canon of architecture criticism. I might have tossed a bit of the late-nineteenth century critic Montgomery Schuyler into the mix; though his writing wasn’t exactly breezy—he was to architecture criticism as Henry James was to the novel—Schuyler pretty much invented the notion of architecture criticism as a part of journalism. He was a key early advocate of the skyscraper, a subject Lange devotes two of her chapters to, so it’s odd to see him not even make the index. She does refer to a number of other critics in the essays sandwiched between the major texts (Full disclosure: I am one of them, and my review of Norman Foster’s Hearst Building is contrasted with other skyscraper reviews) and so the book is by no means limited to her six anointed authors. But neither will it give you a broad sample of either contemporary or historic architecture criticism.

Writing About Architecture is what it says it is: a how-to book. Lange analyzes her key texts with great care and perceptiveness, and happily she is wide ranging in her taste. She seems as comfortable explaining Muschamp’s intensely idiosyncratic criticism as Sorkin’s indignant yet elegant and erudite rants, and she discusses them both with sympathy and intelligence. At the end of the day her heart clearly belongs to Ada Louise Huxtable, but then again, what architecture critic’s doesn’t?

If there is a problem with this book, it emerges out of the limits of the textbook genre, which seems inevitably to encourage authors to classify and categorize. Lange declares Sorkin an activist critic and Muschamp an “experiential” one. She says that Huxtable and Mumford are focused primarily on “the form of the artifact,” and that yours truly organizes reviews “the man, not the building.” That may be a fair enough conclusion to reach from the pieces she cites, but none of the critics Lange discusses in detail can, or should, be pigeonholed. Huxtable is an activist critic and an experiential critic; she is also a critic who uses history, and a critic who writes with an awareness of social, political, physical, cultural and personal context. Sorkin is more than an activist critic, Muschamp was more than an essayist about private architectural experience. And so on.

Lange is too smart not to know this. And she’s too good a writer to truly believe that other good writers can be put into simple categories. (The study questions that follow each chapter are also well meaning but cause her clear essays to conclude with a thud, as if they weren’t lively commentaries but lead-ins to homework assignments.)

Lange understands that the purpose of writing about architecture is to build a constituency for better design, to help people see, to help them feel some agency over the built environment—and to help them take joy in architecture’s great moments. She’s good at doing that herself, and this book will help others do it, too.