Search results for "Paul Goldberger"

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.

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West Side, Ho!
FXFOWLE's rendering of the renovated Javits transformed, transparent, and integrated into the West Side.
Courtesy FXFOWLE

After years of politics and planning, community building, false starts, and new beginnings, the transformation of the far West Side in the 30s is underway, but details are only now coming into focus. AN examines three aspects of ongoing development that have the potential to make all the difference—the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center; Section 3 of the High Line; and the Hudson Park and Boulevard.

Second Life for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s January 4 State of the State message included welcome news for West Siders who dream of a day when the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center no longer dominates their neighborhood. A proposal to replace the 1986-vintage, 1.37-million-square-foot hall with a 3.8-million-square-foot facility in Queens wasn’t buried in the details of Cuomo’s address: It was front and center, the first item in his economic blueprint, promising jobs, tourist dollars, and, for the West Side, $2 billion in potential private-sector development along the Battery Park City model—minus the Javits.

It all sounded grand, except that it echoes the same expectations that gave rise to the convention center in the first place when it was expected to generate 16,000 permanent jobs, $38 million in city taxes, and some $832 million in revenues to the city. And while, two years after opening, it brought in $988 million, according to a report published in The New York Times, it remained a crystalline white elephant blocking integrated urban development on the far West Side.

The Javits was conceived by Governor Hugh Carey’s administration with the highest hopes and with the best talent brought to bear. James Ingo Freed of I. M. Pei & Partners (later Pei Cobb Freed & Partners) envisioned it as a 20th-century crystal palace where, according to firm descriptions, “the play of solidity and transparency in which the vast interior, flooded with natural light, combines indoor and outdoor views” makes the space, with its glass vestibule soaring as high as 150 feet, “a covered city square” rather than the industry-standard remote, windowless mega-box.

A vision of connecting to the waterfront with a retail and restaurant-lined galleria running from east to west and engaging the local population was never realized. Shortly before it opened, Paul Goldberger wrote in the Times of its contradictory nature, describing the exterior glass as forbidding and the use of concrete within as excessively heavy. “It seems to call at once for a Boeing 747 and for a string quartet,” he wrote.

A rendering of the interior of the Javits (left) and details showing New glass panels with larger dimensions allowing for less metal and no pillowing.

Apart from political penny-pinching and neglected maintenance, Freed’s design was also a victim of bad timing in several respects. In the 1980s, the waterfront was in an apparently irreversible state of dereliction, prompting the architects to turn the building’s back on the river. It faced limited material choices, too, according to FXFOWLE principal Bruce Fowle, whose firm is now partnering with Chicago convention specialists Epstein and an all-star engineering team on the convention center’s current $463 million renovation. Pei & Partners initially specified a reflective glass (also used in Boston’s Hancock Tower), which would have brightened the appearance. “When that suddenly went off the market, they had to change it to the best-performing glass they could find, which was dark bronze with a very reflective coating,” Fowle recalled. “Any hope of transparency in the building from outside was lost.” Since 1980s’ glass was less flat than today’s, he added, “each pane was pillowed, in effect, so you don’t really see a very pure reflection; it’s a quilted look.”

Inside, leaks were a problem, necessitating tarpaulin “diapers” with hoses hung from the ceiling to direct rainwater into barrels. Keeping the glass clean was also a challenge: Fowle noted that the “interior system of gantries and elevators [was] abandoned at least 20 years ago.”

However, Freed’s futuristic space frame is surprisingly well preserved, said Tian-Fang Jing, a principal of Weidlinger Associates (structural engineers on both the original job and the renovation). Fast-track scheduling left the original supplier of the casting nodes unable to maintain quality control, but cracked ones were later replaced by Japanese forged-steel nodes, which remain sound.

Now that the materials and technologies are available to complete what Freed and Pei started, Fowle believes that the building’s strengths outweigh its acknowledged limitations. The new Javits has a higher-performing curtain wall of flat, transparent, bird-safe fritted glass (Viracon VNE1-63) in 5-by-10-foot modules, not 5-by-5-foot ones (meaning less metal and a more open feel), with scaffolding and rolling gantries to ease maintenance. It will also be 26 percent more energy efficient, with a 6.75-acre green roof and high-performance rooftop HVAC units. Improved waterproofing using perforated acoustic decking to reduce corrosion, plus stormwater absorption by the green roof, a light variety with regional succulents planted in 1½-inch soil (easily supported by reserve load-bearing capacity, Jing said, since the frame’s design was more conservative than the code specified), ensures that the reborn Javits should be diaper-free. “This building’s already been standing there for more than 25 years” despite rampant water damage, Jing concluded, “so another 25 years shouldn’t [be] any problem.”

Aerial view of the West Side, today, with undeveloped Hudson Yards at bottom, Javits center at left, and spaghetti strands of the Lincoln Tunnel access roads to the right.
Courtesy Google Maps

Given the position that the casino developer Genting is taking on guarantees connected to the proposed convention center in Queens, replacing the Javits may well take a quarter of a century. In the meantime, advocates of its removal are wringing their hands in anticipation. The Regional Plan Association (RPA), the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA), members of Community Board 4, and others have bruited various plans that sell off or demolish the Javits superblock. A 1999 proposal by the Design Trust for Public Space and HKNA, published in 2002 as Hell’s Kitchen South: Developing Strategies, envisioned a relatively small-scale neighborhood with waterfront access, a repurposed multi-use Pier 76, and an expanded Hudson River Park. Take the Javits out of the mix, suggested HKNA-affiliated architect Meta Brunzema, and “there’s an opportunity to create a really great open-space network that will tie into the High Line.”

“It’s fairly clear that the highest and best use for the land Javits sits upon is not Javits,” observed Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of Columbia’s real estate development program and partner at SHoP Architects. A new mixed-use neighborhood restoring the street grid and waterfront access “would transform not just the Javits site but some 60 or 70 blocks of west Midtown,”perhaps breaking the logjam of Hudson Yards, Moynihan Station, and other projects. An outer-borough convention center is a separate riddle, contingent on high-speed rail access.

“To be fair to all of the businesses and hoteliers that have come to rely on the business that flows from the Javits, you need to have some sort of smaller but significant conferencing facility in Manhattan,” Chakrabarti added, noting that the RPA’s suggested site, Farley Annex, is plausible. “None of these ideas are going to happen tomorrow, and money is needed to be spent at Javits to simply maintain the facility and keep it operating, so the mid- to long-term planning exercise of where our convention center belongs shouldn’t get tied up with the short-term needs of fixing the existing facility. But at the end of the day, it’s simply no longer the right spot for a convention center. The land is simply too important, not just in terms of economic value but social value.”

As its neighborhood sprouts new attractions, the era of an isolated, pedestrian-unfriendly Javits may be ending; a reevaluation may be in order. “People still think it’s the old Darth Vader building,” Fowle said. “That’s a mindset that they have, and until people see it, it’s not going to change.”

Frequent AN contributor William Millard last wrote about constructing the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

One of three options for the 10th Avenue Spur entails hydraulic platforms and benches that can flatten to create a maneuverable event space.
Courtesy Friends of the High Line

The private side of section three of the High Line

While unveiling the latest High Line designs by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) to the community on March 13, principal James Corner plucked a phrase from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, calling the latest venture a “brave new world.” Unlike the last two sections, which are surrounded by multiple property owners, Section 3 wraps around one massive project, Related Properties’ Hudson Yards. With a hint of anticipation at the stakes of the public/private partnership, Propero’s quote concludes, “Gentle breath of yours my sail must fill, or else my project fails.”

While plans for Section 3 keep operations, design, and ownership separate from Related’s project, the new section still resembles something of a public/private lovechild in that the private developer is ponying up about a third of the funds needed to develop the public park. “We never wanted High Line to become part of the Hudson Yards opens space,” admitted Friends of the High Line co-founder Robert Hammond. “We wanted it to maintain a separate identity.”

The Hudson Yard site stretches from 30th to 33rd streets and from 10th Avenue to the West Side Highway. Related will build a platform and lease the space above the MTA-owned yard where the LIRR runs. Eleventh Avenue divides the site into the Eastern Rail Yard (EYR) and the Western Rail Yard. The west yard was zoned with the High Line view corridors in mind, but EYR was zoned in pre-High Line 2005. On March 14, City Planning held a public hearing for a text amendment to rezone the EYR, pegging financing and maintenance for the park to Related’s project and integrating their open-space bonus requirements traded for height increases in two towers ranging from 56 to 68 stories.

A winding staircase leads from the sidewalk to the third segment of the High Line (left). An interim walkway will run over the last stretch of a self-seeding High Line overlooking the Western Rail Yard (right).

For the northeast corner of 11th and 30th streets, DS+R are also designing an 800-foot-tall residential tower for Related. The firm is already working on a city-owned performance space called the Culture Shed next door. At the junction where the southern section of the High Line meets Section 3, steps will lead up to a large privately-owned public plaza (one of five large POPS) that will open onto the EYR. Related has yet to announce the plaza’s designer.

The High Line junction casts an offshoot forking a half a block farther to the east. There, the park will cut through the Kohn Pederson Fox–designed Coach building (named for its anchor tenant). A 60-foot-high opening in the building will span the High Line, due to a zoning amendment not available to new construction along the southern section. “It’s a careful act to allow the High Line to run through that building,” Corner said. “We worked quite hard to keep them separate; [the High Line] never bleeds seamlessly into any building.” While different from anything on the southern section, this stretch acts, Corner said, “almost like an edge or a balcony” to the Related project, rather “than a path cutting through fabric.”

The High Line cuts through a 60-foot-high opening in the KPF-designed Coach building, providing a public balcony for Related’s private development.

The east-running branch dead ends in an oddly shaped platform floating above the intersection of 10th Avenue and 30th Street, called the 10th Avenue Spur. There, the designers have presented three options: a covered pavilion, a theater in the round, or hydraulic platforms/ benches that can flatten to create a maneuverable event space. Likewise, the Coach tower overhang area features wheeled lounges that can be rolled out of the way for parties.

While the deal allows Related to fulfill its open-space obligations, the High Line remains city-owned, to be maintained by Friends of the High Line with financial support from Related. Related’s overall open space commitment to the EYR will be more than 313,000 square feet on the 570,000-square-foot site—with the section along the EYR fulfilling 11 percent of its total requirements. If Related chooses to kick in an additional $7.4 million toward the Spur, its open space percentage coverage bumps up to 14 percent. Related is already committed to paying $27.5 million toward rehabbing and landscaping the EYR section of the High Line.

The Friends of the High Line are seeking to raise $65 million toward Section 3, the Spur, and an interim walkway spanning the self-seeded Western Rail Yard section to be developed later. But raising capital from parties that don’t have a direct stake may prove a challenge (a gift of $20 million from the Diller-Von Furstenberg Foundation notwithstanding). Hammond pointed to the Brookfield’s yet-to-be-realized Manhattan West, the ever-unrealized Moynihan Station, and the limbo-prone Javits Center as potential alliances to explore.

Tom Stoelker

A retail podium sits between the twin office towers at Hudson Yards.

Hudson Yards and the Urban Fabric on the Far West Side

Hudson Yards promises to be a node of unusually complex variability straddling an active rail yard and woven into the urban fabric by subway, the High Line, bike paths, an urban park, and city streets, all flanked by projects that will invite a large influx of diverse visitors to the corridor.

Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) has developed the master plan extending from 33rd Street at the north to 30th Street on the south and between 10th and 12th avenues, sloping up from the northern street level to an elevation over the Long Island Rail Road tracks. FXFOWLE is currently renovating the four blocks holding the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on 34th Street. And Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates (MVVA) are at work on the Hudson Park and Boulevard, an arm of snaking green space stretching from 36th to 33rd streets that will house the terminal station of the No. 7 subway line. And then there is the final phase of the High Line. The question is, how will commuters, residents, and convention goers navigate these new public spaces as they aim to dynamically activate the area?

The challenge of the Hudson Yards, Marianne Kwok, the project director working with Bill Pedersen at KPF, explained, is to knit the complex into the existing surroundings. “The main thing we tried to do was to make Hudson Yards as seamlessly connected to the rest of the city as possible—to stitch together the surrounding urban fabric: Chelsea to the south, Hell’s Kitchen and the new Hudson Boulevard neighborhood to the north, and midtown to the east,” Kwok said.

Clockwise from top: The twin shards of Hudson Yards are featured prominently on the Manhattan skyline; a dramatic arcade at Brookfield's Manhattan West project between 31st and 33rd Streets at 9th Avenue; Brookfield's twin towers proposed for the Manhattan West site; the Steven Holl-designed 360 Tenth Avenue would rise to 62 floors and connect to the High Line; a KPF-designed office tower proposed at the corner of 34th Street and 10th Avenue; a view from the High Line of a tower at Hudson Yards to be occupied by fashion label Coach.
Courtesy Related, Brookfield, and Sherwood Equities

Key to achieving this connection will be the ability of the Hudson Park and Boulevard to serve as a pedestrian spine, reducing vehicular traffic by creating landscaped public spaces and providing easy access to public transportation. Station entrances in the northern and southern blocks of the three-block park and boulevard will issue commuters into a landscape that MVVA principal Matthew Urbanski calls, “a machine for lunching,” that then facilitates their flow to the Javits Center, the Hudson Yards, and Related Companies’ future commercial and residential buildings.

“Circulation drove the design, and circulation flows were the most important aspect of the design,” said Urbanski, explaining that “desire lines” to neighboring destinations create diagonal paths through the landscape, linking the station to corners and sidewalks.

Hudson Yards development scheme mapped out by Related in two phases, including the Hudson Park and Boulevard designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates with a terminal for the No. 7 subway by Dattner Architects.
Courtesy Related

For cars, the site may prove even trickier to access. Carefully planned traffic circulation by Hudson Yards Development Corporation is intended to ensure low traffic levels and relative pedestrian safety. Due to the sloping design of Hudson Yards, cars will enter the complex from the north along 11th Avenue and a ramped driveway extending from the newly created Hudson Boulevard to reach 32nd and 31st streets, dead-ending in cul-de-sacs with access to street-level amenities. This will possibly reduce the speed of traffic along those streets, while through traffic to 12th Avenue will continue along 30th and 33rd streets. From the south, 10th avenue will slope up to 33rd Street, while pedestrians arriving along 10th Avenue will climb to the High Line from intermittent street entrances.

Thrown into the transit mélange are the bike paths zipping up Hudson River Park, the bus routes scheduled along 10th and 11th avenues and 34th street, and the snarl of onramps to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Caitlin Blanchfield is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor interested in culture and the built environment.

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Breaking> Goldberger Departing New Yorker, Bound for Vanity Fair
Rumors have been circulating that Paul Goldberger was leaving his prized perch as architecture critic at the New Yorker.  It appears he's been given a golden parachute from Condé Nast in the form of a contributing editor title at Vanity Fair, where he will cover architecture and design. AN has obtained an undated press release from that magazine confirming the move. “This is an appointment that thrills me profoundly,” Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair, said in a statement. “Paul is about as gifted a commentator on architecture, urban planning, and design as anyone you’re going to find these days—in other words, he’s just a brilliant writer.”
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A Questioning Koolhaas
Rem Koolhaas cut the interviewer short when asked if he had any regrets: “That’s a private matter and therefore not one I will answer.” And yet the entire hour-long conversation provided what seemed to be almost shockingly intimate glimpses into the architect’s state of mind, where feelings of being lonely, isolated, ineffectual, nostalgic, and even old seemed simmering. The event was LIVE, a series offering public interviews of topical characters, held in a sumptuous Victorian-age hall at the New York Public Library. And Rem Koolhaas with Hans Ulrich Obrist were there to talk with event curator Paul Holdengraber about their new book Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. The capacity audience numbered over 400, strong in architect professionals, including Marion Weiss, Michael Manfredi, SO-IL’s Jing Liu, Beatriz Colomina, Paul Goldberger, Suzanne Stephens, MoMA’s Pedro Gadhano, and Family’s Dong-Ping Wong among so many others. And they were all ears when Holdengraber said he had asked Koolhaas and Obrist to define themselves in seven words: Koolhaas gave a clear-cut six: mystic, rational, sober, baroque, patient, immediate. Obrist, sort of eight: catalyst, conversation, curating curiosity, guidance-making, and protest against forgetting. In a brief introduction, Koolhaas returned to a subject he’d addressed at the Japan Society a few nights before: How Kisho Kurokawa managed to be a magazine-posing celebrity architect in his day (1950s and 60s) who was still taken seriously enough to influence the direction of postwar Japan. “He was prominent enough to interview the prime minister,” Koolhaas noted, and you could almost feel the waves of longing and envy welling up. Today, he said, the effect is the opposite: the more media exposure, the less architects are taken seriously. Even more, the architect said, Kurokawa provided a postwar model for being male in Japan. (And that without wearing a black turtleneck.) The Metabolists worked together, and with the country almost entirely in ruins, their thinking as a group became “an extension of the imagination of the state.” Perhaps. What the Metabolists actually recommended in terms of architecture—floating fortresses, sky villas, pod-dwellings—seemed less of interest than the camaraderie of ideas. In contrast, Koolhaas said, “We are all lonely operators with very little cooperation. They could stand together and work in a movement.” And though the work itself dealt with impossibilities of scale and entirely broken down systems in desperate need, the united effort was “a miracle to behold.” Glossing over the homogeneity of postwar Japanese society with competitive zeal fueled by peer humiliations, Koolhaas apparently finds that zeitgeist preferable to today’s market economy where “architecture has been warped and separated from anything important and no longer serves the public good, but only the good of private interests.” The sheer Japanoiserie of Japanese architecture impressed both Obrist and Koolhaas who attribute that quality to modern architects having never cut off tradition but allowing it to flow continuously from the past and into their work. The same, he said, could never be said of a French, Dutch, or Swiss architect (pace Zumthor). It means something to be a Japanese architect, Koolhaas contended, while elsewhere, “architects have disintegrated to insignificance.” Such self-flagellating remarks have been voiced before by the profession’s most Sphinxian sage. And yet when he spoke of meeting with surviving Metabolists—some of them politically reactionary, to his surprise— it was how they coped with their advancing years that seems to have caught his attention most: "Perhaps old age requires strategy more than any other point in life. The conversations demonstrated touchingly that it is more crucial to exploit your limitations than to survive your gifts. As memory weakens, vision is your only option," Koolhaas said at the end, paraphrasing his book and, still marveling, added “It was magnificent to see the tactical ticking in their brains on how to make a good impression.” And so it was.
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Architecture Criticism Today
Left to right: James Russell, Cathleen McGuigan, Paul Goldberger, Justin Davidson, and moderator Julie V. Iovine take questions from the audience.
Tom Stoelker / AN

On February 27, AN, Oculus, and AIANY’s Marketing and PR committee organized a panel discussion on “Architectural Criticism Today,” the first in a series on architecture and the media hosted by the Center for Architecture. Moderated by AN’s Julie V. Iovine, the panel included architecture critics Justin Davidson of New York magazine and Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker; Cathleen McGuigan, editor in chief of Architectural Record; and James Russell, the architecture columnist at Bloomberg.

Here are some edited highlights from the two-hour conversation.

Who are you writing for and how informed do you assume your readers are about architecture?

James Russell: At Bloomberg, the audience is very broad and international. I imagine a 28-year old guy on a trading floor someplace in the world, dreaming of Ferrari’s and penthouses.

Cathleen McGuigan: At Newsweek I wrote for a general reader whom I assumed was not terribly knowledgeable about architecture but whom I thought should be. I really viewed the job as one of educating the reader.

Paul Goldberger: At The New Yorker, we like to presume a certain degree of sophistication and knowledge; someone who is reasonably intelligent. If Jim is writing for the 28-year-old trader dreaming about Ferrari’s and penthouses, I am writing for the 48-year-old reader who already owns them.

Justin Davidson: New York magazine is a publication that was founded to tell the story of New York in all its facets, and architecture and urbanism are big parts that. And I assume they are people who look around; who may not know any names or technical things but are sensitive or interested in knowing about the places where they work and live. Part of the brief is celebrity and consumer products; that side of it is easy.

As architecture moves away from a focus on object building, will you follow? Or will your editors pressure you to still cover celebrity architects?

JR: I think the readership has lost interest in the celebrity architect. They see that the glamorous buildings by “glamorous architects” are not really part of their economic reality. They might be thinking, why are architects doing these glam buildings instead of public housing? What a lot of people don’t understand is that someone has to hire the architects to do that work, and if no one is hiring them, they can’t do that kind of work.

CM: I think people are a little more sophisticated about the public realm than we give them credit for. I think it’s a change that happened with the outpouring of response and interest in New York after 9/11. I went to some of those Imagine New York meetings at the Municipal Art Society and it was powerful to see people coming out on weekends to sit there for hours. It said something about the public at large and their caring about these issues.

PG: You’re right, although it took 9/11 to bring that to the fore. And since then we have seen it fade. For about two years afterwards, I was told I could write as much and as long as I wanted about architecture. But before and since that period, it’s been the usual fight for space with all the other competing cultural areas.

JD: I just want to get back to the subject of celebrity and how those things are changing. It’s not all that New York magazine does. We did a big piece about Frank Gehry and it was the right thing to do. But if I went back and said, “Gee, it’s time to do another piece about Gehry,” the editors would say, “We did that already.” So there’s a lot of Gehry that I can ignore now. More to the point, whether it is something by a celebrity architect or not, my role is to address what it is, why it’s there and why it works, as well as what’s going on, whether it’s a bike lane or a new building or a bench. It’s easy to sell a good idea, impossible to sell a bad one.

PG: To go back to the subject of the object building. I think readers very much want more than that. They are in fact profoundly interested in how the city works and how it affects their lives.

Do you feel a responsibility to represent the architect’s intentions?

PG: My responsibility is to the general public, not to the architect. Critics are not there to be boosters of the profession; they are not water carriers.

JD: When an architect gets to the end of a complex collaborative work, where all these people have been passionately involved, it’s easy to forget that it’s coming before a public that has no advanced investment at all. If I can I act as an intermediary between these two groups. But separating our immediate reactions from your reflective ones is something that a critic is in a unique position to do.

Often the nature of competitions forces you all to write about buildings that have barely opened and well before the intended users have taken full possession. What are the chances of your waiting and reviewing a building a year or so later?

CM: Zero.

What’s your criterion for choosing what to write about? How do you choose your stories?

JR: Sometimes you go to your editors thinking the significance of a building is X then you actually go there and spend time with it—and it turns out there’s a completely different story.

JD: It’s tricky because I have to be able to translate, like Jim says, what you think your response is going to be into an actual response. And then on top of that, you have to create something entirely new and separate, a piece of writing. That’s what I do. I am not doing a gloss on the architecture—the building will be fine without whatever I write. What I write has to have its own freestanding value as something you want to read. My criterion for deciding what to write about is looking for that which is going to provide me with material for writing something interesting about the city or about architecture. It’s not “this is an important building, or this is a famous architect, therefore I must write about it.”

PG: You are always searching for one overriding idea for a piece. And it may or may not come from the building itself. Any piece also has to stand on its own as an essay.

If there’s a sea change in architecture, as there seems to be now, do you feel an interest or responsibility to write about it, and show it?

CM: Absolutely, and that goes to the point about the object building. I think what I am trying to do at Architectural Record is also introduce along with the glamour shots, also pictures that show the street and the people. We get most of our images from architects or architectural photographers, and you guys [architects] never want people in your pictures. We’re trying to get away from that because of the growing interest in context and in the city.

PG: The truth is that most of us as critics never were totally in thrall to the object building or starchitects anyway. While we wrote about many of them because they were part of important moments in the culture, I don’t feel as if I was ever constrained by that. Maybe we are exaggerating the extent to which criticism fell for that. Similarly, the pendulum hasn’t swung all the way in the other direction either. Certainly there is a higher degree of broader urbanistic consciousness today, and I am much more interested today in writing about some of the stuff, say, that Janette Sadik- Khan is doing in the city than I might have been a few years ago. Still it’s wrong to imply that this consciousness did not exist a few years ago. There’s a slight shift in emphasis now but I don’t think it’s more than that.

Can architecture critics make things happen?

JR: We all hope in becoming critics that we’ll have an effect on the conversation. And the truth seems to be that the more critics there are the more it seems possible.

PG: Ultimately, we have the impact of creating a broader, more literate constituency for architecture. In fact the very celebrity architecture culture we are complaining about, in a certain way, came into being in part because of the success of architecture criticism. The audience for architecture really has broadened considerably over the past decade.

JD: Writing about the city can affect conversations about good architecture and the critic can arouse people to be interested in what's going on. I like to see that energy and engagement backed up with reporting almost regardless of where that criticism ends up going. Keeps us on our toes.

PG: Advocacy is fine but information is the key part in writing. When I look at certain pieces that Ada Louise Huxtable wrote, it was not only the position she took, but just the fact that she was getting something out there that otherwise would not have gotten any attention. If there was a new zoning initiative or a major new urban development plan, she would tell you about it, and make it part of the civic dialog. Then that went away for a long time. Many of the initiatives of the Lindsay years were being covered in far more detail and with far more reportorial attention than most of what's been done in Bloomberg years.

JD: It’s important to keep in mind, especially on large-scale architectural proposals, that there is always a moral component. And I think that if we are not going to face that as architecture critics, nobody else is going to. Ultimately, it’s our material. On these projects there are always people talking past each other—I can make money doing this; No, you are blocking my view.  As critics, you can get behind that to whether or not this particular project is serving something beyond the immediate property line. There are concentric circles of responsibility and building always has an effect beyond the immediate jurisdiction. And so there are always moral questions to be asked: Where is the money coming from and how is it being spent? Is it sustainable? What is sustainable? How is it connected, or not, to everything else? All these things become more than just technical questions; they become moral questions. There's nothing to be gained by being sanctimonious about it all, but it can become part of your writing.

PG: If you as the critic don't engage all of these social issues to some extent then you are just comparing shapes. And architecture criticism has got to be about more than that.

Next up in the Architecture + Media series: May 3 Design Reportage: The Business Press and General Interest Media with a panel to include AN's Julie Iovine, Robin Pogrebin of The New York Times, Matt Chaban of The New York Observer and others to be announced.

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EVENT> Architecture Criticism Today: February 27 in NYC
**2/27 Breaking news: The New Yorker's Paul Goldberger will be joining the panel discussion. Critical mass! Monday, February 27 Architecture Criticism Today 6:00pm-8:00pm Center for Architecture 536 LaGuardia Place Who is best served by criticism? Who is the proper audience? Can it simultaneously serve the profession and the wider public, or are they mutually exclusive? How has role of general-interest media critics evolved? As a project comes to life, at what point(s) should critics weigh in? The first of a four-part series on Architecture and the Media will address some of these questions, when architecture critics discuss the role of criticism in the field of architecture today and how it informs the general public’s understanding of design. AN's executive editor Julie Iovine will moderate a panel discussion among architecture critics at consumer, business and trade publications: Justin Davidson (New York Magazine), Cathleen McGuigan (Architectural Record), and James Russell (Bloomberg), with audience Q&A to follow. 1.5 CEUs; $10 for members and students; $20 non-members. TICKETS Organized by the Oculus Committee, the AIANY Marketing & PR Committee, and The Architect's Newspaper.
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Zen-otaph: Steve Jobs and the Meaning Behind Apple’s New Campus
Apple’s new campus in Cupertino has left the design community a bit perplexed. Back in September most of the architectural critics who weighed in on the issue expressed a one-two combination of shock and disappointment. Precisely because of Apple’s design bona fides and Sir Norman Foster’s involvement as the lead architect, they were expecting better. Christopher Hawthorne of the LA Times called it a “retrograde cocoon,” marking it down as a car-centric, “doggedly old-fashioned proposal.” Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker didn’t pull his punches either. He mocked the building as a “gigantic donut” that was “scary” in its lack of functionality and human scale. Though he typically will not judge an unbuilt design based on renderings, in this case Goldberger felt he must:
It’s said that Steve Jobs considers this building to be a key part of his legacy, which would be unfortunate, because it would mean that his last contribution to his company might well be his least meaningful.
Despite these cries from the box seats, a revised design that was released in early December didn’t change much from the original. Like the drawings first publicized this summer, the latest renderings depict a vast ring building set within a dense grove of trees. The new design has a darker roof and a more articulated elevation, clad with larger panels of gently curved glass. But the general form and program remain the same. Comprising a total area of 2.8 million square feet, its circular structure will house 13, 000 employees and include a thousand-person auditorium for corporate events. The utter naïveté of the form from an architectural standpoint may explain why the critics are so disturbed. How could such a big-name architect like Norman Foster, known for his pitch-perfect modernism and finesse, have generated such an inefficient plan? Could Jobs possibly be behind it? Jobs, for his part, only went so far as to call his campus a “space ship” at the local town hall meeting in June. With little explanation to go on, neither Hawthorne nor Goldberger connected the design to its most obvious reference: Zen Buddhism, one of Steve Jobs' life-long pursuits since his early days at Reed College. It’s conceivable that the campus plan was handed to Foster by the Apple CEO himself in the form of a simple circle of ink on rice paper. The ensō, or “circle,” is perhaps the most enduring motif in the Zen tradition, one that first appears in Japanese monasteries in the mid-1600s. The Zen circle is not a linguistic character, but rather a symbol that conveys a host of things—the universe, the cyclical nature of existence, enlightenment, strength, and poised contemplation. It suggests the Heart Sutra, which explains that “form is void and void is form,” as well as the path to Bodhisattva-hood. More importantly, the very making of the circle acts like a Rorschach test. As an expression of a moment then the body and spirit most freely create, and in the full sweep of a single brush stroke, the character of the devotee is fully exposed. In each ensō is the trace of spiritual realization. For those who know the life of Steve Jobs, this has special meaning. While still in college, he devoured books on Zen and was transfixed by one class in particular: calligraphy. As he discussed years later, “It was beautiful, historical, and artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.” And it was in 1975, after a less successful stint in India, that Steve Jobs –always torn between tech and the spiritual path--deliberated moving to Japan to enter a monastery. But the Zen master Kobin Chino Otogawa (who would later preside at Jobs 1991 wedding) persuaded him not to don the monk’s habit and instead make technology his vocation. Jobs started Apple in April 1, 1976. This personal history and the particular dimensions of the campus circle leave little doubt as to the connection. For a man dying of pancreatic cancer, Jobs was greatly involved in the campus design. He personally presented the project to the Cupertino town council, his last major endeavor as CEO. It is in their painted ensō and attendant poetry that monks over the centuries have each conveyed their own final testimony on enlightenment. This campus is Jobs’, and there are many personal touches. It is graced with thousands of fruit trees –cherry, apple, apricot, and plum trees that have been placed to offer a sense of perpetual bloom through the seasons. As Forbes magazine breathlessly described it:
In late February, around the time of Jobs’ birthday, the show will begin. Pink and white plum blossoms will appear on stands of trees at the center of Apple’s new campus, hinting at more to come. A few weeks later cherry trees scattered strategically along walkways and at the edges of open glades will start to blossom.
Fruit trees held a great deal of meaning for Steve Jobs, tying back both to his formative teenage job as an arborist on the Friedland farm and his early diet as an Ehret fruitarian at Reed College. The renderings don’t do justice to this aspect of the landscape design, nor do they offer any glimpse of the interior courtyard. Inside the vast courtyard, employees will experience not just gardens, but also a fountain, an open-air amphitheater, and a dining terrace set beside among apple orchards, a grove of apricot trees, stands of plum and cherry. Void or no void, it’s pretty glorious being on the inside of the Zen Circle of Steve. This bountiful but hidden world reminds me of two Zen paintings in particular, both of which are unique in the history of the art form, in that they have writing inside the usually empty circle. The first was done by Namtembo, a Zen roshi (“master”) who lived from 1839 to 1925. Writing inside the circle he declares:
Within the spinning circle of life we are born. The human heart too should always be kept round and complete.
The second is by Isan Shinko, an 18th century master, which has the symbol for heart inside the ensō and reads:
Keep yourself firmly centered inside here and nothing will be able to shatter you.
The two messages suggest two rather different ways to cope with the outside world. One is expansive, the other more cautious. Like most people, Steve Jobs had those characteristics, and his company has those traits as well. Apple products seem to strive for “Beauty,” in all its old-fashioned, capital-B form. In using them, you experience a visual elegance and richness of experience unmatched by most other consumer items. You feel their innovation and joy, and they fill you with a round and complete heart. As Jobs himself said nearly twenty years ago in a Money magazine article:
Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.
But as a corporate entity, Apple is also known as secretive and distancing. It has a closed garden philosophy. Like its founder, it often works a “doesn’t play well with others” vibe that could feel downright obsessive and reproving. Inside its shatter-proof ring of enlightenment, it’s got no time for us sorry-sack laymen. As Jobs once said, “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” Yes, excellence requires focus, and as Jobs was fond of saying:
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.
Of course, unlike the delicate washes of ink and water that comprise a Zen ensō, the new Apple campus is an actual building. It is a Zen circle, but it is also a cenotaph. Like Étienne-Louis Boullée’s famous unbuilt cenotaph to Newton, this building will honor a man who is buried elsewhere. Both are symbolic of the universe. Both are strange monuments to bold innovation. When designed, Newton’s cenotaph was, as Jobs described his new HQ, a space ship, otherworldly by every 18th century definition of the term. There are even similarities in the plan, though the Boullée design has rings of trees around an enclosed sphere, while Foster’s campus has a ring building enclosing a vast grove. Newton’s cenotaph has lines of trees that would skirt processional roads. Apple’s plan bulges with thick groves and a light improvisation of threaded paths. Both designs honor men who were social misfits in their youths but who strove for such excellence as adults that they were lauded on a near-global scale well before their deaths. Of course, there’s nothing more “un-Zen” than a cenotaph, the most brazen act of defiance against life’s impermanence. But that is part of the contradiction of Jobs, or indeed any business person with spiritual leanings. His friend Dan Kottke playful poked fun at this schism in a letter sent to Jobs as early as 1977 and published in Businessweek:
After performing an extensive prana to the lotus feet of suchness, gaze lovingly upon picture with cosmic thoughts of cosmic relevance and profundity until phone rings. Answer phone, haggle furiously, and refuse to sell for less than $2.3 million.
In the end, Jobs seems to pull it off. The words of his commencement address to the Stanford class of 2005 would take on greater resonance years later when it is clear he had, at the time, actually been fighting pancreatic cancer for nearly two years:
Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
You can’t get more Zen than that. Sean Daly is the Managing Director at Windtunnel Visualization, a brand agency and 3D design development firm in New York.
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Polishing a Gem
SmithGroup's addition alongside Saarinen's original museum.
Jim Haefner

The new addition to the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, MI does not add new galleries, lobbies, or grand entrances. But to call it simply “storage space” would demean the complicated inner workings of a building that allows the historic museum to operate as Eliel and Eero Saarinen intended when it was completed in 1942. Closed during the last two and a half years of renovations, the original 45,000-square-foot Saarinen structure is now fully restored and reopened to the public. The new space amounts to a very sophisticated warehouse to expertly house the extensive art collection which includes paintings, sculpture, furniture, works on paper, and architectural models.

This isn’t the building’s first add-on (Raphael Moneo designed the Studio Building, completed in 2002) but it is the most substantial at 31,000 square feet. Designed by Detroit-based SmithGroup, the Collections Wing gives the Art Museum a more sophisticated way to store pieces not on view in the gallery so that educational tour groups have better access to the archives. Elements used include glass walls allowing views into the ceramics collection, sliding metal panels for paintings, and a classroom for meeting in the midst of it all. The two buildings connect only underground, below an exterior staircase designed by the Saarinens. A metal, vault-like door slides back to reveal the new wing, a space that mixes the simplicity of concrete block walls and exposed-duct ceilings with grand features like a sliding wood door made of Sapele, a reddish wood very similar to mahogany.

SmithGroup restored older galleries, updating the mechanicals (left), the new entry allows for stricter climate controls (center), and a view inside the new facility (right).

Paul Urbanek, a principal designer, explained that the goal was to renovate the historic gallery in a way that did not signal change. For instance, the firm restored the coffered lighting system that had not been used since the 70s to work the way that the Saarinens intended. Urbanek observed how forward-thinking this element had been in its time. Daylighting became popular in museum design after Saarinen experimented with the diffused light that gives the ambient effect of skylights. SmithGroup also brought the building up to current museum climate standards.

Working within the building taught Urbanek to appreciate the genius of its design in new ways, such as the elegant use of interior volume and of wall framing that protects the art from shifts in temperature and moisture. One room of the gallery features the work of Sol LeWitt, painted onto four walls as a loan to Cranbrook (the museum must agree to paint over it after the loan ends). It took eight workers 21 days to paint the swirling shapes in preparation for the November 11 opening. Also currently on view is a grand model of Eero Saarinen’s design for Dulles airport in Chantilly, VA, outside Washington D.C.

Eliel Saarinen’s lasting contributions to the bucolic Cranbrook campus includes his 1930 home and the Kingswood School for Girls that opened in 1931; the last piece was the museum and adjacent library buildings. As Reed Kroloff, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, explains, “Eliel Saarinen’s DNA is here. The campus reveals his brilliance as a planner, how he was able to operate at all scales of design with equal fluidity. That was not so with Eero. There is no other place in the U.S. where you can see one architect working through a campus from the picturesque and heroic to a more modern and modest style.”

As Paul Goldberger wrote in the New York Times in 1984, Cranbrook has long been compared to Germany’s Bauhaus as both were created to encourage 20th-century design while breaking down barriers between disciplines. However, he concluded, “Eliel Saarinen’s campus itself became Cranbrook’s greatest legacy.”

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Event> Zoning the City
Attention Zoning Wonks! In honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Zoning Resolution, City Planning is hosting the Zoning the City Conference on November 15.  Mayor Bloomberg will open the conference, while planning commissioner Amanda Burden will moderate with Harvard planning guru Jerold Kayden (a recent AN commentator). AN plans to blog live from the event and City Planning will be tweeting away @ZoningTheCity. The event, co-sponsored with Harvard and Baruch’s Newman Institute, has already been dubbed “the Woodstock of Planning” by one at least one registrant. Yesterday, Planning got the ball rolling by placing the original 1961 zoning resolution online, along with a dozen other related manuals and public testimony as part of the DCP History Project. The city’s—as well as the nation’s—first zoning manual from 1916 hints at just how far the process has come, from broad brushstrokes to highly specific overlays and special purpose districts. A few of the documents have anecdotal tidbits, such as a 1916 business district that lists some of the businesses as fat rendering, rag storage, smelting, and horseshoeing. A 1950 study commissioned by Planning begins with a cover letter salutation that would never fly today: “Gentlemen, …” Most of the documents are a pretty dry read, but the public testimony is downright riveting. The 1960 transcripts provide much-needed colloquial voices to balance out the graphs and charts. It’s no surprise that some of the zoning trailblazers down in the Village weighed in. Robert Jacobs, whose wife Jane would soon release a book related to the subject, lobbied the commission to consider rezoning “a fairly mixed up area” in the Far West Village to allow residential construction to replace decaying industrial buildings. If he could see it now!  Zoning the City speakers and panelist: Rohit T. Aggarwala, Hilary Ballon, Rick Bell, Matthew Carmona, Vishaan Chakrabarti, Daniel L. Doctoroff, Paul Goldberger, Toni L. Griffin, Rosanne Haggerty, Errol Louis, Thom Mayne, Jack S. Nyman, Peter J. Park, John Rahaim, Jonathan F. P. Rose, Kairos Shen, Robert K. Steel, Robert A. M. Stern, Mary Ann Tighe, Harriet Tregoning, Carol Willis.
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Going to the Chapel
Tadao Ando's Church on the Water in Tomamu, Japan.
Richard Pare

Constructing the Ineffable
Karla Cavarra Britton, editor
Yale School of Architecture / Yale University Press, $50.00

Constructing the Ineffable, edited by Karla Cavarra Britton, is a wonderful collection of intelligent essays about sacred space. For any architect who may be contemplating, or has been commissioned to design, a sacred space, this book is required reading.

Britton, who conceived and edited the book and is a lecturer in architectural history and urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture, begins the book with an intelligent introductory essay, where she raises the point that, “whereas the early twentieth century was a time when very little attention was paid to religion, the early twenty-first century has seen an enormous increase in the role and the importance of religion in every day life.” She lays the ground for her book in her prologue with Le Corbusier’s statement. “I am the inventor of the phrase ‘ineffable space,’” from an interview at La Tourette in 1961. Ms. Britton uses the introduction to pose the question answered by each of the contributors, “Is it possible to speak coherently of constructing the ineffable?”

Steven Holl's Chapel of St. Ignatious in Seattle.
Courtesy Yale School of Architecture

The book is divided into three parts. Part one encompasses a series of essays starting with “The Earth, the Temple and Today” by Vincent Scully. Scully, emeritus professor in the History of Art at Yale, points out how the rise of aggressive fundamentalism in all religions has made investigations of sacred space complex and even dangerous. Karsten Harries writes a provocative piece pointing to Johnson and Burgee’s Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California as a building that is no more sacred in detail, materiality, or place than a big box store. Miroslav Volf, the Yale Center for Faith and Culture director, addresses notions of the sacred from the perspective of memory. Mark Taylor, the chair of Department of Religion at Columbia, challenges us to understand what we see as sacred, and to distinguish this from the religious. Emilie Townes, professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale, lists and discusses provocatively named places of worship, including the “One Way Deliverance Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God,” for example.

Part two deals with precedents, and includes essays by architect Thomas Beeby discussing Rudolf Schwarz’s book The Church Incarnate, the Catholic Reform movement in Germany, and its influence on the works of Mies. Columbia architectural historian Kenneth Frampton discusses spirituality in the work of Tadao Ando and its dialogue with geometry and landscape. Harvard professor of Religion Diana Eck discusses her work investigating temples in India and the meaning of sacred space, beginning with the city of Banaras. Finally, Jaime Lara, a History of Art lecturer at Yale, contributed the essay, “Visionaries or Lunatics? Architects of Sacred Space, even in Outer Space,” which traces a history of visionary architecture starting with the works of Boullee, the writings of Jules Verne, the Futurists, the works of Oscar Niemeyer, and ending with the Doman Moon Chapel from 1967.

Left to right: Peter Eisenman's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Holocaust Memorial in Berlin; Interior of Oscar Niemeyer's Metropolitan Cathedral in Brasilia, Brazil; Light cannons in Le Corbusier's Monastery of Notre Dame de la Tourette.

Part three presents essays from eight architects who have designed religious buildings: Stanley Tigerman, Richard Meier, Rafael Moneo, Fariborz Sahba, Steven Holl, Moshe Safdie, Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, and Moshe Safdie. Safdie, in whose essay we have the words of a master paying attention to the small details, sets forth basic dilemmas: how the architect thinks about the site and how she/he understands the materials of the local region. Safdie relays a discussion about the Friday Mosque in Esfahan, Iran, beginning with a friend’s comment that the dome represents the Islamic vision of cosmic wholeness. To the contrary, Safdie points out: “The dome’s evolution is really a result of the fact that here, in Iran’s desert, there is no wood to make beams or trusses, only brick and stones to span. When you have no wood, you create arches, domes and vaults.” This point, seemingly obvious once stated, is striking in its intelligence, logic, and simplicity.

An impressive final epilogue by Paul Goldberger zips up the book and caps an engrossing read. Mr. Goldberger takes us through a final architectural tour and history, touching on unremarked, favorite works of architecture: the Friends Meeting House in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvannia; Plecnik’s Church of the Sacred Heart in Prague; Fay Jones’ Thorncrown in Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church Spitalfields in London. Perhaps it’s my undergraduate art history background speaking, but for me the book was a joy in revealing new interpretations of favorite works of architecture, discussed incisively by intelligent and insightful historians and theologians, with contemporary architects to provide a counter-point to the heavy lifting of the academics.