Search results for "Met Breuer"

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John Pawson’s Visual Inventory
John Pawson

At first, Luis Barragán’s words, “Don’t look at what I do. See what I saw,” might seem like an odd call to arms for an architect whose work is famously empty of things. But not on second thought. In fact, Barragán’s may be the only words needed to guide a voyeuristic look at some 260 photographs that British minimalist architect John Pawson has snapped over the past ten years for his own edification.

A Visual Inventory (Phaidon) opens an illuminating chink into the thought processes and aesthetic revelations of an architect who has mistakenly been tagged a believer in less-is-all. Images such as a tapering streak of light alongside an extruded wall sculpture by Donald Judd, two partially constructed bridges on a highway viewed from an airplane flying over North Carolina, or the fuchsia petals of a red camellia fallen on the granite steps of a Marcel Breuer villa on Lake Maggiore abundantly testify to a sensibility that is ever alert and constantly charged by visual stimuli. These pictures give minimalism a new name: lush.

Clockwise from top left: Oman; Near St. George; Pinarello Factory; Pawson House; Near Prague Airport; Castle of Good Hope.

The book is organized in carefully selected pairs on facing spreads, allowing images to talk to each other and trigger sharper perceptions: gray concentric rings from rain drops plopping in a puddle on stone at a Japanese teahouse near Antwerp makes even more startling the image on the opposite page, also gray circles as if printed on a dusty floor, but actually a circular irrigation field some 2,600 feet in diameter seen from an airplane over the Rockies in winter.

Pawson’s avowed “scattergun approach”—always at the ready with a digital Canon S100, he is never afraid to use it—catalogs what appears to be a career of constant travel and fantastic access to architectural and cultural lodestones and exotic realms. Each image is accompanied with a straightforward, disarmingly chatty account of what he saw and why he snapped. Traveling through the pages of A Visual Inventory is both eye- and mind-opening.

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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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A Pavilion for the World
Pavilion proposal from Echomaterico.
Courtesy Echomaterico

On January 13, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri announced the five teams shortlisted for its Pavilion Project, a design competition in conjunction with its special exhibition Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs, 1851-1939. The competition, launched on November 23, asked teams to design and then build a temporary pavilion on-site by April 9, 2012. After renting a Ferris Wheel for the length of the exhibit proved cost prohibitive, the museum decided to develop their own pavilion, which will be used for flexible programming and events. Catherine Futter, the curator of the special exhibition, said, "We really wanted something that showcased innovation today in the spirit of the World's Fairs."

Proposed pavilions by AECOM (left), Hufft Projects (center), el dorado inc with Make + Design (right).
Courtesy AECOM, Hufft Projects, el dorado inc

The five shortlisted teams include AECOM, el dorado inc with MAKE + DESIGN (Kansas State University), Echomaterico, Generator Studio, and Hufft Projects. An in-house jury reviewed 15 entries before deciding on the final five, but the winner will be selected by the Director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Julian Zugazagoita, the exhibition curator, Catherine Futter, architect Steven Holl, and a still unnamed person from the Kansas City Missouri Parks and Recreation Department. The pavilion will be located in the front yard of the museum along Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard, in the foreground of the 2008 expansion of the museum designed by Steven Holl.

Time was not the only constraint in the competition. Teams were given a total design and materials budget of $20,000, required to provide their own power if needed, encouraged to use green materials, and prohibited from excavation on the site. At the end of the exhibition, which runs from April 14 to August 19, the teams must restore the site and ideally find a second home for the structure.

The exhibition will showcase decorative arts from every major World's Fair from 1851-1939. It includes 200 artistic and scientific objects, including such architectural gems as Alvar Aalto's Savoy Vase and Aalto Flower, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Chair, and Marcel Breuer's Chaise Lounge No.313.

Said Futter, "We were very impressed with all of the entries from the local design community, and we are hopeful that this will turn into something the Museum will do more frequently." The finalists will continue to refine their ideas and provide a presentation to the museum's design committee before the winner is selected on February 1.

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Quick Clicks> Capping Highways, Flying Meteors, Infrastructure Pop, Old School Ivy
Capping Santa Monica. Curbed LA got some great renderings from students at USC who where charged with imagining even more highway caps for the Pacific Coast Highway, this time from Arizona to California Avenues. Beyond freeway parks, the students proposed housing, hotels, and community centers. Breaking Whitney. With the deal signed for the Met to take over the Whitney's Breuer building on Madison, directors at the ground breaking for the new branch at the High Line had all the more reason to celebrate. DNA reminds readers that the museum is actually retuning home. Ol' Gerty got the ball rolling on 8th Street way back in 1930. Dylan Sings. Happy B-day Bobby! Bob Dylan turned 70 on Tuesday and in celebration the Infrastructurist presents Dylan's Ten Best Infrastructure Songs, including "The Levee's Gonna Break" and "Marchin' to the City." Old School. Design New Haven has the Robert A.M. Stern drawings for "street calming measures" at Yale that are part of the $600 million for renovations, including two new residential colleges. The plan includes mixed use buildings intended to encourage street life at all hours and improved access to the Farmington Canal Greenway .
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Postal Service Issues Stamps of Approval
Courtesy USPS

Raymond Loewy built his reputation on making the machinery of daily life sleek and seductive. The industrial designer patented his streamlined pencil sharpener in 1934, and despite never making it into production, the object’s bullet-like curves are about to be immortalized by the United States Postal Service (USPS). Pioneers of American Industrial Design, a new stamp collection to be released in July, highlights some of the most iconic designers and product designs of the 20th century. But the sheet of stamps only has 12 spots. Who decided which objects (and creators) made the cut?

AN has learned that industrial designer Niels Diffrient was a key consultant in the process, advising USPS art director Derry Noyes (daughter of architect and designer Eliot Noyes, one of the 12 to be featured) and stamp designer Margaret Bauer on the selection. “Our original thinking was to settle on the big names—Mies, Breuer, Gropius—but Niels helped us to focus more on American designers,” said Bauer. Early in his career, Diffrient (winner of a 2002 National Design Award for product design) worked in the office of Henry Dreyfuss, whose iconic desk telephone for Bell is part of the new collection.

With an eye toward more industrial products than artisanal items like tableware, the selection team sought to capture the spirit of industrial design’s most influential figures. Some choices were obvious—in addition to Loewy and Dreyfuss, Bauer says designers Norman Bel Geddes and Donald Deskey were no-brainers—but rounding out the 12 slots was a challenge. Greta von Nessen is the only woman of the group, although the team considered other female designers such as Eva Zeisel. But, like Zeisel, some of these design pioneers may not have met the primary requirement for U.S. stamp stardom: They’re not dead.

Tucker Viemeister, an industrial designer who leads the Lab at Rockwell Group, notes that women are relative newcomers to the profession and deems the selection a solid mix of key designers and products. “Industrial design was really the first kind of geeky profession,” said Viemeister, reflecting on the male-dominated early days and highlighting a trait that stamp collectors and designers may have in common. “Gearheads in their garage making stuff? We invented geeks.”

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D.C.’s Southwest Revival by Art
A mixed-use project is southwest Washington, D.C. incorporates galleries and retail space into a repurposed school.
Bing Thom Architects

In 1964, the federal government displaced almost 6,000 families in Southwest D.C. through slum clearance, hiring the likes of Marcel Breuer, I.M. Pei, and Paul Goodman to tackle the area’s—and by extension America’s—urban decay. For Bing Thom, a young Canadian architect visiting D.C. at the time, it was a career defining moment that served as both inspiration and cautionary tale.

“It was a kind of magazine of architects trying to solve the problem,” recalled Thom, now heading up Bing Thom Architects in Vancouver, and the architect of the recently completed and highly praised Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater that sits across the street from Pei’s housing complex.

More than forty years later and in part due to the success of the Arena Stage expansion, Southwest D.C. is on an upswing and Don and Mera Rubell of Miami’s Rubell Family Collection foundation have commissioned Thom to design an ambitious gallery and mixed use development on the site of an abandoned school purchased earlier this year from the Corcoran Gallery of Art for $6 million (The Corcoran purchased the Randall School after a museum expansion by Frank Gehry fell through).

The move has whetted the appetite of D.C. art lovers, who sustain themselves on world-class, yet somewhat conservative, museum collections. The privately owned and operated Rubell Collection, known for cutting edge contemporary art, will be something of an anomaly in a town where the government holds the museum purse strings. 

Bing Thom's gallery, hotel and residences atop an abandoned school in southwest Washington, D.C.

Plans are still in the very early stages. The architect and the couple are just getting to know each other, but the vision includes galleries and retail integrated into the repurposed school, topped with a hotel and mixed-income residences. The main floor area ratio is expected to come in at 490,000 square feet with at least 25,000 feet devoted to the gallery space and includes nearly 200 hotel rooms and 200 housing units, of which 20 percent will be set aside for middle to lower-middle income residents. The project will focus on community, outreach, and education and weaving the new arts center into the existing neighborhood. “I think we’ve burned through the age of excess,” said Thom. “It’s got to do with fulfilling a social mission.”

The positive reception of Thom’s Arena played heavily into the Rubells’ choice of him as architect. “There wasn’t anyone who had won the hearts of the community like he has,” Mera Rubell said by phone from Miami, where the couple lives most of the time, although they also own the Capitol Skyline hotel designed by Morris Lapidus in 1960 on a site adjacent to the project.

In line with both the client and architect’s desire to be sensitive to community, the project is being developed in partnership with Marilyn Melkonian, president of Telesis Corporation, who sits on several housing boards and is founder of the National Housing Trust, where she still serves as chair. Melkonian foresees a future for the neighborhood not unlike that of New York’s East Village, where public and middle income housing butt up against boutiques and galleries.

For their part, the Rubells said the loan of 30 Americans to the Corcoran for a show next fall and featuring the work of 30 African-Americans from the last three decades, indicates their awareness of D.C.’s rich artistic diversity. Though Mera Rubell said the show merely hints at the kind of art they will bring to the Southwest neighborhood. She said that the nature of contemporary art will dictate what lands in the gallery three years from now, when, if all goes as planned, they hope to be open.

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North Carolina Museum of Art
The entry pavilion to Thomas Phifer's new expansion to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.
Scott Frances

Pity the architect who can do a good house. Ever since Le Corbusier dubbed it a machine, and Robert Venturi built one for his mother, the house has been the premier venue for the intimate encounter between architectural theory and the drama of everyday life. And yet designers as diverse as Breuer and Gehry have struggled to translate domestic success into work of equivalent power at the scale of skyline and landscape.

Such might have been the fate of Tom Phifer, a former design partner of Richard Meier’s whose own relatively young practice has been celebrated for a series of remarkably well-realized (and publicized) houses, especially prominent along the bucolic Taghkanic-Sagaponack axis of New York’s weekending periphery.

In those buildings, expressive twists on technically performative elements like rainscreens and sunshades revealed the surprising material complexity of glass and metal, and the productive tension between a monolithic volume and a light surface. A recent campus pavilion at Rice University elaborated these strategies somewhat more grandly. But now Phifer has scaled up to a substantial civic institution, the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA).

Fiberglass coffers and fabric scrims modulate daylight in the Alterpiece Gallery.

A freestanding addition to the museum’s existing Raleigh home (a wanly value-engineered Edward Durell Stone design built in 1983), the new building provides 65,000 square feet of permanent gallery space on a single ground-floor level, and a third as much service space below. It’s a big box with narrow excisions at its edges that become courtyards, sculpture gardens, and water courts. The periphery of the box is opaque, and the cutouts, transparent: The ratio of one surface to the other is a surprising 50:50, and the depth to which the glass-lined openings extend into the plan produces striking light and lightness within.

There are other smart effects: That peripheral facade, whose dull gray appearance first suggests monolithic concrete, is actually another Phiferian rainscreen—an off-kilter assembly of anodized aluminum panels, tilting in as they rise to the facade’s 26-foot height, and overlapping like shingles in plan. Within each tapering shingle-overlap is a mirror-shiny stainless steel surface; thus when viewed obliquely and especially in motion, the museum optically scintillates against its adjacent park and parking area.

Secondly, and more soberly, the interior’s ceiling features an array of deep Rhino-modeled fiberglass coffers whose rectangular bases define the 27-by-7-foot module of the gallery spaces, and whose tops resolve into not-quite-ovoid oculi. Their winsome geometry served as the basis for Pentagram’s custom museum typeface. Featherweight fabric screens of varying opacities precisely modulate the interior daylighting below these skylights. But their main effect is one of uncannily indeterminate and shadowless depth: a moody and shapeshifting overhead landscape.

The Rodin Gallery spills out into a courtyard, with its contents protected by fritted glass.

A more polemical or self-reflexive building might have tried to steer these elements and effects toward each other in search of a big idea. This one mostly defers to the art—whose highlights include a sturdy modern ensemble of Motherwells, Frankenthalers, and Diebenkorns; a pride of Rodins; and a Judaica collection of subtle magnificence. Thus it may be only over the curated lifetime of the building that one can deduce whether or how it accumulates to more than the sum of its effects.

But the greatest effect may be as much democratic and economic as optic or tectonic. The museum is free. Its grounds, a sprawling 164-acre sculpture park poised between cloverleaf and subdivision, are unfenced and criss-crossed with trails that weave into a larger network across the exurban landscape of Raleigh. The building itself has a sufficiently grand main entrance marked by a shiny canopy, but visitors can drop in at other points through the glassy peripheral courtyards (a distant fulfillment of that Manhattanite dream of drifting into the Metropolitan Museum directly from Central Park).

The aluminum-clad expansion is inset with narrow courtyards, seen here from the north facade. (Click to zoom)

The feeling of free movement between natural and architectural landscapes is reinforced by an interior that operates essentially as one big room, with freestanding walls—many of them terminating a few feet below the ceiling—suggesting but never fully enclosing a series of galleries. In a graceful gesture, the usual control-point information desk is shifted far to the side of the main entrance, so the immediate encounter of the visitor is with art.

The ceiling-mounted, casino-type surveillance eyes that presumably enable such operational fluidity are perhaps the only blots on an interior otherwise remarkably free of visual clutter. But it’s a small price for something almost priceless: the architecturally-conveyed message that the museum’s primary occupants are not its artifacts, but its visitors, and that when you arrive, you belong. It’s a feeling characteristic of public institutions at their best: perhaps not of every house, but certainly of a home.

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Hell? Yes.
I’ve never loved the New Museum Building, in part because I know what SANAA is capable of achieving.  The Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, which was completed in 2006 (preceding the New Museum by about a year), is a truly original building, technologically inventive and formally stirring.  A one-story structure, it soars--far higher than the New Museum’s teetering tower ever will. And yet I appreciate the New Museum for what it is: an ethereal, sculptural presence, a kind of apparition.  It never looks better than it does at night, glowing, hovering, seemingly unconnected to the city grittiness around it. Its facade is gauzy, gossamer, “less like a wall than a scrim,” as Paul Goldberger wrote in the New Yorker. Which is why the decision to place a heavy, kitschy artwork on the façade  is so infuriating. When the museum opened in 2007, the artwork--a rainbow hued sign that declares Hell, Yes!--was described as a temporary adornment. Now, according to the museum’s communications director, Gabriel Einsohn, it is a “semi permanent” installation; the museum has no plans to remove it. The piece is by Ugo Rondinone, whose, work, according to the New Museum website, “explores notions of emotional and psychic profundity found in the most banal elements of everyday life.”  Perhaps.  The quality of the artwork, which resembles a Hello, Kitty logo, is beyond my ken. I do know something about architecture. And the Rondinone piece directly undermines SANAA’s objective: The architects chose to make the thickness, the weight, even the precise location of the building envelope ambiguous. Hanging a heavy object from that envelope changes everything, for the worse; imagine wearing a campaign button on a wedding veil. Museums are too often willing to demean their architectural treasures.  (How many times has the Whitney proposed working its Marcel Breuer building--to which the New Museum, incidentally, owes a great debt--into some larger composition?) Frank Gehry’s IAC building is in the same boat as the New Museum. After the West Chelsea structure was complete--and after the architectural photographers had shot it as Gehry designed it--the company added two neon signs, on the north and south facades, that say IAC.  As at the New Museum, they take semi-transparent, ambiguous surfaces and render them static and heavy, like turning the lights up when a magician is trying to perform a trick.  But at least you can understand why IAC, which is a commercial enterprise, would want its building to say IAC. There, the signs represent a rational, if regrettable, decision. The New Museum has no excuse.  It should have said, "Hell, No!," instead of 'Hello, kitschy."
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Norval White, 1926-2009
Norval White.
Fran Leadon

Architect, educator, and sharp-witted editor of the AIA Guide to New York City, Norval White died on December 26 at age 83. Here two colleagues remember the irrepressible champion of New York architecture.

Richard Dattner
Dattner Architects

If Norval White has been described as a larger-than-life personality, he was physically and acoustically even larger. My first sighting, and hearing, of Norval was at the Cooper Union in 1963—where I was joining him on the architectural faculty. Towering over the crowded reception in the Foundation Building, his stentorian voice commanded attention—and ultimately, appreciation—since he was usually the most knowledgeable person in the room. Norval was a polymath, conversant with architecture, literature, politics, French culture, and almost everything else.

Norval White was born on June 12, 1926, a New York City native who lived first in Manhattan and then in Brooklyn Heights. Educated at MIT and at Princeton under Jean Labatut, he had a deep understanding of the history of architecture and urban design. Norval taught architectural design at Cooper, and left in 1968 with colleague Bernard Spring to become founding chairman of the new City College School of Architecture. I succeeded Norval and his future AIA Guide partner Elliot Willensky in teaching their Urban History course at the Cooper Union, and later followed him to City College.

As planning progressed for the 1967 AIA Convention in New York City, Norval and Elliot took over space in Marcel Breuer’s office and began work on the 464-page first edition of the AIA Guide to New York City—the “original, self-published version feverishly prepared over a nine-month period.” The fourth edition (1,056 pages) credits the group of seven who assisted in this original effort (I had the honor of writing the section on Washington Heights and Inwood) and the many hundreds more who later contributed. In a typical Norval and Elliot touch, they wrote, “We, whose names begin with W are usually listed last, therefore list these individuals in reverse alphabetical order.”

In researching, writing, and editing these soon-to-be five editions of the Guide, Norval found the professional love of his life and his lasting legacy. Started in a time when IBM Selectric typewriters were still a novelty, the production of the early editions involved an immense effort of organization, research, and photography. Also unique for that time was the “voice” that Norval and Elliot established for their thousands of pithy, thumbnail project descriptions. I liken them to street-smart haiku by two hard-to-impress New Yorkers. Their directness was leavened by their enthusiasm for those projects they felt had made an original contribution, respected the neighborhood context, or overcame difficult conditions to improve the city.

I recall fondly when Norval was working on the second edition. He would join the CCNY Architecture faculty in the early 1970s on its excursions to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. But he always sat at a table by himself, avoiding conversation with the rest of us. Chopsticks in one hand and a stack of 4-by-5 cards by the other, he methodically annotated each with the narrative that would accompany the respective project. When the stack was finished, so was Norval’s lunch.

Norval helped found the Action Group for Better Architecture in New York (AGBANY) in the early 1960s to protest the imminent demolition of Penn Station and promote civic design. With Norval, Max Bond, Peter Samton, and many others, we staged picketing and marches in the ultimately fruitless effort to save that historic structure. Less well known is Norval’s work as an architect—with the firms of Levien Deliso White & Songer, and later Gruzen Samton—where his significant contribution was as project manager, with Peter Samton, for the Police Headquarters and Plaza in Lower Manhattan. In the last chapter of his architectural career he designed, with his wife Camilla Crowe, small residential projects characterized by classical simplicity and elegant detailing. A New Yorker to the end, Norval was working with Fran Leadon on the forthcoming fifth edition of the Guide from his home in France when he died.

Peter Samton
Gruzen Samton Architects

In the spring of 1962 Norval, then 35, together with Willensky and a small handful of others, founded AGBANY at his office on East 61st Street. There was a small group of us young architects (he was the senior member), which also included the late Norman Jaffe, Costas Machlouzarides, Jordan Gruzen, and Diana Kirsch. We were alarmed that Penn Station was being designated for demolition. Our ringleaders came to the conclusion that we needed to do something dramatic to get the private and public establishment to realize the extent of the crime they were about to condone.

AGBANY decided to organize a picket line in front of the monumental McKim Mead & White station building, but we were fearful that the press would ignore us. Norval proposed having Philip Johnson appear and this, along with getting other modernists such as Ulrich Franzen and Aline Saarinen, did the trick. There followed a universal uproar.

Norval tried to make the case that if we pushed to have the grimy Penn Station cleaned (they were beginning to do this in Europe at that time, especially in Paris and London) then people would better appreciate the wonderful landmark in their midst. A year and a half later, demolition went ahead and in 1965 the Landmarks Preservation Commission was formed, in many ways a direct response to this tragic act of municipal vandalism. When Penn Station was demolished it revealed, for everyone to see, that the granite exterior was a beautiful pink color, confirming our suspicion that cleaning, not tearing down, would have been the way to go.

Norval and I became partners with Jordan Gruzen and several others in 1967 at Gruzen & Partners, and worked on some major civic buildings that included the new Police Headquarters downtown, as well as winning a competition to build a stables in Central Park (the design was to be fully underground, adjacent to Calvert Vaux’s old stable at the 86th Street transverse). It would have been the first municipal “green” building, 40 years before its time. But the project was never built.

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Eavesdrop NY 19
PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARDS Who among us hasn’t been following the pruning at our beloved Condé Nast? “Cold,” we gasped as the swag was packed up and shipped to the catacombs under 4 Times Square. “Just plain mean!” we stammered when Gourmet was euthanized. Cold and mean are economic realities across the board these days, so we soldier on. Recently, however, we learned of a totally out-of-character editorial move at Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter sent letters, via FedEx, to 80 architects, critics, historians, and others asking them to contribute to an “opinion survey” from which the “five most important” buildings or works of engineering or infrastructure since 1980 would emerge. Respondents were then asked to name, in their opinion, the single most important work completed thus far in the 21st century. The letter went on to promise a lavishly illustrated feature, including interviews with the winning architects. This is not the way we evaluate art, design, and architecture. This is the way we pick the best corned-beef sandwich in town. One of the esteemed invitees opined that if the survey went out to all the usual suspects, then we can expect the winners to be the usual and suspect as well. Another cynic pointed out that the survey relieves the magazine from having to pay a real writer. (Forbes did something similar in 2002, but its search was for the ugliest.) Yet another voter suggested that the article be a roundup of architects who have designed showrooms or headquarters for *Vanity Fair advertisers: Koolhaas, Marino, Koolhaas, Pawson, Koolhaas. BACK TO THE FUTURE Eavesdrop is giddy about the opening of Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity at MoMA. Much to see and do. And yet, we’d like to draw your attention to a footnote, one of those insider’s jokes with historical significance beyond its visual impact. Think back to 1975. Arthur Drexler, MoMA’s director of architecture and design, had just mounted *The Architecture of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which many thought was an anachronistic exhibition for a modern museum. As an ironic joke, Suzanne Stephens, now deputy editor at Architectural Record, and Susana Torre, a practicing architect in Spain, designed a “bring back the Bauhaus” button for the 1975 opening. Both Stephens and Torre, alumnae of MoMA’s Architecture and Design Department, wanted to acknowledge the shock value of presenting a show based on a 19th-century academy. According to the package notes, when offered a button at the opening, Drexler refused but by the end of the evening he was caught up in the spirit of the occasion. We are happy to announce that now that MoMA has indeed brought back the Bauhaus, the button has been reissued. Go buy one before someone introduces “bring back the Beaux.” Send Anni Albers rugs and Breuer club chairs to
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Crit: Raise High the Bar on Prefab

Kieran timberlake's Cellophane House was assembled on-site at MoMA.

There is something delightful about the Museum of Modern Art’s new prefabrication show Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling that opened on July 20. On an empty lot west of the museum, future home of Jean Nouvel’s Tour de Verre, five full-scale contemporary prefabricated houses have been built, creating, as curator Barry Bergdoll put it, “the world’s strangest subdivision.”

It’s a rare sight to see single-family houses in Midtown Manhattan and rarer still to see something as small as the silvery micro compact house (an approximately 2.6-meter cube, fitted out like a boat with bathroom, kitchen, sunken dinette, and bunks) looking like a studio apartment left out in the rain. The double-takes of passers-by on 53rd and 54th streets are amusement enough.

That strangeness is historic, a point the excellent and thorough exhibition inside makes abundantly clear. There’s a sixth house up in the gallery, a return of the suppressed for MoMA: a Lustron Westchester Two Bedroom (1948–50)—an all-steel, 32 feet square house with powder-coated exterior panels in pastel colors and factory-made cabinets, closets, and vanities designed to be put together in eight days. It was the hugely popular Lustron demonstration model in Midtown that was the impetus for MoMA’s first house in the garden, Marcel Breuer’s 1949 butterfly-roof structure, meant as an elite corrective to the multiplying postwar Cape Cod cottages that even the technically accomplished Lustron aped. Today, the Lustron is welcome inside the museum, one of a number of nice high-low admixtures, though the architects outside might still shake their heads over its traditional plan. The exhibit places Quonset huts next to Frank Lloyd Wright Usonians, and shows Ford Motor Company’s filmed dream of happy workers constructing a house as quickly as a car alongside Buster Keaton’s spoof of the same, One Week.

Then as now, the gable beat the butterfly in the war of the rooflines, and the exhibit acknowledges that fact both in the text and on the lot. Next to the four flat tops sits Lawrence Sass’ House for New Orleans, a shotgun house made in the most contemporary way. The house, a prototype intended for Katrina refugees, is made of laser-cut plywood panels with cut-outs and tabs that allow it to fit together without nails or hinges, only a rubber mallet. As a contextual grace note, the porch is decorated with two-dimensional Victorian-style gingerbread (one of a number of styles that could be produced). All this ornament makes the modernist nervous—it is literally a “decorated shed”—but we are clearly in an age where computers make old patterns new again and mass customization is sexier than mass production. The porch ends up looking fussy, but the unintentional gridded pattern inside, created by all those I- and X- and T-shaped slots, is beautiful. However alien to the MoMA enterprise, it is important to have an example of (perhaps) more popular taste, as well as one of refugee housing. Sass says this prototype, if mass produced, would cost $40,000.

All five houses are meant to be objects of study, not products, but in fact, they are all for sale: The architects, from as far away as Austria and as near as Philadelphia, retain rights to the buildings and surely don’t want to have to ship them back home. One can’t help but try to place them, matchmaking Kieran Timberlake Architects’ Cellophane House—four stories, recyclable, transparent, made of snap-tight aluminium frames filled with panels of photovoltaics, polycarbonate, and Corian—with a Brooklyn brownstone neighborhood in need of new blood. Or Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf’s System 3—a long, blonde wood box, shipped as core and flat-packed walls, that fits inside a container and can be stacked into multiple stories—as a slender thorn in the side of a Connecticut suburb. The micro compact house, installed in two hours, seems like the ultimate luxury item—a room of your own that the super-rich could literally drop wherever they go.


Courtesy Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

LAWRENCE SASS' HOUSE FOR NEW ORLEANS (top) was one of the few projects to shed the veneer of the expensive modernist dream. Richard and Su Rogers' Zip Up Enclosures No. 1 and 2 (1968-71, above) was designed so that users could continually add to it via standardized components.

That ability to drop a house into whatever wilderness or city you desire has long been part of the prefab dream, from Archigram’s Plug-In City (1962–64) to the realized but never reconfigured Nagakin Capsule Tower (1968–72) in Tokyo. Now that the houses are complete, much of that drama and difference dissipates. The action happened in the weeks and days before the opening, and can still be seen on the exhibition website. The indoor exhibition also integrates film much more successfully than most contemporary architecture shows: cranes with pods, trucks with stacks, and the magic of making play over and over. For anyone who has suffered through home construction, it is like the beautiful amnesia that sets in after completion, a mental time-lapse film of the process.

At Home Delivery, there is much to learn about flat-packing, laser cutting, tool-free assembly, and integral photovoltaics. But what will this change about architecture? The exhibition makes clear that the yearning for prefabrication, which caused every major modernist architect to design at least a prototype, was born of a combination of utopian and taste-making fervor. At different points in the 20th century, we needed housing, quick and cheap. Buckminster Fuller’s Wichita House (1944–46) was intended to provide jobs and homes simultaneously for returning servicemen, turning Midwestern factories from bombers to home production. The Eames House (1945–49) was intended as an aesthetic corrective to Levittowns, and showed how much space one could enclose for the least amount of money using existing parts from industrial manufacturers. These were modernist prophets, but they also had a sense of economy. They turned to prefab out of exigency, with the desire to streamline housing as the production of cars and refrigerators had been.

That sense of exigency seems absent from 54th Street. These houses show economies of time, material, and energy, but they still look (except for the House for New Orleans) like expensive modernist dreams. It could still be the 1940s, with architects trying to persuade manufacturers there’s a market for modernism, but the market really existing only at the high end and for the very Dwell audience the exhibition claims it wants to move beyond. Good taste as mandated by MoMA still hasn’t become mass taste, and so these houses may be doomed to the same failure as prototypes by Le Corbusier, Gropius, Rudolph, and Rogers. The “cultural divide” to which Bergdoll directly refers in the show’s catalog, between those “exploring new relations between architecture and production and the steady, almost reflexive, success of manufactured housing” is not bridged here. Maybe a manufacturer will take up the Cellophane House or System 3. But is that going to solve any housing problems? The promise of prefab still seems unfulfilled.

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Dia’s Moving Plan D.O.A.

Dia's Moving Plan D.O.A.
Whitney now eyeing Meatpacking District site 

Dia's now-defunct design by SOM 

When the Dia Art Foundation’s galleries at 548 West 22 Street closed in January 2004, it left a temporary void in New York’s cultural landscape, filled later that year with the promise of a new location connected to the proposed High Line Park. But on October 24, as reported in the New York Times, Kate Levin, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) received a letter from Dia’s new board chair, Nathalie de Gunzburg, announcing that the institution would not occupy the city-owned building at 820 Washington Street as intended. The announcement was followed by the surprising news that the Whitney Museum of American Art is considering the site as an alternative to expanding its Marcel Breuer–designed home on Madison Avenue.

The Dia’s Gansevoort proposal matched the pioneering spirit the foundation embodied. Just as the museum settled in the then-burgeoning West Chelsea area in 1987, spurring its rise as an arts district, Dia would have created a stronghold for art in the transitioning Meatpacking District, and become a crucial part in the transformation of the High Line from an aging elevated railway into a dramatically landscaped public space.

In February of this year, Dia’s director Michael Govan was hired away after a 12-year tenure to become director and CEO of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Shortly thereafter, Leonardo Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble, stepped down from Dia’s board after serving for eight years, thrusting the institution into a state of instability as both men were key leaders in Dia’s growth.

Sources close to the situation suggest that between time pressure from the city, which aims to open the building by 2009, and the Whitney Museum’s expressed interest in the location as an alternative to their much-contested uptown expansion plans, Dia was forced to make a decision before they had a new director in place. Laura Raicovich, Dia’s deputy director, conceded that timing was a factor. She stated that going forward with the Meatpacking District plan did not make sense until the foundation had a director in place and the “New York City program is developed.” 

While construction on the Meatpacking site had yet to begin, Dia had been working with Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) on the design of the 92,600-square-foot location. “It would have been a perfect project for the city,” Duffy said. “We worked closely with Ricardo Scofidio and James Corner [the masterplanners of the High Line] to make sure that the projects would interface well. I am a huge fan of Dia, and anyone who thinks highly of them is disappointed by the news.

“The site wasn’t entirely easy,” he continued. “There are meat lockers close by, and the maintenance and administration areas for the High Line—and public bathrooms—had to be in the building. But we managed an elegant solution. Maybe a wiser person would have seen the writing on the wall when Michael left.” 

Joshua David, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, maintains that despite Dia’s decision, the emphasis of the High Line continues to be on its cultural and artistic value, but added, “That site is unusual because it’s owned by the city of New York, so the city has the ability to shape how it is used.”

Despite the disappointment, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden seemed sure that another cultural institution will take over the space. “A cultural use at 820 Washington is ideal for the southern terminus and principal entry to the High Line. The city will be actively seeking another cultural use,” Burden wrote by email.

Whitney spokesperson Jan Rothschild declined to comment about the museum’s intentions at 820 Washington Street other than to reiterate that the Whitney is “keeping its expansion options open.” But, she added, “No matter what we do, we are committed to working with Renzo Piano, and he is committed to us.” In an interview with Newsweek on November 2, Piano said that in September the museum asked him to consider the notion of designing a new building on a downtown site, and brought him to 820 Washington Street.

The Whitney’s attempts to expand its facilities spans 20 years, during which time it has hired and fired two architects—Michael Graves in 1985 and Rem Koolhaas in 2003—before hiring Renzo Piano to draw up plans in 2005. Piano’s initial plan met with stiff resistance from the community and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) but ultimately won all the necessary approvals and was granted several zoning variances in July from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals. A new hurdle took shape when a coalition of Upper East Side neighbors filled suit against the museum in late August to contest the variances.

Meanwhile, Dia remains committed to finding another location in New York. “The Gansevoort site is a great location, but New York has other great locations,” Raicovich said. “Dia’s top priority is looking for the site that will best accommodate its programs.”