In her speech, Meeks mentioned that since taking over leadership of the NTHP and meeting with preservationists and architects all over the country, three themes kept coming up: 1) The need to make preservation more accessible, 2) The need to make preservation more visible, and 3) The need to ensure that preservation is fully funded. By addressing those three things, she said, historic preservation can be a "visible, dynamic, broadly inclusive movement." However, I thought the most salient point she made was that places are powerful: Whether a landscape like the Hudson Valley or a historic site like the Alamo, every place has a story to tell and, as Meeks said, "they help us tell our stories, as individuals and as Americans."For his part, the New Yorker's Goldberger spoke about how Austin embodied the Next American City, making it a fitting location for the conference. Unlike Detroit and St. Louis, which represent the Old American City, Austin is both connected to history and “energetically forward-thinking” thanks to the presence of the University of Texas as well as the corporate headquarters of Dell and Whole Foods. He pointed out that it’s not a city dependent on the so-called "meds and eds" solutions -- healthcare and education -- that many cities rely on in postindustrial America, and that Austin does not have the “new pseudo-urban landscape" of Tyson’s Corner or the Buckhead section of Atlanta, or the Galleria area of Houston, which he cited as "new places that aspire to urbanity but don’t really possess much of it and which show us that a certain amount of density and tall buildings alone do not a city make.” Goldberger also pointed out that “poverty is a great friend” of historic preservation, simply because there’s less money and therefore less of an impetus for building big and tossing aside historic buildings because they aren’t shiny and new. In light of that, he felt that Austin was yet again a good role model for the Next American City, since it has prosperity but also pays heed to its architectural past: Its “solid economy has not led to a complete indifference to preservation.” Hopefully, as the city goes forward with developing a denser downtown, especially in the residential sector, the powers that be will remember that historic buildings or streetscapes are of significant value to the community.
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Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes
Jane Thompson and Alexandra Lange
The name of the store, Design Research, suggested that the project was vast. By its very nature, design is a never-ending process of inquiry. Like most large ideas, the name got condensed to something bite-sized: D/R.
This new book is about architect Ben Thompson as much as the store he created. Call it Big Ben, Part 1. One of the authors of this volume, his widow Jane Thompson, is at work on a memoir, Big Ben, Part 2. Thompson is one of those architects that mostly only other architects know about, but his impact went far beyond the converted.
Thompson’s early houses and academic buildings in the 1940s followed the quiet modernist lead of his partner at The Architects’ Collaborative, Walter Gropius. Thompson didn’t produce his most significant architectural work until he struck out on his own in the 1960s, integrating retail into the fabric of the city. He did this most famously at Faneuil Hall in Boston, South Street Seaport in Manhattan, and Harborplace in Boston. His abilities in this area no doubt grew in part because of his hands-on retail experience at D/R, which he founded in 1953.
Design Research educated generations of Marimekko-loving modernists who would go on to shop at Design Within Reach, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, and Conran, as well as at smaller modernist shops across the country. Even the D/R price tags would inform the shopper of the item’s design provenance. Thompson created some great shops, but more profoundly, he also changed the culture. New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger outlines this accomplishment in his afterword.
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Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach, perhaps the most famous recent domestic design emporium, writes a foreword that discusses his own debt to Thompson and D/R. In between the two essays, Jane Thompson and her coauthor, architecture and design journalist Alexandra Lange, have built a structure for the book as transparent yet nuanced as Thompson’s own concrete masterpiece of a building for D/R in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In some ways, it is a tragic narrative about a creative man, his vision, his success, his zenith, his loss, and his legacy—one that is told, oddly enough, through the lens of a small chain of cutting-edge design stores.
The authors quote Thompson’s unpublished memoirs throughout, yet they also went to a lot of trouble to find several former D/R employees (including the late New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp) and weave their viewpoints into an ongoing oral history that peppers the more formal essays. (Speaking of pepper, it was Thompson who brought us those great Peugeot pepper mills.) This parallels the way Thompson worked, asking the staff for their input and giving them a strong voice in the store’s look and direction. There are also reproductions of significant articles about D/R, including Janet Malcolm’s fine essay from the November 7, 1970, issue of The New Yorker.
The book reproduces the excellent professional photos of the store on Brattle Street in Cambridge, but there are few professional shots of the other locations. To compensate for this, the graphic designers at Pentagram use a lot of yellow type, yellow pages, and white space. Other than the hairstyles and automobiles in the photos, the layout of the book and the designs contained within are perfectly matched and timeless, which speaks to Thompson’s prescience.
Of course, it wasn’t just his good taste that made the store bloom so brightly. Thompson had a few lucky breaks, like Jackie Kennedy sporting a Marimekko dress on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Julia Child asking the store for help with cookware and set design when she launched her cooking show. Media helps. But as the book points out, Thompson hired talented people and let them fulfill his vision. The authors are to be commended for allowing some of the negative aspects to be told, like other more outmoded hiring policies that Thompson employed. It’s part of the history.
In his own retail environment, Thompson was able to create a complete environment where interiors and architecture could come together, and it lasted a quarter of a century. His genius was for creating the armature for all kinds of creative reinvention, whether it was as chairman of Harvard’s Department of Architecture, as the father of festival retail, or as the creator of Design Research.
A key part of the history is tucked away on the last page of the book, before the list of contributors, telling of the chain’s demise. The opening of Thompson’s great architectural achievement at 48 Brattle Street in 1969 took place under a cloud of litigation that resulted from a hostile takeover. No doubt there is a larger tale yet to be told. Can a business that prioritizes a creative vision of excellence over quarterly earnings survive? Or are all businesses now short-lived until the next takeover and eventual bankruptcy? That isn’t the tale of this volume. But perhaps Jane Thompson’s memoirs will tell us more about how her husband created a successful business where design came first. One former employee told me that the book should have been titled “D/R: A Love Story.” You can feel the love on every page.
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“They explore like few others the phenomenal properties of continuous space, lightness, transparency, and materiality to create a subtle synthesis. Sejima and Nishizawa’s architecture stands in direct contrast with the bombastic and rhetorical,” the jury said in its citation. “Instead, they seek the essential qualities of architecture that result in a much-appreciated straightforwardness, economy of means, and restraint in their work.”
In the New Yorker, Paul Goldberger wrote of the New Museum, “the building is original, but doesn’t strain to reinvent the idea of a museum. Sejima and Nishizawa have a way of combining intensity with understatement.” In each of their projects, SANAA seems to start from scratch, investigating new forms and materials, and employing innovative spatial, surface, and programmatic elements.
In an interview with Victoria Newhouse for Architectural Digest, Sejima said the Glass Pavilion’s structural glass walls “show a different kind of relationship between spaces. Everyone can see the relationship between different functions and different spaces."
In terms of Pritzker politics, the recognition of SANAA’s two partners seems to address two criticisms that have trailed the prize: the absence of female laureates—with the exception of Zaha Hadid in 2004—and the omission of recognition for Denise Scott Brown along with her husband and collaborator Robert Venturi in 1991. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, laureates in 2001, are the only other partnership in which both principals have been honored.
The members of the jury, chaired by Lord Peter Palumbo, include Alejandro Aravena, Rolf Fehlbaum, Carlos Jimenez, Juhani Pallasmaa, Renzo Piano, Karen Stein, and Executive Director Martha Thorne. Sponsored by the Chicago-based Hyatt Foundation, the Pritzker Prize comes with a $100,000 prize and a medal based on a design by Louis Sullivan.
The Spanish architect Rafael Manzano Martos will receive the 2010 Richard H. Driehaus Prize at a ceremony in Chicago on March 27. The $200,000 award is the largest prize for classical architecture in the world. Manzano is known for his work in the Mudéjar style, a blend of Christian and Muslim forms that emerged in Spain in the Middle Ages. The Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully is being honored with the Henry Hope Reed Award, a $50,000 honor.
“Manzano’s work is a complex layering of architecture in the city, including both restoration and infill. It embodies the spirit of the prize,” said Michael Lykoudis, Dean of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, the institution that administers the prize. He also praised Manzano’s commitment to place-making over “branding.”
The Driehaus Prize defines classicism broadly. “It’s not just about Greco–Roman classicism,” Lykoudis said. “The desire on the part of the jury is to show that classical architecture transcends time and national boundaries.”
In addition to Lykoudis, the prize jury includes Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker, David M. Schwarz, principal of David M. Schwarz Architects, Adele Chatfield-Taylor, president of the American Academy in Rome, Robert Davis, principal at Arcadia Land Company and Founder of Seaside, Florida, and architect Léon Krier, a previous Driehaus Prize recipient.
The Reed Award is given to non-architects. “Scully is a champion of architectural preservation. Since the ‘urban renewal’ efforts of the 1960s and ’70s, he has condemned sprawl and advocated livable and sustainable urban design,” according to a statement from the university. The award is Scully’s most recent accolade among many. He has previously been awarded a National Medal of Arts as well as the National Building Museum’s highest honor, which bears his name.
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