Search results for "Eero Saarinen"

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Closing Notes
New technologies shape design approaches such as the Eames' extensive slide collection.
Lesley Pedraza / Courtesy MAK Center

The New Creativity: Man and Machines
MAK Center for Art and Architecture
Los Angeles
June 10–August 16, 2015

Technology and architecture have been deeply intertwined since the Industrial Revolution—mechanized production, coupled with innovations in structural technology, radically transformed the space of production. Delving into more recent history, Frank Lloyd Wright reinvented the modern office landscape with his Johnson Wax Headquarters while Eero Saarinen, in his project for Bell Laboratories, exploited the aesthetics and flexibility that resulted from postwar modernism to suit the needs of scientific research at the dawn of computation. In response to emergent technologies, both designs generated spaces to serve the new machines while creating efficient workplaces for managers and employees.

Though architects’ embrace of new technologies as inspiration and mode of production is not novel, the MAK Center for Art and Architecture’s exhibition The New Creativity: Man and Machines, curated by Sylvia Lavin with the UCLA Curatorial Project, demonstrates that there is still undiscovered territory to be considered.

The curators divide the artifacts of the show into four distinct categories: Home, Office, Studio, and Shop. In doing so, they present a discretely compartmentalized view of how technology drove the creation of avant-garde themes within architectural culture during the 20th and early 21st centuries. Situated in what was once Rudolph Schindler’s own space of professional production and bohemian domesticity on Kings Road, the exhibition draws conclusive links between the creative process and often mundane technologies that produce innovations in design. In addition to using Schindler’s home and studio as an armature for the show, the curators included a Plan Hold drafting machine as an example of a catalytic design tool. Introduced into Schindler’s office by Esther McCoy, it purportedly put a “kink” in his Austrian rationalism, as evidenced in the drawings depicting the hinged plan of the Kallis House.

In the Shop section, offerings from contemporary practitioners Greg Lynn, Craig Hodgetts, Erin Besler, and others illustrate a future-present where the computational machine is no longer a mere mode of production, but merges directly into the architecture.

The exhibition’s thesis, that the melding of technology and creativity has a seismic impact on design intelligence, resonates in Lynn’s RV (Room Vehicle) House Prototype. The scale model studies the impact organic form and mechanized technology has on the traditional idea of domestic inhabitancy. Lynn’s pod-like vessel shifts orientation as the needs of the homeowner change throughout the day, allowing the floor to become wall and the ceiling to transform into furniture. When juxtaposed against other works in the exhibition, such as the authorless process inherent in the Peter Vikar’s Synthia the Drawing Machine, or the Low Fidelity models developed by Erin Besler and her hot wire cutter, the spatial impact of Lynn’s rotating house and Hodgetts’ Mobile Theater are the only elements from Shop that suggest that technology truly elevates the human condition.


The Office mines design history for mundane examples to prove a humanistic point. Renowned for their consummate dedication to promoting modernism’s stripped-down aesthetic, Herman Miller promoted workplace furniture—cubicles, storage cabinets, chairs, and executive desks—through quirky sales videos that celebrate the activities of secretary and manager alike. Developed by Robert Probst in 1964, the Action Office presents a flexible order to a 1970s corporate landscape quickly being overrun with word processing machines and appliance-sized computers. Action Office transformed office managers into architects. When one considers the impact Herman Miller’s product  had on the space by simply deploying well-designed furniture and cubicle systems, one wonders if the technologically-driven form-making favored by some of the contemporary designers in the Shop section of the show produce the type of cultural-spatial impact as the “office in a box” that came out of Zeeland, Michigan, almost a half century ago. The issue here is that, despite providing seductive form, technical proficiency doesn’t always deliver pleasurable space, no matter how many compound curves or tweaked angles in the design.

The value of The New Creativity: Man and Machines really lies in selectively magnifying transformative moments within design culture that most would overlook, drawing them together into a soft manifesto. The exhibition, however, trends more toward promoting visual representation and aesthetic output over spatial impact. It takes a critical eye to cut through the history-porn and find the true value in a majority of the work. It is troubling that there is little discourse around the architecture (realized or proposed) produced by the tools in the show beyond its representational value.

While Paul Rudolph may have been a quick study of the repro-machine, his monolithic housing proposal in the show leaves much to be considered in humanist terms, especially when examined through the lens of postwar urban development and the well-documented negative sociological impact such projects had on the more intimate prewar metropolitan culture. Similarly, for anyone who has lived Office Space at some point in their career, the Action Office System cubicle promoted by Herman Miller might seem more like a dystopian flashback, rather than innovative social and spatial tool.

The archival objects, drawings, and models in The New Creativity: Man and Machines invite a certain degree of introspection about the discipline’s hermetic tendencies. Why should we care about office furniture, when during the same decade Action Office invaded office space, humanity had its sights on a lunar landing?

There’s a comfortable clarity and pleasurable visual eroticism to be celebrated in the realm of cool machines, or hip representational proficiency. But more is at stake. Saarinen’s Bell Labs, which through its lifespan transformed from a space of deep computing into a space of deep consuming, endured as a testament to modernism’s infinite spatial flexibility. That shifting paradigm parallels the move from the 20th to 21st century and makes a point that The New Creativity hesitates to point out: While technology is temporal, the architecture it produces, for good or bad, is here to stay.

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Jewish History & Modernism
The Kaufmann House, designed by Richard Neutra in Palm Springs, CA, 1947.
Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York Through January 17, 2016 Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television Jewish Museum in New York Through September 27, 2015

Midcentury modernism continues to weave its magic spell in two fascinating exhibitions now on display in New York. Although both exhibitions—Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television at the Jewish Museum and Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—discuss Jewish architects, artists, and designers, they are far more central to the latter exhibition than to the former. Regardless, both explore little-known aspects of the midcentury movement that will interest visitors of any religious persuasion. Designing Home was guest-curated by Donald Albrecht, who has also curated exhibitions at the National Building Museum, Museum of the City of New York, and Cooper Hewitt, and Smithsonian Design Museum, among others. It looks at American-born and émigré Jewish architects and designers’ contributions to the modern, American domestic landscape. Albrecht’s thesis is that the work and concepts of these architects and designers—regardless of where they were born—can be traced to the Bauhaus, which aimed to develop new designs for the broad public in a new industrial age before the Nazis shut it down in the 1930s. According to Albrecht, the architects and designers were either hired as faculty members by various schools, or had their work showcased in museum exhibitions or publications throughout the United States. Not surprisingly, the Museum of Modern Art was at the forefront of this movement, with its 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition and 1934 Machine Art exhibition, the1950s Good Design program as well as the demonstration houses in the sculpture garden in 1949 and 1950 by former Bauhausler Marcel Breuer and American Architect Gregory Ain.
Ernest Sohn, made by Hall China Company for Ernest Sohn Creations, “Esquire” coffee pot set and casserole dishes, 1963.
John Halpern/Courtesy Earl Marin
Also in this network of institutions was Chicago’s New Bauhaus, run by another Bauhausler, László Moholy-Nagy. This later became the Institute of Design and is now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology; it adopted the Bauhaus’ workshop system. Arts & Architecture magazine launched a Case Study House Program in Los Angeles in 1945 to promote modern domestic architecture to American homeowners; Eero Saarinen (then practicing in Michigan), the Californians Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra and Raphael Soriano created prototypes of affordable, livable, modern homes for it. The magazine also hired photographers and graphic designers, many Jewish, to illustrate its stories; among the former was Brooklyn–born, Los Angeles–based architectural photographer Julius Shulman, whose work, Albrecht says, captured “the architectural essence of a building…[and] compellingly represents the California way of life at midcentury.” The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis also actively promoted modern residential design through construction of two full-scale, fully furnished houses, and an “Everyday Art Gallery” of home furnishings. They even had an accompanying quarterly magazine. Advancing these efforts was a former student of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Bauhaus, Hilde Reiss. On view to the public for the first time in this exhibition is residential furniture—including a cube frame chair, desk and desk lamp, and dressing table and swivel vanity chair—designed by Bauhaus graduate Harry Rosenthal in the 1930s for the Berlin apartment of Dr. William Schiff and his wife, Ilse, who fled Germany for San Francisco in 1935. They commissioned Neutra—himself an Austrian Jewish immigrant who had settled in Los Angeles—to design a townhouse for them and another doctor in San Francisco’s Marina district; they specifically requested an appropriate setting for the bold, geometric design of Rosenthal’s furniture, later photographed by Shulman, in pictures also on display here. Other notable pieces of furniture in the exhibition are a multifunctional, sculptural combination chair and end table, in wood and plush upholstery, designed by Rudolph M. Schindler, a Viennese architect who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and Los Angeles; a bookshelf that resembles a skyscraper, designed by Paul T. Frankl, an Austrian-born architect and interior designer who practiced in New York and Los Angeles; and a 1938 wood and plywood chair and wooden desk designed by Breuer for dormitory rooms at Bryn Mawr College. Although architecture is not the primary focus of Revolution of the Eye, the exhibition’s curator, Maurice Berger, finds the modernist ideals and ambitions of the CBS television network reflected in its architectural commissions, specifically, its 1965, Saarinen-designed, dark-granite clad corporate headquarters in New York, known as “Black Rock,” and its 1952 studio complex in Los Angeles—Television City by Charles Luckman and William Leonard Pereira. According to Berger, Saarinen’s wife, and TV and print journalist, Aline Bernstein introduced Americans to art and architecture in her writing and as an on-air critic for several NBC shows; she believed, he said, “that the appreciation of art was not limited to insiders and cultural elites [and] rejected the idea that art must be understood in purely aesthetic terms.” Among works not to be missed in this exhibition—especially by visitors of a certain age—are the 1950s, puzzle, crayons, paint kit, game book and record player from Winky Dink, which Berger calls the “first fully interactive” TV program; clips of segments from The Ed Sullivan Show, whose stage sets Berger said “embraced the look and sensibility of a number of contemporary avant-garde movements”; and an extremely rare, one minute long 1968 color TV commercial, The Underground Sundae, made by Andy Warhol for ice cream from Schrafft’s, a now-defunct New York restaurant chain. As Schrafft’s President Frank G. Shattuck later remarked, “We haven’t got just a commercial. We’ve acquired a work of art.”
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Roadside Renzo
Kum & Go HQ gets the Renzo Piano treatment.
Courtesy Renzo Piano Building Workshop

The Menil Collection. Parco della Musica Auditorium. The new Whitney Museum. The Art Institute of Chicago. And, now, Kum & Go Headquarters.

Renzo Piano’s latest client is the family-owned, Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience store chain Kum & Go. His contribution to Des Moines will further move one of the region’s most prominent businesses from a suburban campus choked by cars and cul-de-sacs into a redeveloping district featuring a public library by David Chipperfield and a sculpture park by New York-based architects Mario Gandelsonas and Diana Agrest.

Piano’s design packages all the features that an ever-widening base of clients come to him for. Its strong, terraced horizontal lines hint at the indigenous Prairie Style, lightened with span after span of floor-to-ceiling glass. The five-story building (complete with rooftop garden) is suspended over a glass-walled entrance pavilion via a series of thin steel columns, offering Piano’s best chance in this project for his hallmark structural poetry.

Boasting expansive Prairie Style terraces and a wealth of glass, Piano’s building is expected to open in 2018.

Project manager Danielle Hermann of OPN Architects (the local architects of record) says the plan is intended to have the “building floating over the landscape.” The approximately $100 million project will begin construction late this fall, and is expected to be complete by 2018.

“Lightness, simplicity, and openness are the main concepts expressed in the design,” said Piano in a press release. “The four vast planes flying over the site will emphasize the lightness and the transparency of the building, and will dialogue with the sculpture park nearby.”


A third of the four-acre site will be taken up by Piano’s building, leaving ample room for a landscaped, privately-owned public park space that will serve as an extension to Gandelsonas and Agrest’s Pappajohn Sculpture Park across the street. Piano’s plan is designed to defer to the sculpture garden, while offering cool, shady outdoor space that complement the topography next door.

The Kum & Go building “should serve as a community connector and really fit well in the site—to serve as a natural, artful extension of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park,” said Kum & Go CEO Kyle Krause.


The neighborhood, called Gateway West, is a master-planned area of redevelopment, and a building by a Pritzker Prize–winning architect could be its crown jewel. Beyond Kum & Go and the sculpture park, it hosts the Chipperfield library, several other corporate headquarters, and a raft of new restaurants, several of which have been installed into adaptively reused buildings. Previously an undefined edge-zone abutting the corporate, modernist highrises of downtown, “It’s creating a new place in the city of Des Moines,” said Erin Olson-Douglas, an architect with the city who works on economic development and urban planning.

Krause’s family will own the building, with Kum & Go (who operate 100 LEED-certified gas stations) as a tenant. Krause proffered the vision for moving the company into the city center from the suburban campus they were rapidly outgrowing. Inspired by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (who moved his company from the suburban fringe of Las Vegas to its downtown), Krause wanted to harness the same urban energy that comes through chance encounters in active, vibrant places, according to the company’s senior vice president of store development Nikki DePhillips.

The attention Piano has focused on the city is reason to be proud, said Olson-Douglas, but it is also an opportunity to exorcise some fly-over-country anxiety. When Piano was selected, Olson-Douglas wondered, “Are we really good enough for that?” But, with an art museum by Eliel Saarinen, IM Pei, and Richard Meier, and Drake University’s Eliel and Eero Saarinen master plan, “There’s always been a culture of high architecture,” she said. “The decision the Krauses made ups that ante, and reinforces that history.”

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David Chipperfield beats Foster, KPF to convert US embassy in London to hotel
In London's high-end Mayfair neighborhood, the Brutalist United States embassy, originally designed by Eero Saarinen, has been keeping watch over Grosvenor Square for 55 years. Diplomats will soon be exiting the building, however, as developers prepare for a hotel conversion by David Chipperfield Architects. The Architects Journal reports that Chipperfield bested Foster+Partners and U.S. firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) for the job. However, there is some uncertainty as to whether Chipperfield has actually been commissioned or not. A spokesman for Qatari Diar, the company that now owns the site, refused to confirm that Chipperfield won the competition, stating: "A range of options on the best use of this important site are currently being considered." Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment has secured the remaining 939 years on the Mayfair district building’s lease and will not be allowed to alter the embassy's design as it was awarded grade 2 listing status for its historical and architectural significance and its "dynamic facade" in 2009. According to the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), the concrete building was the "first purpose-built US embassy in Europe." The building's "dynamic facades, well-detailed stonework and consistency of detail and the innovative application of the exposed concrete diagrid" led to its protected status, the DCMS added. Occupying 225,000 square feet, the embassy takes up the entire west side of Grosvenor Square and currently has, according to Bloomberg, around 750 staff. Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake has drawn up plans for the new U.S. embassy in Nine Elms, just south of the Thames, which is set to welcome occupants in 2017. The firm's winning design has been described by the Times as having a "moat" due to its semi-circular pond on one side. The new embassy resembles a crystalline cube and is surrounded by extensive public green spaces.
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Back to the Future
Courtesy General Motors

In the mid-1940s, General Motors (GM) wanted to expand its research and design operations, but needed more space than downtown Detroit could accommodate. Led by Harley Earl—the first automotive executive to hold the title of Vice President of Design—the company laid out ambitious plans for its new Technical Center, purchasing 710 acres of farmland in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan.

They hired the firm lead by Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen to design the campus. When he died before the design was complete, GM decided to stick with the relatively small firm, now under the leadership of Eliel’s son, the young and unproven Eero Saarinen.

Earl wanted a designer that would represent GM as a forward-thinking company. He got that and more with Saarinen, who designed the 1.1-square-mile campus in the International Style, distinguished by rectilinear buildings, smooth surfaces,  and more than 19,000 employees.

Just as Eero Saarinen’s midcentury campus for GM is granted landmark status, the company embarks on a renovation of the iconic Technical Center and plans for a new IT facility.

The campus is an architectural masterpiece, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2014 by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Since the grand opening in 1956, however, the campus has remained largely closed to the public due to the secretive nature of researching and designing the next generation of GM automobiles.

“When you consider the enormity of this campus and its importance to architectural history, it’s not a very well-told story,” said Susan Skarsgard, design manager at GM.

In May, GM began a $1 billion dollar renovation of the Technical Center, rescuing architecturally significant features from flood damage from 2014—the very year that the campus was designated a national landmark. GM will also build a new IT center to accommodate 2,600 new employees, among other upgrades, over the next three years.


Saarinen believed in total design cohesion, that everything should be built for its next larger context—a chair for a room, a room for a building, a building for a complex. This concept is elegantly instituted through modular design around the campus, resulting in a geometry that every space and object abides to or at least acknowledges. Buildings, offices, windows, desks, the steps of a staircase, ceiling panels, and even the main lake all conform to a five-foot module.


Beautiful irregularities stand out against the hard geometry of rectangles. Many of the complex’s walls are made out of eye-catching glazed brick, which has both a machine-like sheen and a handmade touch as countless small blemishes create variations in color. Saarinen also commissioned numerous works of art, such as Harry Bertoia’s Textured Screen, made of bronzed sheet metal, and Gwen Lux’s Power and Direction, an abstract sculpture reminiscent of the Buick Y-Job, designed by Earl as the industry’s first concept car. Kevin Roche’s spiral staircase in the Research & Design Administration Building is a wonder of physics. Built from Norwegian granite slabs totaling over 25 tons, the staircase appears suspended, somehow held together by the tension of thin, stainless steel spokes connected at its base.

The eye never tires at the Technical Center, whether it settles on any of the inviting lobbies with canopies extending over plazas or the Design Dome, an auditorium whose aluminum exterior is thinner than an eggshell.

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Can the latest plan to salvage LaGuardia take flight? New York Governor Cuomo unveils ambitious $4 billion airport redesign scheme
For New Yorkers and visitors alike, LaGuardia Airport is a confusing maze of disconnected terminals. Beset with delays, chaotic transfers, poorly designed wayfinding, and congestion for both passengers and planes, the airport was recently, not undeservingly, characterized by Vice President Biden as feeling like a “third-world country.” Now the facility is slated to get a much-needed, and long overdue redesign. Governor Cuomo presented a far-reaching plan to overhaul the tired facility, which would cost roughly $4 billion, and be completed over a 5-year period. Once the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey green light the plans, construction will commence, with the goal of opening the first half of the project to passengers by early 2019, and then finishing up the second half 1.5 years later. The proposal was guided by the Governor’s Advisory Panel with recommendations from Dattner Architects, PRESENT Architecture, and SHoP Architects. It would bulldoze the airport's Terminal B building and essentially replace an existing series of small terminals with a single unified structure situated closer to Grand Central Parkway. According to the Governor’s website, the redesign would include new terminal space, a new arrival and departures hall, and a connection to Delta’s Terminals C and D. In addition, the Governor detailed plans to add transit with a new AirTrain and ferry service, as well as address potential flooding by elevating infrastructure. “New York had an aggressive, can-do approach to big infrastructure in the past—and today, we’re moving forward with that attitude once again,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement. “We are transforming LaGuardia into a globally-renowned, 21st century airport that is worthy of the city and state of New York.” Few can argue that LaGuardia, the smallest of New York’s three airports, needs to be re-imagined, but the question is whether this proposal is a band aid solution to a much more complicated problem that requires a greater comprehensive strategy. “The Governor's intentions are good, but the proposal is disappointing because it does not attempt to deal with the main problems plaguing LGA. Its runways are too short, which causes safety issues, delays, and limitations on destinations. It's in a flood zone and its level needs to be raised to deal with future storms. Furthermore, the proposed rail connection is terribly convoluted,” explained Jim Venturi, the principal designer of ReThinkNYC. “With people finally speaking seriously about closing Riker's Island, and with the airport's proximity to the Northeast Corridor, it is disappointing that the Governor did not take the advice of Vice President Biden and choose a more ‘holistic’ approach to solving the region's transposition problems. There are many opportunities that this plan does not take advantage of and we would urge them to rethink their approach.” Venturi recently detailed his own proposal for doing just that in a recent edition of The Architect's Newspaper. LaGuardia isn’t the only airport in line to be revamped. The governor stated that he will soon issue an RFP for a redesign of JFK International Airport. In the meantime, the iconic Eero Saarinen–designed TWA Flight Center will be transformed into a LEED certified hotel, consisting of 505 guestrooms, 40,000 square feet of conference, event and meeting space, and an observation deck. This will be JFK's first airport hotel.
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New York City’s iconic Four Seasons Restaurant inside the Seagram Building is at the center of a renovation dispute
Four_Seasons_restaurant Traditionalists went into a tailspin over proposed modifications to the landmark Four Seasons Restaurant, a gastronomic and architectural emblem of New York City housed in the historic Seagram Building. The high-ceilinged enclave, clad with French walnut walls, plays daily host to high society a big business in Midtown Manhattan. The eatery garnered landmark status in 1989 for the building’s architectural prowess. Nevertheless, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) cautions that this designation does not shield the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs, Florence Knoll banquettes, Eero Saarinen cocktail tables, and table settings by L. Garth Huxtable. Building owner and noted art collector Aby Rosen of RFR Holdings recently filed plans to make changes to the restaurant, reportedly without consulting owners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder. While the LPC approved the proposed new carpeting without qualm, they balked at a removal of the cracked-glass and bronze partitions separating the dining area and bar. Originally installed by legendary architect Philip Johnson, who designed the space with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1959, the partitions would be replaced by movable ivy planters to open up the space. Selldorf Architects is also considering nixing the large walnut panels separating the square-shaped 60-foot-by-60-foot Pool Room from the dining room on the mezzanine. These will be replaced with five panels, the outer two of which would be operable for reconfiguration of the space. According to Rosen, this would improve the flow between the mezzanine and the Pool Room without the upper tier framing the space. “This landmark is elevated to a level where any kind of intervention would not be living with preservation,” objected LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. Conservationists bristled last year when Rosen entertained an eviction of the Le Tricorne Picasso tapestry hanging inside the restaurant in order to facilitate reparations to the wall behind it, where a “potentially serious steam leak” from the two-story kitchen had purportedly crippled the structure. The preservation commission retorted that removal of the tapestry would cause it to “crack like a potato chip.” A New York State judge issued an injunction prohibiting Seagram from removing the painting, but Rosen, a real estate developer and avid collector of post-war art, is in conservationists’ crossfire again for daring to alter a landmark. “These are features that are integral to the sense of space. Not just decorative but have architectural meaning and value,” said Commissioner Diana Chapin. Edgar Bronfman Jr., whose family owned Seagram, claimed that RFR’s proposal displays “utter contempt” for the icon. RFR representative Sheldon Werdiger maintains that the changes are restorative rather than invasive. “We’re not making changes as much as we’re restoring. Our local press is trying to make it into a controversial situation,” he told Arch Record.
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JetBlue wants to turn Eero Saarinen’s iconic TWA terminal into a hotel
JetBlue Airlines—the one with free snacks and live television—is interested in getting into the hotel business, and it wants to kick things off with Eero Saarinen's swooping TWA Terminal at JFK Airport. The Wall Street Journal reported that JetBlue and New York–based hotelier MCR Development are in "advanced negotiations" with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey for the rights to turn the swooping structure into a modern hotel. While things seem promising, similar attempts have failed. In 2013, hotelier André Balazs won the rights for a terminal-to-hotel conversion, but ultimately decided not to move forward with the project because of how long it would take to complete—he's a busy guy and said he had more interesting things to pursue. After that episode, the bidding process was relaunched and JetBlue and MCR came out on top. If this new plan doesn't meet the same fate, the two companies plan to fill the terminal with 500 rooms, many of which will be occupied by frustrated fliers whose flights were cancelled and need a convenient place to stay before they catch the next flight at the crack of dawn. Honestly, having to spend a night in Saarinen's masterpiece wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
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The Archive Project
Courtesy Perkins+Will

Until Perkins+Will’s Chicago office hired Cheryl Ziegler to catalogue and organize them, the archives of the nearly 80-year-old design firm were just a loose collection of photographic slides, yellowing sketches, and scrapbooks. “It wasn’t an archive,” said design director Ralph Johnson. “They were working files.”

Johnson said in his early days at the firm he would often go to the cluttered file cabinets to pull examples of past work for inspiration. Original documents date back to some of the firm’s first work, including the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois. Designed by founding principals Lawrence Perkins and Philip Will in collaboration with Eero and Eliel Saarinen, its “zoned” hubs of classrooms organized around common activity areas earned recognition from the American Institute of Architects as “a landmark of design for education which demonstrates that an inspired educational philosophy can be translated into an architecture of continuing function and beauty.”

The Heathcote School in Scarsdale, N.Y. was a landmark in modern educational design. Perkins+Will recently digitized historic color slides of the school, shown here.

Old photos, sketches and notes related to the project endure in the archives, which Johnson said might result in some sort of publication. For now, they’re happy to have someone protecting the wealth of information just sitting in storage on the 36th floor of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s IBM building. “A lot of these things could have been lost,” said Ziegler, an archivist and art teacher that Perkins+Will hired in June. “Some of it ended up in the Art Institute and some of it ended up in the dumpster.”


Other gems include the sketchbooks of C. William Brubaker, who started as an intern at the firm and became partner in 1958, and color slides of Lawrence Perkins’ Heathcote Elementary School in Scarsdale, New York.

The archives are not an encyclopedic or perfectly preserved record. Caustic glue once used to adhere photos and clippings in various scrapbooks has started to corrode one-of-a-kind material. But for Johnson, who used to pluck things from the archive to show other regional offices, comprehensiveness is not the point.

“It’s more of a personal view of Perkins+ Will,” he said. And it leads to interesting insights about their current work, like the fact that they still strive for a goal set by the original Perkins and Will: being “architects of social consciousness” who try to imbue institutional buildings with humanity.

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An Academic Odyssey In Cambridge
Courtesy MIT Press

A Second Modernism. MIT, Architecture, and the ‘Techno-Social’ Moment
Arindam Dutta, editor
MIT Press

MIT’s long history of pressing for change in architecture includes being the first to offer an architecture degree in the U.S. and the first to award an architectural degree to a woman (Sophia Hayden Bennett in 1890). Less well known to many practitioners and academics today is the School’s longstanding engagement with the knotty intersections of modern society, technology, research, and architecture. The essays in A Second Modernism address precisely these issues between 1945–1981, reaching back to the transformation of the Department of Architecture into the School of Architecture in 1932, and forward to the founding of the Center for Real Estate Development in the 1990s. From shaping an architectural history and theory graduate program, to Gyorgy Kepes’ research on cognitive and perceptual technologies, to research on prefabricated housing, MIT marked numerous paths for other architecture schools to follow.

There is not room in this review to do justice to all the fine chapters in A Second Modernism, nor to ask all the questions I would like to about its production. For example, who chose pale grey and pale black sans-serif fonts on high gloss paper for such a book? Where was the copy editor, especially for Arindam Dutta’s introduction? Why do some footnotes appear several pages before or after that of the passage being footnoted? Why no bibliography? This is not up to MIT Press’s usually high standards. Could this be because the book was edited, designed, and produced under the MIT Department of Architecture’s in-house imprint, SA+P Press, and is only being distributed by MIT Press? It would appear so, judging from the credits on the copyright page. Book design is a profession in itself, not a hobby to be toyed with; architects would do well to remember this. And this is not to mention the book’s 3.1 pounds, which hardly eases reading. While it is difficult not to be discouraged by some of its mechanics, the book in its substance has much to offer.

The tale of Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel (1949-55) in many respects encapsulates the University’s ambitions in the post-World War II world. In the wake of that slaughter, as Reinhold Martin demonstrates in his fine study, students and faculty alike grasped for some way to resist scientific and technological determinism in part by shifting emphases toward a more holistic program, emblematically embodied in Earo Saarinen’s Chapel. For Martin, the debates surrounding the chapel exemplify a greater complexity than found in the regnant simplistic binary oppositions (modern/traditional, abstract/symbolic). As he so elegantly writes, “the university rediscovers its human ‘soul’…[and] exchanges the ‘myth’ of reason for the reasonable production of myth, in a theological humanism… no longer in need of its dialectical, secular counterpart.”

Under the leadership of an extraordinarily enlightened President, James Killian—would there be some like he today!—the School of Architecture’s underlying ambition was thus twofold: on the one hand, to develop a body of research in architecture engaged with new technologies and materials, and on the other, to fold architecture back into humanistic disciplines in part through the reintroduction of history to the curriculum. Today many have forgotten that Walter Gropius, of Bauhaus fame, eliminated all books on architectural history from the Harvard Library—along with the subject from the curriculum itself—and most other American schools of architecture duly followed suit. The focus instead was meant to be on technology, on problem solving, on being “modern,” for which history, in the views of believers, was useless.

MIT’s leaders, though managing the top institution with a scientific and technological portfolio in the United States, took a very different approach, especially in the wake of World War II and the deployment of nuclear warheads sufficient to destroy the globe. MIT resisted the exclusively applied science thrust common elsewhere in part by its commitment to a broad humanistic undergraduate program. In architecture, this led to what remains the country’s premier program in architectural history, a tale related in John Harwood’s thoughtful chapter. Three broad research themes marked these years, one having to do with humanistic studies, another with architecture and urban planning, and a third to the interface between developments in science and technology and the first two. Harwood’s exemplary analysis reminds us through whom, and how, momentous changes led to the country’s most prominent and successful graduate program in architectural history and theory. Stanford Anderson’s first-person, richly documented account of the effort to bring architects, planners, and historians together in a common enterprise during the turbulent 1960s, CASE (Conference of Architects for the Study of the Environment), reveals the early histories and interactions of a handful of men later to become among the most prominent in the field. It also holds numerous surprises for the current generation: Peter Eisenman and Michael Graves once (briefly) betrayed interest in housing for marginalized populations. Who knew?

For several decades, the MIT-Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies set the terms of the urban planning agenda not only in the United States but also arguably around the globe. The new city of Ciudad Guayana in Venezuela (1961–68) assured the center’s prominence, not only for the vastness of the enterprise but also for its many failures. To be sure, the city’s population today exceeds 700,000, but the ambitious goal of diversity eluded planners, whose schemes ended up producing cities at once more class segregated and less pedestrian friendly than other Latin American cities. The chapters by Eric Mumford and M. Ijlal Muzaffar detail the high hopes and good intentions of planning from above on behalf of a population unwilling to live as planners demanded. The U.S. and Venezuelan planners’ hopes for the deployment of what was then high-technology computer analyses, foundered on the realities of life for populations they did not understand. The same applied to the then-rampant so-called “urban renewal” programs. Tim Vreeland summarized many architects’ views when he remarked in 1966, “Urban renewal is to planning what remodeling is to architecture.” Ultimately MIT withdrew from the Joint Center, which evolved into a Harvard Center for housing studies.

Beneath specific program failures lay a more profound one, that of the culture of the expert. Many of the participants in the Joint Center shifted toward supporting self-built housing and away from top-down planning, but the culture of the expert is a difficult beast to kill. It persists in virtually every planning and architecture program in the U.S., and not only among professional schools of planning and architecture. The short life of Robert Goodman’s advocacy approach to urban and architectural planning at MIT (1966–1972) effectively signaled institutional resistance to a bottom-up approach. How could it be otherwise when architecture and its discourses rested in the hands of leaders such as Charles Moore, whose 1966 comment: “With the architect’s assumption of responsibility for the whole environment…” tellingly illustrates the typical arrogant response to the profession’s increasingly marginalized status? Felicity Scott’s brilliant essay on urban systems perhaps best summarizes the transformations in architecture during those fateful years. Architecture’s longstanding imperative to give material form to normative social mandates, she writes, shifted to architectural research that operates “in the service of advancing modes of global governability and their micro-techniques of power… in which decision making has been ceded to technologies of control and management… geared toward eradicating conflict.”

As Mark Jarzombek so effectively illustrates in his nuanced study of MIT professor emeritus Maurice Smith, other potential responses loomed. In the hyper-rationalist environment of Bauhausian training, Smith stood out as a vigorous and thoughtful opponent of over-designed, over-determined buildings. Why, he asked, were architecture students producing Bauhaus- and Kepes-inspired objects (‘architectonic assignments’) out of paper, when there were real materials to work with and real problems to confront? Indeed, one should ask the same question of undergraduate programs today, where, unfortunately, the same approach dominates. Smith’s teaching and especially his projects erected with found materials in an additive, at times whimsical fashion can be understood as Frank Gehry (pre-Gehry) with a theoretical basis founded in an invigorating curiosity, one that resisted Gehry’s easy accommodation with capitalism’s most destructive features. In some sense the Center for Real Estate Development marks the trajectory of a graduate program from one that initially sought federal funding to develop low and medium cost housing as well as some measure of control over developments in science and technology, to one that became an arm of capitalist development and land use schemes, a trajectory at best disquieting. Ending as they do just prior to the advent of the center, the essays skirt this thorny issue.

It would be altogether too simple to dismiss much of the history recounted in these pages as that of a group of privileged white males toying with questions of how to make the world (or education, or buildings, or cities, or politics, etc.) for other people. It was indeed that, even if often with the best of intentions, for at times the pages of this book fairly throb with testosterone, with meetings, drinks, male bonhomie, duels, and whatever else Caucasian males do when they assemble to refashion a world (made by earlier white males) to reflect their new interests. It is some consolation that women wrote eight of the twenty-three chapters here—although not much. Though the architectural academy has reluctantly opened its doors to women and other marginalized groups, it has yet to accept challenges from them. As a Harvard professor once told a newly hired professor, she was chosen over others in part because he and his colleagues saw her as “collegial”—that is, she would embrace her colleagues’ ethos and not rock the boat. At MIT, the agenda did not include battling for diversity, no more than was the case elsewhere, but as A Second Modernism illustrates, during the Cold War years the University’s School of Architecture and Planning took up many other challenges, and did so in compelling ways. I can think of no other school in the country to have thwarted the inertia so typical of such programs in such varied fashion. Documenting this odyssey merits most of the 930 pages.

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MoMA’s Midtown Monotony
Paul Gunther

Mission accomplished: The mid-town brownstone block where Alfred Barr and his fellow Modernist pioneers placed their Museum of Modern Art as America’s definitive destination for the Euro-centric discovery, interpretation, and advocacy of the Western world’s most progressive and putatively inevitable artistic trajectory will soon complete its path to final, filled-in form.

It began officially when the townhouse leased from John D. Rockefeller in 1932 was demolished for the first purpose-built International style MoMA headquarters by Goodwin and Stone, standing in breathtaking contrast to the 19th century context of residential masonry facades on the surrounding lots. It was precisely this bold juxtaposition that told the dynamic story best. And with it, the Museum set in motion its enduring dual role as both museum and real estate developer.

Manhattan’s mid-blocks as placeholders of lower density and contrasting styles in a joyful discordance of design history and shifting accommodation of existing fabric to contemporary needs is headed towards extinction, excepting designated landmarks sandwiched amid the leapfrogging glass curtain walls scraping at a disappearing sky. This unfolds despite Section 81-00 in the “General Purposes” section of New York’s Zoning Code (as approved and enforced by the City Planning Commission) calling for “the historic pattern of relatively low building bulk in mid-block locations, compared to avenue frontages.” Such good intentions yield to overriding development interests amid what seems yet another ceaseless real estate boom; landmark designation holds as the sole buffer to demolition, and the street wall uniformity following it, and is labeled therefore as an impediment to change. “Amber” (as in “fixed”) is just another word for nothing else to lose.


Somehow it seems fitting that with the exception of a few narrow mid-blocks, as between Madison to Park, where two midcentury Avenue-fronted lots accommodated new towers touching in the middle as of right, Barr’s bold 53rd Street launch pad signals the final victory of Modernism’s 80-year old call for what was back then a radical paradigm of new form.

MoMA president Glenn Lowry as much as said so back on April 10, 2013, when first announcing the plan to demolish Tod Williams Billie Tsien’s 12-year old American Folk Art Museum: “The building’s design does not fit our plans because the opaque facade is not in keeping with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the building…” This is official modernism writ large as proscribed four generations beforehand and apparently non-negotiable across time. When contemporary classicists appeal for comparable design deference, they are generally labeled reactionary.

The block is now maxed out and done. It is not easy to demolish 50+ story buildings. To refurbish or redefine interiors like downtown’s residential conversions of old corporate towers is possible, even likely, but by and large the formal exterior envelope is now sealed excepting perhaps some occasional decorative refreshment (as usually regretted eventually when styles shift and the original integrity seems right after all).

This final transformation is made official at two sites: one nearing completion, the other finally set to start with the financing in place. The Folk Art Museum demolition is under way, starting with facade removal for placement in storage as a trace of a lost landmark, like the eagles from the parapet of the old Penn Station pulled from a New Jersey landfill years after its destruction.


That nearing completion is the Enrique Norten TEN Arqitectos 46-story flagship Baccarrat Hotels and Resorts replacing as it did Aymar Embury II’s restrained classically-tinged yet modernist 1955 limestone-clad Donnell Library Center. The new library, housed at street level and subterranean as is so often the trade off on such zoning deals, is reduced in size from 97,000 square feet to just 28,000, including space-consuming “bleacher steps” eerily reminiscent of Koolhaus’s Soho Prada. Just when public library usage surges to unprecedented demand, Norten’s clients have set aside one third the total size for this oddity and future users can only hope that these bleacher steps have some sort of relevance to intended function as opposed to a spot for noisy and noisome crowd congregation.

The city sold the old five-story Donnell for a measly $39 million, which is about one half the price of the new luxury hotel/condo’s penthouse sale price alone. While it is unfair to yet judge the design result on its own merit, its role in “completing” the block’s south side facade is fact. It fills it in with the side street facade of Caron and Lundin’s 1957 666 Fifth Avenue to the east; to the west is Kevin Roche’s 1986 red granite–clad pharaonic Post Modern EF Hutton Building and the fabled CBS Black Rock tower of Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll, completed in 1965 and daring to veer from high Miesian orthodoxy with emphasis on unbroken, order-free vertical columns instead of a glass curtain wall.

Meanwhile, the urban infill at its block-wide maximum on the northern street wall is the last piece, namely the MOMA-hatched real estate deal leading to what will open in 2018 as Jean Nouvel’s Tower Verre. It will be an 82-story luxury residential tower rising to 1,050 feet after the City Planning Commission knocked off a submitted 200 feet more despite ambiguous authority to do so as back then (prior to approval of the 57th Street mother lode of needle towers) it was deemed unseemly to equal the height of the Empire State building envelop and even eclipse that of the Chrysler. Times change, values change when it comes to the sky and the impact on infrastructure and existing communities alike. Three street level floors designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro will again expand MoMA’s gallery and programming space, including easy, transparent access into the Sculpture Garden with the rest of the tower reserved for the world’s wealthiest, who will thus sadly most likely never actually reside there.

So except for MOMA’s sequential architectural iterations and the abutting St. Thomas Episcopal Church the inn is full.

This glimpse of midtown’s now inevitable future began in part in the 1970s, when the Museum set out successfully to secure zoning permission for the revenue-generating and facility expanding mid-block tower on land it owned by drawing on the air rights of the Philip Johnson-designed Sculpture Garden. This seminal exception to the planning tenet mixing the density of Avenue vs. side streets that characterized midtown’s archetypal form and function set a precedent. It was granted the variance despite vociferous objection from local neighborhood and civic organizations alike, presciently knowing that that act alone spelled the end to the Manhattan plan as evolved. Excepting landmarks and designated historic districts, all midblock lots would be replaced eventually by a seamless continuity of the Avenue street fronts in what would be finally a colossal uniform cube of street wall verticality.

That path-breaking commission went to Cesar Pelli Associates, who delivered the 52-story Museum Tower at 15 West 53rd Street in 1984, along with a coat checking friendly atrium, expanded restaurant and gift stores, and new gallery spaces of still conventional scale.

The Pelli commission led a generation later to another major overhaul and expansion, this time built largely with capital contributions and the taxpayers of New York City. The demolition of all remaining 53rd Street brownstones and the Dorset Hotel behind it on 54th Street heralded Yoshiro Taniguchi/Kohn Pederson Fox’s 2004 six-story David and Peggy Rockefeller Building, eight-story Lewis and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, and tucked in 16-story Museum Office Building, all framing a refurbished Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. Following its completion was the sale of the remaining empty lots to the Hines Corporation for $125 million and then, finally, the purchase of the imperiled Folk Art Museum lot, completing the Tower Verre footprint.

The initial variance became the rule and today it’s inexorable as this finished block offers surest sign. Visit and see the future of zoning in Manhattan, and likely soon beyond.

To announce the end of history in this way in any social, economic, or cultural context is a fool’s errand as best demonstrated by what is now a fairy tale prophecy of political scientist Francis Fukuyama in his utopian, post-perestroika 1992 book, The End of History and The Last Man.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human governance.

So much for that prediction, as shown with such brutality in the last weeks of global unrest deconstructing what seemed irrevocable. It turns out there is no end of change whether progressive or regressive and that history keeps unfolding in a constant, tautological, and occasionally violent way.

Just as such, wishful thinking and its inherent delusion fade, it is equally foolish in the fullness of time to declare a place and its architecture or other hands of man to be complete. Change is constant whether going forward or other times back; user needs, expectations, and capabilities adapt, including the ample supply of cheap financing, which underpins much of our present bounty.

At the same time, however, are there limits to growth? It is a question of particular currency in the absence of any commensurate will or allocation of resources to expand the public networks of transportation, communications, and essential services that any increased density demands. The failure to do so imperils the social contract on which all else relies.

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Archtober Building of the Day #7: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK
Archtober Building of the Day #7 Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Terminal 4, John F. Kennedy International Airport Slade Architecture in collaboration with the Virgin Atlantic in-house Design Team “The memory of having a really appalling cup of coffee served to you by someone who woke up on the wrong side of the bed can really ruin your experience,” said Jeremy Brown. Service is the obsession of the senior design manager of Virgin Atlantic Customer Experience, who was leading the Archtober tour of the new Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at New York's JFK Airport. Virgin and Slade Architecture have spared no expense and left no detail unattended to in the pursuit of creating a memorable experience. Virgin’s clubhouses all intend to reflect their locations, so Slade focused on a mid-century notion of “Uptown” Manhattan. Far from Harlem, Slade was thinking of Mad Men–era opulence, and layered, inviting open spaces, with the Eero Saarinen TWA terminal visible across the tarmac. The entrance is totally white, with only subtle variances in texture. Brown said he didn’t want to use “a sledgehammer of red to cover everything.” The “Upper Class” passengers, for whom the lounge is intended, are accustomed to subtly. The only red is the uniform of the Virgin “colleague”—their word for employee—at the front desk. Framed by the entrance, the clubhouse’s central seating area beckons alluringly. Hayes Slade explained that, from the very first, experiencing the clubhouse must be intuitive. Working from the uptown metaphor, the clubhouse is organized around a “central park” space anchored by the bar, around which, Brown admitted, the experience of the clubhouse tends to revolve. The unusual but cozy furniture, by Situ Studios, is meant to evoke the landscape of the park, “comfortable but not what you’d have at home,” said Slade. A semi-transparent wall of walnut fins screens the space, their irregular heights meant to evoke the skyline around the park. Leaving the central park space, there are various sitting and dining areas, some intended for conversation and others for solitude and work. There is even a spa, complete with a massage table and showers. High-quality materials like solid wood, leather, and wool are used throughout—materials that, Brown said, affluent passenger would be used to living with. Slade and Virgin agree that details matter. James Slade said the intention was for “perception to engage the occupant.” The traveler who has a longer stay will notice details like custom-made Empire State and Chrysler Building wallpaper in the dining room, a hotdog cart and apple wallpaper in one private nook, and Park Avenue blueprints in the bathroom. The experience is meant to be flawless, avoiding even one bad cup of coffee. “Service, and the memorable experience you can have in a beautiful place,” should be the only take-away, Brown explained. Today's tour will be at 3:00p.m. at the recently-opened National September 11 Memorial Museum by Davis Brody Bond. Tyler J. Kelley is a freelance journalist living in New York City. He also teaches printmaking at Parsons The New School for Design. Find more of his writing at