Search results for "Paul Goldberger"

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CCTV Day 2: We’re Sorry
As images of a surprisingly intact TVCC building emerge after yesterday's inferno, the China Central Television network (CCTV) was forced to admit that a fireworks display put on by its employees caused the fire to its iconic new headquarters complex in Beijing, designed by OMA's Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren.
In a statement on its website www.cctv.com, the broadcaster said it "feels sorrowful for the great loss that the fire inflicted on national assets. CCTV sincerely apologizes for the traffic congestion and inconvenience that affect residents nearby." [...] Beijing Fire Control Bureau has confirmed that a senior official of the office of the CCTV new headquarters construction project hired people, without any reference to superiors, to illegally set off fireworks, which caused the fire, according to the statement. CCTV hired staff from a fireworks company to ignite several hundred large festive firecrackers in an open space outside one of its nearly-completed buildings, said Luo Yuan, spokesman and deputy chief of Beijing Fire Control Bureau. Four camcorders recorded the fireworks display and the entire ignition process. The people who ignited the fireworks are being questioned by police and remains of fireworks have been seized.
UPDATE: Xinhua, one of the state news agencies (some would say propagandists), explains why the Chinese love fireworks so much. Meanwhile, the Times describes a near-total media blackout within the country:
Beijing residents who wanted to see the smoking shell of the hotel had a harder time on Tuesday finding images of the fire on the Internet, on television or in the city’s newspapers. There were no pictures on the front page of The Beijing News. On Tuesday morning, the home page of Xinhua featured a photo from another event: a stampede in South Korea that left four people dead. Throughout the day, CCTV’s brief bulletins about the blaze omitted images of the burning tower. By evening, the newscast skipped the story entirely. Even before the flames had been put out early Tuesday, pictures of the burning hotel had been removed from most of the main Internet portals serving China. In the afternoon, the story had been largely buried, although by the evening, news of the fire was accessible on the Xinhua and CCTV Web sites.
The critical take has been much the same--arguably echoing points we made in UPDATE 4 in our original post--with Paul Goldberger and Jonathan Glancey seeing symbolism buried amidst the flames.
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One For the Books
In this age of blogs and 24-hour cable news, rarely does breaking news come from an old-fashioned hardcover book. But that is exactly what happened with Studio Daniel Libeskind's New York Tower, which can be seen above (and which we also talked to the architect about earlier today). Ever since the project leaked onto the Internet last year, the real estate blogosphere has been following every rumor and murmur about the project. But it took the November 18 publication of Counterpoint, Libeskind's latest monograph, for the world to get its first look. Indeed it wasn't until last week, when New York architecture critic Justin Davidson pointed out the project's publication therein, that people started to take notice. Fortunately for us, we happened to have a review copy lying around the office, from which these images were taken. But before we go, one caveat. The developer refused to release any of these images--except for the one we posted of the terrace gardens--when we requested them. "They were made at least a year ago, for publication purposes, and no longer reflect the current state of the project," Lloyd Kaplan, spokesperson for developer Elad Properties, told us. Still, they provide the most complete picture of the project yet. And, even if it does change, as long as it looks half this good, we think everyone will be happy. Also, if you care to learn more about the book (and, we hope, the tower), Liebeskind and Paul Goldberger--his interlocutor for Counterpoint--will be giving a talk at the Center for Architecture on December 10.
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Libeskind’s Green Dream
dbox/Courtesy Studio Daniel Libeskind

Daniel Libeskind is renowned for his way with words. His orations have charmed competition juries, and in a 2003 profile, critic Paul Goldberger wrote, “For an architect who loves to talk, Libeskind says very little about his buildings that could be considered analytical.”

Not so for the project he simply calls his “New York tower,” a colossus that would reach more than 900 feet above Madison Square Park. “There is no spiel,” he said in a telephone interview this afternoon. “This is not a building about a shape or a facade. It’s really a building about how New York goes forward, how to build and live in a high-density Manhattan.”

The tower, which would be the city’s tallest residential structure, would rise adjacent to the iconic clock tower of the old Met Life building. In a city with dwindling room to build—and a growing need for green amenities—Libeskind said the project offers a park-in-the-sky model for the future, with its bands of leafy terraces that ascend the building.

Before the designs were even revealed—they are still technically under wraps, even though a number of renderings appear in the architect’s new monograph, a selection of which are posted on the AN blog—considerable debate surrounded the building’s relationship to the clock tower. Libeskind said the cut-outs for the terraces, along with the building’s overall massing and location, would pay special deference to the structure’s historic neighbor.

Set back from Madison Avenue, the Libeskind building actually rises atop the back half of the Met Life Building Annex, a 14-story structure next to the clock tower that would remain in use as a commercial building. Unlike the clock tower, the annex is not a city landmark, so is not subject to review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Libeskind added that the project is being designed as-of-right, and will not need any special zoning changes.

While the architect said he was happy to be building in a dynamic part of the city (see: Cetra/Ruddy and OMA’s One Madison Park), it was the neighborhood’s grand past that inspired the tower, with its rounded edges nodding to the nearby Flatiron Building, and the terraces serving as an extension of the park below. “That is the real context,” he said. “It is about creating a 21st-century park.”

“This is a building for the city’s future,” Libeskind added, shrugging off concerns about working in these recessionary times. “We have a long way to go still, but we think this contributes in a whole new way.”

Eavesdrop: Julie V. Iovine

LUX, LIQUOR, ET VERITAS

Who knew so many architects were so true to blue—and we’re not just talking donkey dems, here. Waves of Yalies—past, present, and indeterminate—descended upon New Haven on November 7 to commemorate the rededication and renaming of the improbably once-reviled A&A Building, henceforth Paul Rudolph Hall. Among the silvery-haired eminences squirming in the restored benches of Hastings Hall during a soporific keynote by curator Timothy Rohan were Vincent Scully, Kevin Roche, Charles Gwathmey, Peter Eisenman, Cynthia Davidson, Sid Bass, and Joan Davidson, plus younger eminences Deborah Berke, Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, Joel Sanders, and assorted journos, including Newsweek’s Cathleen McGuigan, Time’s Richard Lacayo, Bob Ivy, and Paul Goldberger, and faculty too numerous to name. Then came the exclusive dinner for three hundred—reminding us of the last stand at Thermopylae—where host Stern, demonstrating either inscrutable savvy or a surprisingly tin ear for seating buzz, placed Vanity Fair’s Matt Tynauer at a chilly upstairs table one remove even from a roomful of faculty players, among them Michael Haverland, who until now, we were told, has not even been on speaking terms with Yale since his contract ended. Former Princeton dean Bob Maxwell flew in from London a day earlier than famed Rudolph students Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, slated to speak at the symposium on Saturday, but we have yet to find anyone who stuck it out past that night’s chocolate mousse log, though Gregg Pasquarelli and Chris Sharples lasted long enough to toss back one last round at the reliably seedy Anchor Bar.

OUR GANG

Our party at the glassy and classy USM showroom in Soho may not have been quite so upper-crust but it was just the blast among well-wishers we wanted to usher in our fifth year in business. Among the loyal (and the loaded) who joined us were Calvin Tsao, Charles Renfro, Morris Adjmi, Carol Willis, James Sanders, Stan Allen, David Ling, Sylvia Smith of FXFowle, Ashley O’Neill of SOM, Lee Washesky of Polshek Partnership, and AN contributors Alex Gorlin and Aric Chen, the latter fresh from a grand pooh-bah dinner in celebration of Zaha Hadid’s double hitter—Chanel Pavilion and Sonnabend Gallery exhibition—where Pin-Up’s Alex de Looz sat rapt in attendance at her side while Nicolai Ourossoff, Craig Robbins, Hani Rashid, and Lise Anne Couture fluttered about and Prada artist Francesco Vezzoli marveled at the fact that he didn’t recognize anybody.

Send tips and turkeys to eavesdrop@archpaper.com.

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MAD (Re)cap
Few buildings have sparked as much architectural criticism as Two Columbus Circle, the new home of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). Brad Cloepfil's firm Allied Works has designed the new museum, set within the bones of Edward Durrell Stone's old building. Critical reaction has been split, though the MAD haters seem to outnumber the fans. In the haters column: Nicolai Ouroussoff, who called the building "poorly detailed and lacking in confidence"; the now shuttered (sorry neocons) New York Sun's James Gardner, who called it "emphatically not good"; and Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times, who deemed it "schoolmarmish." Ouch. Among the fans and apologists: The New Yorker's Paul Goldberger acknowledged Cloepfil's difficulty in dealing with Stone, when he wrote, "rarely has an architect been pulled so completely in opposite directions,” but he added that the interior is “functional, logical, and pleasant to be in”; Blair Kamin, in the Chicago Tribune, offered mild praise when he wrote that the building, "while no masterpiece, turns out to be a better example of architectural recycling than its critics predicted"; the project's strongest defense came from the keyboard of Bloomberg's James Russell, who called the museum a "work of subtlety and substance." In a second piece, Ouroussoff called for the building's demolition, prompting blogger CultureGrrl at artsjournal to write, "it's time to demolish Ouroussoff." The woman arguably at the center of the debate (and the debate about the debate), Ada Louise Huxtable, is notably silent to date. Will she take up the subject once again?

Eavesdrop: Anne Guiney

IT’S THE CRITIC’S COZY CORNER!

Well, well, well, it seems that the summer sun shines hotter on the lofty peaks where architecture critics reside, since we have to wonder what a few of them were thinking: In a piece on Lebbeus Woods, Nicolai Ouroussoff seems to pine for the pure old days when nobody ever built anything. You tell ‘em Nic—making buildings is bad, bad, bad! Epater les Constructeurs! … Speaking of tsk, tsk, tsk, one young writer chose the latest issue of Elle to muse in great detail about his personal life, specifically the demise of his marriage and a subsequent relationship. We are of the starchy New England school—“Shut it, sister!”—and were duly shocked at the lurid revelations, but the ensuing uproar turned out to be, well, uproarious: Blog commenters went for blood, and “narcissistic navel-gazing douchebag” may be the kindest thing he was called. Like we said, we don’t go in for scandal, so he shall remain unnamed (but it’s the issue with Jessica Simpson on the cover).… When we read about Robert A. M. Stern’s 15 Central Park West, we, too, believe that the rich are indeed different from you and we—they’re insane! Well, at least the subset willing to shell out $80 million for an apartment. But we digress. Paul Goldberger has examined that phenomenon not once but twice—once for the New Yorker, and a second time for Vanity Fair. It is rather important, we know, but really? Twice? Someone call the Condé Nast accounting department, stat! You cut two checks for the same story! And didn’t Mr. Stern design a house for Mr. Goldberger, way back in the day? … And finally, which newspaper staff is ditching work for a week to jaunt off to Venice for the Biennale? Not so hard, actually: We are! When we return, a full report on whether the prosecco was better at the dinner hosted by Aaron Betsky and David Rockwell or at the one held by Zaha Hadid.

Send gossip of the ink-stained-wretch variety to eavesdrop@archpaper.com.

Eavesdrop: Alissa Walker

TRUTHINESS IN ARCHITECTURE

On a recent episode of the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert told a tale familiar to all Eavesdrop readers: planned improvements to his studio—cue rendering of hotel-rollercoaster-waterslide-disco, set at a 45-degree angle—were hit hard by the financial slump and had to be abandoned due to lack of funding. But the economic downturn has not only put America’s most ambitious construction projects like his on hold, said Colbert, it’s completely taken the U.S. out of the running when it comes to great architecture! Naming Tom Wright’s Burg Al Arab hotel in Dubai and Norman Foster’s Crystal Island in Moscow as structures currently kicking America’s collective architectural butt, Colbert was looking for answers from someone. That person was the evening’s guest, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger. “What are Americans even doing in the field of architecture that’s in any way exciting?” Colbert asked. “We’re doing everything because our architects are building those buildings,” said Goldberger. “So we’re making all the money off of them, we’re not wasting any money putting them up.” (Well, technically British architects are making all the money, of the two Colbert mentioned…) “We’ve got the best skyscrapers anyway,” said Goldberger, naming the Chrysler Building as “everyone’s favorite building in the world.” Uh, it’s pretty and all, but at 78-years-old, is that really the best he could come up with?

But then Colbert asked the question we’ve been waiting for someone on Comedy Central to answer all these years: How do we know what’s best when it comes to architecture? We almost fell off our La-Z-Boy in anticipation, but sadly Goldberger named the hyper-obvious Frank Gehry (“he does these amazing shapes”) and then, perplexingly, he name-checked Rem Koolhaas and his China Central Television Headquarters! Come on, Paul, you couldn’t name at least one new project that’s on American soil? We prefer Colbert’s solution for raising the profile of American architecture instead: “We need to build big buildings with high asses and huge tits!”

BYE, BYE DI!

Here’s a little shakeup from the middle of the country that has rippled all the way to the coasts: After eight years as director of the Design Institute, Janet Abrams abruptly departed the program at the University of Minnesota on June 27. In an email, Abrams announced—rather mysteriously, we must say—that she will pursue an undisclosed new chapter of her career starting in the fall. Since 2000, when Abrams became its first full-time director, the Design Institute has anchored a burgeoning Minneapolis design scene while amassing a global network of collaborators, publishing several books and a journal, holding design camps for the K-12 set, and organizing a major conferences and summits. But oddly, Abrams won’t be replaced. The Design Institute is closed, effective immediately. (Calls to her phone number at the Institute were redirected.) Although praised by the design community, a source tells us the program suffered from chronically low funding and a lack of support from the university.

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Herbert Muschamp, 1947-2007
Courtesy The New York Times

Everyone has a notorious Herbert story, but certainly the very last one I would want to have to circulate is his obituary. A longtime heavy smoker, Herbert died of a lung cancer on Tuesday, October 2, that was diagnosed earlier this year. He had stepped down from his position as the architecture critic for The New York Times two years before.

Herbert’s contribution to architectural criticism has not been fully measured. His opinions were often hyperbolic; his prose outrageous; the path of his thinking inimitably complex. Unforgettable samplers would have to include his comparing Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to the “reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe,” and calling Zaha Hadid’s Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati “the most important American building to be completed since the end of the cold war.”

Famously, he wrote positively in September 2002 that Daniel Libeskind’s tower proposal for Ground Zero “attains a perfect balance between aggression and desire,” only to switch allegiances five months later. As a newly converted partisan of the proposal by the team THINK, he wrote, “Daniel Libeskind's project for the World Trade Center site is a startlingly aggressive tour de force, a war memorial to a looming conflict that has scarcely begun.” A close reading—and no one more deserves a closer re-reading than Herbert—reveals that he has not really contradicted himself here but refined his opinion. To many, his views were inflammatory, even dangerous to architecture. “Whoopee,” he might have said. Has anyone else stirred up so much heated passion about cold bricks?

Before becoming the third architecture critic for the Times in 1992 following Ada Louise Huxtable and Paul Goldberger, Herbert Muschamp held the same position at The New Republic and Artforum. He also served as director of the graduate program in architecture and design criticism at the Parsons School of Design from 1983 to1992, a role that must have satisfied his desire to impress moldable intellects but hardly indulged his talent for the kind of performance writing that became his hallmark. At the time of his death he reportedly had just finished his memoirs.

I came to know Herbert at The New York Times, when I was an editor inviting him to write for the Sunday magazine’s design pages. Whether it was the glamour days of airline fashion and the Cold War or Donald Trump’s strange allure, he always had something he wanted to push through the clarifying wringer of design and architecture as organizing principles. As a self-defined outsider, a gay man, and as someone far more articulate and widely-read than most anyone he encountered, he believed deeply in the saving power of architectural space. For him, heaven might well be a dim, luxuriantly appointed lobby with library shelves.

Herbert was also maddening; he drove his editors and his friends up the wall only to charm them back down again with twinkling wit and an open generosity that could almost prepare one for the next onslaught. He liked the power that came with being the Times architecture critic, commissioning a then unknown (in the United States) Santiago Calatrava to design a time capsule for the newspaper in 1999, and making sure that, if not Gehry, then Renzo Piano would design the paper’s new headquarters. But he had no favorites; he only championed what was interesting. And what was interesting to him was anything that was compelling and vital and personal. Freud was often lurking in the background of his prose. Herbert once wrote, “the Freudian history is personal, the Marxian history is social, but in both instances a diagnosis is called for. It often seems to me that the architect's task today is to shape spaces that don't make the world more diseased than it is.” But it was Herbert himself who wanted to cure the world of unthinking, unengaging architecture and fill it instead with places that would welcome even someone as critical but hopeful as himself.

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Of Photography and Fame
Weston, Byles & Rugolph's Roberts Residence, Malibu, California (1953)
Julius Shulman/Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust

In the realm of architectural photography two figures stand alone in terms of their impact on how we view, consider, and consume images of modern design and architecture. Ezra Stoller on the East Coast and Julius Shulman on the West Coast are the acknowledged masters of their discipline, influencing a generation of younger photographers, including myself. Shulman, who will turn 97 in October, continues to produce and occasionally still accepts the odd commission.

Architectural photography, often brilliant in technique, can be staid in concept. Most architects who commission photographs are not looking for individual expression, but rather a well-crafted document of the subject building. Julius Shulman’s images defy this formula and although he will forever be identified with West Coast pioneers in architecture such as Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and the architects of the Case Study Houses in Los Angeles, his iconic photographs have burned themselves into the popular imagination, transcending their subject to become objects in themselves, independent of the buildings they depict. -Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes: How did you get started on a career in architectural photography, at a time when there was really no established field of work in photographing architecture?

Julius Shulman: My architectural work began when I met Richard Neutra by chance in March 1936. I had been going to UCLA for five years and spent two more years up in Berkeley when I realized this wasn’t what I wanted to do. Here, I had spent several years walking through the campus and going to lectures without any direction in my life. I was living with a friend in a two-bedroom apartment—$25 a month, by the way—when one morning I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and the thought entered my mind, ‘Julius, you better go home.’ It was a signal.

But I did have a little Vest Pocket Kodak from my parents. Then by chance this young man, an apprentice in Neutra’s office, said he wanted to show me a house that had just been completed by Neutra. I said, ‘Who’s Neutra?’ I had never met an architect before but I went to the house—it was the Kun House—and took six snapshots with my little Kodak, made some 8x10 prints, and gave them to him. Immediately after that, this fellow called me up and said, ‘Mr. Neutra loved the photographs and he’d like to meet you this coming Saturday.’

I went down to the studio in Silver Lake. I met Neutra who said he’d never seen such photographs and he wanted extra copies. He asked who I was and was I studying architecture or photography? When I told him I was at the university doing nothing, he said, ‘Would you like to take more photographs for me?’ Boom! So on March 5, 1936, I became a photographer.

Were there other architects you met and worked with at the time?


Well, that same day Neutra told me about another apprentice, named [Raphael] Soriano, who’d just done his first house up in the hills above Silver Lake. So I drove up there and met him the same day. We hit it off beautifully; he was sitting on the floor eating a sandwich. He gave me a sandwich; I sat down on the rug and we talked for about two hours. ‘Now that you’ve met Neutra,’ he said, ‘would you like to photograph this house, too?’ And that was Soriano’s Lipetz House with the curved wall looking out over the lake and a grand piano in the middle of the floor because the lady was a pianist. Soriano became famous from the very beginning, and so
my photographs were immediately published.

I went on to meet all the young architects [Gregory] Ain, [Rudolf] Schindler, Pierre Koenig. We were all in the same boat, young people beginning our work. And in 1947 when I bought some property, two acres up in the Hollywood Hills, I hired Soriano who was a good friend by then.

Why would you hire Soriano, and not Neutra?


Soriano was so wonderfully friendly and warm. Neutra was fine, but he wasn’t my kind of person. I did work with him from 1936 until he died and it was through Neutra that I was destined to become a ‘world famous’ photographer. No question about that.

Do you think your images also helped to make him a ‘world famous’ architect?

(Laugh) It takes two, I guess. But I think it was just destiny that I became an architectural photographer. Before I met Neutra, I had no idea, no indication, no inkling of what I was going to do with my life.

But at the time there was no such thing as an architectural photographer. Maybe there were photographers who did commercial work, but you really carved out a whole new field.


Maybe. But in the course of my work I started seeing work published in magazines. Ezra Stoller came a little later, true, in the late 1930s to early 1940s, but up in San Francisco there was Roger Sturtevant—we became good friends— and Ulrich Meisel in Dallas. Then, of course, there was Hedrich Blessing in Chicago; and then, Maynard Parker who was a commercial photographer in Los Angeles. In those days, magazines called commercial photographers. Elizabeth Gordon of House Beautiful called Parker to do her house and he was really good. But, really, there was just a handful of us.

Did you have a sense as you took them that some of your images transcended the documents you were producing for the architects—the view of the two women at Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22 comes instantly to mind? Or was it something about LA the city itself that shaped your approach?

No, I’ll tell you what happened. From that very first photograph that I took of the Kun House, I found I could just catch things on film that we—the architect and myself—didn’t see ourselves or didn’t even realize existed. Benedikt Taschen [publisher of the new book] says I extract the essence of a place.

What about Los Angeles? What was it like when you arrived?

It was a really particular moment. LA had become a mecca for people from all over the world. Everyone wanted to come. Even my father who had a small clothing business and a 75-acre orange grove wrote to his friend, ‘Max! You’ve got to come. The streets are paved in gold’—he meant the orange grove. But back then in 1920 when we came to California from New York, the population in Los Angeles was about 576,000. It was a small town.

If you had stayed out East and, instead of working for Neutra, Ain, Koenig, and the rest, you worked for Saarinen, Gropius, and Mies (although they were later, after the war). But let’s say you’d lived on the East Coast, how would your work have been different?

I wouldn’t have become a photographer! I wouldn’t have been taking those snapshots while I was wandering around Berkeley. I did have a friend who was a writer and he had a nice little office in Rockefeller Center in the 1940s. He said I should open an office in New York. Without any hesitation, I said, ‘I love New York!’ You see, I was born in Brooklyn. But I was already established in Los Angeles and all the architects jumped at me because there was no other photographer who did architecture.

At that level.

At any level.

How did you get along with the individual architects? Did you consider them friends. Did you learn anything from them?


I established close friendships with them all. I seemed to speak their language, not only with my camera. With Gregory Ain, there was something about his architecture that I liked, and my liking the work made me respect it, and as a result I was able to create these great compositions. I could transcend or transfigure or translate what the architect saw in his own work. Something just came through. They didn’t know how I did it; they’d just shake their heads. Even Frank Lloyd Wright wrote me a letter about my photographs of Taliesin West: ‘How did you ever achieve such beautiful photographs?’ Doesn’t matter: the point is, it’s a gift. I was raised close to nature, maybe that’s part of it. My spirit is close to nature.

Regarding your technique, you have a great facility with lighting and also for using people in your photographs. You used color film early on and your images have this naturalness to them which is also, and I realize this is contradictory, strangely theatrical, without seeming forced or over the top.

Can you talk about that?

As a matter of fact, it came home to me just recently when Paul Goldberger wrote in the New Yorker that if I hadn’t become a photographer, I might have been a good lighting expert. And it’s true that one of my innate qualities is knowing how to use lighting. I don’t use it to dramatize but to express what the architect wants. When I line up something, you never see the source of the light, but you do know it’s there.
Most photographers today rely on Polaroids, or computers, to test for composition and lighting before committing the scene to film. You couldn’t do all that and yet you still achieved these amazing results.

Most photographers I knew did not use flash bulbs before the days of strobe lighting. I would use flood lights then put flash lights in to balance the indoor and outdoor lighting intensity. As a result my lighting appeared very natural and balanced. And then I used people—not abundantly but more than most—to occupy the space, not posing, but doing something the space was designed for. Neutra didn’t like it when I started putting in people. He did not want them. He didn’t want anything to attract attention away from his architecture.

I read somewhere that in one of your most iconic and famous images of all—the Kaufman House in Palm Springs—you used people and Neutra wasn’t happy about it. But what makes that photograph really work for me is the figure in the foreground. Were you using her as a “gobo” [go between] to block the light?

Yes! That’s Mrs. Kaufman. And what happened is this: It was a very complex composition and that one photograph took me 45 minutes. I was supposed to be doing the interiors. But when I went out there I saw how beautiful the twilight was, and I knew it wouldn’t last long. Mr. Neutra grabbed my elbow and said we had a lot more interiors to do, but I tore away from his grasp and ran outside to set up the camera. I knew exactly where I wanted to stand.

Inside, the floor lamps and the table lamps were all burning. Outside the sky was beautiful and I asked Mr. Kaufman, who was standing there with Mrs. Kaufman and Neutra, to turn on the pool light. But the light was too intense and it was facing in the direction of the camera so I laid down a mat and asked Mrs. Kaufman to please lie down a moment so her head blocked the pool light. She asked me not to take too long because it was hard propping herself up on her elbow.
I counted the three seconds.

One. Two. Three.

Did Neutra know what you were trying to do?


Not ‘til later.

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Destination: Morgan

Renzo Piano completes his first New York commissionn the three-year, $106 million renovation and expansion of the Pierpont Morgan Library. Julie V. Iovine observes how Piano preserves the intimacy of the original but risks losing some of its immediacy by making it a crowd-pleaser. Photography by Dan Bibb.



On April 29, a transformed Pierpont Morgan Library rejoins the Manhattan museum scene, a landscape much-altered itself, both physically and psychically, since the Morgan closed for renovation three years ago. In that time, the beloved, ebulliently gaudy house-museum has undergone a vast makeover by Italian architect Renzo Piano who, when commissioned for the job in 2000, had an avid insider following and has since become a bona fide international superstar. Meanwhile, the newly gargantuan Museum of Modern Art has shown that critical skepticism has no bearing at all on popularity. Culture in general has taken a drubbing at Ground Zero (Drawing Center evicted; Frank Gehry's performance hall aborted; Snnhetta's Freedom Center nullified), underscoring the reality that no one puts particular stock any more in the power of art to uplift. J. P. Morgan would have been mortified.

After all, the Morgan Library was the rich man's sanctum and treasure horde turned tenderly over to New Yorkers so that they might be bettered through contact. And people have been passionate and personal about the place ever since. In the early 1990s, Paul Goldberger, then architecture critic at the The New York Times, described the experience of visiting as both tranquil and intense. Who wouldn't be entranced by the McKim, Mead & White portico and rotunda, the lavish H. Siddons Mowbray murals, the brocaded walls and gilded swags? John Russell, former art critic of The New York Times, dreamed of being locked overnight inside its walls. It's no surprise considering what it contains: drawings by Rembrandt, da Vinci, DDrer, and Degas; three Gutenburg bibles; one of only two extant copies of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur; Mary Shelley's own annotated copy of Frankenstein; architectural plans by Inigo Jones; etchings by Piranesi; JRR Tolkien kvetching in letters about the Hobbit; jeweled bindings; illuminated manuscripts galore; and on and on.

Piano was charged not with enlarging but rather, as he put it, rebalancing and rethinking the institution which had grown somewhat haphazardly over the years into a three-plus-building sprawl. He called his method micro-surgery.. Adding 75,000 square feet, even with more than half of it underground and the rest in the shape of a glazed- shed-covered piazza plus pavilions jimmied around the extant buildings, is hardly micro. The medical analogy is, however, apt because like cosmetic surgery, Piano has masterfully preserved the original while partially smoothing, even immobilizing, its vital lifelines.



The grand covered piazzaa or atrium is the centerpiece of Renzo Piano's design for the expanded library



Two balconies extend into the space, and some staff offices overlook it, but are glazed for acoustic privacy.

The Morgan Library is new and improved all right; in fact, Piano (with the local collaboration of Beyer Blinder Belle) has rendered it perfectly into one of the most au courant of building types: the destination museum. Whether Piano's Morgan has the power to incite passionate allegiance, much less a desire to be locked inside overnight, is more doubtful.

It could not have been an easy job. Bartholomew Voorsanger tried in 1991 with a $40 million expansion and courtyard. And let's not forget the ill-fated invitational competition of the late 1990s with Steven Holl Architects, Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates, and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, which was abruptly cancelled. Piano had declined to participate but offered his services in case perfect solutions didn't materialize. Now, 15 years and $106 million laterrVoorsanger's and a few other minor additions razed without a traceethe library has been transformed again. Voorsanger's glass court might have been unloved, but it could not be considered a total failure; it did brisk business in party rentals, netting as much as $15,000 for evening events. Piano's renovation is not about adding square footage but, as director Charles E. Pierce, Jr., said in 2002, about providing greater public access.. The Morgan's new high-impact spaces are bound to be in great demand (and the fee for rentals sure to be higher))a goal that many institutions have come to share.

Piano's scheme is sublimely serene. He has treated the Morgan's three main buildingssan 1852 Renaissance Revival brownstone, the 1906 McKim mini-Met and its pared down twin, the annex of 19288as the corner anchors to his central focus, a glass-enclosed, light-filled piazza.

At the edges of the atrium space, he has inserted several elements, varied in scale, homogenous in material, and visible as connective tissue between old and new. The inserts are made of rolled steel panels painted off-white (press materials say they are rose-hued but on a sunny afternoon it looked powdery white to me). The largest piece encompasses the new entrance on Madison Avenue, which leads through a spacious cherry-wood clad tunnel directly to the piazza. A new gallery and reading room are located on the floors above this entrance volume. The smallest addition is a 20-foot cube, containing a gallery, tucked between the original McKim library and the annex. Though it's been cited in earlier articles as a climactic moment in Piano's design, it does not have the inscrutable impact promised by its perfect dimensions, at least not for this visitor. And curators may be hard pressed to take full advantage of its modest space in any way other than as a showcase for one singular item at a time, albeit, displayed to shine in all its glory.

Before making a beeline for an unoccupied caff table in the piazza, visitors will be tempted to descend a wide stair gaping downward at the lip of the entrance passage. Those who give into the urge will view a steel-encased treasure-holding vault sunk three stories into Manhattan's bedrock schist. Neat. Sunk below, too, is a new 280-seat performance hall. One enters at the top row of a steeply inclined auditorium baffled in slightly curled chips of cherry wood. The space is more elegant than expressionistic, a wonderfully intimate spoken-word stage.



J. P. Morgan's wood-paneled music room (below, right) will now hold the bookstore.

So what's missing then? Crowd-pleasing (event-friendly) piazza and caffécheck. Sculptural object cubeecheck. Cool performance space, naturally. A fancy restaurant and much-expanded shop are a quick detour right off the entrancee good plan. Oh, yes, the collection. Barely encountered. To actually find the prizes for which the library is so well known, one must wander a bit. A narrow vaulted passage to the right and set back from the entrance leads past an old elevator bank to two spacious galleries (and a gallery hall, once the museum entrance) in the old annex. In the far corner off the piazza, J. P.'s original library and study have been restored to full robber-baron Rococo style. And then there's the new gallery on the second floor of the entrance pavilion. For the inaugural greatest hits exhibition, some 300 objects will be on display through out the museummthat's less than 0.09 percent of the 350,000-piece-strong collection. So much for increased public access.



The vast majority of the new 75,000 square feet of space is underground, and accessible via a staircase located just past the entrance.

The new Morgan oozes the calm elegance of masstige modernism. On a smaller scale, it employs many of the same moves as Yoshio Taniguchi's MoMA, such as a vertically compressed, horizontally expansive entrance giving way to breathtaking volume. Instead of procession, the experience is more like scaling levels and discovering views of where you were a moment ago. Whereas Taniguchi used bridges, Piano has two balconies alongside a Hyatt-esque glass elevator peering over the piazza. Both capture unexpected and refreshing views of the buildings beyond (though the balcony off the reading room is accessible only to those with reading room passes).

And like the Museum Tower coming down to ground undisguised in the main lobby of MoMA (as if to holler, Don't forget me!!), so too do the three old Morgan buildings reveal themselves in the new atrium space. It's a little bit like catching a glimpse, from the knee down, of a giant whose head is in the clouds. While MoMA is all about pumping visiting hordes out of the central chamber into the building's arteries and galleries, Piano, despite having been called a poet of circulation,, seems content for people to stay put in the voluminous piazza. Unquestionably, the Morgan will become a cool place to meet and hang out (although at the moment, the only seating seems to be at the caff's tables). The light filtering in through complex but not particularly high-tech skylights (another Piano trademark) will be delicious. Staff offices have been allocated generous spaces in the 1852 Italianate brownstone with some walls sheered off and glassed over in order to give some lucky employees vistas of their own; a conservation studio is tucked up and out of the way at roof-top level.

The new Morgan is purre-perfect, blemish-free. People will flock to get in. And yet on a recent sunny afternoon, the piazzaasurrounded by limestone, electronically shaded glass, powder-coated steelllooked deadly calm. The Morgan has acquired a seamless, beautiful new mask. What may be lost is the quickening, possibly even vulgar, feeling of excitement that one man wanted to impart to others by sharing his precious treasures with the world.

Julie V. Iovine writes frequently for The New York Times and other publications. She is the features director at Elle DDcor and architecture critic for AN.

Drawings Key
1 Entrance
2 Atrium
3 Exhibitions
4 Cafe
5 Retail
6 Original Library
7 Staff Offices
8 Reading Rooms
9 Performance Hall
10 Education





The Pierpont Morgan Library

Design Architect:
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Executive Architect:
Beyer Blinder Belle Architects
Construction Manager:
F. J. Sciame Construction Co.
Structural Engineer:
Robert Silman Associates
MEP Engineer:
Cosentini Associates
Curtain Wall: Front, Inc., Gartner
Acoustics: Harvey Marshall Berling Associates, Kahle Acoustics
Landscape Consultant:
H. M. White Site Architects
Lighting Designer: Arup

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Meet Mister Streetscape


Dennis Finnin / Courtesty New York Public Library

With the new Bronx Public Library Center, Richard Dattner, master
of the background building, moves toward center stage, writes Thomas de Monchaux

Bronx Public Library Center

Architect: Dattner Architects; Richard Dattner, principal; Daniel Heuberger, project architect;
Robin Auchincloss, William Stein, George Cumell, Joon Chom, project team
Structural Engineer: Severud Associates Geotechnical/Civil Engineer: Langan Engineering Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: Robert Derector Associates Landscape Designer: MKW & Associates Lighting Consultant: Domingo Gonzalez Design Construction Manager: F. J. Sciame Construction


Courtesy Dattner Architects
Central Park Adventure Playground, 1967

You owe Richard Dattner. If you're an architect and urbanist, or just a client and connoisseur, and have ever tried to describe a particular kind of public space that starts at the sidewalk and goes as far as your imagination will take it; and if you have ever used the word, streetscapeeto describe it: you owe him. That's because Dattner, whose 40-year-old New York practice has been concerned largely with the public and civic, copyrighted the term in the 1970s. It was part of a patent he took out on a line of street furniture, which included a prefabricated fiberglass booth whose hemispherical lozenge geometry still adds a certain miniature modernist grandeur to the work of taxi-dispatchers, cops, and others throughout the city. Once you recognize this booth, you see it everywhere, from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to JFK Airport. But it is also so ubiquitous that it has become almost invisibleejust another part of, well, the streetscape. Dattner is philosophical about the fate of the word, concluding, Well, you can't really own something like that.. The term may belong to him, but Dattner will be the first to tell you that the landscape of the street belongs to everybody. Especially in New York.


Courtesy Dattner Architects
P.S. 380, Williamsburg, 1981

It is the fate of much of Dattner's New York work to integrate itself seamlessly into the streetscape and cityscape. His portfolio includes unconventional playgrounds on the West side of Central Park; vast infrastructural complexes like Brooklyn's 26th Ward Sludge Treatment Facility and Manhattan's East 16th Street Con Edison Service Building; the park atop Upper Manhattan's giant North River Pollution Treatment Plant; and public schools like TriBeCa's P.S. 234. A project now on the boards, a grass-roofed Queens Borough Library Branch in Long Island City, is designed to be literally unseen from adjacent residential towers, despite a strong presence at ground level. His is an indispensable body of work, but in the absence of a signature style, it is also an invisible one.


Courtesy Dattner Architects
Modular Ticket Booths, 1974

His approach did not develop this way through a lack of exposure: Dattner has enountered icon-making architects in his time, both as a student and as a teacher. After study at MIT, he had a stint as a student at London's Architectural Association in the late 1950s where he learned, how to do more with lesss from John Stirling and Alison and Peter Smithson. Some twenty years later, he conducted a second-year design studio at Cooper Union and had a very independent-minded and energeticc student called Daniel Libeskind. But in his own work, he has taken what he calls an existential approachh to questions of form, style, and material. Look at Renzo Piano,, Dattner says. Each project is crafted and sensitive to its circumstances. Polynesia is different from the New York Times. Within our office we aspire to that level of thought..


Courtesy Dattner Architects
P.S. 234, Tribeca, 1988

Critical assessment of the results has been varied, generally colored by the low expectations that, especially in New York, greet the public commissions that have made up the bulk of Dattner's work. For instance, Architectural Record found his 1983 Bronx Con Edison Customer Service Facility to be a sturdy,, response to the client's stated need for a simple, functional design avoiding any impression of wasteful expenditure.. That magazine pronounced his 1989 project, P.S. 234, a success, considering the city's web of bureaucracy and the limited means available. [I]n another city it might qualify as just one more well designed building, but in New York City [it] stands out.. Dattner's 1993 sports facilities at the North River Pollution plant were found to be handsome and colorful,, by Jane Holtz Kay, architecture critic for The Nation, but the overall effect was sparsee and perfunctoryy: Even with budget constraints,, asked Kay, why such lack of zest?? Former New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger was unimpressed by the 1972 Riverside Park Community Apartments in upper Manhattan, on which Dattner worked, in collaboration with the firms of Henri A. Legendre and Max Wechsler. The project looks dreadful from Riverside Drive,, Goldberger wrote in The City Observed, where the contrast between its huge size and that of everything around it issdisturbing.. He found the architecture itself, banal..


Courtesy Dattner Architects
Coney Island Comfort Station and Public Restroom, 2004

Dattner suggests that the different circumstances of different projects suggest different details and designs, even commonplace ones: You make the rules out of the specific site and out of the specific problem; some projects call for a background building.. But his latest project, The New York Public Library's Bronx Public Library Center, which opened on January 17th, moves his work from background to foreground. This project has to be seen,, Dattner says, almost conceding the point. It's at the heart of a community, it's on one of the highest points in the borough.. Capped by a dramatic butterfly roof over a penthouse research room, the $50 million, 78,000-square-foot building features stacks and high-tech reading rooms on five floors, along with a 150-seat auditorium, classrooms and meeting areas in a basement level. These, along with a 20,000-volume Latino Cultural Collection and programs for literacy and job training, will serve as a community center for the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood. The below-grade facilities are accessed through a slot of space daylit by a street-level strip of windows, and further illuminated by artist IIigo Manglano-Ovalle's installation depicting a DNA sequence. That slot of space is positioned below a set of generous cantilevers that project the library's reading rooms out past the primary structural elements of the building, back into the streetscape itself.


Dennis Finnin / Courtesty NYPL
The glass-enclosed atrium stair

The library's upper levels are accessed by a rear staircase whose central atrium is enclosed in channel glass. The effect is poetic and pragmatic. According to Dattner, As you step up into knowledge, you step into light.. The glass enclosure also stops a kid from throwing a book downstairs. Or,, he adds drily, a companion.. Elsewhere, a circular half-wall produces a children's reading area in which children feel enclosed but are visible to adultssa gesture that recalls the landforms Dattner designed for Adventure Playgrounds in the 1960s.


Dennis Finnin / Courtesty NYPL
The main reading room is located on the top floor

Unusually for a library, the building features outdoor terraces where Dattner, who, though Polish-born, spent his early childhood in Cuba, imagines, readings, moon-viewing, and piiata parties.. Dattner collaborator and project architect Daniel Heuberger describes the building, with its clear front faaade and crisp details as, instantly readable and transparent, with no complicated wayfinding.. A rear interior wall, pale blue on every level, metaphorically mirrors the glass faaade and subtly distinguishes between private and public spaces. Dattner contrasts this glassy openness with the first library he designed in New York City, the Parkchester Branch Library, also in the Bronx, in 1982: At the time they had this list of things you couldn't do, like no windows along the street wall without bars or screens.. The visual openess of the Bronx Library, Dattner says, is a testament to increased civility in New York City..


Dennis Finnin / Courtesty NYPL
On the ground level, an Installation by IIigo Manglano-ovalle despicts
a DNA sequence
.

Civility is a touchstone of how Dattner describes his work, which includes not only public commissions but what he describes as the unseen public cityy of urban infrastructure. He suggested the term Civil Architecture in his 1995 book of that title, writing, Civic Architecture [was close] to my intended theme but missed meanings resonating around civil''civility, civilization, civil engineering..

The Bronx Public Library Center is the latest in a long series of public commissions that began with Brooklyn's P.S. 380 in South Williamsburg, a Stirlingesque 1969 school featuring an innovative play area that recalls Dattner's contemporary 67th Street Adventure Playground in Central Park. The playground, which was commissioned when the city was newly ambitious about design during the administration of Mayor John Lindsay, was donated by Estte and Joseph Lauder. The Lauders were also the clients for Dattner's first substantial project: in 1964, along with Samuel Brody, he designed Estte Lauder's 350,000 square-foot laboratory complex in Melville, New York. Dattner and Brody developed a low-cost faaade system of curved and flat porcelain-coated steel panels set into neoprene gasket frames. At the time, Dattner was teaching at Cooper Union alongside Richard Meier. One day,, says Dattner, we got a call from Richard, saying, How did you do that with those panels?' Well, you know the rest of that story.. But he is magnanimous about what became a signature motif of his contemporary: Meier is a great architect..


Norman Mcgrath / Courtesy Dattner Architects
Richard Dattner and Samuel Brody collaborated on the Estte Lauder Laboratory Complex in Melville, New York, which was completed in 1964.

Dattner goes on to recall his time in London suring the 1950s : It was just a few years after the war. There were still a lot of rubble.. The way that London kids reclaimed ruined sites as places for play, games, and sports inspired Britain's Adventure Playground Movement, which advocated lively but rough-edged and even perilous landscapes that required imagination and ambition from their inhabitants. Dattner remembers consulting with movement founder Lady Allen of Hurtwood, who told him, Better a broken bone than a broken spirit.. That postwar urban streetscape also engendered the playfully no-nonsense work of the Smithsons, whom Dattner remembers as, tough, tough, tough, but so hospitable.. That's a combination of qualities perhaps familiar to the New Yorker in Dattner, who has designed many of the civic bones of the city and remains a keen observer of its spirit. Asked about his 1987 Louis Armstrong Cultural Center in Queens, a Smithsonesque utilitarian container for sports and community activities, the first thing he says isn't about the architecture: Well,, he begins, it's where they play the best basketball in the city..

Thomas de Monchaux is a writer and architect in New York City.

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On Criticism

Architecture criticism, whether written for the profession or the general public, has one primary purpose: to parse the good from the bad. Of course, criticism involves much more than thumbs-up, thumbs-down assessments. Architecture is far too complex, demanding analyses on far too many levels. The critics interviewed here describe how their varied concerns—technological, political, ecological, cultural—have shaped their approach to a field they helped create. Meanwhile, a new generation of critics are joining ranks in what Ada Louise Huxtable calls "an uphill battle," setting out to prove that responsible criticism benefits not just the profession but society at large.

Ada Louise Huxtable

 

Born and educated in New York City, Ada Louise Huxtable pioneered the field of architecture criticism in the United States. In 1963, she became the architecture critic for The New York Times, a position she lobbied her editors to create, and which she held until 1982. She's still active today, at the age of 84, serving since 1997 as architecture critic at the Wall Street Journal. Over the course of her long career, she not only traced the trajectory of modernism, preservation, and urban development but influenced it.

Huxtable had worked as an assistant curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art from 1946 to 1950. She was a Fulbright scholar in Italy in 1950 to 1952, extending her research on modern Italian architecture, which she began as a master's student in architectural history at the Institute of Fine Arts. She emerged as a critic at a time when cities were in crisis, losing their built patrimony in the name of modernization and renewal. She built a mass audience for architecture criticism by bringing reason and passion together in straight-talking—sometimes sarcastic, always sophisticated—prose. When she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970, her field was validated and papers across the country rushed to add architecture to their critical and journalistic beats.

Her newspaper columns are anthologized in Kicked a Building Lately? (Quadrangle, 1976), Goodbye, History, Hello, Hamburger (Preservation Press, 1986), and Architecture, Anyone? (Random House, 1986). She is also the author of The Unreal America (New Press, 1997), and Frank Lloyd Wright (Penguin, 2004).

What was the attitude toward architecture criticism when you were starting out?

There wasn't any! I'm proud of the fact that I convinced The New York Times that it needed to have an architecture critic. The very first thing I wrote for the Times, even before I started freelancing for them, was a long letter to the editor. This was 1959. The Sunday art section had a praising review of a photography show of a modernist housing project in Caracas. I had just been there and saw the project and the residents were having a terrible time—these were people from the countryside, having to deal with elevators and an alien type of architecture. The paper published my letter in full. Not long afterward, I got to do a cover story for the magazine, on the Guggenheim. I was terrified.

You were freelancing for the Times before they named you the critic. What shaped your story ideas and why do you think they grabbed your editors' attention?

I felt New Yorkers were entitled to more than they were getting from developers. There was so much building in the city but there was a total lack of understanding or care about architecture. I had just gotten married and my husband [industrial designer Garth Huxtable] was part of the team designing the interiors of the United Nations. I was just fascinated with architecture and construction.

The Times had plenty of real estate coverage. There were constant press releases about new buildings, all full of praise. These all came from real estate developers; at that time, there were no publicists for architecture. And I'd go to the editor and say, Good buildings don't just grow on trees, you know.

One day I walked in to see Lester Markel, who ran the Sunday magazine. I remember I had a notebook with a list of all the stories the Times was missing. Well, you tell an editor what he's missing, and he pays attention. I was a young, brash, believing woman. You have to be very naive. I was fixated on what I was interested in, so it didn't occur to me that you didn't barge in on an editor and ask for what you wanted. You have to give the Times a lot of credit.

How much input did your editors have in what you wrote?

Because they didn't know anything about the subject, they pretty much took anything I would suggest. And papers are always hungry for copy. Remember, too, this was a time of urban renewal and the total destruction of Lower Manhattan, when the beautiful warehouses on Front Street were being torn out for street-widening and Greenwich Village was being threatened. Most of the writing was crisis-oriented. You were crusading.

The paper didn't think we could do opinion pieces unless we first reported the facts of a story, so I would write news stories and appraisals that would appear in the daily newspaper. Then my critical columns appeared on Sunday. My criticism pieces were never edited because I was given the title of critic immediately. I don't know how it is at the Times today but back then, critics were edited for length and style. They never meddled with content.

After 10 years, they invited me to join the editorial board. I stopped writing for the daily paper and only wrote the Sunday opinion. That's when they hired Paul Goldberger to write for the daily paper.

How has the role of the architecture critic changed over the years?

The role is the same but the emphasis has changed. A critic has a lot of responsibility. It is largely informational and educational—to let the public know what's going on in the large and small issues and to let them know the difference between good and bad, how to distinguish a work of art. Today, I think the emphasis is too much on chasing celebrities, which has emerged all through society.

I want people to understand that architecture is an art. It's been my life's battle, to increase awareness of the field. But the way things have gone ...don't wish for what you ask for! Architecture is definitely more in the public eye today than before, but I don't think it's understood any better.

How do you deal with any controversy your pieces elicited?

It was always difficult but I'm not capable of doing anything else. I'm of a generation that was not brought up to work in a man's world, to deal with jealousies—I'm fairly thin-skinned. But the Times was always wonderful. There were times that powerful people demanded meetings with the publisher to protest my pieces.

One time, a developer pulled a big advertising section because of something I wrote, but I was never blamed. The publisher only asked me, "Do you have all your facts and are they right?" It's a great lesson for all critics. You've got to have all your facts.

My feelings of insecurity were always before I wrote. I would worry, "Am I going to be able to write this piece?" And I'd work doubly hard. I remember one the first pieces I wrote about Colonial Williamsburg. I wrote about how much of it was wishful thinking, how much was destroyed to build it, and how it was a false form of preservation that denigrated real history. I heard that later that they put up a sign there that read, "Ada Louise Huxtable is a Tory!"

Who do you consider your audience?

I don't really ask myself that question when I'm writing. If you have enough belief and pleasure in what you are writing, and write in an understandable manner, then an audience finds you.

One complaint I've heard from lay readers about architecture criticism—particularly of Herbert Muschamp's writings—is that they think they must have a background in the field to understand it.

That is the fault of the people writing it. A lot of writing has been self indulgent, really. You can imagine how I feel about it. The Times didn't know better, I suppose. It's as innocent about the field as anybody. Architecture criticism is still an uphill battle. That's why the responsibility of the critic is so great. It's the way my editor, Clifton Daniel, felt. He trusted me. He always said, "I knew if you got in trouble I'd hear about it soon enough."

I think my approach works for a changing field. I'm not dogmatic or doctrinaire. I stay open-minded. If you're rigid, you can't be a good critic. I wouldn't be in it if I didn't feel optimistic. I'm still full of wonder, I still love it. I like seeing what's going on with vernacular architecture now, for example. And the arguments over 2 Columbus Circle show that the preservation movement is upside down right now. When they compare its loss to that of Penn Station—I've got smoke coming out of my ears! It's not being lost, it's being transformed. I live and believe in the present. I don't live in the past and you can't live in the future. That's why I'm basically a modernist.

Cathy Lang Ho is an editor at The Architect's Newspaper.


From "Zoning: The End of the Line"
The New York Times Magazine
December 14, 1980
Ada Louise Huxtable

In an attempt to legislate an impossible balance between a profitable city and a livable city, New York has created a monster—call it Frankenstein zoning. The process by which good intentions and innovative practice are turned into an urban nightmare has been gradual and technically arcane. But what has been happening, insidiously and overtly, is that the whole idea of zoning has been turned upside down. It has been subverted from a way to control building bulk and size to a method for getting bigger buildings than ever.

If that seems like an anachronism, it is; exactly the kind of overbuilding is being encouraged that the law was designed to prohibit. The result, which is just beginning to be visible, is the rapid appearance of ranks of oppressively massive, sun- and light-blocking structures of a size that we have never seen in such concentration before. Their outline and impact appeared first on Madison Avenue from 53rd to 57th Street, with the 42-story, block-long Tishman building from 53rd to 54th Street, another tower across Madison at 55th Street, and the gargantuan AT&T and IBM buildings, from 55th to 56th, and 56th to 57th Street. This enclave of blockbusters was joined by the huge Trump Tower looming on the Bonwit Teller site at 56th and Fifth.

When the first of these immense projects designed under the city's revised 1961 zoning regulations appeared, such as Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue or Citicorp on Lexington, they seemed unique; as singular structures they were more interesting than overwhelming. As a standard to be replicated, however, they have become cautionary examples. What must be understood is that this wave of bigger-than-ever New York buildings is not some overreaching passing fancy. It is the new and future norm. The bottom line is that the developers build what they are permitted to by law.

These new buildings, therefore, are equally revealing of the manipulative, negotiable, and mutable art that New York's zoning has become. And because what New York does in zoning is emulated by the rest of the country, whether it is innovative and constructive or dangerous and foolish, other cities will probably follow an example that has evolved from a reasonably system of controls, including creative attempts to balance restraints with public amenities, to an ad hoc exercise in horse-trading that is a clear environmental disaster.


Allan Temko

 

When Allan Temko started writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in the early 1960s, he didn't see himself as a regional critic, despite outsiders' perceptions to the contrary. Back then, the city was a fast-growing metropolis, the Golden State's financial capital. But Temko hardly limited his writings to the region. He wrote a book on Eero Saarinen and countless articles for Architectural Forum (he was its West Coast editor), Horizon, and other magazines. Still, Temko, now 81, is best known as an activist who unhesitatingly took on anything that threatened the Bay Area's soul—the first designs for the San Mateo Bridge, for example, and the horrendous plan to criss-cross San Francisco with freeways. Without Temko's voice, the Bay Area would be markedly different, and decidedly less beautiful, today. Fifteen years have passed since Temko left his post. One realizes, talking with him, that the people he wrote about were often his friends, despite his reputation for making enemies. He was admired, even by his targets, for his ability to place design in a cultural context he so clearly loved.

How did you become a critic?

When I left Columbia University in 1947, my professors helped me get an American Lectureship at the Sorbonne. I was in France, teaching American literature, for seven years. Most of this time, I looked at Gothic churches, which to me had everything—rational structure and daring new forms to suit new conditions. But I also saw modern architecture, like Le Corbusier's. Because there was no good book in English on Notre Dame, I wrote one. [It was published by Viking Press in 1955.] Lewis Mumford edited it. When I returned to the U.S., he suggested I do what he was doing for the New Yorker, but for a mass audience. I knew the executive editor of the Chronicle, Scott Newhall, so I went there.

What's changed since then?

In the 1950s and 60s, people talked about painters, sculptors, and politics. Now they talk about buildings, spaces, and important environmental problems. The need for good criticism has never been greater, but if you look around, it seems mighty sparse. There are some outstanding critics, like Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune, but not many writing today understand activist criticismm the need to get out there and fight with fang and claw. With a big metropolitan paper, you can accomplish a good deal. Looking back, we were much better at stopping bad things than creating good things, but we were far ahead of other metropolitan areas, especially when you consider our resources. One big difference between being the critic of the Chronicle and being one for a great newspaper like The New York Times is that New York is really unmanageable. Here, it was possible to have an effect—to stop the freeways and keep Fort Mason and the Presidio from being ruined.

How were you edited at the Chronicle?

Newhall read my things. So did the city guys, the assistant managing editors, and if they couldn't understand something, I'd rewrite it. They were good stand-ins for the public. Newhall encouraged me to be controversial and shielded me from the owners. When the architect of Pier 39, Sandy Walker, sued me for $2 million, the Chronicle defended me. Actually, Bill German, then the executive editor, told me that if I lost, the paper would pay half! The suit was thrown out, but Walker appealed. When I learned that the case was back in court, I asked Chronicle executive Phelps Dewey why I hadn't been told. "We want to win this thing," he replied. When you're trying to stop something, you have to go straight for the jugular. Most critics today don't have that instinct—but neither do their papers. I'm vain enough to think that I could have stopped the whole Bay Bridge fiasco if I hadn't been ill.

What influenced you as a critic?

My years in France led me to see art and architecture as expressions of great civilizations. I always cared about heightening the public's sensibility. I wrote for the educated public, but I wanted everyone else to be able to understand my articles and enjoy them. I saw my role as achieving better design for the whole region. I might have been the only architecture critic in this period who looked at cities at a larger scale—even as large as, say, the Bay Area's seashore, which became a national park. Today, you can walk on public land along the ocean for 50 miles north and south of San Francisco. That wouldn't have happened without people fighting for it, and stopping things like the nuclear reactor that PG&E wanted to put on Bodega Head. I played a big part in these initiatives, writing articles and then getting the Chronicle behind them. They were great victories. But I took on causes that ran the gamut—protecting Frank Lloyd Wright's store on Maiden Lane from retrofitting, sparing Market Street the mediocrity of the early design for San Francisco Center, taking Silicon Valley seriously, helping make the Presidio a national park. That's an appropriate range for a critic.

Did you make enemies?

Sometimes I was a bit harsh. People say I was brave, but that wasn't the point. It sold newspapers. It still would today but, despite media's resources, there's still not enough serious coverage of architecture and planning. One big difference is that when I was writing, I was often speaking for the paper as an institution. I would write a critical piece and then I would write an unsigned editorial for the Chronicle that supported my stance. Without that endorsement, there's no way I could have accomplished what I did.

What do you think of today's critics?

There are very few people writing things that you'd remember the next day. Part of our purpose, after all, is to be entertaining. Architecture is like tennis—there's a small group playing at Wimbledon, and the rest are playing on the neighborhood courts. Which is not to say that the small courts don't have big players. When I started as a critic, San Francisco was a magnet for good architects. Richard Rogers was among them—he appeared on my doorstep one summer, saying, " Lewis Mumford sent me,"—and I got Chuck Bassett to sign him on at SOM. That influx of talent gave us Bassett in my generation and Stanley Saitowitz in the next—architects whose work is original and unique but which also reflects what they found here.

John Parman co-edits "Commentary" for San Francisco's LINE.


From "Colossal Boondoggle: San Francisco's Airport Mess"
San Francisco Chronicle
April 20, 1964
Allan Temko

All that is maddeningly incompetent, stupidly complacent, brutally insensitive and almost incredibly extravagant in San Francisco—a city that perhaps did know how to build in William Howard Taft's time, but would be hard-pressed to erect a decent municipal doghouse today—is epitomized in our New Era Airport, which in fact is one of the most old-fangled, inconvenient, and wastefully designed air facilities in the nation.

As a gateway to San Francisco, it should be blazoned with the inscription of Dante's Inferno: Abandon all hope, ye that enter. For if this is the best we can do in the way of large public works that, precisely because of their staggering cost, are supposed to serve long-time needs, we had better give up hope for the future environment in this part of the world.

Rather than inaugurating a new era, this sprawling assemblage of malconceived and coarsely executed structures is already obsolete. Almost certainly the entire terminal—which even in its unfinished state measures about half a mile from end to end, and may yet be extended farther—will have to be extensively rebuilt if not totally demolished when the supersonic jets go into operation. Yet by rough estimate the city has thus far sank $45 million in terminal and parking facilities alone, and the end is not in sight.

The Public Utilities Commission—a veritable citadel of mediocrity—is cheerfully prepared to spend as much again, or more, to complete the master plan, which to me is not a plan at all, but a gross improvisation at the taxpayers' expense.

Surely this colossal boondoggle warrants a Grand Jury investigation, such as the one which yielded such fascinating information concerning the genesis of the late Charles Harney's multimillion-dollar beauty, Candlestick Park.

But the public is entitled to know who, precisely, made the efforts which saddled the city with the most unwieldy airport of its size in the country, and why a comparable metropolis, Washington, D.C., obtained at substantially lower cost a resplendent terminal in every way vastly superior to our own. Above all, we should find out what is wrong with the building procedures of the city government, and try to set them right before more damage is perpetrated. For in recent years we have been suffering from an onslaught of architectural butchery that might be likened to a St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, administered by self-righteous hacks.

The airport, in truth, is merely one of a series of so-called civic improvements—the Geary Street expressway is another, and so is the new Hall of Justice, which is the most unjust building in town—which re really public excrescences.


Paul Goldberger

 

Paul Goldberger joined the staff of The New York Times in 1972 at the age of 22, and a year later was named architecture critic of the daily paper. For nearly 10 years, Goldberger was the junior critic under the paper's esteemed senior critic, Ada Louise Huxtable. Shortly after ascending to the role of chief critic in 1982, he won a Pulitzer Prize (in 1984). As critic for nearly 25 years at the newspaper of record, Goldberger was often a champion for architectural values in the civic realm and at other times, an easy target for those who considered his views one and the same with the Times. During the heady 1980s, he was one of the few critics who wrote favorably about postmodernism, fueling a lively debate that pushed architecture further into the public's consciousness.

In 1997, Goldberger left his New York Times post to succeed Brendan Gill as the New Yorker's architecture critic, a position he holds today, simultaneously serving as dean at Parsons the New School of Design. Goldberger has proven to be one of the most prolific and long-standing critical voices in New York.

He is the author of several books, including most recently Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York (Random House, 2004).

How did you get started in criticism?

I had been interested in architecture since I was a kid. I remember when, once for my birthday, some family friends gave me a subscription to Progressive Architecture, which I found amazing. I didn't understand what was in it but I read most of it and found it very enticing.

I love architecture and I love journalism. And I wasn't very good at making up my mind about which of those professions I wanted to pursue because each one seemed to exclude the other. So I was lucky enough to find the place where they intersected.

Who influenced your criticism?

I went to Yale and studied architecture with Vincent Scully, who played a huge role in shaping my sensibility. If my eye was formed by anybody, it was Scully more than any other individual.

How did you end up at the Times?

I went to the Times first as an editorial assistant on the Sunday magazine. And I really missed architecture, and then I started to do freelance architecture pieces for the Times and elsewhere. But I was increasingly restless being away from architecture. And then I had an amazing opportunity, which was the chance to move within the Times, to become the architecture critic.

That's quite a leap.

It was quite a leap. I use the word lucky a few times. At the time, Ada Louise Huxtable was at the Times. She had been there for many years but she was moving to a new assignment—part time on the editorial board, and part time, she would continue to be the senior architecture critic. So they were very deliberately looking for someone who would be a number two to her. Not someone who had a huge independent reputation. If I had had a more established reputation, I might not have gotten the job. My guess is that she encouraged her bosses to choose somebody who would be quite junior to her, so there's no question who the senior voice was. And I fit the bill.

How did you go about picking your topics?

I was young, eager, loved the opportunity to put my passions into print and would do anything. And the Times had, and still has, a vast appetite for copy. The needs were enormous. I recall very few instances of being told, "No, it's not a good idea. Don't do it."

When you wrote a review, did they ever question your opinion?

I don't remember that happening too many times. The Times has traditionally been pretty good about backing its critics. I recall having two arguments with the executive editor while I was there. One was a piece about the Art and Architecture building at Yale. The editors thought it was too arcane. It was the only time I was ever told that. I was never told that about my writing any other time.

There was another thing that had nothing to do with the newspaper—a freelance piece in another magazine about the truly wretched design of the Times newsroom. This was the first time they re-did it to accommodate the first generation of computers. Big carpets, tile floors and horrible lighting, and fake-wood Formica furniture. It was really tacky. The executive editor was quite upset, and thought I was disloyal. As an employee, I was supposed to say positive things about the newspaper, no matter what.

When you were starting out, were you self-conscious about the role or responsibility of an architecture critic?

An architecture critic has a lot of authority but not much real power. Power is a much more raw and direct force. Authority is respect and trust. I don't think architecture critics have the power. It used to be said that The New York Times theater critic can close a Broadway show. Well, that's power. But nobody tears down a building if an architecture critic doesn't like it.

The most important responsibility of the critic is not to be stupid, not to be vicious, and not to be ad hominem. And I don't believe I've ever been any of those things as a critic. I was never interested in attacking people as people—I only wanted to discuss the work. Negative reviews are often interpreted as personal attacks, which obviously they are not.

Frankly, as I look back at what I did at the Times, I am proud of all of it. The things I might redo are not the times when I was too harsh on something, but situations where I think I was too kind and too generous, too patient and too forgiving.

You're willing to admit you're wrong?

I've been wrong on some things. I think I've been a little bit too generous about good intentions. Therefore what errors in judgment I've made over the years have come from the mistake of putting too much weight on good intentions, which can bring bad results.

What's the most important quality for a critic?

I would say a combination of a passion and a thick skin—two things that don't always go together. Angry responses or reactions are part of the territory. I am the happiest when people realize I'm just doing my job. I would hope [angry readers] would not personally direct their anger to me.

Speaking of having a thick skin, are you friendly with Michael Sorkin today?

Yes, we actually are. I have great respect for him. The issue on which we probably had our nastiest arguments was Times Square, many, many years ago. And that's probably—if I were going to give you any example where my inclination to think in terms of good intentions rather than results was most manifest—it was in my writing on Times Square. I was far too slow to realize how badly conceived that project was, and how bad [Philip] Johnson's design was initially. I don't believe I was wrong in thinking that the basic premise of the master plan was basically right—it was basically right. The basic design schemes were terrible, and I was much too forgiving of them.

Was it the thick of postmodernism that clouded your judgment?

I think that might be right. And I think I was probably a bit more forgiving of postmodernism in general, too, because that, too, was about intentions. In the end, most of that stuff was no more than transition architecture to wean us away from something. Now we've come to a much more mature modernism, a more intelligent modernism.

How has the role of the critic changed since you've left the Times?

Everyone interprets the role differently. I don't think the role or obligation changes very much. The critic of the Times plays a very central role in the civic dialogue of New York.

How is your job different now writing for a weekly magazine?

It's very different. At The New Yorker, we don't try or aspire to be exhaustive. We don't try to cover everything. The New York Times has an obligation to cover everything. It's like, "If a tree falls in the forest and Times is not there to write about it, does it make a sound?" It can tire you out after a while. But at the New Yorker, we just write about what interests us, and what, over the course of the year, would make interesting types of pieces.

Andrew Yang is an associate editor at AN.


From "Green Monster: A Startling Addition to Astor Place"
The New Yorker
May 2, 2005
Paul Goldberger

The first thing you think when you see the new luxury apartment building at Astor Place—a slick, undulating tower clad in sparkly green glass—is that it doesn't belong in the neighborhood. The tone of Astor Place is set by places like Cooper Union, the Public Theatre, and the gargantuan former Wanamaker store on Broadway: heavy, brawny blocks of masonry that sit foursquare on the ground. Louis Sullivan once described one of Henry Hobson Richardson's great stone buildings as a man with virile force—broad, vigorous, and with a whelm of energy. The new building, designed by Charles Gwathmey, is an elf prancing among men.

Of course, cities are often enriched by architecture that seems, at first, to be alien: the pristine glass towers of Mies van der Rohe and the sylph-like bridges of Santiago Calatrava have brought grace to countless harsh, older cityscapes. But this new building, which is on one of the most prominent sites in lower Manhattan, does not have a transforming effect. If, as Vincent Scully proposed, architecture is a conversation between generations, this young intruder hasn't much to say to its neighbors. Its shape is fussy, and the glass facade is garishly reflective: Mies van der Rohe as filtered through Donald Trump. Instead of adding a lyrical counterpoint to Astor Place, the tower disrupts the neighborhood's rhythm.

In an inelegant way, Gwathmey's building has exposed a truth about this part of lower Manhattan: inside those rough-and-tumble old masonry buildings is a lot of wealth. By designing a tower with such a self-conscious shimmer, the architect has destroyed the illusion that this neighborhood, which underwent gentrification long ago, is now anything other than a place for the rich. The thirty-nine apartments inside the Gwathmey building start at $2 million.

It is a paradox of the New York real estate market that nothing breeds gentility like harsh surroundings. Once, it all happened indoors—grimy factory floors in SoHo became expensive lofts. Sleekness was a private pleasure, not a public display. But the pair of exceptionally elegant glass towers designed by Richard Meier that went up on the western reaches of Greenwich Village a few years ago changed the rules. High-gloss modernism, preferably attached to the signature of a famous architect and dropped into an old industrial streetscape, became the hottest thing in Manhattan apartment architecture since Emery Roth invented the foyer.


Michael Sorkin

 

Michael Sorkin started his career in criticism writing for the Village Voice in 1978 and went on to write the alternative weekly's architecture column for ten years. In the Voice's permissive, freewheeling editorial environment, he developed an unflinching, pugnacious writing style—indebted as much to the gonzo journalists of the 1960s as to iconoclasts in the design fields, from Archigram to Jane Jacobs to Robert Venturi. He quickly became notorious as a silver-tongued antagonist of the architectural elite. Taking Philip Johnson to task for his Nazi past, as well as admonishing The New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger (one of his unforgettable pieces was titled "Why Paul Goldberger Is So Bad: The Case of Times Square"), Sorkin is the embodiment of the fearless critic, becoming a hero to many (and a thorn in the side of a few).

Since his Voice days, Sorkin, now 57, has continued to write, as well as practice and teach. In all his work, he has consistently championed environmental issues, sustainability, and social justice. With his regular contributions to the Critique column in Architectural Record, Sorkin continues to serve as the profession's voice of outrage—and of moral reason.

Currently, he serves as director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at CCNY, a program that he founded. His New York-based architectural practice, Michael Sorkin Studio, continues to promulgate his idealist, socialist vision in both practical and theoretical projects. His Village Voice columns are anthologized in Exquisite Corpse (Verso, 1991) and most recent book is Starting From Zero: Reconstructing Downtown New York (Routledge, 2003) and he is currently preparing five other titles, including Indefensible Space: The Architecture of the National Insecurity State (Routledge), Work on the City (Monacelli), and Fifteen Minutes in Manhattan (Reaktion Press).

Why and how did you get started as an architecture critic?

I first started writing about architecture in college, but I had always been interested. My mother gave me a copy of [Lewis] Mumford's The City in History when it first came out, which was always a touchstone for me. For years I thought Vallingby [the Swedish sustainable New Town] was the omega point of urban civilization. Fortunately, I finally saw it! Having always been interested in both architecture and writing, criticism was a natural progression. When I got to New York I quickly started writing for the Village Voice, which allowed me to indulge another of my ardors, left-wing politics.

Do you feel that left politics was much more of a cultural motivator when you started? And did that carry over into the architecture writing of the era?

Absolutely. I was under the spell of the doughty Marxism of the day. But there was very little architecture writing at the time—almost none in the daily press. Ada Louise Huxtable was the major exception, but there was very little architectural journalism in general. There were a few influential documents around—Archigram magazine, The Whole Earth Catalogue, and Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture—that were beginning to unsettle the moribund architectural climate from very different directions.

Did you have any other influences?

My prose style was certainly influenced by an undergraduate subscription to Private Eye Magazine, which authorized a certain latitude for the ad hominem, not to mention egregious punning. And then there was the triple whammy of Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, and Rachel Carson, who provide a lovely synthesis of architecture, city, and environment.

How do you choose your subjects?

I have no specific method for choosing my subjects. Part of it is looking for the social meaning of the formal. Part of it is settling scores. And part is just defending one's taste. I've always been a designer as well as a writer so part of my project has always been to advance the agenda of my fellow travelers. And the Voice is a local paper, so I wrote a lot about New York.

Speaking of the Voice, did your editors there have much input in terms of subject matter or the tenor or your articles?

Almost no input in terms of subject matter. It was quite a free situation. They were always happy when I went for the throat, of course.

Who do you consider your audience?

The profession, for starters. Many of my books are directed a little more broadly—to the remnants of the left as well as to a wider circle engaged in urban and environmental struggles. I do feel a bit parochialized, writing primarily in the architectural, rather than more broadly-based, media.

What do you see as the primary role of the architecture critic? And how has it changed?

I see my primary role as an advocate for urban civilization and the planetary environment. That's the big picture. The smaller picture is writing about people, objects, and places I love. That hasn't changed. Of course, the performance of critics fluctuates with the seasons. The majority of critics nowadays are simply flacks: There are too many fashionistas and too few street fighters. We've been taken up into the culture of branding. I think that it is possible for architecture criticism to embody resistance, but it seems in most cases that irony and analysis stops short of availing an original position. People are too accepting of the will of the leviathan and they want their piece of the action.

Do you think that the same can be said of architecture these days? In which case how do you feel about the state of architecture?

I have mixed feelings. Most architecture and criticism is driven by motives too limited, by the bottom line or branding. But both are public projects and my architectural practice and my writing are always concerned with their social effects, their contribution to a more just environment. While I don't believe that architecture creates democracy, architects aren't mindful enough of the distributive effects of planning, the way in which architecture organizes privilege and equity. I think it's important for architecture to make propaganda for a better life, to resist the horror of Bush-world. I truly loathe the smug surfer culture that seems to be in the saddle these days.

Aaron Seward is Projects Editor at AN.


From "Let a Hundred Styles Blossom"
The Village Voice
March 19, 1979
Michael Sorkin

Reports of the death of modern architecture appear to have been greatly exaggerated. This, at any rate, seems to be the drift of the Museum of Modern Art's newly hung Transformations in Modern Architecture. The show has been breathlessly awaited by the architecture set for many years. When, everyone wondered, would Architecture and Design director Arthur Drexler make his move? While fierce controversy roiled over the fate of the modern movement, the museum remained strangely quiescent, almost aloof. The factions raged furiously, each hoping to win the museum to its cause. After all, MoMA virtually made modern architecture in America with its famous show of 1932, and a likewise definitive stand could conceivably have a similar impact today. For Drexler, the opportunity was enormous.

But so was the pressure. Anybody with any sense knew that old-fashioned modern architecture, with all its imputed evils, had to go, but what would replace it? The megastructural maniacs seemed to have been suppressed but did that mean that we were to have the quaint eclecticists or the nouveau neo-classicists? All that was certain was that everyone, except the most unreconstructed Miesians, was yapping for a change...

Still, MoMA temporized, hedging its bets, keeping up but never summing up: All hope for clarification was pinned on Transformations. Designers trembled over drafting tables, pens nervously poised, waiting to be told what to do next. Expectation was apoplectic; fortunes hung in the balance. Seventh Avenue shows a collection every season and the air is electric every time. The Architecture and Design Department makes a major statement only a few times in a lifespan. What was the word to be?

Alas, MoMA copped out. The show is like Hamlet on matte-board: Drexler couldn't make up his mind. Instead of a Cultural Revolution we get "Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom." Instead of leadership, vacillation.

Of course what's really interesting about the compilations is who gets left out. Here, the choices get wiggy. Virtually Philip Johnson's entire oeuvre is included but not a single Alvar Aalto. Anybody could become Philip Johnson given the right historical circumstances but only Aalto could have been Aalto. Vulgarians like Harrison and Abramowitz of Albany Mall fame survive the last cut but Pier Luigi Nervi doesn't even get the court. Is this sensible? Where are those splendid Dutchmen Herman Herzberger and Aldo van Eyck? Where are Steve Baer's Zomes and Bucky's geodesics? Where is SITE? Wasn't the Guggenheim finished in 1959? Some of this seems just plain bitchy. The whole town is asking why John Hejduk's fine work is not to be found with that of the other members of the New York Five, inexplicably reduced for the occasion to Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Richard Meier, and Michael Graves...Ultimately, though, what do Drexler's peccadilloes matter: Group shows always entail a certain amount of grievance. Let them form a salon des refusés if they want.


Robert Campbell

 

Since 1973, Robert Campbell has been architecture critic of The Boston Globe and for many years, has been a regular contributor to Architectural Record's Critique column. At 68, Campbell is a consistent, informed voice on the scene, his writing enriched by his backgrounds in journalism and architecture.

In a September 2004 Architectural Record column, Campbell wrote, "I've always thought that a good model for any critic is Alice, the heroine of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Alice is constantly running into creatures who are crazy—the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit—but they're crazy in a special way. They're obsessed by ideas, and they ignore real-world experience. Alice isn't fooled or overly impressed by her crazies, and neither should any critic be." Campbell's sobriety and unique insight, as one of the field's own practioners, earned him a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism in 1996 and the medal for criticism from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1980.

Why and how did you begin your career as a critic?

I was an English major and I didn't want to be a professor, so I went to Columbia University and tried journalism in New York for a few years, but I didn't like it. I decided to become an architect, and got my degree from Harvard's GSD in 1967. I had no thought of writing at that point, and didn't write for many years, while I was practicing. I met an editor from The Boston Globe and started writing for the newspaper in 1973. There was a great deal of enthusiasm about criticism at that time. There was an interest in preservation and the era of urban renewal was ending. Ada Louise Huxtable had begun writing for The New York Times in the 1960s and she essentially generated a career path for many others. Other papers were adding architecture critics to their ranks, like David Dillon at the Dallas Morning News and Paul Goldberger, who was already writing at the the Times as well.

What do you feel your role is, as an architecture critic for a major daily paper and at-large-advocate, observer, something else?

The architecture critic is not a consumer guide like other critics. The chief role of an architecture critic is to stimulate and participate in an ongoing conversation about the world we build and live in and what makes [projects] good or bad. When I started, as I said, there was a lot of interest. There have been periods of less interest. Today, it's hot again, but it is all about the star performer—characteristic of the media culture we're living in. This makes it incumbent on critics not to get sucked into the media whirlwind. We must weigh in on important issues. Blair Kamin does this well in Chicago.

What do you think of activist criticism, which Kamin, as well as Allan Temko in San Francisco, advocate?

I certainly think that activist criticism is appropriate and can be a positive force. Blair Kamin and Michael Sorkin, in different ways, are doing this. It is not my temperament to take that attitude, but it's certainly a valid strategy.

What are your feelings about what's going on in architecture today: the influence of computer technology on design, the rise of sustainable design, and other developments?

Certainly, computers are important. Young people are very good at them and they can make shapes that have never been made before. They are playing a game. It's easy to dream up new shapes, but it's difficult to give them meaning.

I am very interested in the growing importance of landscape architecture and the increasing integration of architecture and landscape. As for green buildings, many are largely symbolic. The bigger issues are sprawl and energy, I think. Certainly, symbols are important, and architects should take opportunities to make high-performance buildings that are also visually exciting in ways that are not just arbitrary. The only long-term green solution involves reorganizing the patterns by which we inhabit the earth.

How do you choose your subjects? How do you converse about a subject that many people may not understand?

I intuit what I think will be interesting. No one buys tickets to see buildings, so you have to think about what purpose you serve: to get people thinking and talking about the built environment. You might write about a building because it's great, bad, or otherwise important. I choose all my own topics. As for conversing about a subject that people care about but may not understand, I do the best I can. I enjoy making things clear.

What can be done to enhance the level of architectural literacy in this country, where only two percent of construction involves architects?

The level of architectural literacy is going up rapidly. The subject is in the magazines and newspapers more than before. Maybe people are more interested because more of them are moving from city to city, or because they are all traveling more.

Did you ever change your mind about anything you've written?

Of course I have; many times. But I don't go back to revisit. There's not much room at a paper to say, "I was wrong about that."

Do you think that having been a practicing architect gives you a special understanding as a critic?

Yes, in the same way that art historians or others bring special perspectives. I understand how collaborative architecture is, and the importance of time and money.

What critics have been significant influences for you?

Jane Jacobs was a huge influence, but beyond her, I can't really cite major architecture critics as my biggest influences. My models are from the English literature side of my background: Randall Jarrell, George Bernard Shaw, and Edmund Wilson.

You have talked about how the single-issue experts are to blame for poorly designed cities, and that generalists—such as designers and mayors—should be running the show. Why?

I don't think traffic experts and others should be deciding issues of city design. You need a broader perspective. The age of the expert is over. I think the worship of experts is way down; even doctors and lawyers don't get the respect they once did. But I'm not sure it's been replaced by healthy collaboration. In the the absence of experts, it is possible to get a kind of populist decision-making, or decision-preventing, in which every interest group or individual is consulted and, as a result, nobody can build anything that anyone dislikes. This leads to a kind of bland common-denominator world, punctuated by the occasional star icon.

Kira Gould is a Boston-based design writer.


From "What's Wrong With the MoMA?"
Architectural Record
January 2005
Robert Campbell

A critic is supposed to stimulate a dialogue, not be one. So wrote the great Clement Greenberg. I seem to be one of only a few critics around who wasn't crazy about the new Museum of Modern Art in New York. Maybe I'll change my tune after a few more visits; Greenberg reversed his judgments sometimes, and it's greatly to his credittand if I do, I'll perform a mea culpa. But for now...

It isn't that MoMA's bad. There's nothing bad about it. It's just that it isn't good enough. It's elegant, but it lacks life and imagination, and those are qualities we used to associate with modernism.

New museums often open with a blizzard of hype. It's hard for critics not to be caught up in the excitement. Years ago, that happened with I. M. Pei's East Building for the National Gallery in Washington. More recently, it happened with Herzog & de Meuron's Tate Modern in London. I didn't like either of them at the time and I still don't. And I think a consensus opinion, over the years, has borne me out. I say this despite the AIA's recent Twenty-Five Year Award to the East Building. I recall when the East Building opened, the architect Jean Paul Carlhian, who founded the AIA's Committee on Design, said, "It is an airline terminal." It was and it is, with most of the art crammed into residual spaces around the edges of a vast, self-regarding, nearly empty concourse.

Anyway, here are my problems with MoMA:

There isn't any architecture. The design architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, was quoted more than once as saying that if MoMA gave him enough money, he could make the architecture disappear. Unfortunately, he's succeeded. Most of the museum consists of an endless rabbit-warren of more or less identical white-walled galleries with track-lit ceilings. Every attempt is made to remove any sense of the presence of architecture. A typical gallery wall, for example, appears not to touch the ceiling, the floor, or the adjacent walls. Instead all surfaces are divided from one another by a thin recessed shadow line. The effect is to make the wall appear to be floating, without substance. It looks not like a wall, but like a white projection screen. The paintings on it, as a result, begin to feel like projected images. You are in the placeless, timeless world of the slide lecture. Because the wall doesn't feel real, neither does the artwork. You begin to feel unreal yourself. Architecture has failed to create a place that either the paintings or you yourself can inhabit with a sense of presence.

MoMA argues that it was trying to avoid creating a destination building, like Frank Gehry's Bilbao, the kind of building that can upstage its contents. "It's all about the art," one curator told me. But this is a false dichotomy. The choice is not between no architecture and too much architecture. What's wanted is the right amount of architecture. Many museums—to cite a few, the Kimbell and Mellon by Kahn, the Maeght and Miro by Sert, the De Menil, Beyeler and Nasher by Piano, the Bregenz by Zumthor, the Pulitzer by Ando, the Dia:Beacon by Robert Irwin and OpenOffice—all find ways to articulate space clearly enough to give the artworks a place within which to exist.


Deyan Sudjic

 

Deyan Sudjic lives in an elegant Victorian house on the fringes of Regent's Park. In contrast to the opulence of the neighborhood, the room where we talk is rigorously stripped of detail, with austere white walls and a vast bleached wood table—not a book in sight. "Truth is," says Sudjic, " I'm between books right now." His latest, The Edifice Complex (just out in the U.S.) has, perhaps understandably, drained his formidable energies. The book, subtitled How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, is a visceral, uncompromising analysis of the 21st century uber-architect, whom Sudjic criticizes as venal, opportunistic, only too eager to deal with tyrants.

This critical stance is characteristic of Sudjic, who co-founded Blueprint in the mid-1980s precisely to provide an alternative perspective on the profession. Sudjic also made time to write books, including the highly acclaimed 100-Mile City (Harvest/HBJ Books, 1992), a scholarly assessment of late-20th century urbanism. A supreme networker, Sudjic was named editor of Domus in 2000. His stewardship of the Milan-based magazine transformed it into a truly international forum for architecture, art, and design, which in turn made him an obvious choice to direct the 2002 Venice Architecture Biennale. He has also curated London exhibitions at the British Museum, the Royal Academy, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He is currently architecture critic for The Observer, the Sunday edition of the daily newspaper The Guardian.

How did you come to write about architecture?
My father was a journalist and my mother was hell-bent I shouldn't follow in his footsteps. I guess that's why I chose to study architecture in the first place but once at university I was forced to realize the dramatic limitations of my skills—not least during my year out in the Chelsea offices of Chamberlain Powell & Bon, architects of the Barbican complex in East London. I was also editing the student newspaper; Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor and Tony Blair's right hand man, was news editor at the time! Given a dearth of architecture work—this was the early 1980s—I reckoned that writing was, despite my mother's dire warnings, the way forward for me. Peter Murray, then editor of Building Design, gave me my first break. After a year I realized I was having a fantastic time. I certainly learned a great deal more about architecture as a writer than I had done studying it.

It wasn't long before you started Blueprint. What prompted you to do it? Did you feel architecture in the UK was too polite or clubby?

Blueprint was meant to be a bit of fun, a youthful sense that the existing UK magazines were run by managers with only a limited sense of what a magazine could be. It was meant to be a co-op, run collectively. We—the writers, designers, photographers and illustrators who got together to do it—all wanted a new, challenging outlet. I was also keen to broaden architecture's perspective, to make it a part of a wider visual culture, I guess influenced by Domus which dealt with art, industrial design, fashion, graphics, and urbanism.

Of course we were clubby too, but every generation succeeds by trashing their predecessors, so we just started another club. Encouraging good writing was also important.

Can you pinpoint key priorities you bring to your work as a critic?

If you are not entertaining, people will not read you. But that does not mean that you should be shallow. I think that you have a duty to be interesting, and interested, to use your eyes as well as your head. It's also important not to take architecture at face value. I would also rather not accept financial support from owners or architects to travel to see projects, but in the currrent climate of reduced budgets at newspapers and ever-more-far-flung projects it's hard to avoid it if you are going to keep up with the key buildings. Of course seeing them gives you a strange world view: Nobody else, not even the architects themselves, see Herzog & De Meuron in California one week, Daniel Libeskind in Tel Aviv the next, Norman Foster in Beijing the month after, followed by Rem Koolhaas in Porto.

What was the climate of criticism when you started out and how has it changed?

There were great people: Reyner Banham was a marvelous inspiration, in his style, and his range of subject matter, and I wanted to be able to write like that. I wanted to ensure that architecture could get into mainstream newspapers, and that meant having a direct approach—approaching the subject not from the preconceptions of architects or taking the work at face value.

You write today for both the general and specialized reader. How difficult is it to switch tone, frame of reference, et cetera? Do you feel a sense of responsibility to educate your lay audience?

The word "educate" really sets my teeth on edge when applied to journalism. You operate by seducing and surprising your audience into reading you. That means being as stylish a writer as you can, and trying to make sense of complex things in as direct a way as you can. I have not only written for specialists and a lay audience, but I have simultaneously been an editor and a writer—useful in terms of acquiring a sense of perspective.

Have you ever regretted a piece you've written?

I certainly regretted some headlines. By far the worst was for my obituary of Philip Johnson for which some bright spark came up with "A Nazi Piece of Work." There's no going back from that one!

Can you identify key differences between criticism in the UK and that of the U.S., or Italy, where you worked?

These are three very different cultures. Doing Domus I was acutely aware how different the Anglo-Saxon discussion was from the Italian—I could never be sure if it was the quality of the translation, or the sometimes maddening diffusion of the Italian language. Sometimes Anglo-Saxon directness translated into Italian offended people. I remember Mario Botta complaining to the magazine's owner that I had hired a gang of English mercenaries to disparage him. I suspect that Americans think that the British are a bit limited. We do not have the same intellectual rigor. In the newspapers, the U.S. gives its critics more space—2,000 words is common in The New York Times, whereas 800 is a standard length here. Personally I prefer not to write a detailed architectural description, I tend to talk about what a project means, rather than how it looks.

In a recent interview, Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, suggested that the basic principles of a museum should celebrate John Locke's civic humanism. Can you point to leading architects whom you feel champion the notion of civic humanism?

I believe great cities are the product of an exchange of ideas. What I fear most is no conversation, no discussion. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against shift-making buildings, but let's not just grab the next tower off the shelf, dust it off, and build it. There are inspired architects, great architects who want to engage in real ideas. The key thing is to create a forum where that's possible and it's the role of the critic to build that debate.

Do you believe that criticism has a direct effect on the evolution of architecture? Is there, or should there be, a tangible link?

No. As Charles Jencks says, critics are the messenger boys.

Robert Torday is associate director of ING Media, London, and contributes to Architects' Journal and ICON magazine.


From "Landmarks of Hope and Glory"
The Observer
October 26, 2003
Deyan Sudjic

Last week the East of England Development Agency launched what it described, with Pooterish grandiloquence, as an international competition to find a visionary plan for a landmark, or series of landmarks. The agency says it is looking for an icon that will foster a sense of identity for the region as a whole—to underscore its message that the East of England, is a region of ideas. All that was missing from its litany of threadbare received wisdom was a passing reference to its world-class ambitions.

No site has been specified, nor has the development agency committed any money to the project, which hardly inspires confidence, but Yasmin Shariff, an architect who is also a board member claims that this piece of wishful thinking is a fantastic opportunity for us to come together as a region and decide how to present ourselves to the rest of the world.

It's not hard to imagine what an Angel of the East might look like, or for that matter, a Lincoln opera house, faced with titanium fish scales, designed by Frank Gehry as a free-form blob, or an eccentrically exhibitionistic Santiago Calatrava footbridge across the Cam as being the sort of structure that the agency is after. Competitions such as this have become ubiquitous, leading all but inevitably to the kind of architecture that looks best reduced to a logo on a letterhead or to the confined spaces of one of those Eiffel-Tower-in-a snow-storm paperweights. It claims to be about inspiration but ends only in the obvious. The search for the architectural icon has become the ubiquitous theme of contemporary design.

Leaving aside the wounding possibility that the rest of the world is likely to remain just as indifferent to the fate of the Fens and Humberside, however they choose to present themselves, as it has ever since the collapse of the wool trade in the Middle Ages, the agency has a fight on its hands. If it is to stand out from an endless procession of decaying industrial backwaters, rural slums, and development areas that are equally star-struck, equally determined to build the icon that will bring the world beating a path to its door, then it must come up with something really attention-grabbing.

This is the way to an architecture of diminishing returns in which every sensational new building must attempt to eclipse the last one. It leads to a kind of hyperinflation, the architectural equivalent of the Weimar Republic's debauching of its currency. Everybody wants an icon now. They want an architect to do for them what Gehry's Guggenheim did for Bilbao, Jorn Utzon's Opera House did for Sydney, and Piers Gough's green-tiled public lavatory did for the Portobello Road.