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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO FRANK
A certain someone turned 80 on the last day of February, and 500 of his nearest and dearest were dispatched to the closed-until-Eli-Broad-writes-another-check Geffen Contemporary, including Brad Pitt, Arianna Huffington, and Laurence Fishburne. Frank Gehry had a cake designed like Disney Hall, a building he is no longer self-conscious about visiting, according to Paul Goldberger, who wrote a "Talk of the Town" piece in The New Yorker about the festivities. But the most provocative birthday wishes came via Frances Anderton’s KCRW show DnA: Design and Architecture, where stars from Ed Mosesto to Esa-Pekka Salonen revealed what they’d like to give Old Frank for his 80th. But we have to say it was Cindy Pritzker’s answer which, um, aroused the most interest: “Viagra.”
Two years later and 2,462 miles away from its New York origins, Postopolis (sorry, Postopolis!) made its second appearance on the left coast. The five-day blogathon was held on the preposterously chilly roof of Andre Balazs’ Standard Downtown, where it was so cold that fingers froze to laptops and the Belvedere greyhounds were served hot in mugs. Meanwhile, about half of those watching the string of architects, designers, and the odd counter-terrorism detective paraded onto the Astroturf by bloggers Geoff Manaugh, David Basulto, Regine DeBatty, Bryan Finoki, Dace Clayton, and Dan Hill, surely felt another version of the cold shoulder: Out of the 62 people on the podium, only 13 were female. You’ll be happy to know that the only panel with a healthy male-to-female ratio featured both your faithful Eavesdropette and fellow AN editor Matt Chaban.
OH, THE THINGS WE KNOW
We’ve heard Michael Rotondi is hard at work redesigning the Flea-founded Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a job that’s apparently on the hush-hush… Students at SCI-Arc have designed a shimmery pavilion for this month’s Coachella Music Festival. Perennial pavilion-makers and class instructors Benjamin Ball, Gaston Nogues, and Andrew Lyon assured us that mushrooms will be administered on-site to truly appreciate the structure’s nuanced detail… And then there were three: According to our sources, the Broad Foundation has narrowed its list for their new museum in Beverly Hills down to three firms: It’s now a face-off between Christian de Portzamparc, Thom Mayne, and Shigeru Ban, and nary a single Renzo.
SEND TIPS, GOSSIP, AND HALLUCINOGENS TOAWALKER@ARCHPAPER.COM
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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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.
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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.
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.