Search results for "Paul Goldberger"
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.
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.
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.
6 Original Library
7 Staff Offices
8 Reading Rooms
9 Performance Hall
The Pierpont Morgan Library
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Beyer Blinder Belle Architects
F. J. Sciame Construction Co.
Robert Silman Associates
Curtain Wall: Front, Inc., Gartner
Acoustics: Harvey Marshall Berling Associates, Kahle Acoustics
H. M. White Site Architects
Lighting Designer: Arup