Search results for "Adolf Loos"
As Modernism spread across the globe in the early 20th century, its vision of a totalizing, unifying way of making architecture was never fully realized. Instead, many of the tenets of the movement were “absorbed” into distinct local, regional, and national cultures. Prague, in the modern-day Czech Republic, is perhaps one of the more complex contexts that inherited these international influences in its own particular way. Currently on view at the Center for Architecture in New York is Prague Functionalism: Tradition and Contemporary Echoes, a look at the Czech Functionalism of the 1920s and 1930s, and its influence on contemporary Czech architecture today.
Prague at that time was rapidly modernizing as it grew from a provincial city into an international metropolis. It was uniquely situated in Czechoslovakia, at the intersection of the East and the West. The exhibition is two-fold: The first part focuses on the 1920s and 1930s and the intellectual history that brought architectural modernism to Prague from outside influences including the Bauhaus, Adolf Loos, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier, as well as movements around Europe such as Purism, Constructivism, Rationalism, and Functionalism. Much of the outside influence was brought in by Jan Kotera, who was a student of Otto Wagner’s in Vienna.
Filip Slapal; Courtesy AIANY
The second part of the exhibition shows how the period is being resurrected as a new contemporary Czech architecture. After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I, Prague was free from outside rule, and became a center of progressive modernism. This freedom was lost after World War II, when the country was subjected to a USSR-backed regime that oppressed Czechoslovakia until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was then that the interwar period of independence became the source of reference for architects looking to continue Czech Functionalism.
Individual buildings have specific borrowed motifs that can be traced throughout, including formal references like the austere white boxes of Adolf Loos, the ribbon windows of Le Corbusier, and the restrained, technologically charged minimalism of Mies. The functional innovations of the time were cultural, representing the Czech way of making buildings. Programmatic organization is often borrowed, such as in Atelier 8000’s family housing at Hanspaulka, where individual buildings are gathered into a tight complex, recalling the famous Baba Villa Colony of the 1930s. Additionally, the respect for this architectural heritage can be seen in contextual responses when contemporary buildings are built near existing modernist icons, such as the Euro Palace on Vaclavske Square, which sits alongside two 1920s department stores.
The exhibition itself is full of wonders that are worth seeing simply as single artifacts. A full-scale plan is printed on the floor of the Center, with furniture to give scale to the unit. It is an apartment unit by Ladislav ák, inspired by theorist Karel Teige’s ideas on minimum collective housing and his book, The Minimum Dwelling. The unit could be read as the Czech equivalent of Margarete Schutte-Lihotzky’s “Frankfurt Kitchen” and the German existenzminimum—minimal existence—that it manifested. In ák’s version, it was the whole apartment where unnecessary space and movement was eliminated, making the home into a functional ideal. Several models were flown in for the exhibition, including an intricate gray-scale representation of the Hanspaulka Villas by Stanislav Fiala (2009), complete with details such as wire mesh that covers an outdoor walkway. Fassadentwerf, conceptual drawings from 1921, by Vit Obrtel show the experimental nature of the otherwise dry Functionalism. His designs are made of planes that curve into one another, creating a highly complex facade from what would be a relatively simple construction technique.
The exhibition’s strongest point is the coherent and large selection of historical buildings and their contemporary echoes. Each floor shows strong conceptual and pragmatic through-lines. The two parts remain very separated, however, and they are grouped by building type. It would be interesting to see how the simple display—large-scale prints hung on the wall—could have been manipulated to more directly illustrate particular similarities between the two eras. The exhibition gets the details right throughout its broad selection of projects, but the complex and fascinating political background of this material is downplayed significantly. For example, the 19th century “Parade of (Neo-classical) Styles” that prefaced modernism played out in a unique way in Prague as the International Style was rejected by Czech Nationalists as oppressive because it had its roots in Vienna, the cultural center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that ruled over Czech lands at the turn of the century.
Nonetheless, this is a tightly executed and interesting show that could likely serve as a prototype for future exhibitions focused on other contexts where modernism continues to influence local architecture. If the 2014 Venice Biennale was about “Absorbing Modernity,” perhaps this show is about “Extending Modernity” into the 21st century.
In contrast to Aaron Betsky’s 2008 biennale, Architecture Beyond Building, this one—the Central Pavilion, at least, with its taxonomies of staircases, wall panels, and toilets—could be thought of as “Building without Architects.” It offered a reset of sorts, and perhaps a breath of fresh air, for a discipline that might be accused of occasional fits of decadence. In true Koolhaas fashion, it was a provocation, and not seeing it as such would be missing the point. But perhaps it could have gone further. Koolhaas has likened the theme “Absorbing Modernity,” which he imposed on all the national pavilions, to the way one might absorb a blow or punch. What this neglects—and what many of the pavilions showed, to their credit—was how 20th century modernity was in fact resisted, instrumentalized, and transformed by its “receivers.” They punched back, and perhaps it was modernity that absorbed them.
Aric Chen is the curator of architecture and design for M+ in Hong Kong.
Courtesy Marysia Lewandowska
Rem Koolhaas says that “the ideology of the market should dictate innovation and is the ultimate arbiter.” In fact this ideology is nurtured by some politicians and economists today. The economic and social reality of the marketplace is always a compromise between the law as written by politicians and their corporate sponsors and the dynamics of a particular social/economic reality. Our responsibility as architects is to unveil this misleading ideology and not accept it at face value—cynically propagating the free market myth and speaking in terms of self-organizational urban strategies or a market driven view of history.
What I enjoyed at the Bienniale was how some of the national pavilions responded to Rem’s theme of the last hundred years of “national” architecture. Ironically, only two pavilions were closed. Australia because it was under construction and Venezuela’s beautiful pavilion designed by Carlos Scarpa in the 1950s was closed and used for storage by its neighbor the Swiss pavilion.
Carlos Brillembourg is a New York-based architect and critic.
The world’s most important non-commercial architecture event has been too much a showcase of buildings by leading architects and too little a debate about architecture at large. Exit architects. This year’s director, Rem Koolhaas, makes very clearly his points—a talent retained from his journalistic background. He delivers a media-friendly and thought provoking—though somehow unfinished—Biennale. His robust curatorial presence results in a consistency that has not been seen in the Giardini for a while, producing remarkable national shows, including standouts from France, Korea, and Britain. The Monditalia journey to contemporary Italy, all magnificence and decay, recalls the Strada Novissima, brilliantly if only a touch shabbily, inhabiting the Corderie. Elements is less convincing. Encyclopedic, un-exhaustive, ironically Beaux Arts, it explores and dissects the elements of architecture. It fails to address the syntax and only marginally addresses its invisible aspects. The unoptimistic message may be that architects lose power to the idolatry of health and safety and regulations. That parametric design is, of course, irrelevant.
Alessandra Cianchetta is an architect based in Paris.
At the Polish Pavilion, dedicated to memorials, there’s a wall of photographs of architects’ tombs: Adolf Loos, Mies van der Rohe, Plecnik, Scarpa, Le Corbusier, Aalto are all there. High up, next to Loos, is an uncaptioned photo of what can only be Rem Koolhaas’s tomb. Did Koolhaas notice?
But in truth, it’s not the CCTV building but the Biennale itself that is Koolhaas’s tomb. The voracious amassing of data, and yet more data, has finally caught up with him in Elements: part trade exhibition, part ethnographic collection of every kind of incident to do with walls, floors, windows, balconies, roofs, ceilings etc., this display that had seemed so promising, turns out utterly indiscriminate in its selection, positively bulimic in the endless accumulation of information without focus or apparent purpose. The architect is buried, not beneath the CCTV building, but under the sheer mass of unassimilated data that has been brought together.
Adrian Forty is a writer based in London.
This Biennale is a “great exhibition” in the tradition of the legendary Swiss curator Harald Szeemann, in which everything is tied to a central concept—in this case modernity. Koolhaas’ concept of modernity is not a project, but an irreversible, globalizing, collective process affecting all aspects of society and thus the built-up environment, reminding of Otto Neurath’s legendary Modern Man in the Making from 1939. Absorbing Modernity deals with Modernism as inspired by the First Modernity. Monditalia shows the chaotic implications of the Second Modernity after the Second World War in Italy. Finally, Elements of Architecture hints at how under influence of computing and the Internet the elements of building—wall, floor, ceiling, window, door, fireplace—evolve to develop primitive forms of intelligence. Here Koolhaas puts himself self-consciously in the great tradition of canonical architectural tractates, from Alberti to Giedion’s Mechanisation takes Command from 1948. Far from an operational critique, his tractate is presented as a universe of concrete fragments of a Utopia or Dystopia we have forgotten to formulate, think through, and evaluate.
Bart Lootsma is a historian, theorist, and curator in Vienna.
The Elements of Architecture—a collection of the “fundamentals of buildings,” according to the brief—reads half like a trade show, and half like a catalogue. It’s the kind of compendium that a Ph.D. student could have put together, having stumbled upon a copy of Architectural Graphic Standards for the first time.
Yet the exhibition misses the essential point about architecture and its underpinnings. You can’t simply extract the details; this is one of the most fundamental mistakes in design. Quality matters more than quantity; experience more than specificity. How you connect things, not how you pull them apart, creates the aesthetic moment.
After all, it’s the part of architecture that you don’t see that matters most. Buildings are facts, but their essence is intangible. As for any treasured recipe, the ingredients need to be right, but it’s in the blending that one produces richness and delight.
Rob Rogers is a principal at Rogers Partners in New York.
The Venice Biennale is about Europe inviting the world to think, but the fact that the format is dictated by the Giardini’s set of national pavilions means that there is invariably a colonial sub-text, with the issue of embodying cultural identities in flag-bearing pavilions.
Koolhaas has cleverly avoided this kind of response by doing away with architectural egos and starchitect status building, instead encouraging curatorial teams to look at the past in order to suggest credible ways to move forward. It works particularly well for the emerging powers like Korea, as their pavilion ignores the distinction between North and South, which is in effect a way of ceasing to look at the past and instead working on the best possible future for a reunited nation, a revolutionary approach after a century of geopolitical changes.
But I am not convinced that Koolhaas’ upmarket tradeshow (Elements) is the answer to everything. Personally, I love going to hardware supply stores to stimulate my imagination about what I could do with copper pipes, some planks, and a few tools, but only on weekends… so Venice turned out to be a fabulous place to spend the weekend.
Michael Mossessian is a UK-based architect.
In his June 11th editorial for The Architect’s Newspaper, William Menking suggested—as others have as well—a connection between Paolo Portoghesi’s 1980 Strada Novissima and Koolhaas’ already much talked about Biennale. He wrote: “Portoghesi’s spectacular Strada was like Koolhaas’ ambition for Elements, ‘not to show images of architecture but to show real architecture.’” This could not be more true. I would add that Koolhaas pursues the same ambition has did Portoghesi 34 years ago: render architecture, the most social of all arts, intelligible to all, by using a simple grammar of signs and symbols (here elements) that can be read and understood by all. In other words, avoiding mere representation by putting men inside the street, in contact with architecture. Yet, I would also suggest a perhaps even stronger connection between the Monditalia and the 1980 interior street of facades.
What was the ambition of Portoghesi when building the Strada Novissima? He and his collaborators wanted to fully and totally use the space of the Corderie (a secret space at the time, as the building, although an integral part of Venice’s industrial past, was not open to the public), turning it into a social space of representation, a theatrical and scenographic venue, allowing for a polyphony of emerging voices to be heard. So many resemblances: the strict rules given to each participant; the sense of an emerging generation; the international ambition, yet deeply embedded in Italian tradition; the scarcity of means; the linear progression; even the number of participants, just almost doubled. Because after all, 34 years have passed, and the Biennale, whether we like it or not, has become a big machine.
Léa-Catherine Szacka is an architect and critic in Oslo.
The two architects whose work best adapt to the Los Angeles sensibility and natural terrain, and coincidentally are my favorites, are Rudolf Schindler and John Lautner. Both of these architects spent time working in Frank Lloyd Wright’s office in LA before doing their own early work, which in both cases was influenced by Wright. Lautner—raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a wilderness, lake area adjacent to Wright’s original home base in Wisconsin—studied at Wright’s Taliesin East in Wisconsin. Later Lautner worked in collaboration with the Wisconsin master in his LA Brentwood “Sturges House,” a house which dramatically cantilevered a large terrace in the air over a sheer drop in the hillside terrain. This work had a clear influence on Lautner’s later LA houses, which often were sited atop hills overlooking ravines to give airy vistas of lower, greater LA. Schindler’s best LA, work, in my opinion, are low-budget apartment complexes in Studio City and Silver Lake, radically terraced into differing levels of quasi-mountainous terrain. These projects were influenced by Viennese social housing and equally by Adolf Loos’s interior “open plan.”
Both Lautner and Schindler’s early LA work begins with their take on Frank Lloyd Wright’s “open plan” adapted to the quasi-mountainous ravines of the LA hillside. Schindler’s work is heavily landscaped, perhaps reflecting the influence of Wright’s frequent visits to Japan, whereas Lautner’s work is often completely suspended from and set into its natural setting.
Lautner’s idea of nature and site specificity differs from Wright’s seminal works like Falling Water, which are romantic, scenographic fantasies, often left unfinished (sometimes due to client’s lack of funds or a “falling out” with the architect). On the contrary, Lautner’s houses are built for permanence. Lautner’s first LA houses, such as his own house in Silver Lake from 1940, are close in feeling and in their use of wood timbers to Wright’s work of the same and slightly earlier periods.
Although Lautner’s classic work is associated with luxury, Lautner in his early LA practice, like Schindler (who he admired) experimented with low-cost houses, highway motels and gas stations, as well as rustic, isolated vacation cottages.
What is characteristic of Lautner’s classic houses is the centrality of the swimming pool in his design. Lautner is a Cancer, like his fellow Cancer-sign architect, Robert Venturi, who based his early house for his mother on the central fireplace; Lautner also based his compositions on a central hearth-like focus, substituting the swimming pool for the fireplace. These LA houses incorporate the remnant of mid-western Wrightian nature worship, based around the Wrightian house’s fireplace, re-directed to Southern Californian hedonistic sun/water worship, epitomized by the terrace’s swimming pool. The pool was the center of Lautner’s luxury houses. (As a Cancer water sign, also connected with childhood memories, Lautner’s work seems to relate to the water-environment of the Lake Superior area where he grew up.) Lautner’s last works, sited near the Pacific Ocean, substitute the sea, surrounded by sky and earth, for the swimming pool, as central metaphors of man to nature.
The organic metaphor in Frank Lloyd Wright’s work was perhaps first encountered by Lautner in Wright’s Racine Wisconsin S.C. Johnson Research Tower from 1944–1950, whose interior, supporting columns resemble large “inverted” lily pads, floating in the pond of a 19th century Crystal Palace–like Botanical Garden or perhaps gigantic, mushroom-like plants.
The middle-to-late Lautner houses, which substituted concrete for wood as building material, often use undulating concrete, shell forms, which develop organically to link the house to the surrounding land or sea. Lautner by then had turned his attention to structural engineering, partly under the influence of the aero-space industry located in post-war LA, but also manifested in Lautner’s awareness of the works of post-war Italian structural engineers/architects such as Pier Luigi Nervi, who had used reinforced concrete in curvilinear, folded forms, as well as the concrete structures of Baldessari. Another major influence on Lautner’s practice was the shell forms of the Mexican, Felix Candela, as well as the forms of the Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer. Lautner’s Malibu Cliff House, 1990, and his Acapulco Marbrisa House, 1993, have echoes of Nervi’s spiraling forms as well as relating to Saarinen’s TWA Airport Terminal at JFK as well as his Yale, New Haven, Ingalls hockey rink.
Lautner’s first use of reinforced concrete is in the roof of his 1963–89 Sheats/Goldstein House, whose forms echo Louis Kahn’s concrete ceiling in the Yale University Art Gallery.
The Sheats/Goldstein House was the first Lautner house I personally experienced. The house is precariously perched, like a tree house, in a wooded area on a hillside overlooking Beverly Hills. In this house, views of the swimming pool are central. From the houses’ upper level we first glimpse the pool seen from above; the pool is situated at the middle, terrace level of the house. On a lower level we can actually look through the pool’s water from an underwater vantage point through a sheet of thick, transparent glass, rather like the view of penguins in their underwater habitat we see in zoo architecture.
The house is surmounted by the concrete roof, resembling a Louis Kahn in its geometric form, and seems to be a metaphor for the light experienced in a timber house in the forest wilderness (not unlike the summer cabin in Michigan where Lautner was born). Lautner’s Sheats/Goldstein House uses 750 drinking glasses set into the roof’s concrete to re-create a speckled, flickering light suggesting a primeval forest canopy.
The house makes use of many, contrasted, interwoven textures, overlapping layers of thick quasi-transparent glass, wood paneling, rug and ripped floor surfaces, all of which interact with shifting glimpses of light and fragments of outside foliage lightly reflected on the interior glass partitions and windows.
Lautner employs the use of overlapping layers of glass as interior partitions to capture surface light reflections of people moving around the transition spaces linked by various staircases. This interior glass reflects and connects people’s gazes and bodies with the doubling indoor/exterior sunlight. These glass reflections also intermingle to the reflective surfaces of the water in the pool. The internal glass relates subtle movements of people transiting the space with reflections of the various textures of the wall surfaces and floor coverings as well as the flickering outdoor light.
Lautner’s use of glass in this and other houses is vastly different from that of modernist architects where window glass makes a clear divide between outdoor light and interior space. (A notable exception is Mies’s Barcelona Pavilion where thick glass, the marble’s polished surfaces, and the water of the reflecting pool allow the transiting observers a subtle Lacanian “mirror stage” glimpse of their own gaze, superimposed on the material’s surface and the gaze and bodies of other observing spectators.)
Lautner’s final works, in their gentle, curving, enfolding, somewhat organic surfaces evoke and interconnect the house’s interior and exterior surfaces with the surrounding natural forms—sea, earth, and sky. Lautner described the concrete roof of his late, Baja California seaside Marbrisa House as “a roof to sandwich life between earth and sky to the surrounding sea.” His Michigan lake/wilderness natural childhood experience was deeply influenced by ideas of Nordic, Germanic, and Irish nature mythology as well as by his philosophy teacher father and his artist mother and it is now re-oriented/re-created in the new Pacific Ocean setting of Southern California.
“Architecturally I am satisfied—it is a thoroughbred—and will either attract people—or repulse them—my fate is settled—one way or other.”
R.M. Schindler in letter to Pauline G. Schindler, 1922
Written by Robert Sweeney, president of Friends of the Schindler House, and Judith Sheine, head of the department of architecture at the University of Oregon, Schindler, Kings Road, and Southern California Modernism makes for a simple, elegant, and sociologically stimulating account of Schindler’s first independent project. While the house itself is wonderfully documented in a compact arrangement of essays, photographs (by Timothy Sakamoto), drawings and letters, it is the unfolding of Schindler’s complex evolution as an activist engaged in Space Architecture that suggests that the home itself can be conceived as a vessel of collaboration and social change. The somewhat complicated reception of the Kings Road house speaks to a fundamental difficulty in identifying the project’s aesthetic allegiances and its placement in history, suggesting that it may not only be an original work, but also the frontrunner of what has become a contemporary architectural paradigm indicative of intellectual life in Southern California.
Mark Mack, co-founder and former editor of Archetype Magazine, provides a very brief introduction that sets up the profile of Kings Road as an experiment in “Bolshevik humanism” and “spatial looseness” that is as interesting as its occupancy by “extraordinary people floating through and residing within.” Mack goes on to further characterize the house as a “classless and liberated social arrangement of rooms in a natural landscape, where rooms have no labels, like ‘bedroom’ or ‘living room,’ instead only noting the occupant, the human, and his or her relationship of goodwill with others sharing the world.” Though its many innovations may be reduced to primal functionality and the seamless integration of nature and shelter, the cultural implication of the house at Kings Road anticipates the “optimistic societal drift” of the 1960s. Mack goes on to establish Schindler’s aesthetic affinity with Archigram and Superstudio. His most important point, however, involves the “negotiated collaboration” between Schindler and his wife Pauline, who he describes as a “socially conscious community activist.” It was their shared goal to create an environment of “serious intellectual exchange” that was free from “exploitative and capitalistic reality.” The home itself and its genesis was, in so much, a labor of love that grew out of a collaborative, romantic condition and a political position that could be considered Left Wing or radical. A brief text by Sweeney and Sheine touches on this radical quality in terms of the project’s early reception, publication challenges and the home’s “incomprehensible” appearance, which ultimately grew out of Schindler’s spin on the ideas of Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Sweeney follows with an essay that illuminates Schindler’s background in Vienna, describes his early apprenticeship with Hans Mayr and Theodor Mayer, discloses the influence of Loos, and highlights the impact Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolios (a two-volume folio of 100 lithographs published in 1910) had on him. This nexus of influences inspired Schindler to make a move to Chicago, where he began working with Ottenheimer, Stern, and Reichert. We learn from Sweeney that Schindler’s correspondence with Frank Lloyd Wright during this time proved strategic. In 1917, Schindler went to work for Wright in a senior capacity—he ran the office in Wright’s absence and doubled for him “with clients who wanted Wright.” Sweeney does a thorough job at clarifying Schindler’s relationship with Wright and charting his professional transitions that led up to his marriage. Wright, it appears, made as much an impression on R.M. as he did on Pauline. There appears to be an inherent contradiction in her indulgence in Taliesin and her quest to lead a “simple and primitive life.” Nevertheless, the Schindlers were deemed Socialist and claimed to be Communists.
The concept of a “communal lifestyle” would feed into the ideology of Kings Road, where there is clearly a governing economic determinant at work as early as the project’s siting in the flatlands, between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Sweeney gracefully handles Schindler’s history with Wright, the marriage to Pauline, their move to California, project planning schemes, innovative technologies employed during construction, project completion, and shortcomings. The Sweeney essay is visually supported by a delicate watercolor perspective produced by Schindler (very much in the style of Jugendstil), construction photos that document the “tilt-up” cast concrete wall construction, drawings (plans, elevations, typical details), and archival photos of the house taken upon its completion in 1922. According to Sweeney, from the beginning, “the house served as a salon.” Based on shortcomings, it would seem that while Kings Road remains significant in its treatment of “space, climate, light, and mood,” its performance was questionable from the beginning. As a result, as representative of the tenets of a presumably distinctive, Southern California architecture, one must closely evaluate the terms of the vernacular Schindler’s house proposes.
The book evolves into a prose-photographic interlude in which Sakamoto’s images provide the greatest insight into the original intention of the Schindlers’ home, and what it has become: set within ever-maturing flora and fauna, carefully manicured to some higher specification, a grown-in masterpiece with soaring, cantilevered roof lines. These photographs, in color and taken from early morning to dusk, describe the vernacular succinctly. From them one deduces the house’s asymmetrical planning and an integral fluidity in which clerestory windows, sliding doors and walls, full-height glass partitions, ample overhangs, and a juxtaposition of materials (redwood, mahogany, concrete, insulate) produce an overarching sense of horizontality and flatness. Slit windows in R.M.’s studio articulate a practical response to solar position as well as a certain monasticism that is pervasive throughout. Wright’s preoccupation with Japanese works left an unmistakable impression on Schindler.
Sheine’s essay, titled “Pre-Everybody,” fights to establish Kings Road as a trendsetter that influenced Wright, Neutra, Gregory Ain, Harwell Hamilton Harris and Raphael Soriano, in spite of the fact that it remains, to a degree, a mystic provocation. Sheine emphasizes Schindler’s conscious attempts to integrate theory and practice in his work. Where Sweeney’s essay provides general background, it is clear that Sheine’s agenda involves the demystification of Kings Road. It is from Sheine that we begin to see the house in a broader perspective, and we gain a breakdown of the theoretical underpinnings that suggest that Kings Road was in fact a physical manifestation of Schindler’s 1912 manifesto entitled, Modern Architecture: A Program. Sheine implies that while materiality and structure are overly expressed in Kings Road, it is their ability to define space that is of higher value, and combined with “the design of interior space and its connection of outside spaces and views,” there is formed a signature of sorts for the vernacular. Sectional complexity in Schindler’s work and a tendency to develop the site plan along a diagonal axis would also form the basis of the architect’s subsequent designs. As Sheine unpacks the theory, she inhabits other projects and their spatial patterns.
Still, upon completion of Sheine’s essay, one is left to contemplate those aspects of Kings Road that correlate Modernism, as well as those that qualify a distinctive Southern Californian tendency. If we place the discussion in the context of character, we could say that there are identifiable traits: a fundamental indoor-outdoor design strategy based on climate response, the incorporation of cross-ventilation, the use of overhangs to produce shade, extensive use of natural light by way of sectional complexity and clerestory windows, three-dimensional modularity, prefabricated structural elements, use of local materials, expansive areas of glass, movable partitions, flat roofs, the integration of architecture and landscape, a horizontal datum, and single-storied, dynamic plans, oriented to views. Beyond formality, it is the political position of Kings Road that holds together its syncretism. Its streams of logic and unresolved ending, in the end more like Modernist poetry, clearly register leaps in time. Sweeney and Sheine, in their respective essays, mirror the Schindlers’ enthusiasm in this highly recommended, collaborative romance.
Founded in 1864 as the Imperial and Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry, the MAK has matured into a happening place of international stature for art and architecture with hubs in Vienna and Los Angeles, where the MAK Center resides in the Schindler House. Earlier this year amidst considerable controversy, Peter Noever departed as director, and on September 1, Christoph Thun-Hohenstein assumed the post. A former director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York (1999–2007) and director of departure, the city of Vienna’s funding agency for creative industries including architecture, design, fashion, and the art market, Thun-Hohenstein sat down with Liane Lefaivre to talk about the traditions and the future for the influential institution.
The MAK is the second oldest Museum of Applied Art in the world after the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. How do you see your mission with regard to this tradition?
Well, although I greatly respect this tradition, my mission is clearly to steer the museum into the 21st century. We have about four sections: applied art—though I am not very clear what it is—design, architecture, contemporary art, and intercreativity, that is interdisciplinary ideas and projects involving those fields. To me it is important that the MAK does not become solely a design museum or a museum for the decorative arts. All these things belong together.
What do you make of Peter Noever’s legacy?
I have inherited Peter Noever’s by now famous exhibition showcase rooms that occupy the first and second floor of the main building of the MAK. He has done a really great job with this and we will keep these rooms intact for the time being. My own emphasis will be on the huge special exhibition spaces that comprise a total of 3,000 square meters on two floors. We will be using them to present integrative exhibitions that work with the collections in new ways to address key topics involving several disciplines.
What will be special about such integrative exhibitions?
I am a huge fan of the thematic shows on new developments and interfaces at MoMA, especially what they do in the design department. Paola Antonelli has mounted some exceptional shows, like Design and the Elastic Mind, and there is the new show that explores communication between people and things in our digital era. These are examples of highly relevant topics the MAK also has to address. For me it is important to mount shows that bring different fields together, and to explore how applied art, design, architecture, fashion, and art can contribute to positive change in terms, most particularly, of ecological responsibility and social innovation. A museum of applied art should actually set the standard for these activities.
What are your plans for the MAK Center in Los Angeles? Is it going to be business as usual?
The MAK Center in Los Angeles is a very important part of the MAK’s international reputation. The United States is such a great generator of innovation and creativity that it is wonderful to have this link. The scholarship program in architecture and the visual arts is excellent and will certainly be continued, and some of the young architects and artists will be shown at the MAK in Vienna in the years to come. We will also showcase the most experimental Austrian architects in Los Angeles.
Any statement you would care to make about the architectural policy of the MAK?
It’s too early to go into specifics. I have a long list of ideas. But the focus in general will be on positive change, or, to be more precise, on the contributions architecture (as well as design, applied art, and contemporary art) can make to positive ecological, social, and cultural change. This involves architecture to a great extent. Architects are instrumental in providing new impulses between different generations, in responding to ecological sensibility, and promoting cultural innovation. These positions are underexplored at the moment. They need to be enhanced. Another area that needs to be revived is the legacy of Adolf Loos. His continuing impact on the contemporary world merits a closer examination, and we are exploring these possibilities with eminent scholars here and in the States. And, of course, the continuing relevance of Josef Hoffmann. The opposition between Loos and Hoffmann about the status of ornamentation sparked one of the debates that still resounds today in the digital age.
The MAK has tended to feature starchitecture recently. Will you continue in this direction?
I am not interested in star architecture per se. I am interested in architects who have a clear vision for the future and are dedicated to positive change. Some of these are star architects, others are not. We will also present lesser-known architects. What is important is how architects deal constructively with the problems of our civilization.
to write a book about the architectural and cultural history of the last 100 years, "from Adolf Loos's Vienna and the utopian social experiments of post-revolutionary Russia to postwar Los Angeles and the closing years of the 20th century," as Nicolai describes it.
That's the level of ambition we've come to take for granted in Nicolai. He's a critic whose seven-year run has been distinguished by qualities of unfailing intelligence and integrity and the kind of relentless journalistic drive that propelled a worldwide search for steel-and-concrete manifestations of big, important ideas. His recent series on efforts to use architecture to transform the Middle East was only the latest example. And a grand one it was. On a different scale, I have another favorite, a review that shows off all of Nicolai's discernment, courage and skill in a smaller package. That was his appraisal of our new building. There was a lot he didn't like about the place and he said so - there's the courage part. On the discernment front, there are fascinating observations about the building's interplay with the history and ideals of modern journalism. Skill? Look at the direct and good humored way he handles the problem of reviewing the boss. No doubt there's much more where that came from. There's a ton of Nicolai's trademark ambition in the plan for his book, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which aspires to put a century of architecture into the kind of social and political context he always aimed for within the more limited constraints of newspaper writing. We'll miss him. He'll miss us.The question is will the readers, too? The sporadic critic was known more for chasing down exotic locations and predictably championing all things Californian than analyzing local conditions and his even-handed voice sometimes had us all missing the impassioned harangues of his predecessor, Herbert Muschamp, but at least he was there writing about architecture for the general public, one of the last of a rare and rarer breed.
The Austrian fin-de-siècle modernist Adolf Loos wrote a satirical sketch about the controlling architect that remains a sharp cautionary for architects today. To recap: An architect visits the home he has designed for a client who is nervous that the architect might find something awry. The client feels relieved, however, that he is at least wearing the bedroom slippers the architect designed for him. Loos delivers the punchline: “Of course,” thundered the architect, “but for the bedroom! They completely disrupt the mood here with those two impossible spots of color. Can’t you see that?”
The attitude that only the architect has a feeling for what’s right for a space that he or she designed persists to this day and has become an especial hindrance, particularly when it comes to interior design projects where so much, if not everything, is going to be subjected to uses and layers of accumulated stuff well beyond the purview of the creator’s vision.
It is high time to get over the Gesamtkunstwerk frame of mind, and bring to interiors some of the collaborative zeal now invigorating architects’ relationships with engineers and landscape designers. Many larger firms have interior design departments, but how closely do the architecture and interiors staffs really work? Is reviewing a variety of suggestions really collaborating?
Recently, at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, it was very clear that architects and interior designers do not often travel together to look at what’s new in furniture or furnishings, a joint effort that could improve a project’s success in terms of comfort-guaranteed style, integrated technologies, and comprehensive sustainability. Not to mention, the chances for a more sophisticated color palette, perhaps the easiest piece for an architect obliviously to misconstrue. “As soon as people get educated, they get scared of color,” bemoaned Alexander Girard, an architect who loved nothing better than offsetting something minimal with a splash of extravagance in form and color. The recently opened Miller House in Indianapolis wouldn’t be the masterpiece it is without that input.
Not that hyperbolic contrasts are the all-purpose solution. But something has to move architects beyond the Gran Confort as specification of last resort whenever an important seating arrangement is required. It cannot be that there are no other choices; the alternatives out there are legion. It feels more as if the architects themselves do not have the confidence to try something beyond certified classics.
One of the driving strategies in architecture today is research, whether it’s into climate change, material explorations, or digital feats of derring-do. That same curiosity needs to be brought to bear on interior design knowledge, not in order to create total works of art, nor to impose a spurious sense of order to a necessarily flexible space, but rather so that architects can be seen as engaging fully in the complete spectrum of design processes. Architects want to be taken more seriously as problem solvers, but first they need to be trusted with the spaces that people care about the most: the rooms where they live.
The most curious image I know of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS)—the New York think tank that, from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, quite simply reshaped architectural discourse in the United States—appeared in a 1971 issue of Casabella. A cut-and-paste job, it pictured sixteen of the Institute’s members as a soccer team, wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the Institute’s logo, the Vitruvian man of Cesariano’s 1521 edition. Crouched, at the far right, is Suzanne Frank, then an intern, later the Institute’s librarian, and now the author of a new book, at once an unoffical history of the Institute and, as the subtitle reads, “an insider’s memoir.”
Founded in 1967 by Peter Eisenman (see image below: bottom row, third from the right, with an impish smile) with backing from MoMA and Cornell University, the Institute set out to bridge the gap between academic culture and the world of planning agencies. Installed in offices on 47th Street enlivened by reproductions of the Vitruvian man and Le Corbusier’s Modulor, the Institute admitted graduate students for yearlong fellowships to work on real projects commissioned by municipal and federal agencies. Reyner Banham, writing in December 1967 for New Society, went along with the Institute fellows’ self-description as “utopians”—with a caveat: “They are utopians of aesthetic order rather than of social order. They look to the city of good form, before the city of good men—but probably believing that the good form will breed good men, that a city which makes itself visually clear will become clear in other senses, too.”
The early years of the Institute (notwithstanding its later, unjust reputation as cerebral, arcane, and elitist) were marked by what can only be called a modernist engagement with the city, culminating in the building of a low-rise, high-density housing complex in Ocean Hill/ Brownsville, Brooklyn, a prototype sponsored by the Urban Development Corporation and designed by Kenneth Frampton (see image below: top row, fourth from the left, with a resolute, captain-like mien).
By the early 1970s, though, when the money and the political will to sponsor projects and research on public housing dried up, the Institute had already gone through an aggiornamento of sorts. Indeed, over the years the Institute embarked on a variety of other programs, going through several changes of faculty and through what Eisenman called, in a 1975 interview with Alvin Boyarsky just published in Brett Steele’s book Supercritical, several “palace revolutions”—the first already in 1969, when Colin Rowe had his students do theoretical designs instead of real projects, and Eisenman, in Frank’s retelling of the story, responded by locking Rowe out of the Institute, literally changing the door’s lock.
Over little more than a decade, the Institute became enormously influential, attracting architects, historians, and theorists to lecture, teach, exhibit, and do research there. Even a casual list of some of the protagonists (Diana Agrest, Anthony Vidler, Robert Slutzky, Rafael Moneo, Philip Johnson, Rem Koolhaas, etc.) commands attention. Eventually, the Institute expanded its educational operations (at one point it had graduate, undergraduate, high-school, and continuing education programs), organized extraordinarily intense lecture series, and mounted dozens of exhibitions (Mart Stam, Ivan Leonidov, Wallace Harrison, but also Aldo Rossi, Mathias Ungers, the Krier brothers, etc.) in the double-height main space of the offices it occupied from 1970, on the top two floors of 8 West 40th Street, just opposite the New York Public Library. The Institute also became a publishing house: it produced the aptly-named journal Oppositions (1973–84), edited by a pugnacious triumvirate made of Eisenman, Frampton, and Mario Gandelsonas (see image below: top row, third from the left) joined later by Vidler and then Kurt Forster; the monthly tabloid newspaper Skyline (1978–83); and, in the early 1980s, Oppositions Books (Rossi, Adolf Loos, Moisei Ginzburg, Alan Colquhoun).
Frank readily acknowledges that hers is not a scholarly book but a personal memoir, what Joan Ockman, in her foreword, calls “a labor of love.”(A few historians in Europe and the US are currently working on scholarly histories, most notably Ph.D. candidate Kim Foerster at the ETH in Zurich.) Frank’s history is in fact impressionistic; the author is at her best when she lets us into her personal recollections of characters, personalities, allegiances, and conflicts, as opposed to the narrative sections outlining the many activities of the Institute.
The last third of the book, a series of twenty-seven interviews that Frank conducted over the past decade with former Institute members, offers a wealth of valuable information (much of it anecdotal, certainly) and countless perceptive memories and thoughts: Julia Bloomfield, managing editor of Oppositions, discussing the journal’s graphic design (“the Massimo Vignelli ‘punch’”) and “the somewhat combative relationship” between Eisenman and Frampton; Andrew MacNair telling of a momentous 7:00 a.m. phone call with Eisenman (“[Robert] Stern and Frampton and I have gotten a grant to start a lecture series... we want you to run it, get your ass down here”); William Ellis (see image below: bottom row, third from the left) reflecting on the feat of Oppositions and on Eisenman’s organizational prowess (“an absolute impresario”); Joan Copjec recounting the formation in 1979 of a women’s group at the Institute to voice concerns about “the not-so-veiled sexism”; Suzanne Stephens telling of her editorship of Skyline, of articles paying ten cents a word, Christmas lists about books to give to architects, and where Johnson got his glasses or Eisenman his shoes (“it’s Churchill shoes for Peter, very Loosian”).
One of the most revealing stories is told by Stanford Anderson (top row, far right): in 1964 Eisenman wanted to form an association of young architects interested in new ideas (what would later become CASE, the Conference of Architects for the Study of the Environment, a prelude to the Institute), convinced Princeton to put up some money, and invited for a weekend-long meeting a group that included Anderson, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, and a young Emilio Ambasz (see image below: bottom row, fourth from the right, in jaunty Greek fisherman’s cap); on Sunday the question came up whether that kind of group discussion should continue: “Venturi immediately said, ‘Well, is it going to help my practice?’ Everyone agreed, ‘No.’”
Eisenman, whose name appears in almost every page of the book, declined to be interviewed: the figure most central to the myriad stories interwoven at the Institute emerges here as an eerie presence, towering over everyone else and yet disappearing—with uncanny parallels, perhaps, with his own architecture. In the 1975 interview with Boyarsky, Eisenman argued that the Institute never had a curriculum, or a philosophy: “Its only philosophy, if it stands for anything, is to serve as a vehicle for critical discourse, for challenging the prevailing empirical attitude in the United States vis-à-vis architecture—i.e. that it is something useful, something that can be marketed, a commodity.” A critical history of that discourse, of those conflicts theoretical and ideological, remains to be written. Or, perhaps, as with that other great 20th-century think tank called the Bauhaus, the history of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies may need to be told, written, and rewritten many times over.
Cesare Birignani studies architectural history at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.
Q&A: SUZANNE FRANK
As a young art historian with a Ph.D. on Dutch Modernist Michel de Klerk, Suzanne Frank arrived at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) in 1970, three years after its founding. Her husband, Dick, had photographed Peter Eisenman’s architectural models, and soon Eisenman would be designing a home for the couple in Cornwall, completed in 1975 and named House VI.
Frank remained at the Institute as a researcher then librarian until 1982. Her unauthorized memoir of those days was 12 years in the making. Clearly a labor of love by an historian eager to make a record of an extraordinary moment in architecture, Frank recounts much herself and then allows the transcripts from interviews with 27 other key players to fill in and amplify the story, vividly recounting everything from arguments over Italian architectural theory to how money was so short that office furnishings were picked up off the streets. Here, Frank recalls a few details from those heady days:
The Architect’s Newspaper: How did you come to be at the Institute?
Suzanne Frank: I was doing an art history Ph.D. at Columbia and they thought my research was good so they hired me to do research on a HUD-funded project, the Streets project, at least in the first year. I never had an office or anything, but I combed resources for studies of urban applicability and sorted heaps of photocopies of buildings in streetscapes. One time when I started talking to a fellow researcher, Gregory Gale, Eisenman told me to stop talking and get back to work. He himself was a schmoozer, especially at eight o’clock in the morning when few people were around.
Why did you decide to write a private memoir about The Institute?
It was a great time in my life. The projects they were doing were very interesting and important. What made me write it? I am a historian. I like to do research and write. I never dreamed it would take so long.
How easy was it to get people to talk?
There were 27 cooperatives. Tony Vidler didn’t agree; Rem [Koolhaas] agreed then backed out; and Peter said he’s not giving any interviews on the Institute. A doctoral student at ETH in Zurich, Kim Foerster, is working on the official history. I think he has done something like 100 interviews.
Was the focus on talk or on building, too?
They wanted to implement building. One of the student projects with a grant was to reorganize streets with buildings in a more public way. And they did it in print, but it didn’t happen because HUD took the money away when Bill Ellis insulted the HUD people when they were visiting.
They only built the one housing project that Kenneth [Frampton] worked on, Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn.
Did Philip Johnson supply funds for the Institute?
Yes, I don’t know how much, but I know he was an angel. People didn’t like his architecture; they hated the AT&T. He didn’t mind, and Peter was very close to him, so was Bob Stern.
There was also fund-raising for Oppositions by Julia Bloomfield. They were all pretty good at it. I mean, here was this little magazine with a leftist tinge, but they still got Exxon and Mobile to give to it.
Rumor has always had it that women had a hard time there. Was that your experience?
Peter hired women to have posts there but they were not as important, I think, at least in the beginning. Somehow they receded beside the men. Some say they were not treated well, and they formed a women’s group about it in 1979, but I was always treated with respect as the librarian, which was a joke because there weren’t many books.
In time, women had a very strong voice. Silvia Kolbowski started out as a receptionist and became the catalog editor with Frampton.
Did everyone get along?
The receptionists had a hard time; they were so overworked because Peter was always at odds and ends. They would start crying, and his wife at the time would have to console them.
Then there was a big argument between Frampton and Bob Stern—it was recorded in Skyline in 1980— after Kenneth’s book on modern architecture and critical history came out. Stern said that Frampton never looked at actual buildings but did everything in libraries and used miniscule photographs, and that he left out American sources. Kenneth said he retorted that he was an American admirer—I forget his phrase–and then he sent him into a “Spenglerian night” What does that mean? I don’t know.
What was the office scene like?
There were parties with lots of dancing. I remember one that Rem attended—he came to all the parties—but usually he wasn’t around because he was working on Delirious New York. Then Peter had his Indian dinners, they were very congenial. People sat next to the people they liked, and snubbed the ones they didn’t.
There were little cliques; everyone was equal except at times. Peter had special lunches, and when we were at the 40th Street office, he got goodies from Zabar’s. He’d have interesting people in, like his father- in- law to talk about Jackson Pollock. It was a very elite and selective crowd who went to those.
There was no hierarchy or, rather, there was and there wasn’t. There was a hierarchy because Peter was always the absolute, but he was friendly, very down to earth, and yet he was always the boss. He dressed very funny in a beige sweater with a hole in the back. He didn’t have very much money, but he managed to borrow from people and he went out a lot and ate very well.
Everyone else was always on diets. “Oh, you’ve lost weight. What’s your diet?” kind of thing. It was a big topic. They were all eating cottage cheese, hamburgers and ketchup.
What’s your final impression of The Institute after 40 years?
It was important. It stood for a really high level of thought and a high level of camaraderie. I am also relieved that I can finally go on to some other things now.
IAUS: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, An Insider’s Memoir by Suzanne Frank can be purchased for $42.30 plus postage at authorhouse.com.