Posts tagged with "Documentary":

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PBS to air special on Eero Saarinen

As a belated gift to the architecture community, PBS will be airing a new documentary about Finnish-American modernist architect Eero Saarinen. American Masters — Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future will air Tuesday, December 27th on PBS and will be available on DVD January 3rd, 2017. Peter Rosen is the film’s director and producer, and Eric Saarinen, ASC, Eero Saarinen's son, is the film’s director of photography and co-producer. Eric Saarinen grew up surrounded by design and architecture at Cranbrook Academy, a campus designed by his grandfather Eliel Saarinen, who taught there alongside Eric's godparents, Charles and Ray Eames. Throughout the documentary Eric visits Eero's projects across the country, filming in 6k video and using drones to document his father’s work as never before. The show looks at the National Historic Landmarked North Christian Church and the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, the Deere & Company World Headquarters in Moline, Illinois, and MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. The soon-to-be-renovated TWA terminal at JFK airport is also highlighted, along with his design for Dulles Airport. Along with archival interviews with Eero and his his second wife, The New York Times art critic Aline Saarinen, new interviews with architects and critics discuss his legacy. Architects Kevin Roche, César Pelli, Rafael Viñoly, Robert A. M. Stern, and industrial designer Niels Diffrient all speak about the influence Saarinen had on their own work, while architecture critic Paul Goldberger, curator Donald Albrecht, author Jayne Merkel, and Cathleen McGuigan, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, discuss his lasting impact on the field as a whole. “Closure was something I didn’t have with my dad. But I forgive him for his genius,” said Eric Saarinen. “He figured out a way to be important across time, so even though he died young, he is still alive.” American Masters — Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future airs Tuesday, December 27 at 8 p.m. on PBS as the series’s Season 30 finale.
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New documentary delves into the history and legacy of Jane Jacobs

This is a story about our global urban future… It’s also a story about America’s recent urban past, in which bureaucratic, “top down” approaches to building cities… with little or no input from those who inhabit them…. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City shows that anti-democratic approaches to city planning and building are fundamentally unsustainable; a grassroots, “bottom up” approach is imperative to the social, economic, and ecological success of tomorrow’s global cities. …Jane Jacobs… single-handedly undercuts her era’s orthodox model of city planning, exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s “Master Builder,” Robert Moses.
So reads the official website for the new film, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City which opened the DOC NYC film festival on November 10. It clearly sides with Jacobs’s David rather than the Moses’s Goliath. As Paul Goldberger says, “They were famously at odds with each other. It really did become a war between opposing forces. Today, we’re still fighting these battles across the world.” It’s a great story with large implications for our world. There is compelling archival footage and photos, and a panoply of talking heads including Mary Rowe, Michael Sorkin, Roberta Gratz, Thomas Campanella, Ed Koch, Alex Garvin, and Goldberger. Jacobs’s rich lore is more than just a face-off with Moses (Rowe told me that in the 10 years she worked with Jacobs in Toronto, she never mentioned Robert Moses once). Jacobs saw shades of gray, used her powers of observation to spot “un-average clues” or exceptions, and was unencumbered by the theory and doctrines of the planning practice. The irony is that Jacobs's analysis of what she saw in front of her has now been codified into a gospel to be followed slavishly (Citizen Jane is very different from the imperious Charles Foster Kane, the fictional Citizen Kane). It reminds me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a parody on the Messiah (Brian was born on the same day as his next-door-neighbor, Jesus Christ) who exasperatingly says to his adoring followers, “You must all think for yourselves!” to which they parrot back "WE MUST ALL THINK FOR OURSELVES!” Jacobs was nimble and inventive, a listener and watcher, and then a doer. Jacobs’ lessons are enormous. Although I applaud the filmmaker taking a point-of-view and championing Jacobs, what concerns me is an oversimplification of the story and the facts. Understanding that films can only give broad strokes and focused arguments, we still need to be mindful that there are many factors at work. (The terms “single-handedly” and “undemocratic” in the citation above are clues.) Moses came out of the Progressive Movement in the 1930s and created public spaces such as parks, swimming pools, playgrounds, and beaches to make life better for all. Post-War, he expanded his purview to “construction coordinator” (in all, he held twelve titles such as NYC Parks Commissioner, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman, Head of the State Power Commission—all unelected) which gave him powers over public housing. He declared a war on slums, calling them a cancer, and his solution to the urban blight was to tear down and rebuild. With ample federal funds available, the aim was to erect an “expressway tower city,” in Jacob’s words. Goldberger cites this was a commonly-held belief at the time, but there was a price to be paid, and Jacobs was the lightening rod that pointed this out in stark relief. The light bulb for Jacobs was East Harlem. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low-income public housing projects in the United States, 1.54 square miles with 24 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments. Also known as El Barrio or Spanish Harlem, in the un-renovated areas Jacobs observed an ecosystem, not chaos, with a vibrant underlying order, rhythms and complexity, and density as beauty. And she observed that the intentions of the planners in urban renewal developments like this were unmet (when she asked Philadelphia developers why their new structures in Society Hill weren’t working the way they were billed, she says she was told it was because people were stupid and not using the spaces in the right way.) To the filmmakers, the contrast in planner rhetoric and Jacob’s common-sense observation is epitomized by the god-like, birds-eye view from the sky looking down (Moses) vs. the view from the street (Jacobs). Moses’s heartlessness and disregard are shown when he says of the people who had to be displaced to make way for his construction, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs” (attributed to Vladimir Lenin, among others). And he smashed many dozens of eggs to make his plans real. Referring to Jacobs’ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Campanella says “When Death and Life comes out in the '60s, it’s a clarion call. It’s Martin Luther nailing those 95 theses to the cathedral door. The book is really the first cogent, accessible articulation of a whole set of ideas that questions the mainstream thinking about our cities.” We are shown proof of the insurmountable folly of “urban removal,” evidenced by the blowing up of Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis. In film footage, we are shown that this was not an isolated example; we see the implosion of the Murphy Homes in Baltimore, Lakefront Homes in Chicago, and Mill Creek in Philadelphia dynamited into oblivion, admitting they were colossal mistakes. It’s a complicated picture. Let us not forget that this East Harlem was not the desirable neighborhood it is today. El Barrio was one of the hardest hit areas in the 1960s and 1970s as New York City struggled with drug abuse, race riots, urban flight, gang warfare, the highest jobless rate in New York City, teenage pregnancy, crime and poverty, and a food desert. Tenements were crowded, poorly maintained, and frequent targets for arson. Public housing projects may not have been the ideal solution, but the problems were manifold and many were hungry for modern, clean alternatives. The other big building issue is car traffic. The film shows the 1939 Worlds Fair General Motors Futurama, showcasing highways and pristine cities and suburbs. As the NYC Parks Commissioner, Moses was deeply involved with the fair, so might this be where he became enamored of the highway as the solution to the city’s ills? Is this when he transformed from the pre-war “angel” Moses who built public amenities for the common man to post-war “devil” Moses who destroyed the fabric of the city that is presented here? There is no question that the automobile was given priority by Moses over the street ballet, but the situation is not always that simple. (In New York City, there is no alternative to surface delivery of goods throughout the city, even if you are able to transport by rail or boat to a depot.) The Cross-Bronx Expressway did bifurcate the Bronx and destroy neighborhoods, but can we really blame it for turning the South Bronx into Ft. Apache? No doubt it was a factor, but there was also the crack epidemic, white flight, abandoned buildings, gangs, redlining, arson (remember “the Bronx is Burning”?) and other social, economic, and political forces. With a collective sigh, we are still relieved that the Lower Manhattan Expressway was never built, however the drawings shown to illustrate Moses’s plan are in fact an inventive, futuristic post-Moses scheme by Paul Rudolph funded by the Ford Foundation between 1967-1972 (Moses was out of power by 1968) which featured monorails, people movers, and a surreal Lego-like vertical expanse of housing lining the expressway. Also more complex is the Moses Washington Square plan to extend Fifth Avenue so traffic could go through the park. The opposition by Jacobs in 1958 does not tell the whole story. In the film, there’s a provocative photo from that year sporting a banner that reads “Last Car Through Washington Square” indicating that traffic already traversed the park. In fact, Moses had been trying to revamp traffic plans around the square since the 1930s, first with a circle around the square nicknamed the “Bathmat Plan,” then the “Rogers Plan” in 1947 which also rerouted traffic around the square and removed the fountain. There was opposition each time. As for other uses of documentary materials to bolster an argument rather than being accurate journalistically, this one is personal: I saw my apartment complex, East River Housing, clearly labeled, in a series of shots throughout the film, and used as an example of Moses’s public housing that destroyed neighborhoods; however East River was built as socialist housing by the International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU) and never part of the pubic housing system. No distinction was made, and it is a tower in the park design that actually works. What Jacobs did was right for her neighborhoods, her time, and many axioms are universally true, but they have been taken to be gospel, much the way that modernism was perverted by developers to make easy, cheap, boring buildings rather than a gem like the Seagram Building. The film is as much about the future of cities as it is about the past, but there are few suggestions about how to cope, except to go back to Jacob’s observations and let the old survive. It’s not about finding new solutions or even a new Jane Jacobs. It’s about codifying and simplifying her efforts.  See what you think for yourself—it’s worth a look. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer Other architecture and arts films of interest at DOC NYC (November 10 - 17):
  • Ballad of Fred Hersch
  • California Typewriter
  • Chasing Trane
  • David Lynch: The Art of Life
  • Finding Kukan
  • Ken Dewey – This is a Test
  • The Incomparable Rose Hartman
  • L7: Pretend We’re Dead
  • Long Live Benjamin
  • Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
  • Miss Sharon Jones
  • The Nine
  • The Pulitizer at 100
  • Raving Iran
  • Sacred
  • SCORE: A Film Music Documentary
  • Serenade for Haiti
Shorts:
  • I NY
  • L-O-V-E
  • The Artist is Present
  • The Creative Spark
  • The Sixth Beatle
  • To Be Heard
  • Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present
  • Winter at Westbeth
  • Wonderful Kingdom of Papa Alaev
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Documentary Celebrates Burnished Bungalows

With summer weather quickly approaching, it's the perfect time to kick back and dream about a sweet bungalow by the beach... in Queens. Endangered bungalows throughout New York City have been on the radar for some time now, but documentary filmmaker Jennifer Callahan has focused on the fight to preserve the few bungalows left on the Rockaway Peninsula in her film Bungalows of the Rockaways, which will be screened tonight at Tenement Talks at the Tenement Museum.   The filmmaker got Estelle Parsons to do the voice over and Columbia's Andrew Dolkart to comment on historic value. Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden talks about the zoning surrounding the enclaves. Even Council Speaker Christine Quinn's dad, 83-year-old Lawrence Quinn, weighs in with his memories of the bungalow.  But for the most part, the residents of Rockaway do most of the heavy lifting. The film traces the history of the bungalows from their  17th century origins in Bengal, India, on though to their arrival in England, then New England, and eventually on to their landing in NYC and in Rockaway, where they replaced tent communities of the working class. Callahan doesn't shy away from the sordid bits of Rockaway history, such as segregation.  The communities were primarily divided between African Americans, Jews, and Irish, with the blacks responsible for getting the bungalows cleaned and ready for when the whites showed up for summer vacation. Later, when Robert Moses arrived on the scene, his slum clearance displaced scores of African Americans. Many crowded into the bungalows under appalling conditions. There's no need for a spoiler alert in revealing the ending. Suffice it to say, though the Planning Commission and Parks have stepped up efforts to retain the neighborhood's character, the area has yet to be landmarked and without a historic designation, the bungalows are not protected.  
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Pruitt-Igoe Documentary Debuts In February

A new documentary called The Pruitt-Igoe Myth by Chad Friedrichs seeks to capture the life of St. Louis' infamous housing project through the lens of the people who lived there. The film looks beyond the iconic images of its implosion and offers an analysis of urban renewal's impact locally and across the nation. From the movie's web site:
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth tells the story of the transformation of the American city in the decades after World War II, through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development and the St. Louis residents who called it home. At the film’s historical center is an analysis of the massive impact of the national urban renewal program of the 1950s and 1960s, which prompted the process of mass suburbanization and emptied American cities of their residents, businesses, and industries.
The 83-minute film will be premiering February 11-13 at the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi. No word yet when it will make it to St. Louis and beyond, but we're anxiously awaiting! [Via Preservation Research Office ]
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Remembering Louis Sullivan, Seed-Germ Savant

There’s been no shortage of worthy architectural documentaries in recent years, but you’ll want to make room on your DVD rack for the latest look at a major American figure: Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture. Recently given its New York premiere courtesy of the good people at Docomomo New York/Tri-State, this touching and tragic film offers a portrait of the man who perhaps more than anyone aspired to create an American style of architecture, yet was left behind by a nation on the cusp of a century that Sullivan himself did much to define. First-time director Mark Richard Smith frames Sullivan’s story as a battle between the architect's original vision—one explicitly crafted as an expression of American democracy—and historicist styles imported from Europe that would sweep the nation in the late 19th century. The latter are embodied by Sullivan’s Chicago archrival Daniel Burnham, whose triumph at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893—where the sprawling White City was an ode to Beaux-Arts classicism—drove the nail in the coffin of modern experimentation, and, as Sullivan bitterly remarked, was the place where “architecture died.” Even for devotees of Sullivan’s astonishing output, the details of his life are not well known, and the film puts his career in the context of a Chicago surging from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871, the “Katrina of its day” that created huge opportunities for architects. Into this boom stepped Dankmar Adler, a renowned acoustician but lackluster designer who saw just the creative spark his firm needed in a young Louis Sullivan. Adler & Sullivan would design landmarks such as Chicago’s Auditorium of 1889, taking cues from H.H. Richardson’s brawny Romanesque but leavening it with Sullivan’s unusual decorative programs. When Frank Lloyd Wright joined the team as chief draftsman, one of the great ensembles in architecture was born. (The firm’s work is chronicled in the recent Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, another must-have volume for Chicago architecture aficionados.) The film, itself just released on DVD, taps experts like City University’s Robert Twombly and Chicago historian Tim Samuelson to add depth to Sullivan’s story, including the major innovations marked by his early skyscrapers. Of seven tall buildings he managed to complete, five are left, and the influence those few structures would have on American architecture, with their emphasis on verticality and functional design, is the architect’s last word over his historicist contemporaries. It wasn’t the later Mies or Corb, of course, but Sullivan who coined the phrase that would define the century to come: “form ever follows function.” Nearly all of Sullivan’s major surviving buildings are gorgeously photographed here, with close-up pans across the upper reaches of Buffalo’s Guaranty Building and inside the Auditorium, for example, revealing ornamental details hardly visible from below. Among the discoveries of his late career is a string of one-off bank buildings in small midwestern towns that are delicate masterpieces made by a man who knew history had left him for dead. Chronicling the last years of Sullivan’s life, during which the destitute designer was forced to sell his personal effects at auction, the film pauses over a devastating note inscribed on a drawing made as Sullivan sat in borrowed quarters to compose a primer on ornament. As if reaching back to the inspirational wellspring of his youth, Sullivan writes: “Remember the seed-germ.” For the architecture-obsessed, this is spine-tingling stuff. Louis Sullivan may not pack the psychodrama of Nathaniel Kahn’s My Architect, but its close focus on the buildings themselves makes it equally affecting. By the end of this journey through the rafters and across the cornices of a great architect’s career, you feel the film’s sweeping subtitle—the struggle for American architecture—just about hits the mark.