Posts tagged with "Midcentury Modernism":

Placeholder Alt Text

In new exhibition, Erwin Wurm uses midcentury furniture to subvert your free will

It’s usually not a good idea to put your feet through a vintage wooden bench, but, in his latest show, artist Erwin Wurm is asking visitors to do just that.

In Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures series, which began in 1997, members of the public follow the artist’s written directions to realize a sculpture—moving around a low plinth to engage (or subvert) the everyday function of fruit, cleaning supplies, and here, midcentury modern furniture.

The latest iteration of these short sculptures references Ethics, Spinzoa's seminal philosophic work that questioned the existence of free will. The success of the art, Wurm says, is directly correlated with how well the person follows his instructions. 

Today, at Ethics demonstrated in geometrical ordervisitors to Lehmann Maupin will realize the sculptures of the Austrian artist via famous furniture he has enhanced with embroidered and carved directions. The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) sat down with Wurm to discuss Alvar Aalto, the strangeness of everyday objects, and the stubborn persistence of midcentury design:

AN: Why did you turn to Spinoza for this exhibition?

Erwin Wurm: Spinoza, especially in [Ethics], he said free will doesn't exist, it's God's will. Scientists now have determined that free will really doesn't exist. Now, 500 years later, I'm asking the same questions. This I find exciting and interesting. When people accept my invitation to follow my instructions, they give up their free will.

Do people ever try to exert their own free will and not follow the directions?

Sure, they can, they're allowed to. But then it's not a piece of mine. Actually, when you Google "one minute sculptures," you see many one minute sculptures, people use the idea. It's nice, it's interesting, but it's no longer a piece of mine.

Why did you decide to use midcentury modern furniture in these latest One Minute Sculptures?

Since 15 years ago, midcentury furniture came back in a big way. When you open a magazine about housing or interior design, these midcentury furnishings are there. They became such a big thing. I found it exciting, and it raised questions for me. People start to define themselves through furniture. When you see the buildings and apartments of famous and successful people, you don't see the people. You see the furniture.

Why did you select the pieces that you did?

I used Alvar Aalto because I always found him exciting. He’s from Finland, and he has this specific relationship to American design. We got the furniture at an auction in Chicago.

Some of the furniture in the series are very expensive, and because of that, there's a meaning people assign to the pieces beyond the design. How do you hope to question the relationship people have with high-value objects?

Every material around is the basis for a new art piece. Recently, in Austria, I had a big show that included three artworks from very famous artists, including Robert Rauschenberg. I added a Rauschenberg to a piece of mine, so I started a discussion that not only every object, or mood, or thought could be the start of a new piece, but also already-finished art can be the start of a new work.

You use humor in your work to draw people in, but that humor can mask as much as it reveals. What do you hope people get out of their engagement with your sculptures?

It's not so much the humor I'm interested in, it's the paradox. What I like in humor is part of the paradox.

For me, to be in this world, to connect with the world, to be able to look from another perspective of reality. We all live in the same world, but we all live in different realities—your reality is very different from mine, or from a person in the wilderness, still hunting with bow and arrows, but we all live in the same time. I find it exciting to change perspective, to look at the world from a different angle, that's what my work is about, I think.

What's the relationship between the melting buildings' organic excess (pictured, left) and the furniture's precise geometry?

They are both objects of our world, created by human beings. The furniture and the architecture, or the telephone, all these things. I always try to transfer or deform them, so the beginning is the same but the form is different. I changed the meaning of the object. One is an object with which you can relate specifically by following the instructions I give, and the other one is not an open piece, so you just can look.

In past iterations of the Organization of Love you used bottles to create a particular relationship between people. Why use an ottoman this time?

It's exciting to use larger objects. At the beginning, the objects were small. Our interfering in the world uses a specific language which is related to a specific time. This inhabits a certain understanding of reality, certain political and social constructions. The 1950s were different than the 90s, or now. In the 50s the midcentury furniture related to this postwar society. This created a totally different aesthetic than nowadays. I'm interested in all these things that interfere in between.

Many midcentury designers wanted their furniture to be beautiful, functional, and available to the masses. But now that ottoman retails for like, $4,000.

I know.

How does that change people's attitudes towards the objects?

The icon was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. An icon needs mass media to exist, and all this furniture are kind of icons now. And that interests me. That's one of the reasons I use these objects.

This big company in Austria, it built these wooden banded structures—chairs for the working class—that very quickly became chairs for the upper class. That was not only because of the aesthetics but also an [evolving] understanding of early industrial design. Prouvé was the same, early on, Royère, Jeanneret—these French designers, they're extremely expensive now.

Do you have midcentury furniture in your home?

Yes, I have Prouvé and all these things. But I caught myself, I stepped into the same trap that everyone did, because I got attracted all of a sudden by a certain understanding of quality which is only dealing in an interest of time, meaning that contemporary design is less valuable under certain circumstances than an older design. This relays a very specific understanding of how societies function, how the market functions, and how desire functions.

All of a sudden, we desire something that is rarer than what is produced now. Look at cars. We love [these] big new cars, but the old cars—with their much more extraordinary form—attract so many people. But those cars were not extraordinary in the past—they look extraordinary now in relation to mass design of the present. That discrepancy is exciting.

When you realized you were attracted to the value the furniture represents—when did you start to question that?

I started to question it when I came to my house and realized that it looked like one of those interiors magazines, because they all have Prouvé and Perriand, and whatever they're called, and Aalto, and all the American designers. It was no longer a specific taste, it turned into a common taste. So I wound up doing my own furniture by deconstructing old furniture from the 30s.

You're from an architecture publication, right?

Yes.

There are so many great designers now but they don't get the same attention. Maybe Magnusson and others, but they don't get the same prices. It's always interesting how things grow old, get out of the normal interest, disappear, and come back and become exciting. The same happens with art.

(This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.)

Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order runs through May 26. Check Lehmann Maupin's website for more information. 

Placeholder Alt Text

Jens Risom, the man who helped introduce Scandinavian design to America, dies

Danish-American furniture designer Jens Risom passed away this month on December 9 in New Canaan, Connecticut at the age of 100. Risom moved to American shores in 1939 at the age of 23 and is best known for his Risom Lounge Chair. A product of his early work with German-American designer Hans G. Knoll, the chair hit the shelves in 1943, making use of unwanted military parachute straps. Risom's work helped paved the way for the emergence of midcentury modern design, riding the wave with compatriot Arne Jacobsen whose chair designs also dominated the 1950s and '60s. “Knoll had a car, and I didn’t,” said Risom speaking to New York Magazine last year, “and we drove around the country to any architect who had shown any interest in our furniture in New York, and stopped wherever there were people who’d liked our things. I don’t think we had a catalogue or anything—this was very primitive. We had drawings of things we had done.” The Danish-born designer was favored by many within the design world. Under Lyndon B. Johnson, a chair from Risom occupied the oval office and in 1961, and Risom even appeared alongside Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen in an edition of Playboy magazine. Risom too wasn't seldom afraid to speak his mind. When meeting Frank Lloyd Wright, Wright asked Risom what he thought of his furniture work. Risom responded: "Not much."
Placeholder Alt Text

Explore the midcentury modern masterpieces of Fire Island Pines with these virtual tours

Fire Island Pines off Long Island may not be many people's first port of call as a source for midcentury modern dwellings, but for New York-based architect Christopher Rawlins, it is exactly that. Known as a summer getaway popular among New York's gay community, Fire Island Pines's architectural heritage is now accessible via the website Pines Modern's  audiovisual tours. The tours also explore the island's social and cultural history as a “safe space” and a premier resort for tastemakers in the 1960s and 70s. As the website says, "AIDS took a terrible toll on the population here, which in turn led to a “dark age” in which so much history and culture was lost. Pines Modern is a non-profit endeavor dedicated to the rediscovery of all that the Pines has created, particularly its mid-century architectural and cultural heritage. These are assets that, properly nourished, will ensure that the Pines remains a meaningful and relevant destination for generations to come."

Pines Modern President Christopher Rawlins spoke to The Architect's Newspaper (AN) about his relationship to the island, its architectural scene, and why he created the website. "My book, Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction, gave Fire Island’s most prolific modernist his due," said Rawlins. Fire Island Modernist focuses on the architect Horace Gifford—who died from AIDS in 1992—and how homosexual liberation was portrayed through architecture. "The guided midcentury house tours that I lead broadened the cast of characters but serve a limited audience," continued Rawlins to AN. "Pines Modern’s website is intended as the most accessible platform yet to share my research, and will hopefully serve as a model for other communities with a rich architectural legacy."

"On my initial motivations: The architecture of the Pines combines my interests in modernism and LGBT history, and the homes are intimately linked to the Stonewall generation that built them. The diminutive proportions of these houses—abetted by the ravages of nature on this glorified sandbar—often mark them as tear-downs. Meanwhile, the loss of most of these architects, and their audience, during the AIDS crisis has ironically conspired with recent civil rights triumphs to threaten Fire Island’s relevance. As it becomes safer for gay people to venture to any number of leisure destinations, my hope is that Fire Island Pines retains its status as a homeland and a rite of passage, a place where one finds community and a connection to LGBT history. We cannot bring back a lost generation, but we can preserve their most salient artifacts and the environment in which they flourished."

You can access the website here.

Placeholder Alt Text

Columbus, Indiana's modern architecture inspired a new feature film

For a small city, Columbus, Indiana has an impressive collection of modern architecture. Despite a population of only 44,000, the city has works from John Carl Warnecke, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I. M. Pei, and many more notable modernists. Columbus will provide the backdrop for the feature directorial debut of Kogonada, a filmmaker well known for his video essays. According to Variety, the film will feature Star Trek star John Cho and indie darling Parker Posey. Columbus's modern architecture was the inspiration for the film's story. Kogonada told Variety that "After visiting the town, I felt an immediate sense for a film that would take place there, which would implicitly explore the promise of modernism (an ongoing quest for me). The story revolves around a man and young woman from opposite sides of the world, each mourning the potential loss of a parent.” Cho will play the son of an architecture critic, while co-star Haley Lu Richardson will play the daughter of an addict. The pair finds a bond through their estranged parents and their love of architecture. Posey will play the role of a former student and current girlfriend of Cho's father. The film is currently shooting in Columbus, which has been called the "Athens of the Prairie" because of its status as a mecca for midcentury modernism. The city has no less than seven National Historic Landmarks, and a biennial design exhibition is in the works starting in 2017. Columbus is also the home of Cummins, Inc., a Fortune 500 corporation that specializes in engines (see our article on preserving an architectural gem Cummins commissioned.) Considering that architecture is a focal point of both the location and the plot, we can hope to see some of the city's iconic buildings featured in the film. Some likely locations might be the Art Nouveau style Fire Station One by Leighton Bowers, Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church, or his son Eero's North Christian Church, the last building he designed before his death in 1961. Other well-known locations include several of the city's bridges, and Friendship Way, a brick-lined alley with sculptures and neon lights.
Placeholder Alt Text

Explore "Playboy Architecture" at the Elmhurst Art Museum

On display for the first time in the United States, Playboy Architecture, 1953–1979, explores how architecture and design gave a space and shape to the world of Playboy magazine. The show also investigates the influence of Playboy on the architecture and design industry. The show is designed by Amunátegui Valdés Architects, based in Santiago, Chile, and is curated by Beatriz Colomina and Pep Avilés in collaboration with the PhD program of the School of Architecture and the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University. The exhibition features an extensive collection of photographs, films, architectural models, and designed objects from the first 26 years of Playboy. The show will be in the Mies van der Rohe–designed McCormick House at Elmhurst Art Museum.

Playboy Architecture, 1953–1979 is on view May 7–August 28 at the Elmhurst Art Museum, 150 Cottage Hill Avenue, Elmhurst, Illinois.

Placeholder Alt Text

Hodgetts + Fung adds a Calder-inspired arch to Culver City's Robert Frost Auditorium

Love for midcentury modern architecture is at a fever pitch. An era long known for its iconoclastic forms and ruthless experimentation might some day soon also become synonymous with something quite unexpected: thoughtful and gentle renovations.

Such is the case with Hodgetts + Fung Architecture’s impending renovation of Culver City’s Robert Frost Auditorium, a 1964 piece of flair by architects by Flewelling and Moody that is inscribed into the Angeleno landscape. Flewelling and Moody’s ginkgo leaf-shaped auditorium is made of poured-in-place concrete that is only four inches thick and undulates to create a sweeping roof anchored to the ground by a massive foot. Craig Hodgetts told AN, “It’s a real representation of that era’s architecture and could not be replicated today.”

This modern marvel of engineering has withstood several major earthquakes, including the 6.7 Northridge Earthquake in 1994, with no damage whatsoever. The 1,200-seat auditorium’s interior, however, was poorly designed from the onset, with inefficient and inadequate HVAC systems as well as generally inflexible seating and ceiling heights. Home to Culver City High School’s theatre troupe, the building is finally being remodeled to include a completely new HVAC system, a new black box stage, and a permanent-but-flexible catwalk.

Because of the building’s impressive structural maneuvers, architects for the project had to make special overtures in their designs, erecting an Alexander Calder-inspired arch within the space to anchor the stage and catwalk without touching the existing structure or disturbing the post-tension rods located within the existing slab. “We used x-rays to determine exactly where on the floor plate the tension elements occur. The massive steel structure comes down daintily with a petito quality between those elements. “The interior was made into something that measured up to the exterior,” Hodgetts told AN, remarking on the technically complicated scheme.

Placeholder Alt Text

Watergate Hotel reopens after a $125 million gut renovation, with design nods to the 1960s

Bellhops dressed in Sixties-themed uniforms created by costume designer Janie Bryant from the Mad Men television series. Guest rooms that resemble cabins on a cruise ship, only filled with midcentury modern furniture. Guest room keys bearing a message that makes a not so subtle reference to the Nixon era: “No need to break in…” Those are just a few of the design touches guests will find at the Watergate Hotel, on the banks of the Potomac River in Washington, D. C. Located at 2650 Virginia Avenue N. W. and closed since 2007, the hotel reopened today after a six-year, $125 million renovation. As part of the work, the number of rooms has increased from 251 to 336, including 32 suites. 17,000 square feet of meeting and event space have been added, including a 7,000 square foot ballroom. The developer is Euro Capital Properties of New York, headed by Jacques and Rakel Cohena, a husband and wife team. The architects were BBGM of Washington and Ron Arad Architects of London. Room rates start at $435 per night. Originally designed by Italian architect Luigi Moretti in 1961, the Watergate Hotel gained attention for its contemporary design, and it came to epitomize the lifestyle and sophistication of its time. In the latest renovations, the 1960s exterior was preserved, but the interior was gutted and rebuilt. The architects put emphasis on playing off the midcentury modern design and playing up the sense of retro luxury and swank that distinguishes this hotel from more traditional Washington hotels such as the Willard InterContinental on Pennsylvania Avenue. Much of the furniture has been designed to look as if it dates from the 1960s. In a nod to the hotel's Italian heritage and inspired by its curves and undulations, Arad looked to sculptural, modern furnishings by the Italian designer Moroso. Arad also designed a new whiskey bar that's marked by a sculpture made of metal and whiskey bottles. The rooftop bar has a fire pit and sweeping views of the Potomac River, the Capitol, and the Washington Monument. The designers and developers didn't shy away from the Watergate’s link to the break-in that brought down a president. The hotel's customer service phone number ends in 1972, and recordings of Richard Nixon’s speeches will play periodically in public restrooms. “The Watergate is undoubtedly one of the most glamorous and illustrious hotels in the world," said Rakel Cohen, senior vice president of design and development for Euro Capital Properties. "We have paid meticulous attention to every detail in its renovation…. Its intrigue is driven by evocative design, from the retro feel that we have infused to the mystique that lies behind every curve of the hotel's architecture."
Placeholder Alt Text

Harry Bertoia, Lina Bo Bardi, and more, to be featured in a Museum of Art and Design film series

A new film series at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), dubbed "Midcentury Masters," will focus on several prominent postwar architects and designers, including sculptor and furniture designer Henry Bertoia, who is currently being featured in exhibits at the museum, and his contemporaries Buckminster Fuller, Charles & Ray Eames, and Lina Bo Bardi. The series kicks off on June 16 with Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter. This feature length documentary, narrated by James Franco, traces the lives and careers of the legendary husband-and-wife team and highlights their influence on American art and culture. The 1965 short film Bertoia’s Sculpture will be screened immediately after and will feature a soundtrack composed by Bertoia himself. On June 23 the museum will screen The World of Buckminster Fuller, a documentary about the eclectic architect and inventor; it features extensive interviews with Fuller himself. The series will continue on June 30 with a double feature about Italian-Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi. MAD describes the four-minute long The New World of Lina Bo Bardi as “fan fiction” for the architect: it shows images based on her sketches and buildings. Next, Precise Poetry—released on the year of what would have been her 100th birthdayis made up of an extensive collection of interviews with friends and associates of Bo Bardi. This film series is presented in conjunction with two exhibitions about the work of Harry Bertoia. The Bent, Cast & Forged (running until September 25, 2016) exhibit will show Bertoia’s jewelry, which he began making as a high school student after coming to America from Italy at the age of 15. He returned to the craft when furniture-scale metalworking became prohibitively expensive during World War II. Bertoia went on to design the famous Bertoia Collection for the Knoll furniture company that included the Diamond chair, the success of which allowed him to devote the latter part of his career to sculpture. Bertoia’s sound sculptures are the subject of the Atmosphere for Enjoyment (also running until September 25, 2016) exhibit, which aims to recreate the experience of hearing his sculptures “played” in the stone barn on the sculptor’s Pennsylvania property. Sound sculptures, as the name suggests, are sculptures that make noise when touched or moved by the wind. Bertoia recorded hundreds of audiotapes of his works, which are collectively known as Sonambient. More details on all these films can be found here.
Placeholder Alt Text

A New Online Trove of West Coast Midcentury Modern Architecture

Sometimes photographs are used to tell a story. Other times they mark the passage of time or celebrate a joyous moment or memory. And if we are lucky, we can catch a glimpse of what interested the photographer and how they experienced that moment. Today, we view much of our architecture through the literal and figurative lens of professional photography that circulates on design websites, firm pages, and social media. But how do architects see their own work? The work of their contemporaries? What happens when the architect takes control of the camera? The University of Southern California has digitized approximately 1,300 slides by architect Pierre Koenig and architect and color slide company owner, Fritz Block. Those images now reside in a public database documenting the pair's photographs of mostly 1950s and 1960s midcentury modern architecture on the West Coast. Koenig had already selected certain images for digitization in the late 1990s, though unfortunately that didn't come to pass. But now architects, designers, midcentury modern fanatics, and history buffs can get a unique glimpse into a wide range of modern architecture. The photo database's of projects include Koenig’s Case Study #22, John Lautner's Foster Residence, and Pietro Belluschi's Central Lutheran Church. “The Block and Koenig slides are two of the smaller unique collections in the possession of the USC Libraries,” explains USC on the collection's webpage. “They document examples of 20th century California architecture that developed stylistically from the foundations of the International Style as established by the 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, titled Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, and of European pre-World War II Modernism.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Engineers' Club of St. Louis renovates and renames club building

One of the nation’s oldest engineering societies is set to remodel its St. Louis Mid-Century Modern home. The 65-year-old building of the Engineers’ Club of St. Louis will be getting a much needed renovation by the local design and planning firm Remiger Design. As an organization, the 150 year old Engineers’ Club of St. Louis has over 1,000 members. Along with the Engineers’ Club, the club’s building is home to over 30 other affiliated groups, representing over 14,000 engineers, architects, and other building tradespeople from the St. Louis region. Once the renovation is complete the building will become known as the Engineering Center, changing from the Engineers’ Club, to better represent the diverse set of organizations that it houses. Situated in St. Louis’s Central West End, the building was built in 1958 by St. Louis' noted mid-century modernist firm Russell, Mullgardt, Schwarz and Van Hoefen. With its distinctive roofline and car-centric design—the main entrance faces the parking lot on the back of the building—the new design will keep some of the old while updating particular aspects for more contemporary uses. From the exterior, notable changes will include the moving of the entrance, new cladding, and an extended patio with updated landscaping. Along with the building’s angular roofline, its Modernist parapet detailing will be preserved. The interior of the building will see the greatest changes, including a complete remodel of the auditorium. By leveling the current slopped seating area the space will be converted to a more flexible meeting area. Other spaces will be converted to seminar rooms to facilitate the clubs S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering Math) youth education programs. Planned to be phased over the coming years, construction on will begin spring 2016 “Designing this renovation project for the Engineering Center is a unique opportunity for us to work directly with an organization that has made historically significant contributions to the profession of engineering,” remarked Vern Remiger, president of Remiger Design in a statement to the press. Remiger Design is also heavily involved with the renovation of the park around the St. Louis Gateway Arch, with Vern Remiger acting as the Design Team Manager for the CityArchRiver organization.
Placeholder Alt Text

Video> Michael Adlerstein & John Gering on retrofitting the United Nations Secretariat Building

In addition to being AN's Midwest Editor, I was the special media correspondent for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2014, interviewing tall building designers, developers, and other experts at the skyscraper think tank's Shanghai conference, and its annual CTBUH Awards ceremony in Chicago. In Chicago I interviewed two of the minds behind the recent overhaul to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City (technically, in an extraterritorial space contiguous with Midtown Manhattan). Michael Adlerstein, of the U.N. Capital Master Plan & John Gering, managing partner of design firm HLW International, discussed the retrofit of the 1953 United Nations Secretariat Building, a finalist in CTBUH's 2014 awards. “Not many buildings in our time are looking at the exterior window wall and composition with the interior as one system. In many cases they're looking at them as either the exterior or interior,” said Gering. “What we looked to do was blend those two things together, and the end result was a lot of energy savings.” The handsome glass skyscraper exemplifies midcentury office design, drawing on the  expertise of its architects, Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace K. Harrison. But its outmoded performance standards left it in need of a serious update. In that sense the project to retrofit the building—which also included firms Heintges & Associates, Gardiner & Theobald, Skanska, and Rolf Jensen & Associates—is a case study for repurposing aging office buildings around the world. “All buildings need to be considered for recycling because they do incorporate tremendous embodied energy … And not just beautiful buildings and buildings where treaties were signed,” said Adlerstein. “I do feel the preservation movement has to move beyond iconic buildings.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Federal agency eyes St. Louis' Pruitt-Igoe site for new development

More than 40 years after its last high-rise fell, the site of St. LouisPruitt-Igoe public housing development remains basically empty. Design competitions, documentaries, and local developers have all pondered its future. Now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has said it’s considering the 34 acres once home to the infamous housing project as a location for 3,000 jobs. The website nextSTL reported this week that the NGA—a federal agency created in 1996 to provide maps and data for national defense—is looking at Pruitt-Igoe as it relocates its St. Louis offices from the city’s Kosciusko neighborhood. The site is one of six under consideration, but officials say the decision won't be made until 2016. The city recently sought $25 million in infrastructure improvements to the area, which some called a necessary investment regardless of the site’s future. Others disparaged it as a handout to developer Paul McKee, who has an option on the Pruitt-Igoe site and already owns nearly 2,000 other parcels of land in St. Louis. In January the city extended McKee's option, which he purchased in 2012 for just over $1 million, for another two years. The infamous post-war development in St. Louis’ DeSoto-Carr neighborhood (now Carr Square) was demolished less than 20 years after its construction in 1954. Photos of its demolition with the Gateway Arch in the distance have come to symbolize the failure of midcentury public housing projects in the U.S. Several of the development’s smaller buildings remain, including a one-story brick building that served as the development’s electric substation, three churches, a library, a school and a health center.