Posts tagged with "Modernism":

Placeholder Alt Text

Did Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher build Philadelphia's modernist stone pavilion? The answer may save it from demolition

The city of Philadelphia is moving forward with plans to demolish the beloved modernist stone pavilion in Columbus Square, affectionately referred to as the 'Roundhouse' (not to be confused with the Philadelphia Police Headquarters at 8th and Race Streets, also colloquially known as the 'Roundhouse'). The building gained notoriety earlier this year when The Philadelphia Inquirer's Inga Saffron attributed the building's design to the late Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher, the first woman architect in Philadelphia and one of the first in Pennsylvania. However, the Department of Parks and Recreation has expressed its doubt of Saffron’s claim, attributing the project to Fleisher’s partner Gabriel Roth instead. Some claim that the Roundhouse lacks historical significance without direct attachment to Fleisher, making it an easy target for demolition in the wake of a $2.8 million renovation of Columbus Square. In a recent article for her column in the Inquirer, Saffron bluntly addressed the following questions: “Who’s right? And why should it matter at this late date?” Regardless of the architect’s identity, Saffron claims that the structure, which has been vacant since the city opened a larger recreational facility in 2005, deserves another chance. The whimsical modernist roof and hefty stone walls make it a unique time capsule from a bygone era, drawing parallels to Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel, which has long been praised as a treasure of mid-century modernism. Since its completion in the 1960s, the Roundhouse served as an important center of community life for the surrounding neighborhood of Passyunk Square. Its single doorway opened into a small but inviting space in which park-goers could stop to rest, grab sporting equipment, and hold meetings. Even after years of vacancy, Passyunk Square residents have not forgotten the legacy of the Roundhouse; Philadelphia resident Jay Farrell launched a change.org petition to save the beloved pavilion, stating that “the Columbus Square Fleisher Pavilion is clearly a much-loved and familiar landmark in the Passyunk Square neighborhood of South Philadelphia and there is a strong desire among local residents to see it preserved and adaptively reused.” The petition has garnered over 2,500 signatures thus far. While the future of the building remains unclear, the story of the Roundhouse has sparked important conversations about the unsung contributions of women architects and how we determine the historical significance of buildings.
Placeholder Alt Text

Remembering César Pelli’s lost mark on the Midwest

César Pelli, the world-renowned architect who passed away in July, will likely be remembered for his largest and most recognizable commissions: the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, the National Museum of Art in Osaka, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, among others. But unlike many buildings designed by "starchitects" these days, some of Pelli's most compelling and controversial work has fallen by the wayside of mainstream industry discourse.

In 1968, municipal leaders in the architectural Mecca of Columbus, Indiana commissioned Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to devise a masterplan that would reverse the deterioration of the city’s downtown area. Among other recommendations, SOM highlighted the need for a new shopping complex in the central part of the city—a project that would help to enliven streets and reduce consumers’ reliance on less centralized malls in the suburbs and exurbs. The city set aside two square blocks for the project, along with three additional blocks for parking, and waited for investors to take on the venture.

No bites came. After waiting in vain for property developers to take over the project, the Irwin Management Company, controlled by local businessman and head of the Columbus-based Cummins Engine Company, J. Irwin Miller, bought the lot. In order to build a state-of-the-art shopping center, Miller hired an architect still in the incipient stages of his career, a young Argentine-born man with six completed projects under his belt. César Pelli soon arrived in Indiana and made several suggestions regarding the composition of the center, including that a significant portion of the site be designed as a community gathering space.

Between 1972 and 1973, Pelli built a complex consisting of two main buildings. The first building, the Courthouse Center, named for its proximity to the historic Columbus Courthouse, housed conventional shopping mall. The other building, called “The Commons,” was connected to the first by a single glass envelope and housed a 63,000-square-foot, multi-level public space. Under 38-foot-tall ceilings, Pelli designed a 2-acre park that he compared to Italian piazzas, complete with benches, planters, and playgrounds for children. The bronze-tinted glass reflected enough light to prevent passive heat gain but also allowed for sweeping views of the street from inside. The atrial space became a popular venue for public events, with enormous structural elements and sloping roofs that towered above visitors. As locals increasingly frequented The Commons, the adjacent mall assumed “The Commons Mall” as a colloquial nickname.

The Commons represented Pelli’s first contribution to Columbus’ built landscape. The building stood alongside great modernist masterpieces by the likes of I.M. Pei, Harry Weese, and Robert Venturi—all of whom were commissioned through an altruistic program established by Miller’s foundation. The industrialist persuaded city officials to hire architects from a list of five blue-chip designers that he had assembled, agreeing to pay their top-dollar fees himself. Miller believed that high-quality buildings would help attract investment and talented engineers to the town, both of which would bolster the Cummins Engine Company’s business prospects.

César Pelli, in fact, had first visited Columbus in 1956 to tour the Eero Saarinen-designed Miller House, which was still under construction. Completed at a time when much of his portfolio consisted of buildings in coastal states, The Commons was also Pelli’s first project in the Midwest. He would go on to accept several commissions in the region during the following decades, primarily for institutional or corporate projects in urban centers and college towns. The Commons was the architect’s only built structure in the state of Indiana until 2011, when he finished the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence, also in Columbus.

With its bulky, monolithic facades and expansive glass curtain walls, The Commons was viewed by some as a precursor to Pelli’s Pacific Design Center, which he finished in Los Angeles in 1975. The latter achieved far greater renown than the former, but their shared design cues are unmistakable. As Pelli’s career advanced and he reached the upper tiers of architectural prominence, his affinity for seamless glass designs gave way to a material approach that often included both glass and stonework—a stylistic choice more characteristic of the postmodern era. Many of his 21st-century commissions signaled a return to the glass curtain wall, a medium that has achieved greater flexibility and versatility since the 1970s. The architectural significance of The Commons weathered many of these fluctuations, so much so that it played host to the Pritzker Prize ceremony in 1994.

Eventually, in the first years of the 21st century, it became clear that The Commons and its adjacent mall were facing an upward battle against deteriorating physical conditions and increasing maintenance costs. The Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation bought the property in 2005 and began to mull over strategies for redevelopment, ultimately concluding that the retail space would have to be torn down. As part of the plan, The Commons was also almost entirely demolished in 2008, leaving only its steel skeleton and Chaos 1, a site-specific kinetic installation by sculptor Jean Tinguely. The building that replaced it, still called The Commons, was designed by the Boston-based firm Koetter Kim.

In a city where architectural heritage is both a huge point of pride for residents and the lifeblood of a burgeoning local tourist economy, Pelli’s building is one of few major structures ever to be dismantled. Much like César Pelli himself, it lives on today not only through photographs, drawings, and individual memories, but through an architectural legacy that extends well beyond walls.

Placeholder Alt Text

A little-known Mies van der Rohe design will be built at Indiana University

Indiana University’s (IU) Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design is about to gain a brand new building designed by Mies van der Rohe. Originally planned for IU’s Bloomington campus in 1952, the 10,000-square-foot glass-walled structure was never realized, until now.  Thanks to a $20 million donation from alumni philanthropists Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, architecture students, faculty, and staff will soon move into a 21st-century construction with a little-known design by one of the greatest modernist architects of all time. The IU Board of Trustees approved the plans last week to use van der Rohe’s recently-rediscovered plans, and it confirmed that the building would be renamed for the Eskenazi's generous contribution.  Thomas Phifer and Partners were tapped to lead the build-out while they continue to work on another campus project, a 14,200-square-foot student center, coming soon. School officials say the low-lying minimalist design of the facility will complement the former Republic Newspaper building in Columbus, Indiana, where the school’s new J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program is held.  “The construction of this extraordinary work of architecture will support IU’s growth in one of IU’s newest schools,” said IU president Michael A. McRobbie in a statement, “and will serve as an enduring symbol of the legacy of generosity of Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, and an enduring symbol of the very founding of architectural modernism.” Established in 2016, the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design combines 14 areas of study in IU’s art, architecture, design, and merchandising programs. The new building is slated for completion in June 2021. 
Placeholder Alt Text

Barry Bergdoll showcases a new wave of modern architecture on Long Island

The “North Fork” of Long Island, from the town of Riverhead to Orient Point at the eastern tip, is one of the most varied and beautiful landscapes in the New York region. A peninsula jutting out into Long Island Sound, it is the last place where one can still find open space devoted to farming, alongside fresh and saltwater inlets, bays, and ponds in the state. It also has a unique regional style of cedar shingled “Cape” homes and handsome pine potato barns that date back to the 18th century. But North Fork is also home to a handful of modernist post-World War II summer homes, that have remained largely unknown in comparison to those in the Hamptons, it’s more glamorous neighbor across the Peconic Bay. Now, thanks to Columbia Art History Professor and ex-MoMA architecture curator Barry Bergdoll, the story of modern architecture on the peninsula will be better known. Somehow Bergdoll found the time last year to stage A New Wave of Modern Architecture, a small but alluring exhibition on the region’s post-war modern architectural history. Now, the exhibit has moved six miles east to the Oysterponds Historical Society in Orient, New York, and Bergdoll has added to the show’s survey of contemporary housing and expanded our understanding of the region’s architectural uniqueness. He begins with the area’s fascinating early history of artists who gathered around the legendary art dealer, Betty Parsons, who came to the area in the 1950s. Parsons commissioned the architect-slash-sculptor Tony Smith to build a guest house and studio above the Long Island Sound. He designed a pavilion fronting the sound out of large railroad ties. He then designed and built a house for Abstract Expressionist painter Theodoros Stamos in 1951. For Stamos, Bergdoll writes, “Smith designed a dramatically innovative variant on the American timber frame house, elevating a single-story space sandwiched between two trusses, one upside down to create a large open floor plan. Elevated off the ground, the house’s living space afforded sweeping views over Long Island Sound from its bluff-top site.” Finally, he points to the double pavilion house Charles Moore designed for Simone Swan in 1975, a few houses away from Parson’s home, as an influence to newer designs. This second exhibition highlights a number of new houses, including a modest but beautiful wood-shingled Peconic bayside house by Toshiko Mori, and a TTC passive house designed by Wayne Turett on a back lot in Greenport, New York. But Bergdoll’s most insightful addition to the show is his description of what makes the area’s modern houses unique. He points to the North Fork’s environmentally sensitive farm and wetland landscape as an influence in the innovative new houses being constructed “with structural openness” and elevated platforms capable of capturing views of the landscape. This modest little show identifies a singular new style evolving just a few hours east of New York. The exhibit is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, as well as Saturdays from 11:00 am through 5:00 pm. Admission is free.
Placeholder Alt Text

New book grapples with ambitious, contentious moment in Pittsburgh’s urban history

Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of the Pittsburgh Renaissance Rami el Samahy, Chris Grimley, and Michael Kubo The Monacelli Press List Price: $50.00 In times of cynicism, revisiting more optimistic moments in architecture can conjure mixed emotions. Mid-century architects, designers, and planners exuded the optimistic belief that architecture and design could solve social ills worldwide—a spirit celebrated in recent exhibitions of Latin America and Yugoslavia at MoMA, and new books on Miami’s modernism. In a new book, Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of the Pittsburgh Renaissance (Monacelli Press), Rami el Samahy, Chis Grimley, and Michael Kubo paint a vivid picture of the mixed emotions evoked by the changing urban landscape in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city heralded as a role model of rustbelt reinvention. The book functions as an introduction to a complex moment in the city’s history, looking at Pittsburgh as a case study in a broader moment of urban renewal in many U.S. cities. Pittsburgh was deemed “the Mecca of urban renewal” in Architectural Forum in 1957, and yet Imagining the Modern is the first book to chronicle the city’s modernist history in a comprehensive way. The book emerged from a 2015–2016 curatorial experiment at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center, overseen by curator Raymund Ryan. Ryan invited the book’s authors, principles of the Boston-based studio OverUnder, to be architects-in-residence in the museum and explore Pittsburgh’s contentious relationship to urban renewal in an exhibition. The trio went to great lengths to dig up photography, publications, ephemera, and other documents around five Pittsburgh neighborhoods and projects: Gateway Center, the Lower Hill, Allegheny Center, East Liberty, and Oakland. The exhibition’s walls were plastered with unsung gems from local archives, and a series of panel discussions affiliated with the exhibition added to the cacophony of voices measuring the legacy of urban renewal and how architects ought to respond. Imagining the Modern distills this rich material in a manageable way, in the spirit of the authors’ reappraisal of Boston’s mid-century concrete, Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli Press). Their new book specifically deals with the built and imagined architectural transformations of Pittsburgh in the 1950s and ‘60s, and with even a quick flip through the book one can see the changing urban fabric of the city. Imagining the Modern includes a wonderful array of high-quality images and well-designed diagrams—from archival documents to photographs to city maps, the stunning visual display is captivating and invites the reader to explore “the manifold ways in which the modern was imagined in Pittsburgh.” Imagining the Modern offers several modes of engagement rather than taking a strong position on Pittsburgh’s modern legacy. Scholars Kelly Hutzell, Caroline Constant, and Martin Aurand provide historical context and analysis for the development of Pittsburgh’s urban form and infrastructure. The book includes a series of diagrams entitled “Modern Networks” by Aurand that map the extensive networks of public and private entities that commissioned local modern architecture. The diagrams reflect the complexity of the patronage that funded this “Pittsburgh Renaissance;” one could spend hours trying to decipher the often confusing lines between architects, buildings (both built and unbuilt), commissions, and patrons. At the heart of the book are archival documents, which the authors present as evidence for readers to arrive at their own conclusions. A section of the book is devoted to reproductions of excerpts from two “Visionary Documents” that outlined the challenges for modernist designers to solve—pollution, traffic congestion, housing, parking, urban blight—while also suggesting ways to remedy such issues through architecture and design. Imagining the Modern goes on to show readers how plans for Pittsburgh neighborhoods and infrastructure were marketed, sometimes successfully, to respond to these issues through superlatives and dazzling renderings. Pittsburgh positioned itself as a “Cinderella City,” as a headline put it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 30, 1953: “Ridiculed, scorned and snubbed for over a century and a half, Pittsburgh throws off her pall to become the ‘City of Tomorrow.’” As steel production left the region and factories closed in the 1950s and ‘60s, dazzling buildings of mid-century modern buildings by leading architects rose with a zeal unfathomable today. Harrison & Abramovitz, Mitchell & Ritchey, Simonds & Simonds, and Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), to name a few, all built memorable works in Pittsburgh around this time. Imagining the Modern shows the development of the city’s most iconic buildings alongside ambitious plans that remain unbuilt, including one scheme that proposed filling the Oakland neighborhood’s Panther Hollow ravine with a mile-long research facility to bridge the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Rather than allowing the beautiful architectural renderings and photography to simply seduce the reader—which, occasionally, they do—Imagining the Modern also shows a collection of excerpts from the architectural and popular press responding to these proposals. The book juxtaposes the cheerleading coverage of The Pittsburgh Press alongside the coordinated, albeit unsuccessful, campaign by The Pittsburgh Courier to thwart plans for the displacement of thousands of mostly Black residents of the Lower Hill. The book’s photography also humanizes the actors on both sides of the city’s transformation, with moving images of people designing, building, debating, celebrating, protesting, photographing, and using the new works. Refreshingly, the book complexifies the role of architects in this transformative moment as well. Interviews and works by Troy West, for example, show that architects weren’t only the handmaidens of the powerful—his teaching and collaborative practices, which he operated as Architecture 2001 and Community Design Associates, offered an alternative model to the top-down design and planning approaches that often mar the legacy of postwar design. Instead of staking claims about the history of Pittsburgh’s modernism, Imagining the Modern showcases the debate that optimistic work by designers and planners continue to provoke. At a time when cities across the U.S. are working tirelessly to reverse the effects of urban renewal—understood as a pseudonym for “Negro removal,” as Dr. Mindy Fullilove suggests in her book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It—this book asks readers to take a closer look at a few urban visions through a mix of historical essays, sexy images, riotous press clippings, enlightening diagrams, insightful interviews, and informative project descriptions that offer everyone an entry into a fraught urban and architectural moment.

California Preservation Conference

The California Preservation Conference brings more than 600 participants from across the state to learn, network, and share successes. The conference includes over 40 sessions, special events, networking activities, and site tours in and around Palm Springs. From its stunning architecture to its breathtaking landscapes, Palm Springs retains much of its character because of the dedicated work of preservationists who have fought to create and maintain this iconic desert oasis. The 2019 California Preservation Conference will explore the innovative methods and strategies that architects, designers, planners, local advocates, and others use in the ongoing and perpetual fight to preserve cultural and architectural resources. See iconic historic places in tours, mobile workshops, and engaging conference sessions. Join the California Preservation Foundation and lead sponsor Palm Springs Preservation Foundation at the Hilton Palm Springs to celebrate the eternal work of preservationists in a dynamic and diverse region and state.
Early bird conference registration and the special reduced rate at the Hilton Palm Springs expire April 5th. Make sure to book your stay early!
Placeholder Alt Text

Sigfried Giedion gets a fresh look in new book

Giedion and America: Repositioning the History of Modern Architecture Reto Geiser GTA Verlag $85.00

Was it an ironic coincidence or part of the modern movement’s DNA that the heroic architectural avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s was accompanied, promoted, and memorialized by historians even as protagonists like Walter Gropius vaunted breaking the shackles of history? Despite protests to the contrary, the key 19th-century concept of historicism—the idea of the spirit of the age as form-giver—was inherited by a generation of historians and polemicists. Gropius found the first of his genealogically inclined historian champions in the German art historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who published Pioneers of the Modern Movement: From William Morris to Walter Gropius in English in 1936 with the Museum of Modern Art.

By then, Le Corbusier had already found his James Boswell in art historian Sigfried Giedion, a fellow Swiss. Giedion collaged Le Corbusier’s work in the form of both images and paraphrased slogans into his first historical manifesto in 1928 with Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton. The book took the tradition of Wöfflinian art history into a millenarian manifesto mode with its use of startling transhistorical photographic juxtapositions.

For decades, Giedion would serve as secretary and scribe of CIAM, the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne, founded the same year that Bauen in Frankreich was published—even as he continued to lecture, publish, and compose novel illustrated volumes in which he inscribed the present in an ever lengthening historical trajectory that ultimately took him back to the prehistoric. It has always been held, however, that his most lasting and influential work, Space, Time, and Architecture, published in 1941, derived as the concrete result of the first of his many trips to the United States to give public lectures at Harvard between 1938 and 1939, the very years the Bauhaus masters were settling into teaching positions in Cambridge and Chicago. Like Pevsner’s Pioneers, Giedion’s book, which was also originally published in English, has remained continuously in print for over 75 years, exerting an enormous influence even as it has transitioned from being read as a source for the history of modern architecture to being analyzed over and over again as an artifact of the modern movement in the historiographic turn in architectural history of the last 20 years. But Reto Geiser’s book demands that we take a longer look at the historian himself.     

Giedion has indeed now found his own historians. In 1989, soon after his papers were organized and opened to researchers in Zurich, a first intellectual biography—simply titled Sigfried Giedion—was published by the collection’s then-curator, Sokratis Georgiadis. Now Reto Geiser’s Giedion in America is both an homage to a fellow Swiss historian’s mastery of integrating images and text and a subtle reflection on the important role that America—as a place, idea, and culture—played in the formation of one of the most influential intellectual projects in 20th-century architectural history.

Geiser organizes his analysis less in a strict chronological fashion than as a series of four extended essays on different interpretations on the theme of Geidion as a figure “in between” countries and cultures. In the process, he weaves together cultural influences that go far beyond any previous analyses of Giedion’s involvement with American intellectual life, while also underscoring a number of paradoxes and ironies of his career. The first of these is language, since Giedion’s less than perfect command of spoken English contributed to the innovations of his visual layouts, first in slide lectures and then in the meticulous care with which he worked on the mock-ups of his page layouts—many of which are illustrated in Geiser’s book—in collaboration with book designers like Herbert Bayer and Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, the handmaiden to the readability of his text.

No less does it set the stage for the chapter “In Between Approaches,” which analyzes Giedion’s engagement with the published works of established figures of American thought such as philosopher Alfred North Whitehead and cultural historian Lewis Mumford. Indeed, the dialogue between Mumford and Giedion in establishing the American contribution to the development of modern architecture is the subject of some of the most consequential passages in a book that zigzags between a rich orchestration of information about this “art historian’s central role in a global network of modern architects” and astute analysis of his evolution as a historical thinker. This is one of the chief contributions of Geiser’s study.

On the Swiss side, the most interesting revelations concern Giedion’s frustration with failing to ever find a position in the academic establishment in Zurich, despite the prestige he held at Harvard. This plagued Giedion throughout his career.

Geiser is the first biographer of Giedion to give full attention to the genesis and impact of his fascination with the art and architectural expressions of prehistoric and pre-Hellenic cultures, from the cave paintings discovered at Lascaux in 1940 to Sumerian ziggurats and Egyptian pyramids. These fascinations were first honed and presented for the general audience attending his 1957 Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and then expanded into The Eternal Present: The Beginnings of Art, a two-volume work. But Giedion scarcely lost himself in the dawn of time—even if his ever-patient art historian wife Carola Giedion-Welcker claimed that it took him for a time away from “all architectural problems.”

One of the most fascinating relationships that Geiser takes up is Giedion’s relationship to Marshall McLuhan, an earlier admirer of the historian, who understood from the outset the relationship of the medium of the book (or the slide lecture) to a message about the historical dimension of even the present moment. Appropriately enough, Giedion’s relationship to McLuhan, to György Kepes and the early years of the MIT Media Lab, and the creation of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard—for which Le Corbusier would supply his only building on American soil—come together in Geiser’s final chapter, “In Between Disciplines.” Not only does this expand our understanding of Giedion’s role into the postwar period, but equally of Giedion as a historian protagonist as important to the evolution of media studies as he was to modern architecture and its history. Despite the numerous chronological backtrackings and the repetition of salient quotes that mar the text, Geiser has shed light on facets of Giedion’s long trajectory that recast a figure whose books were perhaps too long ago moved to an upper shelf with other college texts.

Barry Bergdoll is a professor of art history at Columbia University and recipient of the 2019 Cattedra Borromini professorship at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

Placeholder Alt Text

Roger Scruton fired from U.K. housing commission over inflammatory comments

Controversial conservative scholar Roger Scruton has been removed from his position as the chair of the U.K.’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission over inflammatory comments on George Soros, Muslims, and Chinese people. Scruton, an outspoken opponent of modernism, is no stranger to drawing criticism for his views. The thinker, most well-known for his writing on ornamentation and aesthetics, has been called out in the past over his comments on Islam, anti-Semitism, date rape, race, and for comparing being gay to smoking. This time, Scruton’s comments in the political journal New Statesman appear to have pushed things too far, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government removed him from his position. In the interview, released earlier today, Scruton said that the Chinese government was “creating robots out of their own people…each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.” He also reiterated that “anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts,” and alleged that the Hungarian-born billionaire had been “importing” Muslims from “the Middle East” into Hungary for nefarious purposes. Scruton has long been personal friends with far-right Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who has frequently been accused of anti-Semitism and strong-arm tactics. Scruton then went on to complain that the concept of Islamophobia was “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue.” The rebuke was swift, and Scruton was shown the door only hours after the interview went live. "Professor Sir Roger Scruton has been dismissed as Chairman of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission with immediate effect following his unacceptable comments," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told New Statesman. "A new chair will be appointed by the Secretary of State, to take this important work forward, in due course.” The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is a fairly new body. The group’s purpose is to provide housing policy recommendations to beautify new developments and promote a sense of cohesive community, but the commission’s output has thus far has been overshadowed by Scruton’s frequent media mentions. While Secretary of State for Housing James Brokenshire defended Scruton’s appointment to the commission five months ago, it appears that the unanimous outrage from the Labor and Tory parties, the Muslim Council of Britain, and 10 Downing Street, proved too much this time.
Placeholder Alt Text

Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani proposes foundational principles for design

Modernity and Durability: Perspectives for the Culture of Design Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani DOM Publishers, 2018 The ghost of modernity—the quest to define what it means to be modern, and what its fundamental principles are—has haunted Western culture for a long time. In his 1991 book We Have Never Been Modern the French philosopher Bruno Latour revised one of modernity’s main axioms—the separation between nature and society, humans and things—by claiming that the world we live in today is characterized by the constant hybridization of politics, science, technology, and nature. Similar to Latour, the idea of modernity as a frustrated project is also present in Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani’s speculations on architecture and design, now collected for the first time in English in the book Modernity and Durability. Perspectives for the Culture of Design. Magnago Lampugnani, architect and professor of history of urban design at ETH Zurich for more than 20 years, is also a prolific writer and polemicist: his book, a series of micro-essays originally published between 1990 and 1994 in the Italian magazine Domus, is in fact a manifesto on the current status of design, where the author’s peculiar worldview is presented with extreme clarity and effectiveness. Magnago Lampugnani’s perspective—the one of a European intellectual, an enlighted sophisticated thinker who looks at design in terms of humanist values—is to some extent inscribed in a broader tradition that puts the Italian architect in good company. From Manfredo Tafuri’s idea of disincanto (disenchantment) to Pier Vittorio Aureli’s claim for autonomy, all these authors share a similar conviction: that architecture is a form of resistance. Resistance from consumerism, resistance from ephemerality, resistance from spectacle. In other words, resistance from capitalism. Whereas Latour dissected modernity in relation to the role played by science, at the beginning of his speculations Magnago Lampugnani formulates a fundamental separation between what is Modern and modernism. What the Italian architect calls Modern is a broad condition: an era that begins at the turn of the 20th century and ends after World War II, whose brightest manifestation is the work of the Bauhaus under Walter Gropius’s direction. Modernism, on the contrary, is a style, a degeneration of the principles that animated this paradigm shift at the beginning of the century, and a banalization of the Modern message into a simplistic formal language. Lampugnani’s assertions derive from a European-Eurocentric perspective; although he never makes it explicit, Lampugnani considers modernity mainly to be a European phenomenon, whose raison d’être is deeply rooted in a European cultural and social context. The only reference to American architecture, for example, is to a German architect based in the United States: Mies van der Rohe, and his Seagram Building in New York City. This doesn’t mean that the United States didn’t produce any Modern architecture, but that, once imported in the American territory, its original message was detached from its ideological impetus and was very soon transformed into a style. After having established the dichotomy between Modern and modernism, Magnago Lampugnani deploys his main argument: in order to provide precise design solutions to contemporary issues, we have to reformulate the message of the Modern by preserving its original social and humanist aspirations while revising critically its means and its technical and economic content. Its ultimate goal, in Magnago Lampugnani’s idea, is to create a better world. How? Through a holistic approach. Against the current specialization of design into different professional categories, the author argues for a return to the figure of the architect as a “bricklayer who had learnt Latin”—to quote Adolf Loos—who can design good cities, good buildings, good interiors, and good furniture. At the same time, Magnago Lampugnani suggests looking at design as a craft: “a patient, conscientious, accurate and competent work, whose result will always be useful, right, and fine.” To consider design as craft means to disconnect architecture, urban planning, and furniture from passing fashions. This way, design can reimagine conventions, or the system of rules sedimented in history aimed at guaranteeing functionality and economy of means. If design can exist as a system of rules, Magnago Lampugnani identifies some principles that can help recuperate the original message of the Modern and serve as an operative basis for the future. The first and main principle is durability, in a physical and cultural sense. To be durable, design must refer to tradition: by dealing with tradition, it’s possible to design cities and architectures that can transcend the oscillations of taste.  At the same time, only permanence transforms design into a cultural entity—the expression of certain values in relation to a certain context. The imaginary lexicon depicted by Magnago Lampugnani includes several other concepts: simplicity, which doesn’t translate in abstraction, but it means clarity and closeness to people’s needs; rigor, which is crucial to identifying the design’s requirements; essence, because every good design must be founded on a very few strong ideas—see Marcel Breuer’s S32 chair, or Villa Malaparte by Adalberto Libera; slowness, as an answer to the decline in the quality of our cities and buildings—here the author refers to the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome, which took more than 120 years. What emerges from this cosmology of terms is an ascetic dimension, a sort of passive resistance against hedonism and consumerism. And whereas the book seems to be in some points a sort of nostalgic celebration of the past, it’s in its last pages that Magnago Lampugnani delineates a project for the future. In reiterating the separation between the Modern as condition and modernism as style, the architect refers to the three Vitruvian principles—firmitas, utilitas, venustas—as main categories of the Modern but integrates them with two new ones: democracy and ecology. Democratic and ecological commitment become urgent challenges for a Modern culture, as an attempt to create a new humanity: a “humanity that believes in the ideal of social justice as the prerequisite for peace and prosperity, and is ready to share the riches of the world equally among its citizens.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Archive of modernist residential architecture thrives in North Carolina

All of the back issues of The Architect’s Newspaper have recently become available online as the publication has joined a digital archive of virtually all of the major U.S. architecture and design magazines of the 20th century: the US Modernist Library. This free, searchable database is the work of George Smart, founder and director of USModernist, a non-profit based in Raleigh, North Carolina, whose mission is to document, preserve, and promote mid-century and modernist residential architecture. Smart refers to himself as an accidental archivist, which turns out to be an accurate description. First: What Smart is not. He’s not an architect, a student of art history, architecture, or architectural history. For most of his life, his primary professional identity has been as a management consultant. But in January 2007, Smart's life changed when he visited Fallingwater. Entirely overcome, he returned home, purchased Styrofoam and model material, designed what eventually became his own modernist home, and started researching local North Carolina modernist architecture. It turns out he had a lot close to home: he found over 2,400 houses in the state. This is largely because of the efforts of Henry Kamphoefner, Dean of the School of Architecture at North Carolina State from 1948 to 1973. But online, there was little to be found beyond the greatest hits of the most famous architects. As Smart spoke with friends and neighbors, he realized that many were interested in modernist architecture, in part because so many had grown up in modernist homes. He started a website, then organized local tours, then dinners, then movie nights, then Modernist House networking happy hours. The launch of a podcast about modernist architecture, US Modernist Radio, took Smart’s work beyond the state. At around the same time, a local realtor dumped off a huge trove of old architecture magazines to Smart’s garage. He started to scan them and to add them to his website. The periodicals date to the late 19th century, including Progressive Architecture, Architectural Record, Architecture, and others including the entirety of The Architect’s Newspaper. The magazines complement a second database of photos and records documenting the residential work of all major mid-century U.S. architects. Volunteers around the country now regularly send in photos of these homes, and a bevy of researchers help to fill in gaps where information is missing. This little project has become possibly the largest online digital archive about residential modernist design in the world. With more than two and a half million pages, the site is enjoyed by up to a million people annually. Obviously, this is more than a casual side gig. Smart speaks to communities all over the United States, teaching them how to start a local organization that will document, preserve, and promote these houses, which are being torn down at an alarming rate. He has found that the enemy of preservation is almost always vacancy, which leads to a domino-effect of neglect and, often, to demolition. As the writer, academic, and architectural historian Alan Hess noted, “When we tear down buildings it’s like we’re committing cultural amnesia; we’re destroying part of our memory. And no person can survive with amnesia.”
Placeholder Alt Text

London's Penguin Pool should be “blown to smithereens,” says architect’s daughter

The London Zoo's Penguin Pool, an international symbol of modernist architecture, should be destroyed, claims the architect’s daughter. The pool, designed by architect Berthold Lubetkin and structural engineer Ove Arup in 1934, is a world-renowned monument to modernism for its ground-breaking use of curvilinear, self-supporting concrete slabs. The crisp, white, interlocking ramps hover over an elliptical pool, transforming the penguin sanctuary into a dramatic, entertaining, and aesthetically pleasing display for visitors. While the design is undoubtedly eye-catching, the penguins left the pool in 2004 after the birds contracted a dangerous bacterial infection called “bumblefoot," as the enclosure’s concrete ramps formed scrapes and abrasions on the penguin’s feet. Lubetkin had worked with biologist Julian Huxley on the installment to ensure that the design suited the Antarctic penguins' needs, but his efforts were rendered useless when the zoo swapped the species out for South American Humboldt penguins that prefer to burrow and could not do so given the structure and layout of the sleek, modernist structure. When the zoo announced that it had no future plans to utilize the now derelict space, Lubetkin’s daughter, Sasha, told local paper the Camden New Journal that the pool should be demolished to preserve her father’s integrity. “It was designed as a showcase and playground of captive penguins, and I can’t see that it would be suited to anything else,” she told local reporters. “Perhaps it’s time to blow it to smithereens.” The penguins now reside on Penguin Beach, the largest penguin pool on the European continent, fully equipped with a rocky, sandy beach, cozy nesting areas, a 4,000-square-foot diving pool, and a penguin nursery where baby chicks can learn how to swim. Since the penguins moved to the more accommodating enclosure some 15 years ago, the original Penguin Pool has been withering in a run-down section of the zoo. While the fate of the crumbling Penguin Pool is unknown, other modernist Lubetkin buildings still stand in north London, including the Finsbury Health Centre and the Highpoint housing blocks.
Placeholder Alt Text

Bauhaus bus will travel the world to celebrate the school's centennial

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus school by Walter Gropius, a bus modeled after the school’s historic workshop building in Dessau, Germany, will take to the streets worldwide. The miniature version of the modernist building, famous for its stark white volumes, enormous windows, and vertical Bauhaus signage on the narrow end, was designed by the Berlin-based Van Bo Le-Mentzel. Inside the 161-square-foot mobile apartment, dubbed Wohnmaschine (“living house” in German), an exhibition and workshop space will join a miniature reading room full of books about the history of the Bauhaus. The bus kicked off a 10-month-long worldwide tour on January 4 in Dessau outside of its full-size peer. The tour’s goal, according to design group SAVVY Contemporary, who is hosting a series of workshops and panels in the bus, will be to challenge the traditional colonialist narrative that has become intertwined with modernism. The Bauhaus bus and its associated lectures and shared learning are all part of SAVVY’s SPINNING TRIANGLES project, which aims to bring in design philosophies from areas of the world that have been traditionally marginalized. "We will face the relations of coloniality and design as well as its various visibilities and invisibilities," wrote SAVVY Contemporary in a statement. “For too long, practices and narratives from the global South have been kept at the periphery of the design discourse, been ignored altogether, or appropriated. This needs to change. And it can only do so if we start with new forms of learning and unlearning, that may perhaps actually be very old, but have certainly been overheard for far to[o] long.” From January 4 through January 22 the bus will be in Dessau, after which it will depart for Berlin. From January 24 through 27, the bus will be parked in the German capital to coincide with the opening of the 100 Years Bauhaus festival. After that, the mobile school will go abroad and land in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Through forums and dialogues with design professionals in Kinshasa, a view of a collective modernity will be established. Five “masters” will take back what they’ve learned from Kinshasa to SAVVY Contemporary’s Berlin office to educate 40 students on their findings from July 22 to August 18. The bus’s final destination is the Para Site art space in Hong Kong, where the findings from its past trips can be expanded on.