Posts tagged with "Modernism":

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AECOM designs Center for Cyber Innovation for the United States Air Force Academy

Since 1954, the United States Air Force Academy has been training cadets on its 18,500-acre-campus on the edge of Colorado Springs, 60 miles south of Denver, Colorado. The Academy is regarded as the site of several midcentury architectural gems, beginning with the striking Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)-designed Cadet Chapel completed in 1963. In 2015, multinational engineering firm AECOM was hired to oversee the renovation of the chapel, which included the immense challenge of eliminating exterior envelope leakage as well as bringing the building up to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection (AT/FP).  The Academy was apparently so pleased by the renovation under AECOM that the firm was hired last year to design the Center for Cyber Innovation, a bold new addition to the eastern edge of the campus. Supported by $45 million from the USAFA Endowment and $30 million in federal funding, the center will house the academy’s Department of Computer and Cyber Sciences, the Air Force’s CyberWorx center, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Innovation all within the 47,600 square foot facility.  With exposed steel, floor-to-ceiling windows and an impressive cantilevering space above the entrance plaza, AECOM’s design is a respectful nod to the modern mid-century campus that surrounds it. An expansive, naturally-lit lobby and a grand circular staircase comprise the majority of its first floor, punctuated by a grand circular staircase, while its more private second floor includes 31 breakout rooms, three classrooms, and ten collaborative laboratories.   The lightness, clarity, and transparency of the overall design also serves as an encouragement against the relatively dense and cryptic nature of cybersecurity research that will be taking place within its walls, as well as the need for collaboration among the cadets, industry leaders, academics and military operators that will soon work together under one roof. A date to begin its construction has not yet been announced.
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X-Ray Architecture asks us to reimagine building materiality

X-Ray Architecture Beatriz Colomina Lars Müller Publishers MSRP $40.00 One of the many provocative images in Beatriz Colomina’s X-Ray Architecture (Lars Müller Publishers, 2019) is a 1956 Life magazine photograph of three women holding trophies and posing in front of their own X-rays. They are the winners of a beauty contest organized by chiropractors who presumably judged them on both external and (literally) internal beauty. Wilhelm Röntgen called his accidental discovery “X” rays because he didn’t know what they were, and for a while, much fun was had with these mysterious new particles that could pass through matter—it wasn’t until the 1970s that the effects of excessive radiation were a concern. The discovery coincided with the beginning of Modern architecture, and Colomina uses the chronological alignment to theorize how this new way of seeing could be used to reread the modern canon; Loos, Mies, Neutra, and of course Le Corbusier, all make an appearance. The X-ray doesn’t so much reveal what is inside the body as it re-images it as a gradient of opacity, and applying this concept to architecture means imagining a new understanding of building materiality. Colomina begins the book with the architecture designed to prevent or cure tuberculosis—the disease best diagnosed with an X-ray—and finds that the hygienic-white spaces and sunny terraces of modern architecture made perfect machines-for-health. She concludes with an epilogue about tomography scans, the technology for seeing through the body that is to the 21st century what X-rays were to the twentieth. In between, she offers anecdote after anecdote and litanies of examples that support the understanding of architecture either as an explicit medical device, as in the tuberculosis sanatoriums, or more interestingly, as a kind of imaged body that borrows from medical imaging. Take, for example, the use of glass envelopes to reveal the “true structure” within; Colomina argues that these glass skins are never truly transparent. Rather, they are “called on to simulate transparency” because “there is an outer screen that disappears in order to register the ghostly image of the inside” (page 135). The idealized glass of modernism gives us a clear demarcation between the interior and the exterior of a building, and an effacing of materiality since we see through the glass rather than the glass itself. But when Colomina asks us to pay attention to its full presence—the reflection, refraction, and other properties besides transparency—glass blurs the inside-outside boundary and makes the void within seem thickened and fleshy. Colomina invites us to look again at some canonic images of modern architecture such as the 1922 Mies photomontage of his Glass Skyscraper project. We are accustomed to understanding this image in the context of what was built later, including Mies’s own Seagram’s building, as an early, if fuzzy, notation of the glass wrapped structures that have dominated our cities since the 1950s. But Colomina encourages the reader to take the image at face value, mentioning that Mies was fascinated by X-ray imaging, and we are convinced that it does look a bit like an X-ray. If this early image can be newly understood as a gradient of densities, then the significance of modern architecture is relocated from the tectonics of structure and glass to the visual effects of the building’s materialities. In many ways, this book is a continuation of themes in Colomina’s past work; namely the understanding of modern architecture as a mediated thing, and the airing out of its patriarchal undertones. It’s a debunking of modernist myths, similar to what Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky did with their phenomenal transparency essays or Reyner Banham with his arguments about functionalism. It’s also a feminist critique—Colomina takes the primacy away from the tectonics of a building, the all-mighty structure that is associated with the masculine, and shifts it to the visual and mediated experience of space. In her reading of modern architecture, the structural and technical, “serious” components of a building are merely the means to hold up the materials—e.g. glass—that produce the visual experience, the true location of architecture. Jennifer Bloomer did something similar in the 1980s with her Boudoir essay, using her characteristic wit and wordplay to unravel Alberti’s assignment of (masculine) structure as primary, and (feminine) ornament as secondary. X-Ray Architecture takes the reader from the male gaze looking at women’s bodies exercising—in heels—on Le Corbusier’s rooftops to a kind of feminist glazed gaze. The last project she discusses is a temporary installation by SANAA in Mies’s Barcelona Pavilion. It consists entirely of a curved acrylic wall that is in all appearances unobtrusive, like the expected politeness of a female presence, but that in fact vigorously transforms the experience of the building. The acrylic is transparent, but its curvature and layering blur spatial boundaries and makes the former void into a thickened, fleshy space. The intervention also changes the approach into the pavilion, much like Colomina’s work brings us to the modern canon through novel approaches that make us see it anew.
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Lair puts a spotlight on the homes of famous movie villains

Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains By Chad Oppenheim / Andrea Gollin Tra Publishing $75.00 Bad people don't always have good taste, but when they do, their homes are the stuff of architecture history. Curzio Malaparte was attending fascist rallies in between stays at his cliffside retreat, the various owners of Lloyd Wright's Sowden House committed unspeakable crimes behind its stony facade, and Philip Johnson's sordid past all but eclipses his career as one of the most accomplished architects of the 20th century. While most of us may not be able to tour the homes of these baddies or live in anything remotely like them ourselves, the homes of movie villains are at our disposal however many times we wish to visit them. Chad Oppenheim of Miami-based Oppenheim Architecture and writer Andrea Gollin have come together to shine a spotlight on the homes of the silver screen that lurk in the shadows to draw an undeniable connection between low morale and high design. Their book, Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains, pries open 15 of the most diabolical abodes and renders them in silk-silver linework over depthless black paper, all of which were exquisitely illustrated by Carlos Fueyo, a VFX and CG supervisor behind some of the most visually sumptuous blockbusters of the last decade. Lair makes evident that the average movie's art production team is at its most creative when given the opportunity to imagine homes as sinister and calculated as the villains that would commission them with dark money. An eye-opening interview between Oppenheim and Star Wars set decorator Roger Christian uncovers the inspiration behind the Death Star, arguably the most famous evil lair in cinema, albeit one that doubles as a weapon capable of obliterating planets many times its size. "When it came to the Death Star," Christian explained, "that was inspired by the Reich architecture of Albert Speer, obviously. When you look at Nazi architecture, it's very black with red on it. Very simple and very daunting—and strangely beautiful." Fueyo's illustrations render the highly articulate surface of the Death Star with all the wonderfully arbitrary detailing of the original and managed to produce a perspective cutaway that offers a glimpse into the orderly, clock-like work of its scaleless interior. The divergent paths of the light and dark sides of the force are as apparent in the contrasting austerity between the Empire's home base and the humble desert residences of the Jedi as they are in any of the other cinematic choices made in the production of the blockbuster film series. About a third of the 15 lairs are owned by various Bond villains, from Ernst Stavro Blofeld's sub-volcanic hideaway in You Only Live Twice (1967) to Karl Stromberg's spider-like marine research laboratory in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). While Bond trots around the world as a stylish nomad, his enemies stay put in increasingly eccentric abodes that speak to their character just as effectively as their words or actions. The sensuous architecture of Los Angeles-architect John Lautner makes more than a few cameos and is otherwise the unsubtle inspiration for a number of the evil lairs throughout the movie series. A rarely-seen interview between Lautner and Marlene Laskey on the Elrod House, a home the architect designed in 1968 that was extensively featured in Diamonds are Forever (1971), reveals that the home was built with surprisingly few restraints, thus imbuing the structure with a number of eccentricities suited to the fictional supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Good design often comes at a price, either through its exchange with one's soul or a sum of money that no one person should reasonably have. While real-life crooks reveal little of themselves to the public by trade, the homes featured in Lair grants its readers a more-than-generous look into the lives lived by a fictional class of villains.
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Another modernist New Canaan icon gains full historic protections

A 72-year-old modernist icon in New Canaan, Connecticut, will live on with its original look. Last month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation signed off on a preservation and conservation easement that will protect the Landis and Pamela Gores House from demolition or subdivision forever.  The residence, burrowed in the hilly landscape of southwestern Connecticut, is the work of architect Landis Gores (1919-1991), one of the “Harvard Five” group of New Canaan architects. Currently owned by the Gores family, the easement requires them and future owners to gain the approval of the National Trust for any planned changes to the house, additional constructions, or alterations to the surrounding landscape.  Ainslie Gores Gillian, the daughter of Gores, said she considered her family home more satisfying than other houses she visited as a child. “It was as solid as a monument yet it had freedom and grace,” she said in a statement.
"The giant glass walls of the living room felt suspended in space; I could sit warm by the fireplace and watch a snowstorm outside. Out or in, I had expanses for play. And when my sister wed, the house was entertainment space—scores of guests dined on the terrace as I ran to greet Philip Johnson, striding across the meadow, an Andy Warhol array of Marylin Monres dangling under his arm.” 
The picturesque vision of the Gores House still exists today, largely thanks to the family’s commitment to its preservation. In 2002, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But it was long-deemed an architectural marvel well before that—in 1964, the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave Gores an Award of Merit for the project. Even though it was “planned and built more than a decade ago,” they said, “this house has become a classic example of the Wright tradition adapted to the environment of New England.” 
 
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The Gores House may resemble a landlocked version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, which was built over 10 years earlier, but many have come to see it as a perfect combination of the international-style work done by Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer. A single-story home with wood framing, the building stretches 130 feet long on a 4-acre landscape. It features a flat roof, floor-to-ceiling glass walls, and a stone base in places. In some ways, the Gores House even mimics the Glass House, which Gores worked on with Johnson, and was built around the same time in the late 1940s.  This isn’t the first time this year that the National Trust has granted a conservation easement to a modernist New Canaan residence. In June, the “design intent” of Noyes II by Eliot Noyes was put under protection by the preservation organization. 
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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.
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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.

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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. 
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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.
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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!
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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.

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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.