Posts tagged with "Modernism":

Placeholder Alt Text

Exhibition on modern architecture in British Mandate Palestine opens at Yale

The Yale School of Architecture Gallery will host Social Construction: Modern Architecture in British Mandate Palestine, a traveling exhibition previously displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The exhibition, curated by Oren Sagiv, Ada Karmi-Melamede, and Dan Price, examines a period of modern architecture that emerged during the British Mandate period in Palestine (1917-1948). This particular interpretation of the International Style established a cohesive vernacular that not only altered the architectural and urban context but also revealed the social values that helped to adapt modernism to the region. Focused on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, the exhibition consists primarily of archival photographs and interpretive ink drawings on mylar that were collected by Karmi-Melamede and Price and were originally featured in their book, Architecture in Palestine during the British Mandate, 1917–1948. The focus of the exhibition is on the transformative process of developing of a new state by blending the urban tissue of a foreign style with the particularities of local conditions. The show will be on view today, August 31, through November 18, 2017.
Placeholder Alt Text

Modern architecture stars in Kogonada’s Columbus

“Well, that’s Columbus—meth and modernism,” quips 19-year-old protagonist Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), in the new independent film Columbus. Directed by Kogonada, the movie centers on Columbus, Indiana, so much so that the city and its architecture functions as a character equal to the actors (and of course, lending itself to the film’s title). In context, her remark isn’t a flippant dismissal of the town but a reflection of larger issues Kogonado contemplates in his work. “Do forms make a difference? Do buildings make our lives better even when they are bad?” This is a particularly apt question to ask in a city like Columbus, which, although known for its architecture, is not exactly known as a cultural hotspot. It is rare that architecture features so heavily in what is otherwise a clever coming-of-age tale, but even the plot emerged from the city’s buildings. Kogonada was inspired by visiting the southern Indiana city and wrote the script based on his observations. “The City of Columbus had to give us permission to film there, or else we wouldn’t have made the film,” Kogonada said in a discussion following a screening at BAM. Scenes center on, around, and in the soaring modernist works by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, and Deborah Berke, as Casey rapidly gains aesthetic awareness and an appreciation for architecture as she grapples with staying in her hometown and taking care of her mother (a recovering meth addict) while her friends go off to college. She encounters Jin (John Cho), a Korean-American translator who comes to the city to care for his father, a noted architectural historian who falls critically ill while visiting Columbus; the pair form a relationship. The plot itself is charming and smart, but it is the film’s pacing, styling, and setting that elevate it to what the New Yorker has described as “precocious genius.” Kogonada incorporates the architecture both blatantly and subtly. Throughout, Casey names and describes each building to Jin, a newcomer to Columbus—Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church, I.M. Pei's Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, Eero Saarinen’s Miller house, the Irwin Conference Center, and North Christian Church, Deborah Berke’s Irwin Union Bank, and Robert A.M. Stern’s Columbus Regional Hospital, among others. Those structures not explicitly labeled still loom prominently in the setting. Architectural themes also permeate the film, most notably the exploration of absence and presence, void and volume. Kogonada explores this several different ways: Whenever music plays, there is an absence of dialogue; when Jin speaks Korean, there is an absence of subtitles; characters refer to plot moments that never came up; and at times there is silence even though the audience can see that the person is speaking. Other questions are grappled with, as well: “Can architecture heal?” “Do the buildings we grow up around inform our views of the world?” “What makes modernism important?” They are good questions and ones that the architectural, art, and design communities debate often, but in Columbus they are opened up to the layperson and architecture aficionado alike. For screenings and more information, see the film's website.
Placeholder Alt Text

Edward Durell Stone gem gets a comprehensive rehab

Grand Island is in the center of Nebraska. Halfway between Chicago and Denver along Interstate 80, it is perhaps best known for being the home to the Nebraska State Fair. It is also home to the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. Designed by modernist architect Edward Durell Stone in 1963, the museum documents the lives of European pioneers who first settled Nebraska. Recently, the museum underwent a comprehensive renovation and rehabilitation, led by Lincoln, Nebraska–based BVH Architecture. BVH provided architectural and engineering services for the project. Working with the museum staff, the Stuhr Foundation, and the museum’s board, BVH developed a master plan to look into the 75,000-square-foot museum’s future. While addressing the changing needs of the museum’s collection and exhibition spaces, the master plan called for the careful treatment of the iconic building’s exterior. The facade, interior finishes, structural stability, HVAC system, fire and life safety, and accessibility were all addressed. Each of the improvements was designed not in interfere with the building’s operations or modernist styling. Following the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, the building was also added to the National Register of Historic Places 2015. The project also won a 2017 Docomomo Citation of Merit Award | Civic. All of this comes as the museum celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Placeholder Alt Text

2017 Docomomo US Modernism in America Awards winners announced

The 2017 winners have been announced for the Docomomo US Modernism in America Awards, a program that highlights the importance of preserving modernist architecture, landscape, and design across the country. The winners this year feature projects that have faced threats of demolition but have been restored. In one case, a project was demolished but its dispute is headed to the state's Supreme Court in a precedent-setting case on preservation. The awards also celebrate the people and organizations working to preserve, restore, and rehabilitate these buildings and spaces. The 2017 Modernism in America Awards will be formally awarded on October 6, 2017, at the Design Within Reach Third Avenue Studio in New York City. Here is this year’s Design Award of Excellence winners and Citations of Merit winners. You can also find details on see last year's winners here. Design Award of Excellence: Bell Works Location: Holmdel, NJ Original Architect: Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo Restoration Team: Paola Zamudio (Bell Works Creative Director/NPZ Style + Décor), Alexander Gorlin Architects (Lead Architect) Client: Somerset Development The first mirrored glass-enclosed structure designed by modernist architect Eero Saarinen was once home to Bell Laboratories (later owned by AT&T, Lucent, and ultimately Alcatel-Lucent). Once Alcatel-Lucent left the site and murmurs of demolition became known, Somerset Development and Alexander Gorlin Architects transformed the site into a two-million-square-foot mixed-use “metroburb” now known as Bell Works. “This is an ambitious project that has reconfigured what was once the largest vacant commercial building in the country into a dynamic urban center,” said architectural historian Robert Nauman in a press release. It was awarded the Commercial Design Award of Excellence. Yale Center for British Art Location: New Haven, CT Original Architect: Louis I. Kahn Restoration Team: Knight Architecture LLC (Restoration Architect); Yale Center for British Art; Yale University Office of Facilities (Department of Planning and Project Management); Turner Construction Company (General Contractor); Peter Inskip & Peter Jenkins Architects Limited (Conservation Architect); Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. (Structural Engineer and Building Conservation Consultant); BVH Integrated Services – Engineer (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Fire Protection); Philip R. Sherman, P.E. (Code Consultant); Staples & Charles Limited (Furnishings, Fixtures and Equipment Consultant); Michael Morris, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Architectural Conservator); Strong Chen Graphic Designers (Graphic Design); LMB Facilities Solutions, LLC (Logistics Consultant); Stephen Saitas Designs (Exhibition Designer) Client: Yale University Office of Facilities, Yale Center for British Art The Louis Kahn–designed building was awarded the Civic/Institutional Design Award of Excellence for its restoration. The Yale Center for British Art opened in 1977 and, after escalating conservation pressures, its current director Amy Meyers established a conservation plan that set policies for future care of the building. The restoration project was phased over 10 months in 2015. The Bubeshko Apartments Location: Los Angeles, CA Original Architect: Rudolph M. Schindler Restoration Team: Eric Haas, AIA & Chava Danielson, AIA – DSH Architecture (Restoration Architect), Joe DeMarie (General Contractor) Client: Madeleine Brand & Joe DeMarie The restoration project for the Bubeshko Apartments, one of the few intact family dwellings designed by modernist Rudolph Schindler, led to a Residential Design Award of Excellence. Schindler’s vision was that of a “Greek hillside”—a framework for individuated apartments, each with a direct connection to the outdoors, that work collectively. “Instead of transforming the complex into luxury condominium pods, the owners and restoration team gave careful consideration to both the original intent of the architect and original owners, thus ensuring this unique addition to the cultural life of Los Angeles will be admired and enjoyed for years to come,” according to the jury. Heroic Project & Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston Location: Boston, MA Heroic Project: Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, Mark Pasnik Publication Team: Alan Rapp, Madeleine Compagnon, Michael Vagnetti and Gianfranco Monacelli, Monacelli Press, Reem Kanoo, assistant editor James Jarzyniecki, axonometric drawings Ann Lui and Josh Niemiec, researchers Contributors: Joan Ockman, Elizabeth Cohen, Keith N. Morgan, Douglass Shand-Tucci (essays); Peter Chermayeff, Henry N. Cobb, Araldo Cossutta, N. Michael McKinnell, Tician Papachristou, Frederick A. “Tad” Stahl, Mary Otis Stevens (interviews) Additional support: Graham Foundation; Zan Foundation; over,under; pinkcomma gallery; Bruner/Cott Architects and Planners; Simpson Gumpertz & Heger; Esto Calhess; Students of Wentworth Institute of Technology; Dozens of photographers and archivists who provided access to resources; More than 200 contributors to the Heroic funding campaign Awarded the Advocacy Award of Excellence, the Heroic Project and its book is an eight-year research initiative into Boston’s concrete architecture from 1960 to 1976. It led to an advocacy effort to preserve the city’s Brutalist architecture, including exhibitions, design studios, research seminars, lectures, interviews, tours, and landmark preservation campaigns. “By celebrating the artistry and design of concrete architecture in Boston and beyond, the Heroic Project redefines Brutalist architecture locally, nationally and internationally,” according to the Docomomo US Board of Directors. Save the Reactor Campaign Location: Seattle, WA Organization: Historic Seattle; Washington Trust for Historic Preservation; Docomomo US/WEWA The campaign aims to honor the role and impact of nuclear science during the Cold War, and its efforts have been awarded the Advocacy Award of Excellence. While the brutalist Nuclear Reactor building on the University of Washington’s campus was demolished, the Washington State Supreme Court is expected to rule on the bearing of local preservation ordinances over state institutions of higher learning who claim an exemption. Citations of Merit winners: The Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (Grand Island, NE), American Enterprise Group (Des Moines, IA), Boston University School of Law (Boston, MA), Vincent G. Kling Mid-Century House (Gladwyne, PA). For more on the Design Award of Excellence winner and Citations of Merit winners, visit Docomomo US's website here.
Placeholder Alt Text

From futuristic mall to hellish jail: New AIANY exhibit delves into the history of Venezuela’s “El Helicoide”

AIA New York’s Center for Architecture opens its newest exhibit, El Helicoide: From Mall to Prison, on May 9. The exhibit, curated by Celeste Olalquiaga of PROYECTO HELICOIDE, examines the development and subsequent collapse of the El Heliocoide drive-in mall in Caracas, Venezuela. The building was designed in the late 1950s by architect Romero Gutierrez as a representation of the utopian hopes of a booming Venezuela and quickly became an icon of modern architecture. The spiraling mall caps La Roca Tarpeya hill, which overlooks Caracas, and is topped with a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. The project went from being the star of MoMA’s 1961 show Roads to an abandoned home of more than 10,000 squatters after facing several financial roadblocks and a series of political upheavals. In 1985 the abandoned building was adopted by the Venezuelan intelligence services and has since been a place of imprisonment and surveillance. “El Helicoide’s failure and turbulent history are symptomatic of what went wrong with modern Venezuela,” said Olalquiaga in a press release. “By showing the building’s patrimonial and cultural value, PROYECTO HELICOIDE seeks to highlight the country’s outstanding modern heritage in all its contradictory complexity.” A book about the project’s history, From Mall to Prison: El Helicoide’s Downward Spiral, will be released in conjunction with the exhibit. An opening reception with the curator will be held on May 9 and the exhibition will be open through July 13. For more information, you can visit the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture event page here.
Placeholder Alt Text

As Cuba’s economy embraces global tourism, modernist works fall under threat

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Preservation efforts aimed at recognizing and restoring Cuba’s storied architectural relics—long a pet project within professional and academic circles—might finally become mainstream as the country adopts market-based policies.

The implications of these economic and political changes for Cuba’s cultural heritage—much of which suffers from decades of deferred maintenance—are potentially vast and unknown. Architect Belmont Freeman, who has led many tours to Cuba on behalf of Docomomo and the Society of Architectural Historians, said, “There are a lot of cranes in Havana right now, every one of them related to a hotel project.”

Recent years have seen a ballooning interest in Cuba by international hoteliers. European luxury-hotel group Kempinski is set open its first hotel in Cuba this summer. The hotel will feature 246 rooms in the renovated Manzana de Gómez building, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was designed as Cuba’s first shopping mall in 1910. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is also entering Cuba by taking over operations of Havana’s neoclassical Hotel Inglaterra, the Hotel Quinta Avenida, and the colonial-era Hotel Santa Isabel. The move makes Starwood the first United States hotelier to enter the Cuban market since 1959. Hotel Quinta Avenida was renovated in 2016 and opened last summer. The Hotel Inglaterra, originally built in 1844, is expected to open in late 2017 after its renovation.

Real questions exist, however, not only in terms of the quality of these renovations, but also with regard to the status of other cultural, archeological, and architectural artifacts in the country. Cuba is home to a vast array of architectural history, including relics and sites important to the indigenous cultures that originally inhabited the island. However, colonial-era fortifications and more recent building stock, including successive waves of 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century development, make up the vast majority of structures across the country. What will happen to those less prominent and more sensitive relics? Many of the city’s inner neighborhoods are filled with eclectic Beaux Arts–style structures, while the outer city and its environs are a hotbed of proto- and early-modernism, with works like the Hotel Nacional by McKim, Mead & White from 1930 and the Habana Libre Hotel by Welton Becket with Lin Arroyo and Gabriela Menendez from 1958 standing out both in terms of architectural style and for their respective roles in local and international history.

Furthermore, the Revolution’s communist utopianism was codified through the prodigious production of radically progressive works of architecture by Cuban modernist architects. Those works include the expressionist National Schools of Art by Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi from 1961; the Brutalist Ciudad Universitaria Jose Antonio Echeverria (CUJAE) building by Humberto Alonso from 1961; and the vast neighborhoods of Habana del Este that are made up of locally derived designs modeled after Soviet modular apartments.

It is unclear if and when future building improvements are undertaken across the city, whether more recent works of architecture will be prized to the same degree as colonial-era works. Freeman painted a grim picture, saying, “There has been a steady pace of cosmetic refurbishment of old buildings in the colonial core of Old Havana, but (generally speaking) historic preservation efforts have not picked up in any significant way except for those related to tourism infrastructure.”

The effects of the recent formal economic and political changes in official policy are not necessarily new phenomena, however: Havana has strong track record of using historic preservation as an economic driver. The office of the City Historian, led by Eusebio Leal Spengler, has pioneered local attempts to embed the preservation and restoration of Old Havana’s neighborhoods into economic development plans. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, and while many projects in the colonial core have benefitted from Leal Spengler’s efforts—namely the restoration of Plaza Vieja and a slew of other properties the office has converted for hotel and tourismuses—many of the city’s early modernist and post-revolutionary architectural marvels sit in various states of decay and disrepair. The restoration of the National Art Schools was, until recently, slated for completion and renovation. Those efforts have petered out, subsumed by a new economic downturn following geopolitical turmoil in Venezuela, one of Cuba’s chief oil providers.

Cuban architect Universo Garcia Lorenzo, who was coordinating the renovations for the National Art Schools until the funding dried up, explained that with the Cuban government strapped for cash, major restoration projects in the country will have to rely on international funding. Some help is coming: The Italian government is funding the continuation of work on Gottardi’s School of Dramatic Arts and also, England’s Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation was working to finance the rehabilitation of the ruined, Garatti-designed School of Ballet. But, Garcia Lorenzo said, “I can’t speculate now on when the restoration will be completed,” adding that despite the fact that Porro’s School of Plastic Arts and School of Modern Dance had been completely renovated in 2008, the current funding lapses meant there would be a shortage of funds “dedicated to maintaining those structures into the future.”

International funding cannot come soon enough, as the partially completed and dilapidated structures are exposed to the tropical elements. Garcia Lorenzo said, “Essentially, the three unfinished buildings are frozen in time, slowly decaying and waiting to be restored.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Gordon Bunshaft’s modernist tower is newest Dallas landmark

This week Dallas is celebrating its newest landmark, a goodie but not an oldie.

The Landmark Commission voted on Monday to designate One Main Place, designed by SOM's Gordon Bunshaft, as the city's newest landmark. Beyond its waffled exterior, the 48-year-old International Style tower houses 19 floors of offices and a Westin Hotel spread out over its 33 stories.

Usually, buildings have to be at least 50 years old to be considered for landmarking, but officials made an exception for its high quality design and its singular place in Dallas's history. The New Orleans–based owners sought the designation for one particular reason: historic preservation tax credits.

The gridded concrete and granite building, though, is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to its designation report, One Main Place was supposed to be part of a three-phase redevelopment of downtown Dallas that was proposed in the 1960s. That superblock scheme, which would have replaced downtown with Corbusian Cities of Tomorrow, was never realized in full.

According to the Dallas Morning News, one preservation expert told the Landmark Commission that Bunshaft's building, like Dallas' pedestrian tunnels, merited protection because it reflects a specific approach to planning that prevailed in the city through the 1980s.

One Main Place is "the center and genesis of the tunnel system," said Jay Firsching, a senior historic preservation specialist at Architexas. That system was proposed by Vincent Ponte, the Montreal urban planner behind his city's famous tunnels that keep pedestrians out of the cold during long Quebec winters.

To become official, though, the landmark still needs the Plan Commission and City Council's approvals.

Back east, Bunshaft's SOM designs are getting recognition by another landmarks commission: In 2015, New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission added 28 Liberty, an office tower and plaza in Manhattan's Financial District, to its roster of protected modernist buildings.

Placeholder Alt Text

AIA Gold Medal–winner Paul Revere Williams: An African American architect who transformed L.A.’s modernist architecture

The Architect's Newspaper is partnering with USModernist to showcase its comprehensive archive of American modernist designers. This is the first post in a series that will highlight individual entries. Paul Revere Williams was a Los Angeles–born, African-American architect who had an outsize impact on the region’s architectural legacy. Williams graduated from the University of Southern California in 1914 and eventually went on to design over 3,000 buildings over his five-decade-long career. Los Angeles residents and visitors alike are likely familiar with the designer’s work, if not his name—a lasting legacy that only recently came into the spotlight. Williams was posthumously awarded the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 2017 Gold Medal—the organization’s highest honor, “recognizing individuals whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture”—this year. For some, the recognition was thought to have come too late, especially in a field continually struggling with a lack of diversity. Lack of recognition does not detract from greatness, however, and Williams was a titan of American design through and through. As a young practitioner, he worked for architects Reginald Johnson and later John Austin, great architects in their own right. Williams became licensed in 1921, opening his own practice just a year later. He became the first African-American member of the AIA in 1923 and the first African-American AIA Fellow in 1957. Throughout his career, Williams worked across styles and locales, but it was his Modernist-style works that have persevered across time and still inspire us to this day. Williams is perhaps best known, inaccurately, for his collaboration with William Pereira, Charles Luckman, and Welton Becket on the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport from 1961. The Googie-style building is considered to be among the most important midcentury modernist works in Los Angeles, though Williams did not help design it. The structure consists of a flat, disk-shaped observation and restaurant area suspended off the ground by a pair of intersecting, parabolic arches. Some of Williams’s work is located outside Los Angeles, as well, including his collaboration with architect Quincy A. Jones on the Palm Springs Tennis Club and the La Concha Motel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Williams was a virtuoso of architectural style, as best exemplified by the architect’s many residential projects. Williams’s efforts, attuned to Southern California’s finicky penchant for pastiche and historical revivalism, range in style from the Hollywood Regency to the Spanish Revival, and, of course, modernist treatments. Williams was responsible for extensive interior and exterior renovations to the famed Ambassador Hotel in 1949. The architect worked on several renovations and additions to the Beverly Hills Hotel during the 1940s, including the iconic facade showcasing the hotel’s name in fanciful script. Williams dabbled in socially-responsible work, too, and—along with Richard Neutra—was responsible for designing the garden city-inspired Pueblo del Rio public housing projects in 1941. In a testament to Williams's lasting legacy, eight of his works are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and many more are still standing across Southern California. To read more about Williams, see his USModernist entry.
Placeholder Alt Text

John Harkness, co-founder of The Architects’ Collaborative, passes away

The last founding member of The Architects' Collaborative (TAC), John Harkness, died yesterday at the age of 100. A 1941 graduate of Harvard, Harkness co-founded TAC with his wife Sarah Harkness, five other architects, and Walter Gropius, in 1945. They submitted entries for a competition to design dormitories for Smith College which they did not win but they became famous for designing scores of post-war modern buildings all over New England. These buildings were important in creating an American modernism and furthering the idea of the architect's social responsibility. In 2002 Harkness told The Boston Globe: “We were on a mission to make a better world after the war… We all believed deeply in modern architecture. We used clean, simple lines and modern materials. There is no reference to traditional styles, just a desire to create what is appropriate for the purpose at hand.”
Placeholder Alt Text

This artist sets the stage for nature vs. modernism (and nature is winning)

British artist Alex Hartley reflects on the power of nature in his latest work, A Gentle Collapsing II, as part of his After You Left exhibition at Victoria Miro in London. The work—set in the gallery's garden—features an abandoned modernist dwelling that has been engulfed by a jungle landscape, provoking thoughts on decay, the built environment, and nature itself. The aesthetically appealing juxtaposition of wild and the artificial goes hand-in-hand with Hartley's take on modernism: The International Style house embodies the architectural movement's ideals of form and structural purity, but all sense of order has been lost. The forest is the victor. With A Gentle Collapsing II, Hartley references Plato's notion of artifacts being in a "state of becoming." In this instance, by making the audience explicitly aware of the building's natural demise, viewers become all the more appreciative of its presence and its obviously finite existence. This too is a nod to another philosopher—Martin Heidegger—who said “mortals nurse and nurture things that grow and specifically construct things that do not grow.” Subsequently, audiences are afforded lines of thought relating to entropy: What happened before the dwelling entered this state of dereliction? What were the possible paths of destruction that lead to this? What will/can happen next? The unpredictability of nature versus the rigid lineage of the building plays out for the viewer. After You Left and A Gentle Collapsing II are available to see through December 16 this year.
Placeholder Alt Text

MoMA recreates a dozen interiors for “How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior”

How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior will recreate a dozen full-scale interior spaces dating from the 1920s to the 1950s and feature over 200 objects. Each interior will focus on the design elements within its specific setting, as well as its connection to external factors and attitudes—aesthetic, social, technological, and political.

Divided into three chronological groupings—the late 1920s to the early 1930s, the late 1930s to the mid-1940s, and the late 1940s into the 1950s—the scenes will also explore several designers’ own living spaces, and frequently overlooked areas in the field of design, such as textile furnishings, wallpapers, kitchens, temporary exhibitions, and promotional displays. Works by major women architect-designers, many created in partnerships, also will be highlighted. Featured collaborators include Lilly Reich and Mies van der Rohe; Florence Knoll and Herbert Matter; and Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier. Among the interiors on display will be the 1927 Velvet-Silk Café, designed by Reich for a women’s fashion exhibition in Berlin, with tubular steel furniture by Van der Rohe; 1929 furniture and exhibition designs by Perriand, Le Corbusier, and Pierre Jeanneret; the 1948 Knoll furniture showroom in Manhattan, designed by Knoll and Matter; and a 1959 study bedroom for the Maison du Brésil at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris by Perriand, Le Corbusier, and Lúcio Costa.

How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York Through April 23

Placeholder Alt Text

A new book delves into Mellon Square, the modernist landscape masterpiece at the heart of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is slowly, and fitfully, reappraising its modernist legacy of corporate towers, postwar infrastructure, and neighborhood-obliterating “urban renewal.” In this complex and frequently polarizing narrative, the role of landscape is perhaps only now being properly addressed in academic and political discourse regarding the past, present, and future potential of communal civic space.

Mellon Square is the second volume in “Modern Landscapes: Transition and Transformation,” a timely series from Princeton Architectural Press. As series editor Charles Birnbaum notes in his foreword, if Lawrence Halprin’s Denver Skyline Park (the first site in the series) has suffered “disastrous alteration,” this 1950s landscape at the heart of Pittsburgh has “in contrast (…) been very well chronicled, documented, and analyzed” resulting in “a renewed, enhanced, and revitalized Mellon Square.”

Principal author Susan Rademacher concurs. She has written a compact volume, presenting with modest clarity, a rich spectrum of knowledge from local history and detailed plant selection to technical refinements particular to the project. Emphasizing Mellon Square’s centrality in the self-image of Pittsburgh, Rademacher calls it “a symbol of Pittsburgh’s astounding capacity for reinvention and self-improvement” and potentially “a model for the national movement to preserve modern landscape.”

Mellon Square was the first modernist urban park situated above a subterranean parking structure by Mitchell & Ritchey. Fifteen years earlier, Dahlen Ritchey, a Carnegie Tech and Harvard alum, had assisted Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer on their luxurious Frank House in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill. The main design heroes of Rademacher’s book are John O. and Philip D. Simonds, Pittsburgh landscape architects and environmental planners. John, also a GSD man, published his seminal Landscape Architecture shortly after Mellon Square’s completion in 1955.

Other key figures in Pittsburgh’s “renaissance” include then-Mayor David L. Lawrence (a Democrat), Richard King Mellon (a Republican), and Edgar Kaufmann. Kaufmann not only engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to imagine fantastical infrastructures at the juncture of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, he also commissioned a master plan titled Pittsburgh in Progress from Mitchell & Ritchey. Displayed at Kaufmann’s Department Store, a mere block from the future Mellon Square, this Corbusian-inflected plan heralded an urban agenda for the 1950s, radiating back from that historic origin of the city.

Rademacher delves deeply into the design process, a complicated story for many an urban project, yet especially so here with a business elite keen to impact the fabric and the perception of the city. Not by chance, Mellon Square functioned something like the plaza at Rockefeller Center. (No ice-skating, although early proposals did include flamingos and penguins and a circular platform for sea lions, along with less sculptural bling.) Yet the square was clearly envisaged as the centerpiece of what Rademacher describes as “an integrated complex for the Mellon enterprises.”

Indeed, there are three Harrison & Abramovitz-designed landmarks for Mellon-related businesses in the immediate vicinity: the sober U.S. Steel/Mellon Bank Building, the innovative Alcoa Building directly overlooking the square, and later, the U.S. Steel headquarters, a towering paean to weathering steel at the intersection of Pittsburgh’s two urban grids. Disliking the orthogonal paving proposed by Simonds & Simonds, Sarah Mellon Scaife’s fondness for St. Mark’s Square led to the harlequinade pattern that brings Mellon Square its graphic elegance, especially when viewed from the surrounding towers.

In a 1973 article, John listed the project concepts as a platform (“a vast tray”), a structure (with “footings spaced out on the floor of a prehistoric stream bed some sixty feet below”), an island (“surrounded by and cut off from the rest of the city”), a space (“expanded, modulated, and articulated by all means at the architects’ command”), a focal center, a civic monument (“a source of pride and lasting inspiration”), a gathering place (“human in scale and human in its appeal”), and an oasis (“the welcome relief of foliage, shade, splashing water, flowers, and bright color.”)

Inevitably perhaps, some problems ensued—with tiles, flower beds, and wiring—eventually, “the main fountain and lighting no longer worked.” According to Rademacher, “despite efforts (…) continued maintenance did not remain a priority”. It was not until 2007 that the Parks Conservancy, then the guardian of Pittsburgh’s verdant sequence of robber baron-era parks, got involved. In 2008, the Conservancy published its Mellon Square Preservation, Interpretation and Management Plan. Soon, a planning team was in place, led by Patricia M. O’Donnell of Heritage Landscapes.

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece goes into considerable detail on both the birth and now the rebirth of this important mid-century landscape set in a city that is itself experiencing economic and social renewal. The book may be slim, yet it is packed with information—a slight drawback of its dimensions is the small size of many illustrations. Rademacher has performed a service for Pittsburgh and for other U.S. cities unwilling to jettison the recent past and the timeless value of offering, “a place of pure delight—an inviting refreshing environment,” to quote Simonds.

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece Susan M. Rademacher With essays by Charles A. Birnbaum, Patricia M. O’Donnell, Richard C. Bell and Barry W. Starke Published by Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95