Posts tagged with "Modernism":

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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

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Oscar Niemeyer’s Pampulha Modern Ensemble added to UNESCO World Heritage List

The Pampulha Modern Ensemble, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, is among UNESCO's most recent additions to their World Heritage List. The project is representative of Niemeyer's contributions to 20th century architecture and a historically important example of modernism. Constructed around the man-made Lake Pampuhla in Brazil, the Pampuhla Modern Ensemble is a collection of leisure buildings built as part of an initiative to develop a suburban neighborhood around the lake. The complex includes a ballroom, yacht club, casino, a church, and a weekend retreat for the mayor. Pampuhla was one of Niemeyer's first projects, developed in 1940 when the architect was 33 years old. In fact, many consider it to be the first major example of modernism in the country by any architect. For the landscape of the complex, Niemeyer collaborated with landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, the first of several collaborations between the two pioneers of the modernist movement in Brazil. The buildings in the complex exemplify several of the design principles indicative of Niemeyer's work. One is the use of curved rather than straight lines, as seen in the domed cathedral and the freeform shapes of the ballroom. Another is the use of reinforced concrete as a building material, especially on the cathedral, which was considered innovative at the time. Its inclusion in an exhibit of Brazilian architecture at the MoMA brought the project international acclaim. Almost 50 years later, in 1988, Niemeyer was the recipient of the Pritzker Prize. His most famous work is within the city of Brasilia, which was founded in 1960 as the new capital of Brazil. Here Niemeyer designed the Cathedral of Brasilia as well as its Congress building and the Palacio de Planalto, the president's workplace. Brasilia is also a designated World Heritage Site, and the cathedral is especially considered to be a masterpiece. Niemeyer's work at Pampuhla, in fact, led to the architect working on Brasilia later in his career. The Pampuhla project was started by the mayor of Belo Horizonte, Juscelino Kubitschek, who would go on to be President of Brazil from 1956-1961. As president, Kubitschek would be responsible for the construction of Brasilia, and for hiring Niemeyer and urban planner Lucio Costa for its design. According to UNESCO, the project is a significant example of Niemeyer's ability to blend modernist architectural principles with the project's location, and shows the influence of Brazil's distinct climate and culture. Niemeyer was heavily influenced by Le Corbusier, whose work was also included on the World Heritage List in the latest round of additions.
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Docomomo US announces the winners of 2016 Modernism in America Awards

Docomomo US has announced the winners of the 2016 Modernism in America Awards. The awards aim to emphasize the ever-growing awareness of the value of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design born from the Modernist Movement. The winning designs are all modernist projects that have been restored or revitalized in some way. The Design Award of Excellence was awarded to: Mellon Square (Pittsburgh, PA), Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building (Los Angeles, CA), Frederick and Harriet Rauh Residence (Cincinnati, OH), and Michigan Modern (Michigan). Mellon Square, a postwar urban plaza, first opened in Pittsburgh in 1955 and marked a point in the city’s modern development. Heritage Landscapes LLC, the project team lead, worked to recapture the original design intent of architects Simonds & Simonds and Mitchell & Ritchey. The Citation of Merit was awarded to: The Margaret Esherick House (Philadelphia, PA), The Met Breuer (New York, NY), The Shepley Bulfinch Architecture Firm Office (Phoenix, AZ), and Houston: Uncommon Modern (Houston, TX). The Margaret Esherick House was updated with the utmost respect to Louis Kahn’s original work. The conservation allowed the installation of contemporary components in the house's kitchen and adaption of “the spirit of the character-giving shutters” to function more sustainably in the 1961 residence. The Citation of Technical Achievement was awarded to: The United Nations Campus Renovation of Facades (New York, NY) and Tower of Hope, Christ Cathedral (Garden Grove, CA). The award ceremony will be on the night of Thursday, September 22, 2016 at the Design Within Reach Studio in New York City.
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On View> Architecture of Independence: African Modernism at the Graham Foundation

Architecture of Independence: African Modernism Graham Foundation Madlener House, 4 West Burton Place, Chicago Through April 9, 2016 Based on a book of the same name, Architecture of Independence: African Modernism explores the boom of modernist buildings in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. With research by architect and writer Manuel Herz and photographs by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster, Architecture of Independence looks at 80 buildings in five countries. From new parliament buildings to schools and central banks, the show presents architecture as a means of declaring and expressing independence after centuries of colonization. Along with local architects and planners, architects from Poland, Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, Israel, and, surprisingly, former colonial powers, transformed urban and government centers across the continent. This exhibition is being shown for the first time in the United States at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in cooperation with the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Numerous talks and film screenings will accompany the exhibition throughout its run.
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San Francisco seeking enhanced landmark protection for one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most significant works

A gestural ramp takes visitors to the upper stories, passing objets d'art nested into built-in niches. A bubbled skylight lets the sun's rays penetrate into an expansive atrium, even on cloudy days. The AIA says the landmarked building is one of Frank Lloyd Wright's 17 essential works. The Guggenheim? Not so much. Wright's only San Francisco building, a city landmark since 1974, sits on Maiden Lane, a quiet side street downtown. The last tenant, Xanadu Gallery, closed up shop last year. Before the next tenant moves in, preservationists are rallying to expand existing landmark protections to include parts of the interior that date to 1948, including the ceiling, a skylit plane comprised of 120 acrylic domes, mahogany display cabinets, and a brass hanging planter. Wright designed the project, one of his only renovations of an existing building, in 1948 for V.C. and Lillian Morris. The couple had a shop on the same street and had previously commissioned Wright to design four houses for them (none were built). The space became the home of the V.C. Morris Gift Shop. Although the exterior, whose arch could be a subtle tribute to Louis Sullivan, is elegant, Wright experts concede that the interior is more architecturally significant. 140 Maiden Lane was a real-world test for the Guggenheim, built in 1959, which Wright conceptualized sixteen years earlier. The skylight hints at Wright's later work, like the 1961 Marin County Civic Center. The Prairie-style homes Wright completed in the Chicago suburbs are echoed in the masonry cliff, muses John King, The San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic. When Xanadu Gallery moved into the space in 1997, the owners, Raymond and Marsha Handley, restored many of the interior details that were left to languish in the basement. They consulted preservation experts, including Aaron Green, who with Wright collaborated on the Marin Civic Center. Marsha feels confident that the new owner, a Hong Kong–based investor who also owns Los Angeles's Bradbury Building, will be mindful of this building's significance. It's rumored that the new tenant may be a restaurant, or a European clothing boutique. City Planners have broached the bid for elevated landmark status with the owner's representatives, as they intend to send the revised landmark designation to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in the next few months.
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Isamu Noguchi’s space-age, fluid ceiling is hidden inside this St. Louis truck rental warehouse

In what has become a recurring irony, the poor taste of 20th century corporations has been saving the day for historic buildings across the country. Now as companies like Walgreens and CVS rehabilitate dilapidated banks into drugstores, St. Louis might be getting its first look in decades at a historic Isamu Noguchi designed ceiling hidden above a drop ceiling in what's now a U-Haul truck rental warehouse. Unbeknownst to many, what currently appears to be a clumsy brick and metal paneled warehouse at 1641 South Kingshighway Boulevard in St. Louis, is actually a gem of mid-century Modernism. The building that now holds the U-Haul storage and rental center was originally designed by St. Louis architect Harris Armstrong in 1947 as the headquarters for the Magic Chef American Stove Company. The structure was hailed as a masterpiece of International Style design, which included an ornate curvilinear lobby ceiling designed by none other than the famed Isamu Noguchi. It was not long before Magic Chef would move away and the building would become a clinic established by the Teamsters Union. Eventually left empty in the late 1960s, U-Haul, the current owners, would come to acquire the building in the late '70s. U-Haul would subsequently attempt to repair the now-decaying building and bring the space up to code, though with little-to-no mind towards preserving the aesthetics or architectural features of the building. It would be these very same inexpensive, and sometimes incomplete, fixes that would eventually be the saving grace of the building. Now, at least 20 years since a drop ceiling was added—covering the Noguchi designed ceiling—and metal paneling was added to the exterior of the building—covering its glass facade—it seems that at least some of the building will be returned to its former glory. As reported by local public radio station 90.7 KWMU, U-Haul is planning to uncover the figural ceiling in the spring of 2016. This news comes as a relief to many that remember the original space, believing the ceiling had been destroyed. And though U-Haul has made no indication that they would be restoring the entire building, this move makes it clear that the building could someday be restored. According to circuit court documents from the early '90s, it is very likely that the original windows are still under the metal paneling that now covers the building. In the 1980s, U-Haul was attempting to stop leaking windows with caulk to no avail. As an affordable solution, metal paneling was installed as a rain screen and a visual barrier into the building which holds customers’ stored items. This solution was not immediately accepted by the city’s Building Commission and Heritage Commission, and a series of hearings and appeals were held before the company was allowed to proceed with installation. The Heritage Commission called the plan no less than grotesque in their recommendation to stop the panels from being installed. "The proposed siding will create a design which is not compatible with the style and design of surrounding improvements and which is not conducive to the proper architectural development of the community. The proposed siding would also constitute an unsightly, grotesque or unsuitable structure in appearance, detrimental to the welfare of the surrounding property and residents." Though St. Louisans won’t be getting back their Modernist oven store just yet, it is encouraging that U-Haul is recognizing the worth of a designed space. With every uncovered ceiling or facade, the city gets one step closer to having a piece of its once lost architectural history back.
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Obit> Bay Area modernist architect Donald Olsen dies

Donald Olsen, one of Northern California's purest modern architects, has died. Known for open, light-filled residences with glass and concrete walls, white cladding, and a few quirky details, Olsen—a student of Walter Gropius—brought drama to an area whose architecture often lacked it. Olsen didn't build many structures, but most of his simple, International Style forms were captured in black and white by photographer Rondal Partridge, and are held at the Environmental Design Archives at the University of California. AN will have a longer obituary about Olsen and his outsized impact soon.
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Sarasota architects hope to preserve Mid-Century Modernism in Florida

The style of architecture known as "mid-century modern" is a cousin to the "International style." A popular combination of European stylistic tendencies and domestic American influences, including furniture design, it has become an influential catch all term for distinguished post-World War II structures and commercial tract homes (like the Eichler Homes). While the style has become widely popular in lifestyle magazines like Dwell and even replicated in new suburban developments, the original homes are being regularly torn down and being replaced with bloated McMansions that have shoe closets the size of the former mid-century living rooms. But the style has a huge following and a number of organizations to highlight and preserve is monuments. Docomomo has been in the lead highlighting these structures and Palm Springs was one of the first city to host a "modernism week." The latest city to create a week of activities devoted to the style is Sarasota, Florida, which along with Palm Springs and New Canaan, Connecticut, were experimental centers of the style. The Florida city also had a gifted number of architects working in the style: Paul Rudolph and his early mentor Ralph Twitchell, Gene Leedy, Victor Lundy, Tim Seibert, and Carl Abbott. The four day event of lectures, city and house tours that took place this fall was a model of how a community can highlight its unique but disappearing history. The week was created the Sarasota Architectural Foundation (founded by Martie Lieberman, a realtor who specializes in the style of homes) which is trying to promote the city's modern architecture. It hopes to raise awareness of the style so its buildings can be preserved, updated, and even become a model of a future architecture that is more responsive to needs and demands than the typical McMansion. Sarasota prides itself on its modern history and was a unique crossroads of culture, commerce, and environment after World War II that helped birth this style. The week also highlighted the fascinating figure of Philip Hiss III who moved to the beach community in 1948 and became a major figure in the community. He was chair of its education department (which commissioned Paul Rudolph to design two high schools) and a developer of the modernist community Lido Shores. The Foundation is hoping to make their week an annual affair and the area has the modern assets to make it work.
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Deborah Berke, SHoP, Tod Williams Billie Tsien to compete for new Cummins’ Indianapolis headquarters

Engine manufacturer Cummins Corporation announced plans for a new regional headquarters in Indianapolis Monday, but the Columbus, Indiana–based Fortune 500 company won’t look to local design talent to lead the project. Instead, three of the country's leading names—all based in New York City—will compete for the project. Three New York–based design firms will compete to build the new headquarters, which will be on the site of the former Market Square Arena in downtown Indianapolis: Deborah Berke PartnersSHoP Architects, and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Cummins hasn’t released any design specifications for the $30 million building, but the company has a history of pursuing striking architecture. Its foundation arm has contributed to the creation and preservation of iconic modernist structures in Columbus, Indiana, including the Miller House, which was designed collaboratively by Eero Saarinen, Dan Kiley, and Alexander Girard. Market Square Arena was demolished in 2001, but only recently have developers begun to fill in the vacant land. Cummins is expected to select a winning design this September.
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Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House is 40! Celebrate With These 12 Amazing Photos

A big “Happy 40th Birthday” goes out to the Sydney Opera House this year, which is still looking good in its middle age. Completed by Danish architect and Pritzker Prize–winner, Jørn Utzon, in 1973, the iconic performing arts center is now an internationally renowned late modernist architectural marvel. Originally, when Utzon entered the 1956 New South Wales Government sponsored competition to envision two performance halls on the Sydney Harbor, his design was discarded. However, his “entry created great community interest” and the jury was persuaded to choose him as the sole architect in the ambitious project. Utzon received the Pritzker Prize in 2003 and the building made the World Heritage List in 2007. The architect died one year later in Copenhagen but his vision lives on. Against a Sydney Harbor backdrop, the Sydney Opera House has become a graceful, yet dynamic symbol of Australia.
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Landmark Aluminaire House Seeks a Home

The landmark Aluminaire House is homeless yet again. The situation is not so out of the ordinary, however, as preservationists and communities have recently been confronted with the futures of these pioneering modernist structures. In this particular battle, a team of architects is hoping to relocate the historic house, which has already been disassembled and rebuilt three times, to a vacant lot in Sunnyside Gardens, a landmarked district in Queens. The proposal to reassemble the house as part of a low-rise residential development at 39th Avenue and 50th Street is facing uncertainty from residents who would prefer the site be turned into a community park. Architects A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey designed Aluminaire as a case study in 1931. Constructed of donated materials and built in ten days, the first all-metal, prefabricated house in the country debuted at the Allied Arts and Industry and Architectural League Exhibition. Subsequently, the house was sold to architect Wallace K. Harrison who disassembled and moved it to Long Island. New York Institute of Technology then reassembled the structure on its campus, which has since closed, leaving the structure to the Aluminaire House Foundation, which has disassembled and stored it. The Foundation now seeks a low-rise, high-density New York neighborhood to display the building as it was initially intended – as a low cost urban home prototype. Residents are concerned that the house’s design does not belong with the area’s traditional brick housing scheme. Still, Sunnyside Gardens and Aluminaire have a history together—they were both featured in a 1932 MoMA modern architecture exhibit. Reconstructing the house in Sunnyside would actually place Aluminaire within its planned context. The project embarked on its lengthy journey through the public approval process at Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee meeting last month. The foundation is scheduled to present to the commission in September. For now, the house is in storage.