Posts tagged with "Obituary":

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American arts and architecture commissioner Anne Bass dies at 78

On April 1, Anne Bass, influential investor and patron of the arts, died at the age of 78. Bass famously commissioned the Bass House, one of the most ambitious residential designs by the modernist architect Paul Rudolph, completed in Fort Worth in 1976. According to Paper City Magazine, Anne and her husband Sid Bass commissioned Rudolph to design with little constraints other than its need to house a complex spatial program with a contemporary-art gallery for the couple’s extensive art collection. Aerial drawings of the house suggest its layout and dynamic cantilevers were inspired by Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark residence constructed four decades prior. Like other projects within Rudolph’s body of work, the home is divided into a dizzying 12 levels with 14 distinct ceiling heights, one of which defines the home’s entrance beneath a 40-foot-long cantilever. “The ideal of weight and counterweight, similar to the movement of the human body, became the genesis of the house,” Rudolph reportedly said of the design. Anne became a well-known figure in landscape architecture circles as well after commissioning Russell Page, the British gardener famously responsible for the landscaping of the Frick Museum, to design the sprawling grounds of the home. The Basses moved into a Rosario Candela-designed apartment building in New York City in the 1980s, where the haute couture Anne commissioned from the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, and Karl Lagerfeld is a part of the Metropolitan Museum collection. Rather than updating the apartment with modernist aesthetics as she had requested from Rudolph a decade prior, Bass called on legendary interior designer Mark Hampton to subtly update its 1920s detailing. “The vocabulary is traditional,” Anne explained, according to Vogue, “and it would have been a sin to remove it and make it totally modern.” Splitting her time between New York City and Fort Worth, Texas, Bass became publicly known as a philanthropist and champion of arts institutions including the New York City Ballet, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
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Moss, Mayne, Holl, and more remember the late Michael Sorkin

Michael Sorkin, inimitable scribe of the built environment and leading design mind, passed away in New York at age 71 last Thursday after contracting COVID-19. Survived by his wife Joan Copjec, Sorkin leaves behind an invaluable body of work, as the following tributes—from friends, colleagues, peers—readily acknowledge. This is the first of a two-part series.  Eric Owen Moss, principal, Eric Owen Moss Architects: Michael Sorkin, Where are you? In sight of the invisible. Loyal to that cause. Michael the critic. Michael the urbanist. Michael the politico polemicist. Michael the architect. Michael the sardonic humorist. Homeless and everywhere at home. Educating the educators. Colleague’s definition. Friend’s definition. Redrawing the criticalurbanistpolicoarchitecthumorist’s map. In perpetuity. So those in arrears can follow. If they can. Michael, where are you? Eating at Rosa? Laughing together at the prima ballerina and the qb? Someone once told us, “the sun also ariseth.” Just not today. Love you. Thom Mayne, founding partner, Morphosis Architects: In the eighties when we were all starving, Michael would put me up in his apartment where I would occupy an unforgettable Pesce Feltri chair while we talked late into the night about the subject we both loved—architecture. Exhausted and enfolded in the wings of that chair, I would sleep and then awaken as though no time had passed before we were at it again. His voice, then as it was yesterday, was incisive and fearless and sometimes stinging. He challenged me repeatedly with words I often didn’t want to hear. But I trusted him—his comments were clearly coming from a place of generosity and honesty and commitment to his project which was, finally, about social justice. He spoke of our awesome responsibilities, he spoke relentlessly of the power of architecture to change lives, he never stopped insisting that we must never stop fighting—for what we believed in, for a resistance to the status quo. His prodigious intelligence combined with his obvious love of humanity gave his words a rare gravitas and power. Finally, I ask myself why I am thinking about that room, that chair, that time, and I realize that it’s the gift of connection with people that made Michael so special. I’m thinking about that chair, those hours, that mind, and I, like every single person I’ve spoken with these last few days, am undone, feeling lost in a fog of sadness whose edges I can’t quite find. Steven Holl, principal, Steven Holl Architects: The shocking tragic news that Michael Sorkin was taken out by COVID-19 is unbelievable—tragically surreal. I had known Michael for over forty years. He invited me to an event on New Year’s Eve when I first arrived in New York City. He was a very rare architect of deep intellect and sharp wit. He was a champion of remarkable urban visions, and like our close friend Lebbeus Woods, he had fearless convictions about architecture. Michael was a character like Cervantes’s Don Quixote in the best way. I remember him saying, “I may not achieve all my visions, but I will die fighting for them.” Let’s pay attention to this tragic moment in humanity. As Malebranche said, “attention is the natural prayer of the soul.” Deborah Gans, founding principal, Gans Studio: I have been revisiting Michael’s responses to our troubles, both immediate and looming, Katrina and Jerusalem, climate change and global violence. There is always the razor-sharp text that lays bare difficult truths with their ethical demands and their physical consequences for architecture and planning. But then there is most often a drawn proposal, filled with exuberance, for our way out. He was this binary as a person—as committed to optimism as to confrontation with injustice, as joyful in his being, as devastating in his wit. Through his writing, we understand the precariousness of New Orleans; but then, through his inspired design for a neighborhood of inhabited levees, we are hopeful. In crystalline prose, he dispatches the ethical follies of the Israel-Palestinian impasse, with its competing narratives of suffering, ownership, environmental stewardship, holiness, diaspora, and nationality; but then, in signature pink plans, he imagines a green armature for a new Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and we ask ourselves, “Why not?” We need him now to help us unpack the rhetoric of an urbanism of distance and a city of essential services, and all the political dimensions of the plague that took him. We also need the plan that he would have given us to take back our cities after this deluge. Of that plan, we can be sure of one thing—it would be green, democratic, and joyful. Achva Benzinberg Stein, landscape architect: “Dahling,” Michael often said to me, “stop complaining and get to work.” And that is what he always did. Working at living as well as he could, teaching through mentoring, encouraging, opening our minds to new ideas and new ways to implement them, writing so very eloquently using his special language, laced with nuances, built with rich vocabulary, evidence to his immense knowledge in many fields. When we met once in 1994, most of his work at that time was speculative. But he trusted in the power of a good concept to convince people to act. If money was needed to pay his helpers who depended on him, there was no question of what was to be done. “Dahling, you will see everything will be covered sooner or later. The main thing is not to be afraid". And that was his way in design, playing with objects and forms and never afraid to try or to admit failure, inventing solutions to any problem that entered his mind with incredible humor, with a love of people, with deep concern but strong belief in the potential embedded in the collective, in the City. Farewell, my soul brother. I miss you terribly. Lesley Lokko, dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City University of New York: I met Michael Sorkin once, briefly, at a conference in Johannesburg exactly a decade ago. It was at one of those post-event dinners where everybody meets everybody and the conversation was brief. I was a bit starstruck. We didn't exchange contact details and were never in touch again. Nine years later, he put my name into the hat for a new dean at City College's Spitzer School of Architecture. In the three short months since I've been “on seat,” as we say in West Africa, we met a handful of times at faculty meetings or occasionally in the corridor. Three weeks ago, he quickly organized a dinner with the Israeli filmmaker, Amos Gitai, simply because I mentioned, in passing, that I was a huge fan of his work. “I'll get you guys together for dinner.” And he did. It was a brilliant dinner and Michael, although “off the wagon,” was a brilliant host. It was the last time I saw him. Through the tributes that have flooded into my inbox over the past few days, I now understand that generosity, acumen, and the immensely social ability to foster—and retain—the trust, affection, and respect of so many widely dispersed and unrelated people was not only his hallmark, it was the man. It's a cliché but, like most clichés, it's rooted in truth: You don't realize what you have until it's gone. Harriet Harris, dean of Pratt Institute School of Architecture: Thankfully, there are no easy words for a difficult man; one who challenged architects to grow some proverbial ethics, to stand up for others, to even stand up for themselves, and to resist the spatial crimes of unbridled neoliberalism. I will remember Michael because he gave me and others permission to use architecture as a form of poetically charged, social protest. Few educator-practitioners have done this, in truth. I will not forget the debt I owe him. His impatience with the debilitating conventions of the canon super-charged our conversations, disrupted debates, and endeared him to students who were otherwise pressed up against the electric fence that divides practice from academe. Michael insisted that there were 250 things we architects should all know about architecture, but perhaps there is only one thing to know about Michael: we are a much-diminished community without him. Mike Davis, writer, activist, and urban theorist: Michael Sorkin died today of coronavirus in an overcrowded hospital and it is a shattering loss. If some people consider me an “urban theorist” it’s only because in 1992 Michael conscripted me to write a chapter in his volume Variations in a Theme Park. His ideas have had an immense influence in shaping my own. He was by any measure the most important radical theorist of city life and architecture in the last half century. New Yorkers old enough to have been Village Voice readers in the 1980s when he was the paper’s architecture critic will never forget the war he waged against mega-developers and urban rapists like Donald Trump. Or how in Whitmanesque prose he weekly sang the ballad of New York’s unruly, democratic streets. At a time when postmodernists were throwing dirt over the corpse of the twentieth century, Michael was resurrecting the socialist dreams and libertarian utopias that were the original soul of architectural modernism. When the peoples’ city was under attack he was inevitably the first to march to the sound of the guns. And then…his devilish glee, his kindness, his soaring imagination, his 50,000 volts of creative energy…. I’m drowning my keyboard in tears. Michael, you rat, why did you go when we need you most? Dean MacCannell, emeritus professor, Environmental Design & Landscape Architecture, University of California, Davis: Death suddenly snatched Michael Sorkin away from us. But we can’t let him go. He was in our lives in too many ways. There are so many points of attachment no amount of time can undo them. Michael was a teacher to us all—not just those fortunate enough to be enrolled in his seminars and studios. When he asked me to work on problems I knew little about—as he often did—he always overlooked my ignorance and demanded that I work with him. He was an architect beyond architecture. He knew exactly how to create the openings that would draw me fully into his schemes. Michael was enormously learned across many fields and disciplines, but he wore his learning lightly and deployed it strategically with a wicked sense of humor. He wrote beautifully, giving form to our consciousness an instant in advance. Michael left behind his belief in the future promise of urban life together—creatively re-imagined. Unfinished work for the rest of us, and the necessary tools to do it: an unshakable confidence in humanity; in our capacity for self-governance; our ability to realize other enlightenment ideals; and to create a beautiful common ground. Thank you, Michael. We’ll try to do our best, but dammit, it would be so much easier if you were still here to guide us. Eyal Weizman, founding director of Forensic Architecture and professor of spatial and visual cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London: Locked down in stunned, helpless isolation with the exit sign switched off, I heard that Michael had died, without a warning or a goodbye. The contemporary prophet of public space and urban conviviality died in a hospital—one of the last places where physical proximity is still possible, indeed, unavoidable. The virus diagrams the kind of social interaction that Michael championed in a vibrant city that had now nearly totally closed down, the price of human contact having become too high. On the evening when the horrible message arrived, the people of our London neighborhood, seeking some form of communion, stood each at their window to clap for the medical workers like those who were by Michael’s side in his last days, risking their lives to try to save his and ours. Michael was our family friend—Alma, my daughter, was spoiled being his goddaughter—and so we were at our window, simultaneously sobbing, clapping, and hitting pots with wooden spoons, giving Michael the send-off we thought he’d appreciate. The rest of the mourning must be done in isolation—and my heart goes to Joan who cannot benefit from the proximity of those that loved them dearly. Michael was also my architectural godfather. In a number of small but crucially corrective interventions, he put me on my path. He read my books when they were still drafts, giving comments, helping find titles and publishers. Only a few weeks ago he took the time to campaign for me when I was not allowed to travel to the United States, just as he often did for others less privileged. We met in 1994, when, as a young admiring student at the Architectural Association (AA), I was one of those campaigning for him to be the new director of the school. When Michael finally won the vote and got the post, he decided to decline it, opting instead to pursue his own singular path: he set up his studio; founded the research organization Terreform and the publishing imprint UR (Urban Research); and became the Director of Graduate Design at the City College, where he was Distinguished Professor. In short, he constructed on his own a polymorphous entity through which to realize various aspects of his wide urban visions. At the same time, he continued to advocate his ideas in a stream of essays and books, and to sketch them in numerous visionary schemes and drawings. (Many of the latter are still unpublished, but Joan assures me that they will be coming out soon.) Drawing on the vocabulary of 1970s New York activism, he expanded the spectrum of architectural and urban action: sit-ins, town-hall-meetings, petitions, appeals, the writing of codes and bills of rights. Learning from his struggles with the kind of New York developers that now run the United States, he brought his sense of urban justice, and feisty activism to Palestine, Northern-Ireland, and the U.S.-Mexico border. Since architecture was part of the problem, it owed a certain debt, and Michael encouraged architects to pay up by inventing solutions. In 1998, an impish trickster, Michael seduced a group of Palestinian and Israeli architects and other intellectuals to a conference on occupied and segregated Jerusalem at a lake-side villa in Bellagio, Italy. It was here that I first met Suad Amiry, Rashid Khalidi, Omar Yusuf, and Ariella Azoulay. We listened together as Michael insisted, more optimistically than most of us, that we could use architecture to do something about this injustice, although he understood that, by itself, unaccompanied by the fundamental political changes we must all struggle for, architecture could do very little. His subsequent book projects on Palestine—The Next Jerusalem, Against the Wall, and Open Gaza—demonstrate what he meant. He was right, at a time when the grip of architecture tightens all around us, when the builders of walls, towers, and digital surveillance systems are in charge, and when authoritarianism is using the global health emergency to encroach on our civil liberties—we all need to channel something of Michael and continue the fight. He will now bring his to gods and angels. Go on Michael, give them hell! Andrew Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University: When I moved to New York in the late eighties, I got into the habit of seeing the city through Michael’s eyes, and I suppose I always will. Already a unique kind of critic, he then turned into a doer, which I especially admired. We worked together in various ways, but most memorably on two competition juries. The first was for a Public Space project associated with the Atlanta Olympics. The aggressive charm with which Michael lobbied fellow jury members on behalf of his picks won me over. I became his willing accomplice, and we went all in for the most audacious entries, knowing full well that, in the real world, the odds of them being greenlighted were slim. Many years later, we both had the idea, independently, of mounting an alternative to the competition for the proposed Guggenheim Helsinki, and so we joined forces to see it through. In sheer expenditure by firms all over the world, the official competition was the most labor-intensive and costly ever seen. A true bonfire of the vanities. Ours was run on a budget of five thousand euros and operated more like a think tank for ideas for infusing arts and urbanism. The whole thing brought out the best in Michael—his fierce distaste for architectural elitism, his appetite for popular quality, his spontaneous fellow-feeling, and, yes, his legendary sense of mischief, now so sadly extinguished. Daniel Monk, George R. and Myra T. Cooley chair in peace and conflict studies at Colgate University: When Michael Sorkin died last week, he left behind the draft of a work—a soon-to-be published volume of essays in honor of Mike Davis—that we had been editing together. In it, Michael records his own first encounters with the national mall in Washington, D.C. In these memories of “the American agora,” he presents the immanent logic of the mall’s development, amounting to a perpetual betrayal of its promise. If, as so many others have already noted, Michael could always adopt the standpoint of hope, good humor, and mischief in the face of despair, this is because he knew that it is precisely in broken promises that a regulative ideal—the demand for political freedom he always championed—was being kept alive, despite our collective efforts to close our eyes and pretend otherwise. Charles Waldheim, John E. Irving professor of landscape architecture at Harvard's Graduate School of Design: I was fortunate to know Michael Sorkin as a public intellectual, as a personal role model, and as a friend. His loss leaves an enormous void in the heart of the city and in those of us who have committed our lives to understanding it. Michael brought a journalist’s eye and a critic’s wry wit to writing about the city, describing it as a collective social construct and a set of lived experiences. His insightful prose cut through layers of accumulated capital, both economic and cultural. His wildly imaginative design propositions for intervening in the city double as a form of cultural criticism, revealing the archeology of power structures, class construction, and collective resistance. Most contemporary discourse on the design of the city has atrophied into one of two mutually exclusive and ultimately inadequate narratives. On the one hand, our discussions of the city devolve into an exclusive preoccupation with policy, participation, and governance as disconnected from its spatial and cultural contexts. On the other hand, our accounts are equally often constrained to the description of individual sites, projects, and protagonists as architectural singularities lacking any meaningful connection to the collective. Describing the city as a collective cultural project was Michael Sorkin’s great gift to us. Who among us will take up that project now?
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In tribute to Michael McKinnell, the Heroic architect behind Boston City Hall

On Friday, March 27, British-American architect Noel Michael McKinnell died of pneumonia after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 84. McKinnell, who was born in Manchester, England, received his initial architecture training at the city university, first traveled to the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship. He studied for his master’s in architecture at Columbia University, which he completed in 1960. At Columbia, he encountered the German architect Gerhard Kallmann, who would soon become a mentor figure. After hearing about a public competition to design a new city hall for Boston, the pair developed a design that drew on elements of the contemporaneous Brutalist movement. They were announced the winners and opened a Boston office in 1962. Their joint practice continues to this day, with a rich portfolio of largely institutional buildings. Yet the firm—and McKinnell—remains associated with Boston City Hall, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year. The following tribute reflects on McKinnell’s complex relationship to the building.  We first met Michael McKinnell and Gerhard Kallmann in 2007 at the outset of the Heroic project, our effort to document Boston’s late twentieth-century concrete buildings, which had become largely unloved. At the time, Boston City Hall was broadly vilified, dismissed as obsolete, and in danger of being demolished. Even in such a moment of threat, Michael was surprisingly open to the idea of his building changing. Far from upholding the original design as a masterwork fixed in time, he explained to us that he felt it needed “younger ideas” and that whatever modifications were in store for its future, they should be “bold and self-confident.” Younger ideas were part of his thinking from the very start. When he and Gerhard won the competition among 256 entries, Michael was only 26 years old—landing perhaps the most important public commission of the era. Later, as the world was exploding in the protests and civic unrest of the 1960s, this fearless young man explained the design for its enormous lobby to a reluctant City Council as an ideal setting for the democratic staging of dissent. Naive or not in his political idealism, to him it was always the “people’s building.” To us, Boston City Hall reflected the era’s aspirations to invest in the civic realm and the desire to represent a new political order for a New Boston. Michael and Gerhard sought to ingrain these ideals into the building’s DNA, embedding their faith in public life into the matter of its concrete. It would be a framework open to change, as they later wrote, a “robust armature” meant to “engage successive generations of the citizenry in [its] embellishment, decoration, and adornment.” Our relationship with Michael, which began with distant admiration, grew over a dozen years into friendship. We interviewed him multiple times, gaining a deeper understanding of his work and personality. Starting as an exhibition and later forming a book, we had originally conceived of the Heroic project as a way to recast the public conversation surrounding concrete architecture. In large part because of Michael, the center of these efforts soon shifted from documenting buildings to preserving the voices of those who designed them and the civic aspirations that shaped them—a legacy of ideals rather than a mere history of matter. Those same dozen years also allowed us to witness a transfiguration in Michael. While we came to know him late in his life, we most often talked about the beginning of his career, before he and Gerhard had fully formalized their shared practice which produced distinguished buildings across decades. He easily re-inhabited that youthful vision—in our eyes, he only got younger as we spoke candidly about his early principles and failures. Boston City Hall itself underwent a similar transformation. Endangered by one mayor in the early 2000s, we watched with admiration as the building was being feted by another on its fiftieth anniversary in 2019. The event echoed with Michael’s rousing words, delivered in that same enormous lobby, about his undiminished hopes for City Hall’s future. But it was Michael’s own humor that reminded us of the fragility of modernist voices like his, and of their need to be heard again. When the Getty Foundation selected Boston City Hall for a prestigious grant to prepare a conservation management plan (or CMP), Michael was quick to congratulate the team, and then quipped: “I am now in search of a CMP for myself.” Michael always seemed keenly aware of how the legacies of people, ideas, and buildings were interwoven in time. His final comment in the Heroic interview was on the aspirations of the era to make “something that would endure,” and of the hubris of imagining Boston City Hall as worthy of becoming a ruin in five hundred years. “The making of architecture is imbued with hubris,” he said, “because we challenge our own mortality.” In City Hall, we recognized, he had challenged his. If the building lasted—if the hopes cast into its concrete could be fully realized—so would he. Warm and gregarious, fascinating and funny, incisive and generous, Michael’s reminiscences were always imbued with meaning. One joyful highlight was a lunch he and his wife Stephanie Mallis invited us to in their Rockport home in 2018, accompanied by the architecture critic Robert Campbell. Sitting with a distant view of the ocean, we shared stories and toasted to lost colleagues over the course of four hours on a beautiful summer Tuesday. The camaraderie, too, seemed like it could go on forever. Noel Michael McKinnell was born on Christmas Day in 1935 and passed away last Friday afternoon at the age of 84. Through our friendship with him, what began as a fascination with a past era became a commitment to transmit a living set of ideas. We labeled them “heroic” for their civic aspiration, and as a way of acknowledging the hubris that characterized so many of those ambitions and the figures who advocated for them. But Michael’s lofty ideals were always tempered by his youthful energy and his mischievous sense of humor. If we ever got too serious, he liked to rib us a little. With a glint in his eye, he would delight in proclaiming: “They used to call me Brutalist. Now I say ‘I’m Heroic!’” Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, and Mark Pasnik are authors of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, published by The Monacelli Press in 2015. Grimley and Pasnik are principals at the architecture and design firm OverUnder. Kubo is an assistant professor at the University of Houston.
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Michael Sorkin passes away after contracting coronavirus

Michael Sorkin, the architect, urbanist, theorist, author, and director emeritus of Graduate Urban Design Program of the City College of New York (CCNY), has passed away after contracting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). His death was confirmed by fellow CCNY staff and unfortunately marks what could be the first U.S. loss of life from the pandemic in the architecture world. Sorkin was born in 1948 in Washington, D.C., and went on to receive a bachelor’s from the University of Chicago in 1970 and a Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974. Michael Sorkin Studio was formed in the 1980s in New York City, and in 2005, Sorkin founded the nonprofit Terreform to further urban research. Other than the research and built projects Sorkin’s studios produced (most recently Michael Sorkin Studio was a finalist in the 2019 Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC competition), Sorkin was perhaps most known broadly for his prolific writing. Since the 1980s, when Sorkin was the architecture critic for the Village Voice, he contributed critiques, opinion pieces, urbanist musings, and more to numerous outlets including The Architectural Review, Architectural Record, The Nation, and AN, among others. His contributions as an editor are too numerous to list in full, and last year the AIA awarded Sorkin the 2019 Collaborative Achievement Award for his 40-plus years of helping to diversify the field of design. This is breaking news, and AN will follow this announcement with a full obituary in the coming days.
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Peter Cook remembers Robert Maxwell

Robert Maxwell, former Princeton dean of architecture, passed away on January 2 of this year. Below, Peter Cook offers his remembrances of his late friend and colleague. Robert “Bob” Maxwell was one of the people you listened to. He was a survivor of the mythical “Liverpool syndrome” who came down to revitalize the self-satisfied London scene in the late 1950s (along with James Stirling, Colin Rowe, and Thomas “Sam” Stevens), working first for the London County Council (LCC) and then in both practice and academe. While at the LCC, Bob was the design architect for the revision of the north and south sides of the Royal Festival Hall—those most visible to the public. He joined the office of Douglas Stephen, which also included Kenneth Frampton, Elia Zenghelis, Panos Koulermos, Stephen Gage, and others. This became a pivotal spot in the territory between building and academe. Bob taught brilliantly at the Architectural Association (AA) and then at the Bartlett, becoming a beacon of discussion about design. We at the AA would regularly bring him over from the Bartlett to take part in reviews, with Cedric Price as his sparring partner. Bob always brought a rounded perspective to the discussion without being too soft. He was equally a friend and supporter of both Colin Rowe and Reyner Banham, which sometimes put him in a curious position of having to defend the reputation of the one against the other (for they could not stand each other). I was able to witness his obvious lightness of being when he married his second wife, Celia Scott, who had studied under him at the Bartlett—a wise and creative woman who has become a significant portrait sculptor. After being exposed to Princeton, his tastes in architecture did seem to shift in favor of postmodernism for a while, which threw us somewhat, since the AA had successfully resisted it in the 1980s. His return to the AA after Princeton as a guru and link to real architecture was appreciated by all. When I went to sort out the Bartlett, it was, in a sense, to reopen the breadth of conversation about design that had been forgotten there. He was a loveable man.
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Vittorio Gregotti’s death marked the end of an era

Vittorio Gregotti’s passing on the 15th of March truly marks the end of an era. Gregotti is considered by many to be an outstanding figure whose career profoundly transformed the architectural practice in Italy and beyond. Known for his stern commitment to modernism, Gregotti decried the profession’s downward slide into frivolity. The mantra “form follows function” had lost, according to Gregotti, all utility: The market became for all practical purposes the substitute for function. This would lead to the corruption of the design process itself, bringing Gregotti to famously declare in 2008 that the time had come for “the end of design.” Nonetheless, in his own practice, Gregotti remained true to his beliefs, succeeding in culling major architectural and urban design commissions throughout Europe and Asia. Vittorio Gregotti’s reputation reached well beyond architecture—he was also a respected art theorist, editor, curator, and teacher. Gregotti’s interests led him on an intellectual trajectory that presents some contradictions however, at least to the extent that his convictions on architecture didn’t necessarily line up with his broader view on art culture. Gregotti, I would argue, benefited from his close contacts with two intellectual juggernauts of his day, Umberto Eco and Manfredo Tafuri. The first, a noted philosopher, semiologist, and writer, the latter the Marxist architectural historian and theorist. Umberto Eco’s influence on Gregotti in the mid-sixties helped shape the architect’s view on art theory, design, and communications. Manfredo Tafuri, in his assessment of Gregotti a decade later, attempted to expurgate these earlier mediatic dalliances in order to cement Gregotti’s position as one of the forerunners of a rigorous urban scale architectural practice. From my perspective, the 1964 Milan Triennale Tempo Libero (Free Time), co-curated by Vittorio Gregotti and Umberto Eco represents a turning point in the history of experimental exhibitions, one of the rare joint endeavors between an architect and a philosopher. This odd pairing shares similarities with another strikingly revolutionary exhibition organized in the mid-eighties at the Pompidou Center in Paris, when Jean-Francois Lyotard and Thiery Chaput co-curated Les Immatériaux. To create this exhibition at the Triennale, Gregotti and Eco plumbed a brilliant network of artists, philosophers, writers, and theorists who loosely belonged to Gruppo 63. Libero Tempo explored the city and the countryside, green spaces, sport and spectacles, and presented prototypes for domestic and leisure products. The design for the exhibition formed a procession of galleries, and spread into large muraled rooms and led into a spectacular kaleidoscopic volume—a darkened trapezoidal space featuring a multitude of reflected projections. In this hall of prisms, a singular filmmaker, Tinto Brass, then a young upstart recently back from Paris and deeply impressed by the French nouvelle vague cinema, created two short films on Tempo Libero and Tempo del lavoro. The exhibition installed audio works, including musical performances in homage to James Joyce, composed by Luciano Berio. Joyce remained a key figure in Eco’s open work universe. Clearly Gregotti absorbed Eco’s critical understanding of how communications and the mass media were transforming society, along with the importance of bridging the sciences and the arts to better glimpse the future. Gregotti’s fluency with the vast creative world outside architecture, surely bolstered his role when he became president of the Venice Biennale in the mid-seventies. This open-mindedness doesn’t come across much in Gregotti’s curriculum, however. This probably has a lot to do with Manfredo Tafuri, who authored Vittorio Gregotti: Progetti e architetture for the Electa series on contemporary architecture in 1982. Tafuri’s introductory essay “Le avventure dell’oggetto: architetture di Vittorio Gregotti,” (roughly translated as “The adventures of the object: architectures of Vittorio Gregotti” ) went a long way to readdress the contradictions inherent in Gregotti’s practice. First, Tafuri sought to undercut the story of the 1964 Triennale, no doubt because of his general antipathy for Umberto Eco. One should by experience be cautious when translating Tafuri into English, but if I can take a venture, Tafuri literally calls out Eco’s Open Work text before launching into a particularly scathing assessment of the exhibition: “The public therefore bombarded and violated. The sadism that dribbles out…” Tafuri goes on to qualify his view: “At the triennial of 64 the work of the architects, of the semiologists, of the visual operators attempted an inter-coda operation in an attempt to dominate and possess in its entirety the mechanism of technological broadcasters, to build a language of plurality and ephemerality, to operate a multiversum without information centers.” Tafuri here is making a clean sweep of Gregotti’s involvement in this exhibition, considering it a failed attempt to properly harness the protocols of communication. But Tafuri then rescues Gregotti, by demonstrating that when the architect joins with Franco Purini in Palermo in 1970, he becomes transformed, moving ideologically towards anti-utopianism while simultaneously rejecting the facile seductions of the megastructure. Tafuri further declares that Gregotti moved empirically towards an introspective architecture about architecture and territory. Returning to the mysterious essay title concerning Gregotti’s practice, Tafuri states: “From the fetish of the object to the crisis of the object, therefore: the Gregottian arc of research recounts the stages in the historically marked process, experimenting with diverse formal organizations…” I am not suggesting that Gregotti was in any way naïve about how others might have shaped his past. There is no question in my mind that Gregotti welcomed Tafuri’s critical reinterpretation, including the strategic distancing of his contribution to the making of the 1964 Triennale. This shift in tendencies is apparent when Umberto Eco and Vittorio Gregotti meet amicably on the pages of Lotus in 2008; when the two now older and wiser men bring up the discussion on the end of design. While Eco deftly kills the idea of form follows function once and for all, Gregotti falls back on the sanctity of the decorative arts, explaining that design had succumbed to a false aesthetic premise to begin with. This time there was no real meeting of minds, merely a retrenchment on Gregotti’s part. Nonetheless, this does not dismiss the importance of their collaboration back in 1964, and the incredible vision that Eco and Gregotti succeeded in communicating. Would we all have such contradictions in our closets.
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Arts and architecture advocate Merry Norris dies

Merry Norris, an arts and architecture advocate based in Los Angeles, passed away on March 16. As one of the city’s first Cultural Affairs Commissioners when she was appointed in 1984, the first Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIA/LA), and a board member and an honorary trustee at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) since 1987, Norris was widely known throughout the city for her open embrace of all things groundbreaking and on the cutting edge. Like fellow philanthropists Eli Broad and Robert H. Ahmanson, Norris helped shaped the cultural identity of the young city by drawing connections between a wide range of creative fields. Hernán Díaz Alonso, the current Director of SCI-Arc, expressed in a press statement that “Merry Norris was in a league of her own,” and that “her generosity and passion for SCI-Arc and the arts was unparalleled. Over the years, her contributions have made her inseparable from what SCI-Arc is and will continue to be.” Faculty member and founder of Morphosis Thom Mayne said that Norris “approached everything with wonder and enthusiasm—she loved the world and the people in it,” and SCI-Arc Chairman of the Board of Trustees Kevin Ratner added that she was “a fixture of LA’s cultural fabric; a committed board member who connected the school to the greater arts community and whose strong opinion always mattered.” Norris was behind the enhancement of many of the city’s public spaces through the inclusion of work from local artists, such as those of Shepard Fairey and David Wisemen throughout the West Hollywood Library, and a large mural by Kenny Scharf adorning the sides of a parking garage for the Pasadena Museum of California Art. But she is perhaps most well known for her instrumental role in the founding and building of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), one of the most city’s most important art institutions, as well as the James Corner Field Operations-designed Tongva Park in Santa Monica. Her own home, perched above the Sunset Strip, was itself a veritable museum of contemporary art and design, according to an interview with Curbed, including furniture designed by Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne, as well as artwork by Ed Ruscha, Mark Bradford, and Jenny Holzer.
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Italian architect Vittorio Gregotti dies of coronavirus at 92

Vittorio Gregotti, the Italian urban planner, writer, and architect behind the Barcelona Olympic Stadium died today, Sunday, March 15, of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. He had developed pneumonia and passed aged 92 away in the San Giuseppe hospital in Milan, where his wife Marina Mazza is also being treated. Gregotti was born in Novara, east of Milan, in 1927. After graduating from the Politecnico di Milano in 1952 he worked for Italian architecture magazine Casabella, first as an editor from 1953-1955, then as editor-in-chief until 1963. Later he founded Gregotti Associati International in 1974, going on to design the Belém Cultural Center in Lisbon alongside architect Manuel Salgado, the Grand Theater of Provence in France, the Arcimboldi Opera Theater in Milan, and numerous stadia including the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa. As an urban planner, his studio worked on the Bicocca district of Milan and Pujiang New Town in Shanghai, China. Outside the world of design, Gregotti was a major cultural figure in the Italian Communist Party. Some of his most notable work, however, was a curator. In 1975 he curated Regarding the Stucky Mill (A proposito del Mulino Stucky) which explored options for abandoned granary mills on Venice's Giudecca, being hosted in the Magazzini del Sale alle Zattere. The exhibition focused on land art and architecture and signaled the first steps to be taken by La Biennale di Venezia towards an exhibition on architecture, being a precursor for the Venice Architecture Biennal, established in 1980. “I don’t really know why [they asked an architect to curate the Biennale]—it was very strange,” Gregotti told AN's editor-in-chief William Menking in 2010. “I agreed to do it only if we also had a small first exhibition of architecture. That was the condition because if not, well, I wasn’t going to do it. The biennale had never had an architecture section, so this would be the first one.” In 1976 Gregotti was appointed as Director of the Visual Arts Section of the Biennale and he titled that year’s Art Biennale Werkbund 1907. He expanded the festival to include the visual arts and architecture, hosting exhibitions in seven venues across Venice, with five being dedicated to architecture and design. Gregotti was also Director for the 1978 Biennale, Utopia and the Crisis of Anti-Nature: Architectural Intentions in Italy. “In 1976 we started a different approach to exhibiting architecture,” said Gregotti. “One part was a historical exhibition, and the other was an exhibition of modern architecture featuring a group of Europeans and Americans in order to compare the two different positions. It was the 23 time of the New York Five, and in Europe there were two or three different positions, such as Oswald Mathias Ungers in Germany, James Stirling in England, Serge Chermayeff and a few others.” In response to Gregotti’s death, fellow Italian architect Stefano Boeri in a post on Facebook described a “master of international architecture” who “created the story of our culture.” Dario Franceschini, Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage also added: “With deep sadness I learn of the disappearance of Professor Vittorio Gregotti. A great Italian architect and urban planner who has given prestige to our country in the world. I cling to the family on this sad day.”
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French architect and theorist Yona Friedman dies at 96

Yona Friedman, the Hungarian-born French architect and urban planner whose 1956 manifesto Mobile Architecture argued that the built environment, above anything else, should empower its inhabitants to take charge of their own individual destinies, has died at the age of 96. News of his passing was shared on his Instagram account. Born in Budapest in 1923 to a Jewish family, Friedman escaped persecution during World War II and resettled in Haifa, Israel. In 1957, Friedman emigrated to Paris at the invitation of Jean Prouvé, where he established the Groupe d’Études d’Architecture Mobile (GEAM) with Dutch architect Jan Trapman that same year. Friedman gained French citizenship nearly a decade later. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, an era when utopian visions were largely scoffed at or outright ignored by the greater architectural community, Friedman gained international prominence for his revolutionary-for-the-time meditations on architecture and social mobility. A proponent of self-sufficiency, Friedman rallied against rigidity and oppression within the built environment, arguing that a building’s users should be afforded freedom and flexibility that was unheard of at the time.
Springing from his manifesto, Friedman’s visionary concept for Ville Spatiale, the Spatial City, perhaps remains his best-known contribution to urban planning and architectural theory. The Spatial City envisioned dense, compact urban centers in which outward growth was limited and new development spanned over existing buildings as part of a larger superstructure. Friedman’s numerous drawings and visualizations of the Spatial City garnered considerable attention for their playfulness and neo-futuristic approach. The influence of the Spatial City is vast and can be seen in the works of Archigram, Superstudio, and countless other artists, thinkers, and convention-pushing design collectives. In the 1970s, the United Nations and UNESCO took note of Friedman's humanistic approach and commissioned him to assist with disaster-relief housing campaigns in Africa and India. Friedman’s work has shown at countless exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (2003, 2005, 2009) and Shanghai Biennale (2007), and his drawings are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and at Paris’s Centre Pompidou. He enjoyed a flurry of renewed interest in 1999 thanks to an exhibition held at the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam that recreated his Paris living room, along with the release of an accompanying monograph, Yona Friedman. Structures Serving the Unpredictable. In 2019, a public sculpture designed by Friedman titled Space-Chain Phantasy-Miami 2019, was unveiled at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Friedman received numerous accolades and awards for his contributions to architecture and urban planning including the Austrian Frederick Kiesler Prize in 2018. Early in his career, Friedman taught at a number of American universities including Harvard University, Columbia University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was also a prolific writer, publishing over 500 articles and several books over the course of his career, according to a biographic Dutch website that exhaustively documents Friedman's life, art, and teachings. His final published book was Yona Friedman. The Dilution of Architecture (2015). Friedman was married to French film editor Denise Charvein, whom he collaborated with closely over the course of his career. In the early 1960s, the duo collaborated on a series of animated films titled Stories of Africa that brought African folk tales to life. Charvein passed away in 2007. In a 2018 interview conducted at Milan Design Week, Friedman was asked if there were any projects that he would have liked to take on but didn't have the chance to. “The best expression for this is the everyday life, so my real project is to live tomorrow and I am repeating this project every day,” he responded.
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Adolfo Natalini's final vanishing act

The passing of Adolfo Natalini on January 23, 2020, brings to a close an incredibly productive career as an artist, an architect, and an educator. Together with Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, the two co-founded Superstudio, a “radical” design collective that attracted a major international following by defying the fundamental principles of post-war modern architecture. Arriving on the scene in December of 1966, Superstudio, together with Archizoom, invented inside the Jolly 2 gallery in Pistoia, Tuscany, a bright, colorful collection of full-scale domestic architecture, designs, furniture, lamps, and radio sets. Over time, Natalini’s career veered towards a full-fledged professional practice, undertaking large scale building projects, including libraries, university campuses, museums, urban housing complexes, and a monumental cemetery. From the start, and well into the late stages of his practice, Adolfo Natalini continued to challenge the modern architecture canon—though his turn towards a vernacular regional style by the late ’80s baffled many fans of the early Superstudio. Given the major impact Natalini Architects had in countries like Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, something also should be said about Natalini’s larger opus, but it helps to revisit Superstudio’s early groundbreaking projects first to see how things unfolded. Superstudio was built on its diverse interests. The members brought along with them many layers of expertise. Cristiano Toraldo di Francia was a professional photographer and keenly wired into cybernetic theory and passionate about nature; Gian Piero Frassinelli was a writer, studied anthropology, and was an expert in airbrush; Alessandro Poli (member from 1970 to 1972) shared his longstanding concern for social work and everyday society, and Roberto Magris was a gifted industrial designer. For his part, Natalini spent much of his time thinking about life, repeatedly interrogating the greater transcendent questions on the meaning of art, architecture, design, and their big and small roles in the shaping of society. Natalini wrote, “I became interested more in humanities (literature, philosophy, politics) than in science and technology; I owe more to painters and to poets than to architects.” Significantly, Natalini always had his black sketchbook in hand and was the one who drew out the ideas and composed the group’s many incredibly detailed storyboards. Storyboards for lamp fixtures, houses, for industrial objects, urban spaces, monuments, and city infrastructures. His drawings would also have lots of people, alone and in crowds, historic figures and street characters. It's been suggested Natalini thought through his sketches—and wrote like he was making geometrical patterns with his words. As Natalini noted in his autobiographical publication Four Sketchbooks (2015): “At times, I aligned words at night, on the typewriter, being more attentive to the kabbalistic geometry of the lines on the sheet of paper than to their meaning…  Natalini’s way of sketching-thinking-writing is evident in the first manifestation of Superarchitecture, the movement that launched Superstudio. The poster at the Jolly 2 gallery read: “the architecture of superproduction; superconsumption; superinduction to superconsumption; the supermarket, superman and super gas.” Supermarkets and super-grade gasoline became the iconographic lanterns of Natalini’s pop language. Natalini’s earlier career as a pop painter segued almost seamlessly into pop architect with this one exhibition. It was subsequently picked up by Ettore Sottsass Jr. and he delivered it, lock, stock and barrel to Sergio Cammilli, owner and driving force behind Poltronova, the fabled furniture and design manufacturer. Most of these early bold designs remain in production or have recently been revived. Superstudio continued to profane modernist architecture by putting out ever more stunning critiques, striking against the profession’s socially maladroit, poorly mass-produced, and increasingly environmentally destructive practices. The Continuous Monument (1969-1972), a sort of gigantic re-dimensioning of Superstudio’s earlier investigations into reductive furniture, like the Histograms (1969-70) began the barrage and continued into Twelve Ideal Cities (1971) that prognosed 12 different bleak futures for humankind. Their architecture culminated in Supersurface, presented in New York in 1972 for the MoMA exhibition Italy: the New Domestic Landscape, whose singular premise was to sweep aside architecture altogether replacing it with a universal communications network carpeted across the planet. Supersurface, in turn, provoked among the collective a rethinking of basically everything. Superstudio came to announce Five Fundamental Acts (1972-1973) introducing a “multiple” universe divided into primary categories: Life, Ceremony, Education, Love, and Death. With this last effort, Superstudio hit its tabula rasa, basically rendering themselves obsolete in the process. Superstudio would carry on through 1978, providing a deeply metaphysical reflection on the state of architecture through two projects: The Conscious of Zeno, and The Wife of Lot, commissioned by the curator Lara Vinca Masini for the Venice Bienniale held that same year. The Conscious of Zeno is tied to the painstaking anthropological studies conducted around the Tuscan countryside by students enrolled in Natalini’s university course Plastica Ornamentale, on the subject of ex-urban material culture. This work can be seen as both the progenitor and consequence of the Global Tools Radical school that tied together Radicals from Milan, Turin, Naples, and Florence. Conversely, The Wife of Lot dissolved a canonic architectural lineup of salt molds under a constant dribble of water. Arguably a second final ending. By this time, Natalini had begun working towards his independent architectural practice and his office grew over the next decade with a number of successful projects that made it to completion. In 1994 he began his collaboration with Corinne Schrauwen, a Dutch architect and office. If, in the ’80s projects like Bank of Alzata Brianza in Como, Italy, (with Gian Piero Frassinelli, 1983) suggested a banded modernist interpretation of an articulated but rational building block, a decade later in Holland his housing residences and village agglomerations would discard entirely rational forms, referencing instead much earlier stylistic sources and local city landmarks. In an interview I held with Natalini back in 2002, we discussed his early experiences in London, at Alvin Boyarsky’s International Institute of Design, and later at the AA. Natalini, commenting on Alvin Boyarsky, pointed out that he“[…]was a very open person, whose ideology was to have a great circus in which many different things could happen. He was a prophet of pluralism.” Natalini went on to add:
“In one of these summer sessions (1972) I organized a kind of Italian Festival, bringing in Paolo Deganello from Archizoom and Paolo de Rossi, part of the Strum group from Turin. Paolo Deganello and Paolo de Rossi were heavily involved in politics and they were explaining to the English students things that the students absolutely would not have understood, like the logic behind the extra-parliamentary movements Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio. One of the students who was very interested in this was Bernard Tschumi, and someone said, yes, he is the only Swiss communist around. The AA was a school I liked a lot and I made lots of friends there. I was friends with Rem Koolhaas, with Elia Zenghellis, and Leon Krier. And I also was a friend of Peter Cook.”
Natalini’s growing eclecticism belongs to this kind of pluralist worldview. Hans Ibelings, the Dutch architecture critic, considered Natalini’s architecture in the Netherlands back in 2004 for the Middelburg lecture, stating:
“Natalini does not seem to be searching for an archetypal simplicity but for simplicity as such. In this context the anthropological study Superstudio carried out in the 1970s at the University of Florence into simple implements, self-driven processes of change and extra-urban material cultures are relevant. These studies are an important link with the current architecture of Natalini. After he, along with the other members of Superstudio, had analyzed products and processes that lack a conscious act of designing, Natalini began to apply a comparable logic to his own work.”
History will be the judge, but Adolfo Natalini, with his work on the Uffizi Galleries and on the Museum of the Duomo has already secured his position among the canon of great Florentine architects. But that is not to say that Natalini hasn’t left us a couple of things still to ponder: Natalini, back in 2005, wrote: “My work aspires to a timeless normality. I would like to vanish into my buildings. I would wish that these buildings disappear into their city contexts and become a landscape where it’s possible to live peaceably.” I think Natalini has found his peace at last.
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Adolfo Natalini of Superstudio dies at 78

Adolfo Natalini, one of two founding members of the Italian avant-garde architecture firm Superstudio, died today at the age of 78 in Florence, Italy. Born in Pistoia, a picturesque town one hour northwest of Florence, Natalini graduated from the University of Florence in 1966 with an initial interest in painting. Shortly after graduating, however, his formative interactions with Cristiano Toraldo di Francia led to the two co-founding Superstudio and were later joined by Gian Piero Frassinelli, Alessandro Poli, and brothers Roberto and Alessandro Magris.
Skeptical of the conventions in the fields of architecture and design that had become widely accepted by the 1960s—corporate modernism, suburbia, and the rampant consumption of natural resources—Superstudio first made a name for itself by exhibiting subversive illustrations of alternate modes of planetary inhabitation. The firm’s renderings of impossibly-scaled mirrored pyramids and continuous gridded landscapes, devoid of the conveniences of modern-day life, were later referred to as “anti-architecture,” or what today might be described as an architecture of degrowth. Superstudio teamed up with other like-minded groups, including the Florence-based firm Archizoom Associati, to present their criticisms as far and as wide as possible for a firm practicing on the fringes of the field. After Superstudio dissolved in 1978 following a 12-year run, Natalini entered private practice the following year to apply his singular vision to built projects throughout Italy’s historic centers. His designs for the Edificio Per Office ad Alzate Brianza in Como (1978) and the Teatro della Compagnia in Florence (1987), for instance, exemplify the architect's ability to reframe pre-modern sites with bold postmodern design (often using grid designs first employed while as a member of Superstudio). He then became a full professor at his alma mater and established Natalini Architetti with Fabrizio Natalini in 1991, one of the last projects of which was the partial renovation of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence (2009).
The news of Natalini's death comes five months after news of Cristiano Toraldo di Francia's death in August 2019.
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Steven Holl remembers Antonio Monestiroli

On Dec 8, 2019, Antonio Monestiroli, the great Milanese architect, theorist, and teacher departed our world. Antonio, who I knew for 40 years, was a teacher with a deep knowledge of architecture. He was also a builder who realized several important works according to his deeply held principles…so very rare in our time. Recently the website Socks reviewed his design for Les Halles, Paris 1979. His brilliant entry to that competition shaped a great urban park, with the severity of the spirit of Mies, fused with a deep urban commitment. Antonio was a rare man of didactic clarity, followed by his many students. He had an elegant gravitas but with a sense of humor. In his book, The Metope and the Triglyph: Nine Lectures in Architecture (November 2005), Monestiroli lays out a clear reflection on the separation of nature, technique, and history in architecture. Architecture from nature was shown by Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp. Architecture grounded in history by the work of Adolf Loos. Architecture grounded in technique by the work of Mies van der Rohe. The famous casa dello studente in Chieti, a 1976 collaboration with Giorgo Grassi, or the Concorso per una piazza in Ancona, 1978, both in Italy, are examples of the inspiring uncompromising severity of his architecture. They stand among many other works in contrast to his gentle human nature as a teacher. Antonio was an inspiring example of uncompromising idealism in our time of commercial frivolity. He will be missed. The above article was also copublished by Domus.