The noted and influential Los Angeles artist Ed Moses has passed away. A fixture on the L.A. art and architecture scene for over 70 years, Moses died of natural causes at his Venice, California home at the age of 91 on Wednesday, January 17, 2018. Moses was widely-celebrated for his ever-changing and provocative style of painting and was well-known among the L.A. architects of the 1970s and 1980s who gravitated toward the city’s then-burgeoning visual arts scene. Moses was also member of the so-called “Cool School” group of artists, a motley mix of contemporary visual artists that took root in the 1950s in L.A. and set a trailblazing path in the realm of Pop Art. The group was heavily associated with Ferus Gallery in L.A. and included Craig Kauffman, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Edward Kienholz, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, John Altoon and Wallace Berman among its members. Moses was also a mentor and friend to architect Frank Gehry, who told The Los Angeles Times, “He opened a lot of doors for me, doors of thinking, to a way of looking at life, of thinking about work and creativity and freedom and expressing oneself—taking chances.” Gehry added, “He was the first person that was in that world that sort of took me under his wing. He was very supportive. I think he influenced others by his sense of freedom, his personality, his willingness to step into the unknown. He epitomized that … I think of him as my north star.” Moses is survived by his wife, Avilda, his sons Cedd and Andy, daughters-in-law Pamela and Kelly, and grandchildren Maxwell and Violette.
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Latvian-American modernist architect Gunnar Birkerts died at the age of 92 on August 15, just as his legacy is beginning to be reevaluated by contemporary architects and historians alike. Based in the Detroit area for over 40 years, Birkerts designed distinctive buildings in the central United States and taught studios and seminars as a professor at the University of Michigan. His work was characterized by an experimental attitude toward materials, an intuitive approach to space planning, and an uncommon keenness for innovation in the use of daylight. Riga, Latvia’s National Library of Latvia (NLL), Birkerts’s last and greatest building, was completed in 2014 after about 25 years of work on the project. The NLL is a marvelous culmination of his career. Its completion was doubly special because Birkerts—born in Riga and the son of Latvian folklorists Peteris and Merija Shop Birkerts—had long been committed to the maintenance of his nation’s cultural heritage. Birkerts’s renown peaked between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s, when he completed a group of buildings that broke open the increasingly stale forms and material palette of modern architecture. These buildings diffused light on matte surfaces or refracted it from polished materials to reduce the glare that too often plagues sheer glass buildings. Birkerts was one of many “displaced persons” who arrived in the U.S. after World War II. He emigrated here after an architectural education at the Technische Hochschule Stuttgart, in Germany, and eventually settled in the Detroit area. Birkerts worked for Eero Saarinen in the early 1950s, as his firm was developing a laboratory-like working method driven by model building and materials testing. He later left the Saarinen office for Minoru Yamasaki’s—also in the Detroit area—where he contributed to that firm’s decorative embellishment of modernism. He often cited Eero and “Yama” as the two most profound influences on his approach to architecture. He left Yamasaki and formed a partnership with Frank Straub in 1962, then founded his independent firm Gunnar Birkerts & Associates in 1964. Even after most of his former colleagues at the Saarinen office—Kevin Roche, César Pelli, and Robert Venturi, among others—had departed for more cosmopolitan locales on the East and West coasts, Birkerts stayed in Detroit because he wanted to remain independent of any particular cadre or school. This individualist spirit was Birkerts’s key bequest to the generation of architecture students and office associates he guided. Because of his individualism, Birkerts was perfectly suited to the Detroit area, with its history of tinkerers, innovators, and entrepreneurs. “We may have been building Ferraris,” Birkerts said in a 2015 interview, “but we were doing it in a garage,” suggesting that the polished, industrial design–like aesthetic of his buildings was not mirrored in his office environment or working method. Indeed, in his later years, Birkerts expressed skepticism about the rising importance of digital design in architecture, believing that it distanced architects from the intuitive, the experimental, and the handmade. Loose sketching and conceptual metaphors occupied an increasingly central position in his creative process during his later years. These attitudes caused him to lose favor in the style- and technology-obsessed culture of the late 20th and early 21st century. Rebuffing the flamboyance of postmodernism and the structural exaggerations of High Tech, Birkerts spent those years laboring on several unrealized megaprojects in Italy, and on unjustly overlooked U.S. work including the Frank Lloyd Wright–infused Domino’s Farms development in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Later designs show Birkerts’s ability to deftly integrate motifs from the national romanticist and art nouveau buildings of his home city without descending into pastiche. Despite these unusual ingredients, he remained staunchly committed to modernism. But his was not the dogmatic International Style of earlier architects. Instead of codifying rules, Birkerts continued modernism’s intuitive tradition of individual expression. We can still learn much from his example.
Fred Koetter died August 21 in Boston, Massachusetts, after a long period of illness. Fred’s influence was widespread as the co-author of Collage City with Colin Rowe, as an award-winning architect and urbanist, as an educator for over six decades at Cornell and Harvard, and as the dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University from 1994 to 1998, where he spent over 20 years as a member of the faculty until his retirement in 2013. Fred’s intellectual trajectory moved from a rigorous formal approach cultivated as a graduate student at Cornell to the professional demands of turning those formal tropes into real places—sites for institutions, sensitive background buildings, and urban districts. His encyclopedic knowledge rivaled that of his mentor Rowe. Unlike Rowe’s elliptical peregrinations, Fred’s comments were more terse but equally complex and layered. His projective vision and dry sense of humor made his insights uniquely surprising and always to the point. His most common critique, “Isn’t that just great,” could mean several different things depending on vocal inflection. He could equally wield a single word or add a building to a site so deftly that you would realize only much later that the comment or the architecture had completely changed the situation in which it was cast. As he said to me during a pilgrimage to see Piero della Francesca’s frescoes in Arezzo, Italy: “Look at that guy…no expression as he pierces that other guy with a spear. You really need to know what you’re doing to pull that off.” Fred had the ability to see large forces at work and to distill them into precise, concentrated, and memorable architectural solutions. Born and raised in Montana, Fred’s vision of the city remained an apparition of promise—a dynamic ensemble of peoples, histories, and unpredictable forces, which never failed to fascinate. The office and the studio culture he nourished were similarly dynamic—rambling improvisations, Popperian dialogues, that commenced between the two of us but were gradually ceded to the students as they groped their way through complex urban problems, found their own voices, reaching a broad audience of critics, professionals, and civic leaders. As Fred memorably put it to a class late one night in the streets of Helsinki: in architecture, “you have to walk your pet goldfish even when you are underwater.” When I started teaching with him 20 years ago, his work with his partner Susie Kim was expanding into larger urban projects. The globalization of the world’s economy presaged architecture’s constructive possibilities and its destabilizing effects on historic cities, ecosystems, and cultures. The more conventional notion of “place” ceased to suffice, as he and Susie chased camels across the deserts outside Cairo, saw their City Hall outside Tianjin, China, sold off to a multinational corporation at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and were asked to fully realize cities and complexes six months from the start of a handshake contract. Koetter Kim & Associates were early pioneers in the ecological development of large sites, and remained curious about the marriage between local cultures and global aspirational changes. Sometimes on his weekly circumnavigation of the globe, after stopping by his offices in London and Boston, Fred would appear at the Yale studios looking worn. But one glimpse at the work on an eager student’s desk, and he would pump full of life, sustained by the promise of young talent, a good conversation, and the prospect of drinks and debate at the nearby Irish bar where the best ideas would be fully fleshed out. Fred and Susie demonstrated sophistication and generosity in their inclusiveness and invention. They created the operatic atmosphere of the cities they designed in their home in Brookline. As a frequent guest, I came to expect a parade of writers, architects, artists, doctors, family members, and other strays walking into the living room, or engaging me in an impromptu conversation on the way to the shower. Fred’s mind was like a city, and he encouraged and orchestrated chaos, of which he was the eye of the storm of opinions and talent. In the classroom, Fred always advocated for the most challenging student concepts, often leaving me to figure out how these could possibly be resolved. His former partner told me that Fred would come chuckling into the office the following day. Fred was a trickster. He was deliberately trying to see if I could figure out the solution more than advocating that particular path himself. He always pushed his students and colleagues toward these greater challenges, encouraging us to step beyond our imaginations’ limits. Fred gently challenged colleagues and students to think things anew. One particular criticism he made in a final review comes to mind. While the circus of critics had spent the day acrobatically twisting and turning their rhetoric, Fred made one and only one final comment on the student’s proposal for a train station complex. He related how the designs of the 19th-century English train stations, nodes in a global system that connected numerous peoples and cultures from eastern China to London, “were not designed to show where you were, but where you were going.”
Paul Matt, Chairman of MATT Construction, the builder behind many of Southern California’s most iconic architectural works like the Louis Kahn–designed Salk Institute, the Philip Johnson–designed Crystal Cathedral, and the Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed Broad Museum, passed away earlier this month at age 85. In a memorial posted to MATT Construction’s website, Steve Matt, MATT CEO, said:
My father loved his work and the people he collaborated with. During his recent battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he continued to apply his amazing passion for building. All of us at MATT take great solace that he lived to see his dream fully realized … building a company of great builders and great people. We will proudly carry on his legacy.The senior Matt was born in Rome, New York in 1932 and earned a degree in structural engineering from Oregon Institute of Technology as a beneficiary of the G.I. Bill. Matt originally got his start in construction working as a welder on the Dalles Dam in Oregon outside of Portland. He later worked as a surveyor for the George A. Fuller Company, eventually landing the superintendent position for Kahn’s Salk Institute in 1962. During the course of the project, after the client scrapped the project in lieu of a complete re-design, Matt developed thoughtful approaches for constructing the complex’s iconic concrete formwork walls. The collaborative interchange between Matt, Kahn, and the client would go on to imbue Matt’s construction philosophy with the type of flexibility, ingenuity, and know-how necessary to cater to the needs of the era’s visionary architects. MATT Construction will hold a public celebration in honor of Paul later this month. See the MATT Construction website for more details.
Professor of Urban Studies and Architecture Hilary Ballon passed away on June 16, 2017, at age 61. Ballon, who taught at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, was also the deputy vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi. She was a part of the leadership team that oversaw development of the new campus while teaching classes on urbanism and architecture. Her academic research focused on cities and the intersection of architecture, politics, and social life, especially New York City. She was a curator of several exhibitions at the Skyscraper Museum and the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), with subjects including Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Moses, New York's Penn Station, and the city's grid system. "Hilary's exhibition and accompanying book on Robert Moses helped re-frame our understanding of modern urban planning," Stephen Petrus, a colleague of Ballon at MCNY, wrote in The New York Times. "Hilary was the rare scholar able to earn the respect of academic colleagues and appeal to the public at large." An author of several acclaimed architecture and urbanism books, Ballon published New York's Pennsylvania Stations, Louis Le Vau: Mazarin's College, Colbert's Revenge (winner of the Prix d'Academie from the Academie Francaise), and The Paris of Henri IV: Architecture and Urbanism, which won the Alice Davis Hitchcock Prize for the Most Distinguished Work in Architectural History and is widely cited as a model for its consideration of urban planning in relation to social, political, and economic forces. As Editor of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (JSAH), she developed a multimedia platform—including GIS and 3D models—with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Ballon served on the Board of Directors of the Museum of the City of New York, the Regional Plan Association, and the Skyscraper Museum, and was a member of the Advisory Council of the Princeton School of Architecture. She was a professor at Columbia University for 22 years, where she received various teaching awards, before joining NYU in 2007. According to the New York Times, Ballon is survived by her husband Orin Kramer, her children, Sophie and Charles, her brother Howard, and her sister Carla Gorrell. Funeral services will be held at Central Synagogue, 55th Street and Lexington Ave., on Monday, June 19th at 1pm.
Prolific midcentury modern architect William Krisel passed away this week at the age of 92. The architect is well-known for the multitudinous midcentury modern homes he designed across Southern California and the surrounding regions. Overall, Krisel is credited with designing over 40,000 homes, in addition to many other types of structures. He is also credited with helping to extend the benefits of mass-produced tract housing throughout the region and with attempting to tackle the stylistic, formal, and urban complexities of these new suburban environments. Krisel, who often worked with the Alexander Construction Company, built homes and condominiums in Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, as well. One of Krisel’s signature projects was the 90-unit Twin Palms development in Palm Springs, California, a tract home development made up of 1,600-square-foot post-and-beam style homes. According to the Krisel Connection site, the homes were designed with varied facades and rooflines, feature clerestory windows along most exposures, and are marked by exposed wood beam construction. Each 10,000-square-foot lot in the development was originally planted with a pair of palm trees—hence the development’s name—that complimented the home’s dramatic landscape designs, also envisioned by Krisel. Architectural historian Alan Hess marked Krisel’s passing in a Facebook post by calling Krisel “one of California's most influential and dedicated Modern architects” who “succeeded in bringing Modern planning and systems to… the design and construction of affordable single family homes for the general public.” With so many built commissions and a wide collection of preservation groups currently working to maintain and promote the architect’s works, it’s clear that Krisel succeeded in pioneering successful early mass housing experiments—the “Holy Grail” of modernism that according to Hess, greats like “Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, and Frank Lloyd Wright sought but never achieved.” Chris Menrad of the executive board of the Palm Springs Modern Committee told the Desert Sun that the architect’s dramatic stylistic vision propelled modern architecture forward. Menrad said, “The concept for offering the builder various roof lines—flat, gables, inverted butterfly or whatever—is something that he sort of brought to the table so that they could essentially have very similar floor plans but have homes that looked quite different.” “And that look, as well as that concept, did get adopted.” Krisel was the subject of a 2016 documentary on the architect’s work titled William Krisel, Architect. The film can be seen on Vimeo.
Bette Jane Cohen, director, producer, and editor of the 1990 film The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner, passed away on October 19, 2016, after a long illness. She was 62. Cohen’s work as a filmmaker and editor is widely regarded in architecture circles, with her work on Lautner’s architecture holding high prominence for its impact on the late architect’s nearly forgotten career. The film, produced during a nadir for the groundbreaking designer’s work, brought renewed attention and interest to Southern California’s midcentury modernist heritage years before appreciation for the era’s architectural works would begin to take off in earnest. Last year, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein Residence as a part of its permanent collection. Cohen’s documentary showcases the only instances of filmed interviews with the architect. Cohen had recently been traveling the world in support of an updated 25th anniver25th-anniversarythe film. Writing in 2001 for the John Lautner Foundation about her experience making the film, Cohen remarked on the sheer novelty of her focus on Lautner’s work, saying, “At the time I made the film, no books had been written on Lautner.” In the essay, Cohen recalls how she did not know Lautner when she started work on the film and had not yet asked permission to use his work in the movie, saying, “I went into Lautner's office with my proposal and introduced myself. I had never made a film before but I had been a film editor on many films. He said, ‘Well it seems like a worthwhile project and you seem tall enough to do it!’ That is how we started working together.” Cohen went on to, among other accomplishments, eventually serve as a founding member of the John Lautner Foundation Advisory Board. Services for Cohen were held Friday, October 21, 2016, at the Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles.
Austin Kelly, truly one of Los Angeles' most talented young architects, sadly passed away last month. He was only 49, and the cause of death was cancer. Kelly studied architecture at Yale and worked for Frank Israel, Frank Gehry, Eric Owen Moss, and DMJM/Keating before founding XTEN Architecture with his wife Monika Haefelfinger in 2000. The firm, based in Culver City, has been praised both for its sophisticated, origami-like forms and its brave interactions with nature, particularly in Southern California. XTEN is working on projects in Downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and as far away as Spain and Oman. Kelly also taught studios at SCI-Arc and at USC, and had a passion for teaching and mentorship. Explore some of XTEN's residences, below. (Click on thumbnail to begin slideshow.)