Posts tagged with "Reviews":

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The mid-century fairy tales of Cinderella Homes

The Cinderella Homes of Jean Vandruff: Fairy Tale Tracts in the Suburbs By Chris Lukather $35.00 “Men are forever guests in the home no matter how much happiness they may find there,” famously stated Elsie de Wolfe, the American interior decorator often credited with founding interior design as a profession. In the early 20th century, de Wolfe’s thoughts on the importance of decoration established a framework that empowered women to consider how domestic interiors shaped and reflected feminine identity, both socially and psychologically. She believed that while men may build and decorate the house, it’s the woman’s personality that will always shine through—it’s the woman who makes a house a home.  A new book by California-based writer and publisher Chris Lukather, The Cinderella Homes of Jean Vandruff: Fairy Tale Tracts in the Suburbs, explores this complex relationship between women and domestic architecture. It tells the story of how one man, Jean Vandruff, dedicated his life to designing homes conceived around atomic age fantasies about housewives, who the homes’ advertisements called “modern Cinderellas.” The book echoes de Wolfe’s sentiment while painting a picture of the dramatic changes women began to face, both in the home and out, as the country progressed through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the growth of the American middle class, and, most importantly, the mass migration to the suburbs In 1954, seven years after the first Levittown, and many before Disneyland came to Southern California, Vandruff started designing and building communities of “storybook” tract homes in the image of a midcentury modern fairy tale. While typical tract developments were filling out landscapes across the country, they just as quickly entered the popular imagination, as, in the words of Malvina Reynolds’s 1962 song, “little boxes made of ticky tacky…little boxes all the same.”  In a catalog for the 2001–2002 exhibition held at the Brooklyn Museum, Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, the postwar single-family home was romanticized as, “a fairy-tale castle hidden away under a magic spell in a wilderness of identical streets curving past a series of identical, partially prefabricated wooden boxes.” Vandruff’s Cinderella Homes embraced this idealized notion of fairy-tale living but offered an alternative to the ubiquitous box housing that was popping up all over California. He designed ranch-style homes that didn’t shy away from color, ornamentation, or custom craftsmanship, all for a competitive price, and people camped out overnight to secure a model. Lukather’s book is the first to take a look at these homes through an in-depth collection of oral histories with the Vandruff family, Cinderella homeowners and realtors, as well as interviews and essays by Vandruff, who, at 96, is still thriving and telling tales by going door-to-door preaching the history of the 6,000 homes he created across California, Kansas, and Texas between 1950 and 1962.  The book is richly illustrated with original photographs, floorplans, and advertisements exhibiting the many variations of the ranch homes, which set Cinderellas apart from prefab war housing and other experiments of the time (Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House Program ran contemporaneously from 1945 to 1966). “I detested modern architecture in homes…so cold, rigid, simplistic, blah!” Vandruff wrote in a manifestolike list of key Cinderella features. “Architects hated Cinderellas,” he said.  Cinderellas featured high gabled entryways, large overhangs, Victorian gingerbread trim, and diamond-shaped windows with cartoonish, scalloped frames. Perhaps the most striking features of the original homes were their shake-shingle roofs and custom stone and brickwork, which flowed into the interior where a massive fireplace “anchored” the home. Vandruff cites traditional Swedish and Austrian homes as sources of ornamental inspiration.  The story of the Cinderella Home illuminates an era of U.S. history characterized by abundant self-indulgence and escapist material culture, an era when the home entered the consumer sphere as a mass-market commodity just like the automobile or the television set (which soon began to dictate the organization of a living room more so than the home builder themselves). It’s fitting that the first home opened in 1954 in Downey, California, where the first McDonald’s franchise opened a year prior.  The book displays a list of 50 architectural features originally printed in the Downey development’s brochures. Number 32 reads: “TV viewing directly from kitchens!” While the houses didn't have completely open plans, each Cinderella kitchen had a large window that looked out into the living quarters. The design feature was also heavily advertised for its other purpose: to maximize visual and verbal communication between wives and their husbands and children. For Vandruff, this was the most important design issue of all.  “This was key to a happy home. A kitchen-isolated wife is an unhappy wife…likely producing an unhappy family,” he wrote. “My constant thought was for the woman, the home-maker. Everything must be done to make her a fulfilled success.” It was, in fact, his wife Eleanor Vandruff, a former beauty queen, singer, and popular radio personality, who came up with the name Cinderella after she saw one of the first drawings and thought it to be fit for a princess.  Vandruff believed that setting women up for success (and, in turn, setting up the husband for success) meant creating spaces that appeared open and light-filled. In some models, you could stand in the front entryway and see all the way through to the back of the house. Vandruff wrote, “Wall mirrors and big clean windows added ‘space’ to any room, making it the opposite of a jail cell or dungeon,” a sentiment that anticipated the attitudes and feelings toward the home that would be put into words a few years later in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique from 1963, which dissected the psychology of the suburban housewife and ushered in the age of second-wave feminism.  Perhaps before Friedan’s book, women’s unhappiness with household drudgery was rarely discussed—it was “the problem that had no name.” But no one wants an unhappy wife. As Vandruff explained in his interview with the author, “I wanted to make a home for the woman of the household, since she spent the most time there…if she is happy, the home is probably happy…then you’re probably going to be happy too.” We now know that personal fulfillment for women involves far more than being able to watch TV while cleaning the kitchen. It is hard to theorize what life was actually like for the housewife in a Cinderella Home, as the book failed to include a single account of a female homemaker who occupied one of the tracts in such fraught times or even an account of a female homeowner today. While informative and aesthetically pleasing, the book, like the homes, was crafted entirely from a male perspective with the wife in mind—but how much was she involved?  That’s not to discredit Lukather’s important addition to the history of the rise of suburban life and the fantasy of the American Dream. Cinderella Homes, just as much as Levittown, embody postwar U.S. culture in all of its complexities—of course, the book wouldn't be complete without a chapter dedicated to Jean Vandruff’s years in the Air Force.  But just like the era itself, it’s hard not to think about something darker going on beneath the surface. Marshall Vandruff, Jean Vandruff’s son, fondly recalled memories of growing up in a Cinderella tract neighborhood and becoming “dangerously nostalgic” upon revisiting it for the book. In a way, the entire book is dangerously nostalgic. Lukather wants to tell the story of playful design, happy families, material abundance, and optimism, but only through the insight of the men who built and continue to surround themselves with the homes. What’s given less importance in the book is the atmosphere outside the home: the threat of nuclear danger, the ideological dynamic of the cold war, the uneven distribution of wealth, and rampant racism and sexism. The Cinderella Home lives magically outside of such realities. There is simply no room for those very real anxieties in the story’s fantastical fairy tale.  Leilah Stone is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.
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Diana Agrest explores geology through representation in Architecture of Nature: Nature of Architecture

Architecture of Nature: Nature of Architecture By Diana Agrest Applied Research + Design Publishing $49.95

“Representation, theater of life or mirror of the world.” Michel Foucault, The Order of Things 

Presented as a 9-by-11-inch hardbound volume of full-color drawings, this sumptuously produced book includes interviews and writings alongside Diana Agrest’s design research as demonstrated by the work of her M.Arch II students at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York City over a period of nine years.

Agrest is known for work that spans theoretical discourses in architecture, urbanism, semiotics, and gender. Her approach to semiotics has been neither purist nor essentialist; rather she takes a mediated view that argues that shifts in textual meaning are based on shifts in cultural context. In the 1970s and ’80s her view was also a kind of mediation between the Whites and the Grays, treating representation as a form of artifice, reflexively commenting on architecture’s inability to do more than this.

The Architecture of Nature exhibits (at first blush) a big pivot, with a new arena of investigation, if not perspectival view and methodology. The focus on nature, seen through geologic data (point clouds and weather data), is new to Agrest, yet the representations it produces are familiar as the aura and language of Cooper Union through multiple eras (under the leadership of Hejduk, Vidler, et al.).

If there’s a through line between Agrest’s early and late career, it rests here, in the primacy of (a particular type of) representation as the number one tool of architectural practice, with theory and building coming in a distant second and third. Less easy to appreciate is how this new territory relates to Agrest’s intellectual foundations in language, architecture, and urbanism.

The drawings make geologic space seductive, in an ambient way. The works are more diagrammatic than spatial, more planetary and notational than human. They work through abstraction; delamination of layers; and schematic, atmospheric sections producing geometrically complex artifacts that are difficult to apprehend, yet in their finest moments, verge on the mystical. In their elusive effects, they seem cultivated like an endangered species to demonstrate the Cooper design imaginary and unique skill of the architect in re-presenting (in this case) science to the world.

In an interview with Agrest, which forms some of the finest content of the book, art historian Caroline Jones and science historian Peter Galison suggest that the work exemplifies “an embrace of the constructed nature of the image and how it comes into being.” Jones then offers the following critique: “It’s a sort of nature without us, except that the drawing is completely human in the way it is conceived.” The paradox Jones points out is this: Whatever “nature” is, we’re part of it, made of it, embedded in it. “Yet we can only ‘get to it’—that is, produce it as some kind of object for contemplation—by modeling, by presenting, by analogy, by metaphor, by externalization. We are of course a part of it all. But we have to pretend we aren’t, just to be able to think about it.”

Agrest’s stated ambition is not to be metaphorical but rather to visualize space-time. Jones suggests that avoiding metaphor is not possible (and possibly not desirable), suggesting Donna Haraway’s notion of “witness” as a more apt concept to engender complex ideas of entanglement. Agrest responds by invoking the transdiscursive and then “the process by which knowledge builds at the boundary.” In ecology we call this ecotone, but here it seems like getting caught in the dialectic of Jones’s caution.

In his interview with Agrest, science historian D. Graham Burnett suggests the work is “best understood as a kind of cataloging of contemporary gestures in the direction of a program—call it the ‘neo-sublime.’ This new program trades heavily on the aesthetics of information. In these cases, what we stand before that occasions a moment of negatory vertigo is not a big cliff or a deep cave but a colossal mass of data.” Burnett’s point is a salient one that this reader wishes had been further explored by Agrest. It’s part of a discussion that’s been percolating.

The material would also be enriched had Agrest made connections between the work she’s known for and this more recent design research less tacit—for example, the ongoing investment in notational design. Or to articulate ideas of gender and nature (if they are indeed still important) in her pivot to investigations of nature. She presents a too-simple discussion of “nature-gendered-female” in the introduction, and there’s no evidence of this thread in the design research.

Is it too far a reach to suggest that for Agrest, nature is the new object of the gaze, the so-called “scene of history” that in her previous work referred to the city? It’s one way to interpret an interest in the geologic past. Shifting focus from urbanism, Agrest has set her gaze away from the city and toward nature, and geology in particular. So it might follow that her previous articulations of a street—“Street: A scene in movement. The street is the scene of struggle, of consumption, the scene of scenes; it is infinitely continuous, unlimited in the motion of objects, of gazes, of gestures. It is the scene of history”—are now being transmuted to the immersive experience of geologic, or deep time. However, this is pure conjecture, so the reader is left to wonder if Agrest intends reinvention, recalibration, or promotion. The decision to include the 1991 essay The Return of the Repressed: Nature seems designed to place a golden spike in the calendar, a moment at which she began investigating nature. The essay, however, adds little to the more nuanced discourses with Jones, Galison, and Burnett in the book.

Given Agrest’s commitment to the transdiscursive, especially in the context of a body of work premised on an engagement with nature, it’s curious that the discipline of landscape architecture bears no mention, and in particular, the topological work coming out of the ETH in Zurich under Christophe Girot, as well as the work of Bradley Cantrell at Harvard and more recently the University of Virginia. Or the burgeoning interest in geology over the last 10 years or so in architecture, including Stan Allen’s Landform Building and the work of Design Earth, to name a few. This absence of peer context suggests that the real context for the book is not so much contemporary discussions about nature, but rather the legacy of representational virtuosity associated with Cooper Union’s School of Architecture.

Cathryn Dwyre-Perry is a landscape architect, adjunct associate professor at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, and coprincipal of experimental design practice pneumastudio.

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Kenneth Frampton on the evolution of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute

The Evolution of a Building Complex: Louis I. Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies By Jeffry Kieffer Artifice $29.30 In spite of its title, this book is not exactly a reconstruction of the evolution of the Salk Institute from the time of Dr. Salk’s first meeting with Louis Kahn in 1959 to when the first scientists moved into the northernmost laboratory block lining the monumental plaza overlooking the ocean in 1966. This book may be seen as a polemical essay that seeks not only to refute the negative reception of Kahn’s work by established European critics like Colin Rowe, Reyner Banham, and Manfredo Tafuri, but also to challenge the notion that the French Enlightenment strongly influenced Kahn. This idea was hypothesized in the 1980s by a number of Italian scholars, such as Marcello Angrisani, whom I cited in my essay “Louis Kahn and the French Connection,” first published in Oppositions 22 in 1980. Despite acknowledging the influence of the French émigré architect Paul Cret, who was Kahn’s mentor at the University of Pennsylvania until the latter’s graduation in 1924, Jeffry Kieffer finds it necessary to insist that Kahn’s approach was not typological. This term references the abstract type-forms promulgated by J. N. L. Durand in his 19th-century treatise Précis des leçons d’architecture données á l’Ecole Polytechnique, which was destined to establish the compositional method of the École des Beaux-Arts, by which Cret had been formed. Cret attempted to transmit this thought process to his students, notwithstanding Kahn’s socially committed, anti-academic stance adopted during his collaboration with Oscar Stonorov at the time of the New Deal. Despite Kahn’s initial commitment to social housing, Kieffer insists that Kahn in his maturity was influenced, like Frank Lloyd Wright, by American transcendentalism, although he fails to observe how this preoccupation was also evident in the work of Buckminster Fuller, who influenced Kahn via Anne Tyng when the two designed the gargantuan, geodesic City Tower project of 1952–57. Further, Kieffer skips over not only the countervailing impact of Kahn’s sojourn at the American Academy in Rome from 1951 to 1952 but also the simultaneous publication on Kahn’s doorstep, as it were, of Emil Kaufmann’s Three Revolutionary Architects: Boullée, Ledoux, and Lequeu, issued by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia in 1952. Surely this work has to be one of the sources for Kahn’s hermeticism, more than Kieffer’s somewhat simplistic suggestion that there’s a link between an open Torah and the symmetrical plan of the Salk Institute, which comprises twin blocks on either side of an axial plaza facing the sea. If any part of Kahn’s Salk Institute proposal is hermetic, then it is surely his unrealized Meeting House complex, which seems to have been conceived by the architect as cryptically overcoming the split between C. P. Snow’s two cultures, i.e., the separate discourses of art and science—which may account for Kahn’s metaphorical treatment of the Meeting House as “a building wrapped in ruins.” Uncertain as to what might be the ultimate program for such a building, Kahn seems to have rung the exterior around its content—part lounge, part dining hall, part library, part theater—with all except this last being housed in orthogonal volumes. Kahn ostensibly modeled the theater, according to Kieffer, after Ledoux’s Besançon theater of 1775, but the theater associated with the Meeting House bears little resemblance to Ledoux’s form. Kieffer is at his best in his formal analysis of the Salk Institute, although even here the rigorous character of his analysis might have been aided by the support of annotated diagrams. Above all other considerations, Kieffer wants to convince us that Kahn’s constant preoccupation was to render every building as a transcendental light modulator, with light continually changing according to the movement of the sun. At the same time Kahn’s approach was often to assume an a priori geometrical gestalt as a point of departure, as in his 1959 First Unitarian Church in Rochester. His designs were also often inflected both tectonically and programmatically, as is evident from the folded-plate version of his long-span interstitial service floors set between the layered laboratories at Salk, a solution that was eventually abandoned in favor of Vierendeel trusses spanning across the labs. A similar inflection occurs with the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, of 1965–72, wherein cycloid pseudo-vaults span 100 feet as folded plates in such a way as to provide for both longitudinal pseudo-rooms and a transverse flexible loft space, thereby reconciling the inherent conflict between a museum conceived as an assembly of rooms and a museum conceived as open-ended space. Kenneth Frampton is the Ware Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.
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Martin Filler lyrically recounts the luminaries of modern architecture

Martin Filler's new book Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume III: From Antoni Gaudí to Maya Lin is as moving as the other two editions in the series: not only are his portraits individualized, but their particularities are given broad and vast depth in history. As Filler describes the Italian-born Latin American emigre Lina Bo Bardi’s writings, "they are anything but a dry educational treatise." This is equally true of this text. 

Filler has a literate writing style, smoothly telling stories about individuals both liked or strongly disparaged; Maya Lin is a benign favorite and Albert Speer an ominous criminal. The essays were originally written for The New York Review of Books where they found an apt home. Yet, for me, Filler's style could be better suited for creative literature because of the vivid word pictures he draws of individuals, their works, and the generalized historical fabrics in which they belong. 

On most of his critiques I am in agreement, but on Frank Gehry, I part ways. Filler is not uncritical but ends up agreeing with most of the press that Gehry is deservedly the most celebrated contemporary architect, except for his Seattle Museum of Pop Culture. I think that Gehry’s style is too peculiar and doesn’t fit into its siting, although the famous Guggenheim Bilbao is perfectly sited within the urban fabric, in my opinion. 

Filler becomes somewhat poetic when comparing Louis Kahn’s sculptural powers to Michaelangelo’s: both conceived that all forms are embedded within materials and receive their powerful force by coming into being through the artist’s touch. In the Kahn chapter, Filler also sees Kahn’s "irrepressible egotism" most obviously in his philandering personal life.

In dealing with his subjects Filler exhibits keen or probing observant insight. In the introduction, we find that Renzo Piano won his enviable commissions as much from his superbly able and talented skills as from his ability engaging to potential clients. Filler carefully weighs the religious, social, personal, aesthetic, and political strains of his subjects, so we get a crammed-full picture, a three-dimensional image of the individuals, like in Margot and Rudolf Wittkower’s Born Under Saturn.

When Filler takes on Edwin Lutyens as a figure equal in influence, although polar opposite in style, to Le Corbusier we get a sense of Filler's droll wit. He refers to Christopher Wren’s affecting Lutyens as a "Wrenaissance." In the midst of speaking on Wiener Werkstatte, he brings up Rafael Viñoly’s 432 Park's grid, remarking that it resembles a waste paper basket of Josef Hoffman. This is an essay in kitsch, says Filler.

Humor aside, Filler is poetically determined to bring out the breathtakingly serious gift that Frederick Law Olmsted gave to mankind in his designing such landscapes as Central Park and its slightly later progeny, Prospect Park, together with his partner, Calvert Vaux. Regardless of their being created in the 19th century, Filler says, they are ageless. This could be extended to Filler’s historical accounts.

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Are we all postmodernists now?

Revisiting Postmodernism Sir Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman RIBA Publishing $47.90 In their new, amply illustrated book, Revisiting Postmodernism, from RIBA publishing, architects Sir Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman construct a cross-generational account of postmodern architecture’s birth, evolution, and eventual decline in America and Europe, placing special emphasis on the movement’s development in their native UK in the 1980s, ’90s, and early 2000s. As the title suggests, the work revisits—and is thus a revision of—a well-known disciplinary narrative. Readers unfamiliar with the subject would do well to begin with first-wave accounts before engaging with Farrell and Furman’s somewhat idiosyncratic views—Charles Jencks’s Language of Postmodern Architecture, for example, or the more academic and comprehensive The History of Postmodern Architecture by Heinrich Klotz. From the start, Farrell and Furman exhibit a sincere enthusiasm for the works gathered in Revisiting Postmodernism, privileging careful, sensitive readings of mostly built individual projects over theoretical generalizations and broad cultural criticism. The works cited are almost entirely illustrated with brightly colored photographs, foregrounding the authors’ endorsement of postmodernism’s potential for populist appeal and mass communication, while affirming critical theorist Fredric Jameson’s assertion that “many are the postmodern buildings that seem to have been designed for photography…” What Farrell and Furman’s text offers is a charming and highly digestible breeze through a famously difficult and hotly contested series of interrelated developments in architectural aesthetics, art practice, academic pedagogy, and theories of city planning from the late 1960s to the present day. The authors present complementary accounts of postmodern architecture’s more than 50-year life cycle through an aggregation of loose chronological narratives, speculative asides, biographical anecdotes, and generous nods to a host of B-side projects and lesser-known offices. The text glosses over oft-recited narratives of competing factions (the Grays, the Whites, the Chicago Seven, and the Silvers) and the contentious positions of their critical/philosophical avatars (the phenomenological, semiotic, psychoanalytic, and Marxist rhetoric that marked academic discourse at that time), favoring the trajectories of projects and bodies of work. Revisiting Postmodernism’s unique contribution to a now-rapidly expanding collection of postwar alternative histories (see Jorge Otero-Pailos’s excellent Architecture’s Historical Turn) is its focus on the much-decried middle and late periods of the movement. This period, Farrell suggests, was ushered in by Paolo Portoghesi’s Venice Architecture Biennale in 1980, and while other critics view the 1980 biennale as the beginning of the end for the once-radical, ideologically charged trajectories of figures like Michael Graves, Aldo Rossi, Charles Moore, and Robert Venturi, Farrell declares it a “watershed.” By Farrell’s account, Portoghesi’s “Presence of the Past” set in motion two decades of unprecedented cultural and financial investment in a variety of interrelated postmodern styles. Indeed, both Farrell and Furman devote a great deal of their attention to the urban (at times, massively) scaled, public and corporately funded works by offices like Ricardo Bofill, CZWG, Richard Rogers, César Pelli, Helmut Jahn, Philip Johnson, and Graves. Farrell’s own giant-scale work from that period, such as his MI6 Building at Vauxhall Cross (1994) and Alban Gate in the City (1992), epitomize the marketability, populist agency, and aesthetic and material limits of high postmodern. Farrell and Furman avoid too-easy critiques of a corporately sanctioned, populist, historical (read: reactionary) architecture built in the wake of Reagan and Thatcher. Instead, they interpret the moment of MI6 and the pre-Disney work of Michael Graves as remarkable anomalies in the history of architecture and capitalism. As Furman writes: “Younger architects, critics and the public were blinded to the incredible opening up of the profession that it had brought about, to its transformation of how planners and architects related to the city, to history, to heritage and the contemporary world, and to how buildings could say something, could tell stories and generate atmospheres…” Farrell and Furman conclude with hopeful, if somewhat disorienting, speculations, briefly touching on the neo-postmodernisms of a younger generation (offices like FAT and WAM) that began to take root in the shadow of corporate pomo’s polemical and commercial decline. The authors seem to suggest that fluid, global networks of information, materials, cultural exchange, and capital have happily rendered us all default postmodernists in this second decade of the 2000s. Where cultural critics like Fredric Jameson paranoiacally theorized the rise of a ubiquitous “postmodern hyperspace,” that is, a space that accurately renders our collective incapacity to map the “multinational and decentered” networks that engulf us, Farrell and Furman celebrate the potential of a multivalent, multicultural architecture of the future—a communal, urban architecture presaged in the first and later waves of postmodernism.
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The best book, building, and exhibition reviews of 2017

We all know the idiom when it comes to everyone having an opinion, but critiques and design discourse are undoubtedly an essential part of the architectural process. The AN office is filled (literally) with piles of architectural and design books, and between our editors and writers, we visit hundreds of exhibitions and buildings each year. Here are the top reviews and critiques that rose above them all. "Five fundamental problems with the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial" By Matt Shaw Exhibition: Chicago Architecture Biennial The second Chicago Architecture Biennial opened in September and immediately caused controversy. We analyze the five key elements that went awry and how we can do better. "What can architects learn from Walmart’s fulfillment centers?" By Kazys Varnelis Book: The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment  Kazys Varnelis argues that The Rule of Logistics is an important book in our current political climate where “the culture of Whole Foods [was] shown up by that of Walmart." “A new book explores Bacardi’s use of architecture going back to the 1800s” By James Way Book: Building Bacardi: Architecture, Art & Identity Who knew rum would be one of the unsung heroes of architecture? The history of Bacardi’s relationship to its brand design and its buildings is a fascinating one. "Snøhetta masterfully creates a new museum setting for 17,000-year-old cave art" By Michael Franklin Ross Building: Lascaux IV Museum This review delves deeply into the research and design that Snøhetta put into the newest iteration of Lascaux, in addition to the building’s context and accomplishments. "Architecture's Odd Couple" is a rare design-professional page-turner" By Paul Gunther Book: Architecture’s Odd Couple: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson From Wright referring to Johnson’s work as a “monkey cage” to Johnson accusing Wright of acting as though he was born “from the head of Zeus,” Gunther’s lively review of this architecture rivalry book is a real fun read. "A new book explores John Portman’s influence on American architecture with photos by Iwan Baan" By Andrey Wachs Book: Portman’s America and Other Speculations Four essays and a series of photographs by Iwan Baan places the divisive work of John Portman under a new lens. "SOM’s new L.A. courthouse needs almost no artificial lighting during the day" By Michael Webb Building: United States District Courthouse, Los Angeles Learn why SOM’s newLos Angeles courthouse generated such a buzz for its simple, yet impactful glass cube. "How a $500 house tells the story of a changing Detroit" By Matthew Messner Book: A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City If the gritty, American-style story of a 23-year-old buying and renovating a house in Detroit doesn’t lure you in, the thoughtful self-awareness and examination of what “investing in Detroit” really means will.
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Review> Set Designer Harnesses Nostalgia for Detroit in AMC's New Series, "Low Winter Sun"

Nostalgia (nóstos), meaning "homecoming", a Homeric word, and (álgos), meaning "pain, ache", and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Ruth Ammon, set designer for the AMC television series, Low Winter Sun, used this word to describe the series in its most honorable sense. This tale of morality uses the architecture of Detroit’s heyday, to embody the pride of the city which elevated middle working class life. It is poignant that the city’s decline is also apparent in every frame, rather than pimping these noble structures like urban porn. Whether featuring Albert Kahn’s Packard Automotive Plant, 1903-11 (the production offices were next door to this location, one of the largest parcels of unoccupied real estate in the Western hemisphere); Kahn’s Detroit Police Headquarters at 1300 Beaubien St., 1923 (given the same role in the series, but now under threat since the PDP moved out); the art deco David Stott Building of 1929 by Donaldson and Meier; St. Hyacinth Roman Catholic Church, 1924 by Donaldson and Meier; or the Venetian Gothic Ransom Gillis House, 1876-78 (documented extensively by photographer Camilo Jose Vergara), these were deliberate choices. The tale centers on the murder investigation of a deeply corrupt cop. We know from the opening scene who did it—two of his fellow officers. One is an honest cop, Frank Agnew (Mark Strong), who agrees to participate after being fed misleading information by another cop, whose motives are more ambiguous. When Frank is assigned to solve the case, he must find a way to investigate without revealing his own guilt. The visual language reflects these moral ambiguities: the lone figure in a landscape usually backlit, which could almost be in a Western, but the vast expanses are downtown, a hallmark of contemporary Detroit. Buildings are often sited next to these open fields dotted with wildflowers among the debris, like the remaining few teeth in a withered mouth, but we always see a child on a bicycle, a man walking (who has money for gas?) or a dog (one has a rat in its mouth). These silhouetted figures are in wide shots, a rare luxury in an urban context; when you shoot in New York or Los Angeles, the picture has to be carefully cropped to eliminate unwanted surroundings. The visual vocabulary has pronounced darks and lights, and is often shot with available light, or motivated with a single light source indoors. In addition, mirrored surfaces and shots looking through glass partitions all contribute to the dark mood. The most modern location is the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, originally called the City-County Building, 1954, an international style building designed by Harley, Ellington and Day featuring white marble facing with black marble spandrels. It is here that the series will come to a head, with a faceoff among the protagonists as they enter this courthouse. Unusually for Cold Winter Sun, the building is wedged into a cityscape with the 3-mile long Detroit People Mover elevated train snaking its way across the screen. We’ve seen this public transit system before in other scenes where the Ren Cen and other downtown sites can be seen in the backdrop. On a up-note, Campus Martius Park (from the Latin for Field of Mars, where Roman heroes walked), which is the point of origin in the Detroit coordinate system—8 Mile Road is 8 miles from this point—is a revitalized green space with new stages, sculptures, an ice-skating rink, mini sand beach, and restaurants. It is filled with lunch-time workers, and is the site of a meeting of two warring gangsters, chosen as neutral territory in the midst of a vibrant public space. Many films have been shot in Detroit from 8 Mile, Beverly Hills Cop, Gran Torino, Robocop and the recent documentaries Searching for Sugarman and Detropia (one of its characters is Tommy Stephens, proprietor of the Raven Lounge, a location used in Low Winter Sun). But Low Winter Sun uses the city differently. We frequent Brush Park, Greektown, Boston-Edison, Indian Village, Klenk Island, Cass Corridor, MorningSide as well as downtown. It’s almost a cliche to say that the city plays a character in the series, but (not having seen the British original) it feels that this story could only have been set in this American city at this point in its history. That’s nostalgia. Low Winter Sun, AMC, Sundays 10/9 PM and on demand. 10 episodes (season started 8.11.13).
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"City Works" envisions Chicago's "dreams and nightmares"

From the abandoned foundations of the ill-fated Chicago Spire to the ghosts of would-be Tribune Towers galore, Chicago’s unbuilt legacy could rival the iconic skyline it actually achieved. An exhibition on display downtown, dubbed City Works: Provocations for Chicago’s Urban Future, confronts the city with its alternative skyline in the form of a panoramic wall design and a “Phantom Chicago” iPhone app. The overall effect evokes “a dream but also a nightmare,” in the words of curator Alexander Eisenschmidt. It also presents “a series of urban environments that are typical for Chicago,” meditating through the work of four prominent local designers on some of the city’s contemporary challenges: waterways, industry, shelter, and vacancy. To borrow Eisenschmidt’s metaphor, the aim is to turn potential nightmares into visionary dreams. Studio Gang’s work on urban waterways is well-known and their work here, titled “Reclaiming the Edge,” reprises the vision they laid out in Reverse Effect and other publications: a riverfront community and restored natural habitat nourish each other in a kind of urban symbiosis. After years of legal wrangling, Chicago’s Water Reclamation District will soon disinfect the wastewater it dumps back into the river, signaling some substantive progress on water quality. Meanwhile the Chicago Riverwalk grows along the waterway's main branch. UrbanLab / Sarah Dunn & Martin Felsen present “Free Water District,” a vision that also draws on Chicago’s aquatic resources. Rust Belt cities share many challenges stemming from deindustrialization, but they also share a common asset: water. UrbanLab’s piece envisions a Great Lakes region revitalized by water-focused industries, in a “megastructure-scaled public/private land/water partnership.” Stanley Tigerman offers a rumination on shelter in both the spatial and spiritual sense with “Displacement of the Gridiron with the Cloister.” His target is the “ineffable in architecture,” which is philosophical enough to mean many things to many people who might have very different ideas of the city’s urban aspirations. “The Available City” by David Brown displays a similar yearning, manifesting the city’s 15,000 city-owned vacant lots as blots of color bubbling up amid fractured neighborhoods. The bright colors, which appear to denote potential programs for unused space, could mean anything — adaptive reuse, public space, space-age capsule hotel — but the important thing is they reanimate dead spaces that total an area twice the size of the Loop. All four panoramas will eventually connect, sharing continuous topographic or development features. But until the closing days of the show they remain separate, traveling slowly along dotted lines that traverse the small exhibition space. “By pulling them apart,” Eisenschmidt said, “there’s a little suspense.” City Works, adapted from the 2013 Biennale in Venice, returned to its city of origin May 24. And these “provocations” are not Eisenschmidt’s first. In 2011 the University of Illinois at Chicago professor’s Visionary Chicago (reviewed here for A|N by Philip Berger) stirred conversation about bold building while the real estate market languished. The free show is open at Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St., seven days per week through September 29. Listen to a conference on the topic, held September 22, 2012 and recorded by WBEZ. Watch 50 meters of the "Phantom Chicago" wall panorama scroll by:
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Review> Barbara Bloom's "As it were...So to speak" at The Jewish Museum

A woman sits alone and thinks to herself. A painting converses with a room. The room talks back. So says Barbara Bloom, whose installation of selections from the Jewish Museum’s collection, create a dialogue with architect C.P.H. Gilbert’s French Renaissance Warburg mansion—the building that houses the museum—real and imagined visitors, and the objects themselves. Architect Ken Saylor, who worked closely with Bloom on the spatialization and design of the exhibition, said, “we tried to ask ourselves ‘What does it mean to inhabit an exhibition?’ where things are simultaneously absent and present, masked and revealed, teased and assaulted, subject and context, museum and house.” Inspired by the design of the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, where the original text is framed by annotated scholarly debates across generations, the exhibition is entitled As it were…So to speak. That suggests “what you are about to hear ... Is not exactly what it appears to be.” The exhibition is a narrative but without beginning, middle, and end, which harmoniously surfs the practices of art, architecture, and design. The solitary woman described above, sits in thought during Sabbath preparation in Isidor Kaufmann’s painting Friday Evening, from 1920, which hangs in the Warburg dining room. In it, she sits below a chandelier that served as the model for the actual lighting fixture that hangs in the room, a new commission by Bloom for this exhibition called Twelve Glasses (2013). It features 12 vessels in “an inverted parallel world” that mirror 12 glasses from the collection on the table directly below. Hanging across from Friday Evening is a framed reproduction of the painting in reverse, a mirror-image of the room. Viewers experience multiple inversions, reflections, and double-takes, but are in on the joke. Only the eyes are visible in portraits in the entryway and interstitial pilasters; the rest of their faces are masked out. Visitors engage directly with these sitters behind the masks who face off across on opposite sides of the hall (as banter from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Annie Hall plays). This roundelay of characters reminded me of comedian and musician Steve Allen’s PBS program Meeting of Minds, 1977-81, a dinner party populated by historical figures—Plato, Martin Luther, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin—using their actual words to converse about philosophy, religion, history, and science. Barbara Bloom imagines Nefertiti, Emile Zola, Amy Winehouse and Jesus playing games with an 1898 board game on the Dreyfus affair and a game using playing cards made from a desecrated Torah scroll, at a table off the dining room. In fact, the exhibition is laid out in distinct rooms of the house, and the objects are displayed in vitrines in the shape of furnishings. “I thought, what if we ‘furnished’ the house, but that it wasn’t really furniture. The objects that we ended up building are between furniture and cases and sort of ghosts of places where people could have congregated,” said Bloom. It reflects the ambiguity of the mansion turned museum that is now lies somewhere in between. In the dressing room, a Freudian “couch,” a “chair,” and a “vanity” hold amulets, charms, watches, and gifts (some actually exchanged with Freud). In the bedroom, the “bed” cradles marriage and divorce contracts, and Bloom imagines The Song of Songs sung by Leonard Cohen and Lou Andreas-Salome, one of the first female psychoanalysts and friend of Nietzsche, Wagner, Freud, and Rilke. In the library the “bookshelf,” “table,” “desk,” and computer station sport an array of hollowed-out books ranging from bibles to Joan Didion, fingered by metallic hand plaques. (The family’s Warburg Library, having been saved from the Nazis, forms the heart of the Warburg Institute at the University of London with 350,000 volumes.) The music room overlooking Fifth Avenue is anchored by two “couches” and a “coffee table” filled with watches and clocks and populated by six people including Marcel Proust, Albert Einstein, and Julian Barnes, conversing “in and over time.” At the heart is a “piano” with Torah pointers –often in silver, used to keep pace with the text and prevent fingers from touching the parchment—for strings. The scores to George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Arnold Schoenberg’s “Drei Klavierstücke” sit on the music rack waiting to be played, while a small video of the two composers playing tennis at Gershwin’s Beverly Hills home is inserted in a “book.” Also in the room is a window case with silhouetted objects in colored frames to represent synesthesia, the neurological condition that simulates one sense for another, such as colors for words. Here are representations for Kandinsky, Mozart, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, and Pythagoras. The “cupboards” that lead the way to the next exhibition, Stefan Sagmeister & Jessica Walsh’s Six Things, contrasts talismans of memory of the same subject, the holocaust, captured in film: Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The “cupboards” and “drawers” contain hats, and empty cases for pipes, scrolls, shofars, and circumcision implements. Bloom’s text then focuses on how Friederich Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth, distorted his writings after his death to support her anti-Semetic beliefs, which he had vociferously argued against in life. These empty cases are perhaps the clearest interplay with traditional museum display—or its absence. Overall, the result is an immersive, spatial exhibition that can be experienced on a series of levels, digging ever deeper into this hall of mirrors. As it were…So to Speak: A Museum Collection in Dialogues with Barbara Bloom at the Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. closes August 4, 2013.
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Review> Palatial Kitsch: At Home with Liberace

With gay marriage rippling across the country and even the Boy Scouts opening their doors to gays, it’s hard to believe that during Liberace’s lifetime, coming out was career suicide.  The mystery is how anyone, particularly his adoring blue-haired female fans, could have ever thought otherwise.  His flamboyant, over-the-top more –is-better excess in décor and fashion, both on stage and off, screams “queen” louder than his proficient, versatile piano playing.  “The Impossible Dream” indeed. “I call this palatial kitsch” says Michael Douglas playing Liberace, known as Lee, to Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson, his soon to be paramour in HBO’s Behind the Candelabra.  This is shortly after Scott enters the Las Vegas spread where he asks the friend who’s brought him: “Is this a palace?” which prompts the reply “Lee thinks he’s King Ludwig II.”  Scott: “ Who’s he?”  “The Liberace of Bavaria.”  (Ludwig [1845-1886], also gay, commissioned extravagant palaces, patronized composer Richard Wagner, and was deposed as “mad.”) The many reflective, glittery surfaces that form Liberace’s world can be considered a metaphor for his life (one of his nicknames as The Glitter Man).  Although disco glitter balls are strangely absent, Behind the Candelabra is situated firmly in the disco era (the thumping instrumental strains of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” open the film), despite Liberace’s musical repertoire of classical, boogie-woogie, ragtime, and Broadway musicals.  The highest-paid entertainer in the world from the 1950s-70s collected lower-end houses in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Las Vegas that he transformed into gob-smacking opulent creations.  “I do all my own decorating,“ explains Lee, who truly adorned his own life and its fantasy setting. In the film, the location of his Las Vegas home is actually Zsa Zsa Gabor’s French Regency-style mansion in Bel Air (which sold for $11 million on May 20) originally built by Howard Hughes, and rented by Elvis Presley.  The ochre exterior with white broken pediments around doors and windows, and black & white-striped awnings like piano keys, leads to an interior filled with chandeliers and wall sconces, a twisted Baroque-columned four-poster bed, swan faucets, Roman-style male nude statues, multiple portraits of Liberace (in one he kisses a Cardinal’s hand), a mammoth curved bar with swagged floral insets, Ionic pilasters, and frosted glass, and murals aplenty including the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the bedroom highlighting Adam, but minus the body of God (only the old man’s finger).  The palette is largely a golden vanilla with soft florals, perched on a highly polished floor you could skate on.  Other film locations included Liberace’s L.A. penthouse at 7461 Beverly Blvd; the U.S. Postal Center in West Hollywood, where Thorson worked after the break-up; Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church, Palm Springs where Lee’s funeral was held; and on the on the stage of the Las Vegas Hilton, where Liberace performed. The stage sets, by contrast, are largely dark caves without natural light, which allows the artificial lights and mirrored surfaces to sparkle, whether the small shaded fixtures on patron’s tables, or the trademark candelabra on the mirror-tiled piano.  And then there’s Liberace himself in those custom-made costumes from his virgin white fox coat with 16-foot train costing $300,000 with $100,00 of Austrian crystals, “the only coat in the world with its own chauffer and car.”  Or his suit of mirrored tiles from head to toe.  Or the Lasagna Suit, a red and gold Fauntleroy outfit (if  he spilled tomato sauce on it, no one would notice) with white lace ruff and gold bow tie with red-sequined center and astral collar, topped by an white ostrich-feather cape with red lining.  Or the 200-pound King Neptune suit featuring a clamshell collar that surrounded his entire head.  At-home wear featured silk kaftans with jeweled clasps, gold slip-ons and gold chains and massive rings clutching champagne flutes, especially in the Grecian hot tub that sported painted puti lounging on piano keys and a portrait of Liberace above. All this was Liberace’s rejection of the traditional black tie and tails and black piano which was too uniform for him.  Rather, his grandiose style was meant to focus attention on him, Mr. Showmanship.  When he is about to appear on the 1981 Academy Awards playing all the nominated Best Original Scores, he objects to stars like Jane Fonda’s activism, and declares,  “When one reaches star status, it is not an invitation to show everyone how to change the world…We are here to entertain the world and sell drinks and souvenirs.“ And let’s face it – we all look better in candlelight.
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Review> IIDA Explores the Client-Designer Relationship in "What Clients Want"

At NeoCon this year, IIDA (International Interior Design Association) presented copies of What Clients Want, the first-ever study of the client/designer relationship told from the point of view of the client, written and edited by Melissa Feldman, IIDA's executive vice president. IIDA CEO Cheryl Durst called it "a groundbreaking account of how some C-suite executives have been able to alter their companies' destinations through design [by] firms who got inside their corporate DNA and pushed them to be better." Durst is referring to companies like Autodesk, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the Cowboys Stadium, and Facebook, which enlisted the services of Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander of Studio O+A, a husband and wife duo who have designed interiors for a roster of "techie brands" like Aol, eBay, Microsoft, and PayPal. In 2008, O+A was commissioned to consolidate Facebook's spread of ten office buildings in Palo Alto, California, and merge them into Hewlett Packard's former HQ. Studio O+A credits the extensive research they conduct on potential clients prior to any design work for landing the gig.
We want to learn what our clients are about and understand their sensibilities, because if our end result doesn't reflect them, it's not going to be successful or meaningful. Sometimes it's just a matter of talking to the entrepreneurs…other times we observe them for a while.
So what did they learn? Facebook, with its well known, humble beginnings in a college dorm room, is not about flash or excess. The primary goal was to create a collaborative, flexible, and comfortable space for the company's "scrappy and entrepreneurial" employees, as Facebook's communication designer, Everett Katigbak, described them. That meant a lot of repurposing existing pieces and spaces so that "nothing is deigned as a pristine or precious moment…Overall it's pretty raw and industrial with more of a garage or laboratory feel." O+A responded with nooks equipped with chessboards and by converting a loading dock into a skateboard ramp. Both Katigbak and O+A agreed that the design process went smoothly, but by the time What Clients Want was published, Facebook had already outgrown their facility and relocated to Sun Micro System's former campus in Menlo Park. They hired Gensler for the renovation, not Studio O+A—a testament to Facebook's hyper-evolution and obsession with "the new," or evidence that perhaps the road to design was a little more rocky than either side will admit? Either way, it's not included in the designer/client conversation Melissa Feldman chronicled in What Clients Want. There are thirteen more, which IIDA's Durst said is the first in a series of limited edition books that will focus on "key vertical markets, starting with hospitality." For What Clients Want, 3M donated their DI-NOC Architectural Finish Material for the cover designed by the NY-based design firm, Pure+Applied.
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The Weekly Review

For readers of the paper—the print paper, that is—you know full well the importance of our reviews section, just as vital to the pulse of the architectural discourse as the news and features we regularly publish. Online, however, we have never had a good, dedicated place for these disquisitions on the latest books, exhibitions, and ephemera. But, no longer! Now, we will be posting one review from recent issues each Friday, for your weekend enjoyment. Perhaps you can pull it up on your new iPad with the Sunday Times, or print it out and enjoy with a bloody mary or two. We know that's what Herbert Muschamp, subject of our inaugural effort, would have done. And don't forget to check back next Friday for more. Until then, happy reading.