Archive for the ‘Vision and Style’ Category

Japan Ancient and Modern

October 17, 2016

There is a wonderful aesthetic unique to Japan.  It is spare and austere. Like some modern architecture, there is a reduction that forces you to focus.

Kodaiji zen garden2.jpg

This is more than the Western wannabe of the Zen garden, which appealed so much to the warlords of the Kamakura period.  Like modern Americans, they subscribed to a code of self-centered self-reliance.  Perhaps there is more room for the self when the field of view is not cluttered.

kodaiji-garden-pav

There is an ancient aesthetic in Japan that is more than simply simplicity.

kasuga-shrine-3-lants

It is more than the voids in the landscape scrolls and screens which are not voids at all, but undelineated space for the viewer to enter.

ritsurin-teahouse-out2

It is an understanding that art, like nature, is there to direct your attention, and that the object and viewer only exist together.

ritsurin-water

But what strikes me on this tour as we bask in contemporary art and architecture, is the unbroken connection between ancient and modern Japanese art, architecture and aesthetics.  I have always seen how Tadao Ando loved concrete the way a temple builder loves wood, and to see the stacked bark roofs and the lovingly polished Ando concrete is to see an appreciation of materiality that goes back a millennium or more.

Bark roof at Kasuga Shrine .jpg

 

Benesse House concrete det.jpg

We visited the Miho Museum in Shiga prefecture, lovingly designed by the American architect I. M. Pei with reference to and reverence for place.  This was a stunning museum experience not only because the building was primarily underground, but because each gallery focused on a limited number of items and displayed each to its fullest, beginning with a Syrian mosaic and a massive leaning Gandhara Buddha (photography is not allowed in the exhibits so we will have to make do without the objects.)

miho-steps

Each room had perhaps six to eight pieces – Greek sculpture, Persian relief, Egyptian statuettes but the lighting and presentation were exquisite and you realized you saw more and retained more than the typically more “full” gallery.  Perhaps you can see the forest through a single tree.

miho-look-out

Our Japanese guide is constantly reminding us that our amazing meals are meant to be enjoyed with our eyes as well as our mouth, and even the bento box caresses each item with its own frame, its own box to present it as a more satisfying experience.

benesse-museum-lunch2

We went to Naoshima island and saw Chichu museum, designed by Tadao Ando a dozen years ago.  Again, the museum is largely underground and was designed to display but three artists – the Frenchman Claude Monet and the Americans James Turrell and Walter de Maria.  Again, no photographs are allowed, but each artist had a space and there were a total of eight works – five Monet, three Turrell and one de Maria, and the experience was fulfilling.

Chichu pondS.jpg

The Benesse Museum on Noashima has been around a quarter-century but it, too, is very spare in presentation – an entire triple-height room devoted to a single Bruce Nauman piece, a skylit courtyard devoted to another piece, and Sugimoto’s photos that are displayed on exterior walls and even a mile away in the distance.

benesse-museum-sugimoto-upThe Japanese aesthetic was perhaps most pronounced at the Teshima Art Museum on a nearby island.  It is a concrete shell structure of the most exquisitely polished concrete I have seen, meant to house a single work consisting of water droplets that emerge from the floor and flow at various speeds in various directions.  Architect Ryue Nishizawa and artist Rei Naito.  Mesmerizing, liberating.

teshima-art-museum-swirl

We saw much more and I could say more, but I won’t right now.

Advertisements

Alfred Giles, Architect

August 5, 2016

Alfred Giles emigrated to America in the 1870s after studying architecture in his native England.  Moving to San Antonio from New York in 1875, he became one of the most prolific and important architects in San Antonio.  In 1875 he designed the stunning Second Empire Steves Homestead in the King William District, which is open daily for tours.

steves houseS

Nice.  How about a little detail of the rope molding on the windows?

Steves rope molding2.jpg

There you go – great ashlar limestone too!

Steves front porchGiles built his own home on the same street, although decidedly more modest.

giles83 306-8 KWsThe Steves Homestead was the first of several commissions in the tony King William district.  Giles also completed the Groos and Sartor houses here.

k william biggieSGroos House, built 1880.

He had an extensive career designing courthouses for a number of Texas counties in the popular eclectic styles of the last quarter of the 19th century.  One of my favorites of course is the one in Marfa, show below.

marfa to cthsSGiles was the key architect at Fort Sam Houston in the 1880s, which also followed late 19th century eclectic stylings designed for the local climate.  This includes the Officer’s Quarters and Stillwell House.

Fort Sam officers c

Stilwell main facade

Just outside Fort Sam, which has 900 buildings on the National Register, is the massive Romanesque “Lambermount” that Giles designed for Edwin Terrell in 1894.

Longermont side.jpg

Alfred Giles also contributed several significant downtown commercial buildings during his era, with the most prominent survivor being the stunning Crockett Block facing the Alamo.  Actually 4 connected limestone buildings with a common cornice, the block was completed in 1882, the year before the Alamo became the first landmark saved by a public entity west of the Mississippi.

Crocket facade detail.jpg

This southernmost building survived intact along with the northernmost.  The middle two had false fronts added in the 1950s but were brought back in 1980.

shop row facing alamo.jpg

They excavated to the south in 1980 and found a piece of the old Mission wall, which can be seen through a “window”.  They recently excavated again and found it again.

maverick-bldg

This little gem is right around the corner from Alamo Plaza and is the Albert Maverick Building, designed by Alfred Giles just before the Crockett Block.  It was even more heavily altered and nearly unrecognizable in 1979 when the San Antonio Conservation Society stepped in to conserve and restore it as the oldest commercial building in the downtown.  Giles designed a number of residential and commercial buildings for the Maverick family over the years.

mitchell oge57-82 209 wshgtnS.jpg

Giles expanded an 1857 Greek Revival house for Louis Oge in King William in the same year he was building the Crockett Block, 1882.  I will be adding more of Giles works to this blog in the coming weeks – as the 19th century turned into the 20th, Giles like other architects adopted the more restrained styling of Craftsman houses and even a little Collegiate Gothic church completed in 1918, his penultimate commission.  It is just around the corner from me!

Presa Carolina church.jpg

Dunno what they did with windows and doors tho….

Save

Places of the Heart Part 1

July 8, 2016

I just read Colin Ellard’s Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life because I saw a reference to his studies, which measure how buildings and landscapes affect our bodies and minds, our thoughts and emotions.  He famously tracked persons’ stress levels as they encountered blank and forbidding urban scenes versus human-scaled and interesting ones.  Blank and forbidding facades increase cortisol and stress.  Varied and humane ones trigger dopamine.

Centrl Lib pkg gar.jpg

Where are the people?  Why don’t they flock here?

Large Cairoli curving facade

Oooh, that’s better, yes, right there…

The book is an excellent survey of recent advances in neuroscience that further demolish the old mind/body and brain/heart dichotomy.  We all know that architecture and design can affect our feelings, but it turns out that affect – our feelings – are also part of the infrastructure of our thoughts.  Ellard describes his own reactions to places like Stonehenge and St. Peter’s in Rome and traces the history of built structures from the pre-agrarian ceremonial structures of Göbekli Tepe which are for him “prima facie evidence of our early understanding of the power of built structure to influence feelings.” (p.15)

steinkreis av sitk

Celtic stone circle in the Wachau, Austria.

The book is rich in references to a wide variety of studies in neuroscience, including Giacomo Rizzolatti’s discovery of mirror neurons in the early 1990s, where even the adoption of a pose (or the witnessing of that pose) can affect one’s affect. This reminded me of my work over 20 years ago developing a wayfinding system for the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor, where consultant Richard Rabinowitz’s American History Workshop developed interpretive systems that altered your posture to make history come alive.  Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright used pathways, compression and release of space to direct our attention.

guggenheim int downbS

We walk the walk with Wright

Ellard very early quotes John Locke (the new one, not the old one) in regard to WALLS – which Locke notes were not just created for protection but also “to protect us from the cognitive load of having to keep track of the activitites of strangers.”  The enterprise of psychogeography is thus the commodification of ATTENTION.

farns lvg to deck1109s

Who needs a TV?

luminaria pop wallS

Attention is itself an amazing illustration of the interconnections of mind and body.  Ellard notes that we “form preferences for certain types of faces within 39 milliseconds of their appearance” and we extract the gist of a landscape scene within 20 milliseconds, which means that these processes are happening faster than our “rational” mind can process them.  But we process them nevertheless.

riverwalk14 bridgeS

Eppur si muove

Living in San Antonio the famed River Walk is an excellent example of the kinds of things that appeal to our basic neural emotions and thoughts.  Curving lines, a variety of materials and images, an ever-evolving perspective.  This is even codified in the River Improvement Overlay that requires design variety at the River Walk level, a perfect codification of Ellard’s thesis that “by simply changing the appearance and the physical structure of the bottom three meters of a building facade, it is possible to exert a dramatic impact on the manner in which a city is used.” (p.110)

Country Club Plaza parking garage.jpg

Even if it is a parking garage…

This is rooted in our basic neural processes, according to Ellard “we are biologically disposed to want to be in locations where there is some complexity, some interest, the passing of messages of one kind or another.” (p.113)  It is not simply variety, but the URGE TO KNOW.

como la vida.jpg

I love the San Antonio River Walk.  Also, I think it.

Invigli Via Ascanio best

Milano

This knowledge of the psychogeography of everyday life is in fact a powerful tool for heritage conservation; for preserving the detailed, human scaled buildings of the past that accomplished information variety and integrated attentiveness.  This is much more than aesthetics.  It is mental health.

IMG_7641

Fort Collins

STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO WHERE WE DELVE INTO TECHNOLOGY (and Authenticity) (and how all cognition utilizes ellipsis)

Save

The Über of Architecture

June 17, 2015

Later this month I will be heading to Associazone Canova in Italy to participate in the 14th Annual Architectural Encounter so I am thinking about the future of architecture.

My three years in Silicon Valley have demonstrated the revolutiuonary transformation of human interaction and the infrastructure of our environment: the landscapes, pathways, and buildings we inhabit.  The App Age  of Über and Airbnb and Google has reprogrammed our normal relationship to goods; services, and to space itself. Interviews are carried out in coffee shops, coffee shops are in libraries, homes are hotels, cars are taxis and even clothing may not have a single owner. Clients are no longer fixed but fluid, and the key design element for future resilience will be in fact fluidity: the space, the plot, the wall or the wearable that can adjust to the next radical disruption.

As a human society we are arguably moving away from the settled lifestyle we pioneered 11,000 years ago when we shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

DD end house fields view

small agricultural plots in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Are we moving back to a peripatetic lifestyle where we constantly move not only in space but also in technological platforms?   The Industrial Age was a major shift away from agriculture, but until recently even that transformation, involving massive human migrations to cities, remained in the mode of a settled multigenerational life. The end of World War II saw the rise of the nuclear family, who were still supposed to settle in a single geographic location and work for an industrial concern for a lifetime.

studebaker house

Studebaker – the only car company that started with the Industrial Revolution (Palm Springs).

Now we are in the age of retooling as knowledge systems explode and individual lives are subject to constant reeducation and career moves. We adapt to changing realities and modalities. Resiliency has replaced sustainability as a leading concept not only in architecture but in political economy as well.  We are in the obverse of High Modernism, which felt it could determine all future needs and design accordingly.

IBM vw2sc

IBM Building, Chicago, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  It was designed for room-sized computers and floor-sized heat exchangers.  Now it is a hotel.

The design byword today is resiliency, a kind of adaptability, which interestingly, has been the dominant mode in historic preservation/heritage conservation for the last 50 years. Indeed, when the High Modernists were designing buildings for Forever Needs, preservationists in Soho and elsewhere were repurposing old buildings for new uses.

3rd wd  red rom

Even in Milwaukee

Jane Jacobs saw old buildings as incubators for new ideas and new businesses. Don Rypkema, the leading spokesperson for the economics of preservation, makes the same argument every day and has made it in over 40 countries worldwide. We know that adaptive re-use is the economic underpinning of older buildings, sites and structures. What does this mean for design?

nr green11

Greenwich Village.

“Long life loose fit” is one foundation for resiliency. Buildings become non-specific in their uses. Again, this has been a foundational idea for historic preservation for a half century, but the Über/Airbnb world requires a further step: multiple uses not simply in time, but in space.

orly inside

Musee d’Orsay, in time and on time

I am reminded of an example I learned from the architect Yatin Pandya back in 2008. Yatin described the Manek Chowk, a major public square in Ahmedabad, a city on the tentative list for World Heritage status. In the morning the Manek Chowk is covered with hay as animals wander and feed throughout the square. By late morning the plaza is transformed into a shopping area as people buy pots and pans and choose from a vast array of locally grown vegetables. By noon it becomes a market for bullion and jewelry. Each evening the shops vanish, tables fill the square and dozens of nighttime food stalls service a human population in the same space where animals feasted the morning before.

manek chowk

Manek Chowk, 2008, mid-day

marketS

Market at Manek Chowk, Ahmedabad

I think our future buildings – and of course our past buildings, will become microcosms of the Manek Chowk. We are already seeing this in coffee shops that have recognized – and started to monetize – their role as offices for the legions of information and service workers who no longer have or choose to use a formal office.

Hana haus courtyard

Palo Alto, California.  It was a movie theater.  Then a bookstore.  Now it’s a coffee shop/entrepreneurial platform.

The idea was incipient in preservation when I came on the scene over 30 years ago. I recall the buildings of Printers Row in Chicago, formerly industrial and now transformed into residential lofts, office lofts, shops and even religious structures. Every city in the world has a former warehouse and industrial area where the buildings have been saved and re-used as housing, galleries, offices, shops and more.

grace donohoeS

And the church (left) serves multiple congregations

This trend will continue to define our future and the shifts will become both more broad-based and more granular. We will share buildings as we share our apartments on Airbnb and our vehicles on Über and our bicycles with everyone else in New York or London or San Francisco or Washington.

DIY bikes chgoS

Chicago I think

Adaptive re-use of buildings is morphing into adaptive use of all buildings (and sites and structures).  While recent architectural theory has revolved around issues of sustainability and resilience, technology has been viewed as a new way to design, and a new set of elements to incorporate into designs.

usafa chap int ceil2

Refracting light through colored glass is a hell of a technology.

The technological revolution actually implies a new approach to design that in many ways will finally realize the century-old modernist goal of uniting engineering and design.  Modernism was a reaction to In the idea that 19th century architecture had become obsessed with the visual qualities of facades and lost its connection to engineering – modernists were to reunite those two elements, and our friend Mies van der Rohe was one of those proponents.  Yet, as I explained in my book The Architecture of Barry Byrne, there is always the attempt to sweeten, or make beautiful, the resultant form.

millowners-faces

Sweet!  LeCorbusier – Mill Owners Building, Ahmedabad

Google and Apple and Facebook have all hired starchitects to design them wacky new buildings that will SYMBOLIZE their technology, but I think it is much more interesting to look at the buildings that birthed and nurtured this technology – because they are historic warehouses and loft buildings.  Long life loose fit.  New ideas need old buildings.

Firefox bldg Embacrp

Firefox building on the Embarcadero, San Francisco

Tech Bldg SFcrp

Headquarters for a variety of tech companies, San Francisco 2015

It seems to me the use of buildings – in time and space – is the key to a sustainable built future,  Facades always were a kind of advertisement, a signifier, of dignity or permanence or comfort or desire.  Maybe the 19th century split between architecture and engineering is an ongoing battle between space we need to occupy and do things in and symbols we want to create on the landscape.

first unitarian church Providence

Gothic, Classical – this one has it all.  But it really doesn’t SAY Unitarian…..

I have been having many discussions about the future of the National Register of Historic Places, which will be 50 years old next year.  One of the challenges, which I wrote about in connection to the need to make the National Register reflect the diversity of the American experience, is to get beyond the focus on facades, which still dominates our review of potential landmark buildings and districts.  While this makes sense for those buildings nominated under Criterion C for architecture, it cannot be supported at the same level of formal scrutiny when you are dealing with sites significant for Criterion A (history) or Criterion B (famous people).  That significance may be interior, and it is inherently related to use, not form.

man o war barn

The barn where legendary horse Man O’ War lived, near Lexington Kentucky.

If these musings prove true, the multiplicity of meanings embodied in historic significance will be embodied in spaces that were used in multiple ways by multiple agents, lending over time a multiplicity of significations.  This will take us farther from the facade, or the facade will become – as it in in the Manek Chowk or Piazza Navona – an interior wall, a backdrop for actions that will resonate in that wall over time.

pala navona

this place matters

As we slide into the Über future we should also take with us the other great lesson of preservation: how to make good buildings.  We save them because they CAN be saved, because they have sufficient inherent resiliency to be repurposed.  Indeed, preservation of old buildings, site and structures is all about resiliency.  So when our 21st century shared space economy gets in full swing – remember where it started: with old buildings.

1946 estes08b

Its an asset, a resource, a performer that beats any new building by 48 truckloads of debris.

FYI last one is a totally altered 1880s cottage where Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney lived when they first married.  You should see the amazing fireplaces they designed on the inside.  Oh, and she lived there in the 1940s after Walter died and she was compiling Magic In America.  So there.

Palm Springs Modernism Week Again!

February 25, 2015

I had the opportunity, thanks to the wonderful Mark Davis, to again speak at Palm Springs Modernism Week, which is the coolest, most colorful preservation event anywhere.  I reprised my 2011 talk on Preserving Modernism in Chicago with an update on those icons of Modernism, the Farnsworth House (how do I flood thee?  Let me count the ways….), the sadly demolished Prentice Women’s Hospital (Philistines is too good a word – the Philistines were in fact civilized) and of course the soon to be geothermal Unity Temple.  So let’s get these pictures out of the way so we can move on to Palm Springs itself.

FHFlood0028

prentice 1009bS

unity temple best

So, here is the fabulous Menrad House – wowza!

Meanrad House2

And the famous Kaufman House by Neutra!

Kaufmann House39

And of course the great Bank of America (1961 office of Victor Gruen)

Bank America

And the stunning Chase Bank (E Stewart Williams 1960) with its working fountain!

Chase bank

Felicity took some great pictures of this.  But time for more houses!

butterfuly yell hs

gotta love those butterfly roofs!

WsWhite house40

Above: the Dr. Franz Alexander House, 1955 by Walter S. White

Las Palmas classic

Mountains and palms make the setting and screen walls tell the time!

Frey tramway front

Above:  Frey’s Tramway gas station, now the visitors center!

Ivernada

Invernada in the Movie Colony – there is a lot of Spanish Colonial but we mostly look at the Mid Century Modern

studebaker house

Helps to have a 53 Studebaker in front

Swiss Miss Palmas

These are called “swiss miss” and have whacking great front gables

Now, this was sad – here is the site of the Spa Hotel, which used to look like this:

spa hotel2

But now looks like this:

PS Spa ruins

Yes, even the site where lakhs of Modernist mavens descend for ten days a year, they can’t always preserve what draws these doyens in….still, I don’t want to end on a negative, so let’s be upbeat and celebrate the desert paradise where flat roofs and ceiling-height doors and exterior showers are de rigeur. 

alexndr steel hs10

This is one of the great Alexander Steel houses (7 were built) which I photographed in 2011.  I met the owner who got one listed on the National Register recently – kudos Brian!!

2200 Caliente

Nice one in Indian Canyons

Cody house

And a cool William Cody!!!

Literature and Landmarks

January 17, 2015

This week Ray Bradbury’s classic book Fahrenheit 451 was occupying our living room couch because my daughter was reading it as a high school assignment.  As I did, as many of us did.  It is a classic about the need for books, for culture, in the face of dystopia.  At the same time, the author’s home for over 50 years was being demolished a few hundred miles to the south, in Los Angeles, by the prize-winning architect Thom Mayne.  You can see the demolition and read about it here.    People are so upset that Mayne himself said it was “a bummer,” and you know how hard it is to crack an architect’s ego.

But the larger and more interesting question is:  How do we preserve the legacy, the memory, the significance of a literary landmark?  The issue is at the heart of many of our current debates about the National Register of Historic Places and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, both of which are geared toward architecture and are not always ideally suited to the preservation of memory, of culture, of the rich loam that nourishes books like Fahrenheit 451 and all of the students who have read it for the last half-century.  Here are a few examples I have used to illustrate literary landmarks over the years, and each of them betrays an architectural modesty, if not monstrosity.  They are significant not because of their form, but because of what happened there.

ellison bldg

This is the building in Harlem New York where Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man.  There have been extensive alterations, some of which were there in 1947 when he wrote the book. 

Carl-Sandburg

This is where Carl Sandburg wrote his Chicago poems in 1916 while living on the second floor. 

sandbrg birth pl

His birthplace, in Galesburg, Illinois, is also a landmark and he only lived there six months and wrote nothing.

dickinson museumS

Emily Dickinson lived and wrote in this Amherst, Massachusetts house built by her grandparents.

I lived many years in Oak Park, Illinois, which in addition to loads of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, has not one, but three houses that Nobel Prize winning writer Ernest Hemingway lived in before the age of 18.  The one my Literary Landmarks tour usually included is the birthplace house where he lived to age 6, and it has been largely restored to the appearance it had when he lived there.

hemignway

The architect was Wesley Arnold, and I remember folks coming to Steve Kelley’s house (Arnold’s own home) to see his staircase so they could approximate the one that was lost here.

The challenge with sites that are SIGNIFICANT for cultural contributions that aren’t architecture is how do you preserve a significance that may or may not be conveyed architecturally?  The Hemingway Birthplace and the building below are examples of the traditional approach:  restore the property to the way it appeared AT THE TIME it became significant, so for the 1911 building below, that meant, in part, 1957, when Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf and so many other legends began recording some of humanity’s most significant songs there.

chess records closeS

Chess Records, 2120 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago.  The storefront of this 1911 building was modified by Chess Records in 1957, so that is how it was restored, because that is the period of significance.

So that could work – you are seeing the place as it appeared when the history happened.  But arguably you need to do other things, like make or record music there.  A literary landmark should presumably host readings and seminars, and indeed, the Hemingway Birthplace had a project where a writer lived and wrote for several months on the third floor.  These are all excellent efforts at preserving – and sustaining – cultural heritage.  Still, trying to save culture with a toolbox defined by buildings is an exceedingly difficult challenge.  Perhaps that is why Mayne thought he could tear down what he considered an architecturally significant house and create some OTHER sort of memorial to Ray Bradbury.  And we certainly have examples of monuments to cultural figures that aren’t habitable buildings.  One of my favorites is the Benjamin Franklin “house” in Philadelphia.

Franklin Court vw w scoop copy copy

Two points here:  One, the house was not demolished by those memorializing it.  Two, the creative interpretation is itself now an architectural landmark of Venturi and Scott Brown.

The impulse to save a BUILDING is that we connect, haptically, to a three-dimensional place more than we do to a written sign or story.  Is this true for cultural heritage sites whose significance is, literally, stories?  (Or literally, literature.)  Or music or visual arts?  Or, can you argue that a memorial or artistic installation at a site could be even MORE evocative of a place’s historical and cultural significance?

haymkt statueS

Haymarket site, Chicago.  21st century sculpture by Mary Brogger.  As a historian, I tend to find the cobblestone alleyway and surviving buildings more evocative, but I’m an outlier.

rbsc stufffS

Roger Brown Home and Studio – since it has its collection, you actually have a fully outfitted time capsule of how the artist lived and worked. 

I taught many courses on the use of artistic installations to interpret historic sites where the original fabric was gone or failed to convey the significance effectively.  But this is not the same as Mayne deciding to remove the house and memorialize the author afterwards – we always dealt with sites that were already missing something.  Even if there is a better way to memorialize Bradbury than the house he lived and worked in, no one made that comparison prior to demolition.

As a historian who sees history in every landscape, I am not a reliable consumer of interpretation, although I do think you can make a strong argument for the quotidian.  My favorite aspect of the Roger Brown Home and Studio is the medicine cabinet, full of ordinary medicine cabinet things.  It doesn’t tell me anything about the art of Roger Brown but it makes it really clear that he was a person and he lived like a person, so for me it creates a connection.

rbrown med cabtS

Real people get indigestion.

I was struck on my visit to the Frank Sinatra House in Palm Springs by two things:  First, the stunningly detailed restoration of this late 1940s modernist treasure, its comprehensive outfitting with period furniture and even a 1947 stereo system.

sinatra4

sinatra16

sinatra11

But what was the one place that everyone wanted to see?  The one story that created the greatest connection in this architecturally AND historically significant house was the one BROKEN thing in it.  The sink where Frank threw a bottle at Ava Gardner, or so the story goes.  It still has a visible crack in it.  All that architectural perfection and the key element is the one imperfection.

sinatra12

There is very little in our Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation that gives any sort of consistent guidance as to how to deal with culturally significant sites from literature, fine arts, music, theater and the like.  Architectural form is the default, which arguably is a disservice to the bulk of cultural enterprise.  Perhaps a Hollywood celebrity scandal is not as weighty as the President Lincoln’s cottage or Georgia O’Keefe’s Studio, but the challenge in determining how to PRESERVE cultural history, memory and the significance of various events and people remains the same.

linc cott drwg rm bestS

President Lincoln’s cottage, Washington DC.

We recently lost one of the most eloquent and intelligent voices in the preservation world who was trying to tackle this subject, Dr. Clement Price, whom I knew as a Trustee of the National Trust for HIstoric Preservation.  More than anyone, he was trying to find ways to conserve the rich and diverse cultural legacy of the United States, a legacy that is not contained within and cannot be told solely through architecture.  His early demise leaves a large job for the rest of us because he knew that our roster of historic sites had massive gaps in terms of MEMORY and intangible cultural heritage.

ohenry houseS

O Henry House, San Antonio, Texas

o henry plaqS

O Henry House, Austin, Texas

o henry plaque

O Henry plaque, Asheville, North Carolina

I think the most important challenge we have as we approach the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (2016) is to find effective ways of preserving our cultural heritage.  I think the process of cultural heritage planning laid out in the Burra Charter can provide a protocol for doing this.  I think the process of IDENTIFYING, EVALUATING, and TREATING cultural heritage can work anywhere, but not if our only treatment is architectural.  We should  revamp our Standards and work to find effective ways of conserving the depth and richness of our cultural heritage, not simply the facade.

Ryman plaqueS

Old Ryman, Nashville, TN

ether copy

Monument to Ether, Boston Common

The new urban commandments

January 4, 2015

Prince Charles of England, who famously got involved in the world of architecture and urbanism nearly 30 years ago with a notorious speech to architects deriding modernism, has released last month in Architectural Review a list of ten principles for urban planning and design.  Those of us in the heritage preservation world have generally been fond of Albion’s heir and his advocacy of the virtues of tradition in architecture, although most of us become uncomfortable pitting tradition against modernism, fearing both the superficiality of style and a reduction of our cause into a formalist debate.

campus ctr coolS

Amherst

In contrast to the 1985 speech, architects have received HRH’s 10 principles positively.  Leaving aside the virtues of the modernist design that characterized most of the 20th century, let’s take a look at the 10 points.

garden B

Filoli

“Developments must respect the land. They should not be intrusive; they should be designed to fit within the landscape they occupy.”

This is indeed a good principle and one hardly limited to traditional design – having grown up on Frank Lloyd Wright, it is arguably at the center of each of his schemes.  I also wonder how it fits into the classical landscape architecture we find in sites like the one pictured above, which I guess would please most traditionalists.

geometry

Taliesin West

“2: Architecture is a language. We have to abide by the grammatical ground rules, otherwise dissonance and confusion abound. This is why a building code can be so valuable.”

Architecture absolutely is a language, and like English it is a language enriched by evolution and adaptation, not a language that tries to erect barriers around its purity like French.  Like Picasso, a good modernist should first master the traditional rules.  The last sentence is odd:  In the States building codes are largely a public safety phenomenon, having evolved from fire codes, so there influence on the formal design is minimal.

grk temp brit mus

British Museum

“3: Scale is also key. Not only should buildings relate to human proportions, they should correspond to the scale of the other buildings and elements around them. Too many of our towns have been spoiled by casually placed, oversized buildings of little distinction that carry no civic meaning.”

Barring the rhetorical oddity of the first sentence, this is one of the best principles.  There are certain examples of modernism that destroy human scale as well as their surroundings and these are usually disasters.  Again, the principle works beyond style:  Speer’s totalitarian Classicism also destroyed human and contextual scale.  I would also argue that scale is the connecting link between individual works of architecture and their context.  Note the “civic meaning” exception that allows for focus buildings, which for many urbanists of the 19th and 20th century, were supposed to be public buildings, not physical advertisements for their rent.

wabash to trump13s

Chicago

“4: Harmony − the playing together of all parts. The look of each building should be in tune with its neighbours, which does not mean creating uniformity. Richness comes from diversity, as Nature demonstrates, but there must be coherence, which is often achieved by attention to details like the style of door cases, balconies, cornices and railings.”

Again, I totally agree with this, a basic principle of all design.  Harmony by definition is the integration of diverse notes to create a whole richer than the sum of the parts.  I would argue rhythm, scale, materials and massing are much more important than architectural details.  But details are important – I tend to rank the ultrahigh buildings of East Asia by their ability to hold detail at close range and not only from the distance of the skyline view.

rue royal31

New Orleans

“5: The creation of well-designed enclosures. Rather than clusters of separate houses set at jagged angles, spaces that are bounded and enclosed by buildings are not only more visually satisfying, they encourage walking and feel safer.”

This is again quite true.  A sense of enclosure is a brilliant planning device that speaks to basic human connections.  Not sure about jarring angles – I think good architects can employ a variety of geometries to achieve pedestrian-friendly satisfaction.

fire lane central ct

Lathrop Homes, Chicago (1937)

“6: Materials also matter. In the UK, as elsewhere, we have become dependent upon bland, standardized building materials. There is much too much concrete, plastic cladding, aluminium, glass and steel employed, which lends a place no distinctive character. For buildings to look as if they belong, we need to draw on local building materials and regional traditional styles.”

This is interesting.  Using local materials is of course much more sustainable, and we have plenty of egregious counterexamples, like the Chicago skyscraper clad with Carrerra marble that failed or even our dear Getty, its stone shipped halfway across the world.  Having said that, concrete, glass and steel can indeed be local materials and I have seen them done humanely and done awfully.  My friend who restored the River Forest Women’s Club, a 1912 Prairie design by William Drummond, noted that the brilliance of the design was that very simple materials were used in a luxurious way – again a central tenet of Frank Lloyd Wright, who raised the level of several generations of “standardized” materials through design.

gale hs ceiling

Quarter-sawn oak.  Standard 1893.

012309_1026

Humanized concrete, 1920s.

johns tubes

Pyrex glass tubes, standard 1938.

flw unit frtbS

Standard glass, local limestone and wood, 1947.

“7: Signs, lights and utilities. They can be easily overused. We should also bury as many wires as possible and limit signage. A lesson learned from Poundbury is that it is possible to rid the street of nearly all road signs by using ‘events’ like a bend, square or tree every 60-80 metres, which cause drivers to slow down naturally.”

This is sound urban design, and I have witnessed it as far away as Weishan, Yunnan, China, where they buried the utilities over a dozen years ago in the historic Southern Silk Road city.  We are also reminded here that HRH has put his money where his mouth is and built a model suburb according to his principles.  Historically, of course, our cities here in the States were overrun by wires and signs from the earliest times.  Their absence is solely a 21st century phenomenon.

nice view to N gate

Sadly, the landmark North Gate from 1390 just burned

“8: The pedestrian must be at the centre of the design process. Streets must be reclaimed from the car.”

Points for brevity and clarity here.  Car landscapes do not encourage commerce.  This has been a key to urban design for the last generation.

sitting and walkingS copy

You do a nice enough pedestrian space, they will move a major museum from the Upper East Side.

“9: Density. Space is at a premium, but we do not have to resort to high-rise tower blocks which alienate and isolate. I believe there are far more communal benefits from terraces and the mansion block. You only have to consider the charm and beauty of a place like Kensington and Chelsea in London to see what I mean. It is often forgotten that this borough is the most densely populated one in London.”

Density is another challenge – you CAN have great density without great height, although the two neighborhoods described derive their density from value, and the density of the wealthy may not be a prescription for the average urban place.  I personally like a nice tower here and there to set things off, foster diversity, create focus and reference points, and, of course, to encourage a pedestrian environment around transportation nodes.

main street corner

Another model town, nearing its 60th birthday.

“10: Flexibility. Rigid, conventional planning and rules of road engineering render all the above instantly null and void, but I have found it is possible to build flexibility into schemes and I am pleased to say that many of the innovations we have tried out in the past 20 years are now reflected in national engineering guidance, such as The Manual For Streets.”

This is also good sense and reminds me of the old preservation joke from about 15 years ago:

“What’s the difference between a highway engineer and a terrorist?”

“You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

highway lkft abvS

I don’t think that is true anymore, and what Prince Charles has enunciated here is not a defense of traditionalist style as much as some good advice for ways to look beyond style to the principles that make urban spaces human spaces, which is to say they accommodate people, their economies and societies, their cultures and their activities.  They are principles that emphasize diversity and flexibility.  The movement to preserve historic places created some of the first places where these principles could be negotiated and fulfilled by existing buildings – whatever their style.

Presents

December 27, 2014

A little over a year ago my dear friend Victoria Young guided me to the Winton Guest House, a Frank Gehry design in Owatonna, Minnesota.  Owatonna is of course the site of one of the great early 20th century Louis Sullivan Midwestern Bank designs.

LHS bank dist vw

Owatonna is also home to a 1987 Frank Gehry design, the Winton Guest House, which was originally designed in 1987 in Orono, Minnesota.  In 2009 it was moved to the Gainey Conference Center of the University of St. Thomas.

St thom gehry

Sadly, the house is threatened again due to a change in ownership of the Conference Center and must be moved by next June.  The University of St. Thomas is inviting proposals to move the house, which is a fetching combination of solid geometries and colors.  The bedroom is a great curve of pink dolomite limestone, the living room and another bedroom are sheathed in black metal, its freplace unit is brick and the eight-room complex was judged an “architectural masterpiece and work of art” in its 2007 appraisal.

St Tom gehry2c

Known as a California architect, Frank Gehry had plenty of experience in Minnesota dating to his work with Victor Gruen in the early 1950s designing the first modern shopping mall in Edina.  The Winton Guest house was designed in the 1980s and completed in 1987, two years before Gehry won the Pritzker Prize, which first launched him onto the international stage and led to such famous commissions as the Bilbao Guggenheim and Walt Disney Concert Hall, and of course the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

gehry auditorium409

I saw a Gehry building in Cleveland in 2003, all white but the usual concupiscent curds of form he had become known for since Bilbao in 1997.  The Winton Guest House reveals a more experimental use of various forms and materials, similar to the experimentation that was his own Santa Monica house int he 1970s, although resolved with a clarity provided by the absence of any distracting exterior appurtenances, a village of forms pinwheeling about the central tower.

The high artistry of the composition makes it more likely to retain its significance should it be moved again.  The first move was 110 miles.  Another 70 and it could make it to the Twin Cities, where more might be able to appreciate it, visit it and understand a key period in the development of one of our most famous living architects.

Many thanks to Chris Madrid French and Victoria Young for their advocacy and support!  If you are interested in the Winton Guest House, take a look at this site.  If you want it, contact Dr. Victoria Young, Dept of Art History, University of St. Thomas, 2115 Summit Avenue, Mail 57P, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105.

International Modernism

September 27, 2014

This week the Getty released a list of ten Modern Architectural Landmarks worth preserving, rekindling the issue of preserving the best of Modernism. I have blogged about this in the past, and even written a book about a Modernist architect who worked in at least three countries. I have seen the multitudinous modernist mass mind that is Palm Springs Modernism Week and my work with the National Trust has had more than its share of modernist masterpieces. So I thought I would share a few today, ones that struck me when I visited them.
fh terrace oSs

I had to start with Mies’ Farnsworth House, which I have been very closely involved in for the last decade through Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust. When I first visited, I was genuinely awed by it, not simply the incredible feeling of being inside and outside at the same time, but also the relentless classicism of the composition. It is entirely modern yet once you see it, you realize it is a 2000-year old Greek temple, as I said in my first blog about it in 2005. That is the measure of Modernism – time and all the architectures that came before.

FH 2013 straight

See it?

Also from 2005 was a European trip to Poland, to Wroclaw, where traversing the marvelously medieval town center I suddenly stumbled upon two buildings I totally knew from architectural history….

wr mendel2

There it was, all Carson Pirie Scott – it had to be one of Erich Mendelsohn’s 1920s stores?

wr poelzig2

And this, this is totally Hans Poelzig circa 1912? What are they doing in Wroclaw?

I scoured the architectural history database in my head, trying to remember where Mendelsohn and Poelzig built stuff in the early 20th century and all I could come up with was Breslau, which led immediately to my “D’OH” moment: Breslau is Wroclaw! (Hard to admit such a silly mistake, especially given my Silesian ancestry!) Once I figured out what I had “discovered” it was an easy trip to the edge of town to find the great Max Berg Centennial Hall which made the Getty’s Top Ten list this week.

wr berg4
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

wr berg11
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

This one required a special stop on the edge of Vienna, also in 2005:
kmarxhof fr1
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

kmarxhof fr3
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

Tell me you don’t see Knossos in that!

Let’s jump up to Scandinavia for a second, which is more identified with Modernism than probably any geographic region in the world. An Alvar Aalto in Finland made the Getty list. I can claim but one trip to Sweden, but again, here was a site worth stopping for in 2007:

L1020304

Ah, Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholm Public Library from 1924. Again, there is great classicism here in its volumes and symmetry, and even arguably in its ornamental bands.

L1020301

The Getty list did not include the recently inscribed World Heritage site the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, and I have sad;y not seen it, although it graces the cover of one of my architectural history books.  Here are a few Netherlands modernist highlights from our visits there:

hilversum rathuis14s

City Hall Hilversum, Dudok 1930

troos schroder house1s

Shroeder House Utrecht, Rietveld 1924

de dageraad6s

De Dageraad, De Klerk ad Kramer, 1923

het schip3s

Het Schip, De Klerk, 1923

Now the Getty included Le Corbusier’s apartment and studio on their list, an odd choice by my reckoning – I would rather the Villa Savoye, although I have never seen it. My Le Corbusier visits were exciting, from the LaRoche-Jeannerret in Paris to the great Mill Owner’s Building in Ahmedabad…

headless roche jean
I guess he was shorter than I

millowners finals

millowners int vwS

sanskar kendra ctS
He also did the Sansar kendra in Ahmedabad, interesting but not as integrated as the other. I did not get to see the private house he did there.

usafa chap butt

Thinking about Ahmedabad naturally makes me think about Colorado Springs, where I visited the Air Force Academy in 2003. This was the coolest modernist landscape I had ever seen. The famous chapel is of course great, as you can see in these slides, but it was the relentless grid of the entire mountaintop – a fully realized Modernist world – that struck me when I saw it in person.

usafa chap 9 spire
usafa chap int ceil2

usafa dorm layer

usafa chap march

usafa o dorm

That was the coolest modernist landscape I had ever seen. Until I went to Ahmedabad five years later and saw the IIM, one of Louis Kahn’s masterpieces (Kahn is represented on the Getty list with his incomparable Salk Institutes in La Jolla.)

IIM 05s

IIM vw dorms2s
Kahn plays with arches and circles and grids as well as the orthogonal. Check out this staircase in the library

IIM lib helical stair6s
epic

IIM curvcircl voidbridgeS

IIM vw to lib and entS

Now I of course know the Robie House well – it stood outside my bedroom window for a whole year in college, and I have toured it countless times. How about for now we just do a couple horizontalinear descendants of that as a little formal game……..

robie super horizS

main view bestS

robie 08 straightS

marin co courthouse cls

And let us not forget Palm Springs. They really know how to tilt a slab.

tramway gas 65frey
Frey

Or fold a slab…

alex steel folded plate
Alexander

Or even a bulk up a slab like a Corbu chapel….

Gruen Bank2
Gruen

There is a loss there right now, hard to believe given the scale of the Palm Springs Modernism Week phenomenon. But as Richard Nickel said, old buildings have only two enemies: Water and Stupid Men. Guess which one is to blame in the desert?

spa hotel2
Cody

Speaking of water, the Getty list included one of our National Trust National Treasures, the amazing Miami Marine Stadium, designed by Hilario Candela in 1963 and now the subject of a seemingly successful effort to save a massive concrete landmark younger than me.

DSC_0233
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2010

DSC_0263

hilario candela10s
And here is Hilario explaining his design

I have to add this one from my first visit to Palo Alto a few years ago.  I saw it from a distance and had to drive around the block to stop and take photos.  Later even got inside – the geometry of the Air Force Academy plus the materiality of raw concrete.

concrete churchS

great interior

nice front viwS

There is obviously way to much International Modernism to cover in a single blog – so let me finish with some of my favorite concrete gems…

dulles angleS
Dulles, never dull

DSCF8789
Ando in St. Louis

fr saddle roof view
Barry Byrne in Cork

SJA banner church sidevw
Breuer in Collegeville

Victoriana California

August 7, 2014

I have written before about how I am surrounded by Victorian architecture in Northern California, and this week we made it up to Humboldt County where you get it in spades. The capper is of course the Carson Mansion in Eureka, which has inhabited every architectural style book I have owned since 1983.
Carson HouseAs

This over-the-top horror vacui of a composition dates from 1884 and in my first architectural style book it illustrated both Queen Anne and Eastlake styles (it also supposedly embodies Stick and Italianate) and is still the centerpiece of Eureka, which blossomed as a lumber town in the Gilded Age and saved just enough of it for a critical mass downtown, despite a godawful prison and too many parking lots.
Pink LadyCs
The famed Pink Lady across from the Carson Mansion. It’s for sale!
White house rowS
A row of Shingley Queen Annes on 2nd Street

Eureka trades on this history and did save a reasonable chunk of the old downtown with some very fine big Italianate and Queen Anne blocks from the late 19th century. This one has an excellent new tourist center (beer on draft – how can you have a tourist center without beer on draft??)
Yellow Ital blockS

McDonald BldgBs
Now that’s my kind of McDonald’s

Big green Ital blockS

Corner shingle sideS
Shingle Style influence here, with a nice rounded glass oriel

Eclectic frontS
The plaque on this one even says “Eclectic,” which is Architectural Historian for “I give up.”

They trade on the Victorian so much in Eureka that 25 years ago they rebuilt a long-gone San Francisco house from what is now the Financial District. Thankfully the sign and guides note that it is a recreation.
Carter House Inn RecreS

We were walking past the Carson Block and noticed they were exposing some of its original skin…
Carson TC exposeS
That’s terra cotta!
Carson skin exposesS
and pressed metal bays…

So I went back Monday and ran into my old friend Bill Hole, who was helping with what appears to be a great restoration.
Carson Block w craneS

A few more shots of historic Eureka
Carter House Inn hotelS
Carter House Inn Hotel – amazing place
Nice false frontS
old-timey clocks, brick sidewalks, the whole shebang
View of downtownS

Shingle corner bldgS
Horse carriage. Forgot that part of the whole shebang

Blue Vic cottS
fine lookin’ cottage
Rundown Class houseS
This one needs work

But wait, there’s more! A few miles down the road there is Ferndale, which I seem to recall was the subject of a coloring book and which featured this building that I also used incessantly in architectural history slide shows:
The Big DoubleAs

Great Inn Vic addS
Bed and breakfasts expand into inns and tourism adds to the “cream” economy – you certainly pass a lot of cows on the road into town.

Fab frontsS

IOOF and2s

Victorian InnS
The Victorian Inn. Says it right there in the name!

Vic Gothi cottgS

This house near the downtown reminds me that there is a strong current of Victorian Gothic in the houses of the North and Lost Coasts of California. As one would expect, you get a slight lag from the East Coast, so Victorian Gothic which peaked in the East in the 1840s is still making itself felt here in the 1850s. After all, it took three months to get here. But get here they did, mostly by boat and they brought so much of their architecture with them that the famed historic town of Mendocino has been used as the set of an East Coast town in multiple movies and TV shows.

mendo front viewS
Mendocino, She Wrote. Why doesn’t the sun rise over the ocean?

Mendocino bay chute remnantsS
Emare-gency, Emare-gency Everybody to get from street!

Spenser Hills 54s
Plenty of 1850s Gothicky houses

nice mendo saltboxS
And a few saltboxes

mendo viewS

The most distinctive feature of the townscape are the ubiquitous water tower- originally headed by windmills that powered the wells below and filled the storage tanks. Almost every house has one, and it adds an interesting atmosphere to the town. The Main drag has plenty of false fronts and of course the hotel, while there are two major house museums in town and plenty of B & Bs.

Mendocino HotelS
Mendocino Hotel

Shops in MendoS

Ford HouseS

maccallum houseS
Verging on the Gothic again. At least in the vergeboards

Kelley House closeS
Kelley changed the spelling of her last name to make it classier

Didjeridoo bestS
This is where we stayed. Could be East Coast if not for the obvious drought

We had wonderful guide who played an 1880s character and took us by the Masonic Hall with its huge (carved from a single Redwood) sculpture of Time and the Maiden.
Guide at MasonicS

Now I could go into the details of historic tourism and the economics of house museums and the decline of the logging industry and so forth, but this was a vacation so I am just going to show a few more pictures of Fort Bragg, a few miles up the Coast from Mendocino.

Fort Bragg strfrtsS

Ft B Golden WestS

Guest House ObliqueS
This is the Guest House. No, really, the name was Guest

Ft B fronts3

Ft B City HallS
City Hall

gothic window houseS

So, for those of you who wondered if I missed Victorian architecture in California…

Oh, you can see my posts extolling the architectural history of Los Gatos and Santa Cruz as well, not to mention Watsonville.