Posts Tagged ‘Le Corbusier’

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

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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

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A City Cannot Be A Work of Art

January 30, 2012

Hey it is the end of January 2012 and I have only been home for four days this year and tonight my new seminar class meets for the first time, under the title above. It is a deliberately provocative title, although perhaps not as provocative as its source, Jane Jacobs’ epochal “Death and Life of Great American Cities” which was written 51 years ago and remains the touchstone for everything written about cities since, including the various recent books I have included in the syllabus.

I think I will pepper this blog with pictures of actual cities, although like mirrors and magazines and popular television shows, the actual way things look has a lot less effect than too-perfect ideals. The history of city planning is the history of dreams with the “magic to stir men’s (sic) blood” as Daniel Burnham said in the really important part of his famous quote.

The history of city planning is a history of world’s fairs and exquisite renderings, of the idea – which Jane Jacobs denied most emphatically – that we could design a better city. But like self-improvement or religion, those are impossible ideals, golden rings deliberately beyond our reach.

Our failure to achieve those exquisite visions is what we need to keep moving, to keep striving. Constantly reminded of beauty and order, we strive and paper over our own continuous failure with new dreams of what should be, arriving as surely as each breath.

But this ideal is more than just a beautiful face and figure, for like all such it is mere facade to a more functional reality. There is efficiency beneath formality just as their is a circulatory system and muscles and bones beneath that face. The contrast is more than between the visual dream and the physical reality….

The drawing is always seductive, which is to say it elides, ignores or lip glosses over the functional reality it is in fact designed to disguise. The beautiful boulevards of the Burnham Plan were not designed simply to emulate Paris or to suggest an impossible beauty for Chicago. They were there to disguise the rumble of freight traffic rumbling right beneath them.

It actually says that in the original plan right under this picture, but what are you going to remember, the picture or the words? A picture is worth more than a thousand words, because it can make you forget all of the words, all of the messy reality that is every city.

This is Mexico City and I went there twenty years ago because it was the biggest city in the world and I wanted to see that chaos. It was built in the wrong location, as all great cities are, a combination of geographic imperative and biological impossibility. Mexico City is set in a valley that holds its smog close to everyone’s respiratory system. Lima, Peru has grown from 2 million to 8 million in less than a lifetime despite having no rain and no water.

Cities are this horrifying exciting fast-paced economic imperative that is always about a generation ahead of our ability to plan for it, but that doesn’t mean that architects and planners have tried to do it forever, and sometimes, like Baron Hausmann in 1850s Paris, they succeed a little bit.

They even succeeded a bit in Chicago: Navy Pier, Grant Park, the Michigan Avenue Bridge are all visible, ornate legacies of the 1909 Burnham Plan.

Hiding truck traffic, sewage and mostly the messy South Water Market, which was moved from downtown where it could be seen to a messy neighborhood where it couldn’t, although 90 years later that neighborhood has gentrified as well so the fruit wholesalers building has gone condo and who knows where the fruit has gone.

All of the Beaux-Arts ornamentation that characterized Hausmann’s Paris and Burnham’s Chicago is also misleading, not merely because it is makeup, but because it is a particular brand of makeup and thus we might think that this vision of planning is indeed different in kind from perhaps the streamlined visions that appeared in the 1930s or the grid-paper visions that appeared in the 1950s but they actually share diagrammatic aspects despite their formal divergence.


I’d take my talents to South Beach if I had any

Jacobs shot 70 years of city planners in the face with her semi-automatic “Radiant Garden City Beautiful” which combines Ebenezer Howard, Daniel Burnham and Le Corbusier into one über-macho I-can-fix-this formula for what she saw as an anti-organic disaster: planning based on separation of uses and continuous traffic.


do you know you can buy anything you want in the city? Anything.

She argued for what I like to call the messiness of history. History is what actually happens, just like cities are what actually exist. City plans are like ideologies or other static formulations that are inherently incapable of BEING in actual time and space.


the people here are REALLY nice

But at the same time we need them, otherwise we would shut down and be over, denying out own biological imperative. But it is biological, not physical or chemical, and what Jacobs noted was that the problem of the city was being solved by architects and engineers who were falsely and wrongly applying problems of statistical complexity to cities when they are BIOLOGICAL problems.


Go on, name this city. I double dare you.

So you have these tensions, between styles and designs, between organic and designed, between ideals and reality, but ultimately what makes cities exciting? There is something fantastic about Paris, arguably the world’s best-designed city, because every vista is complete and coherent. And their is something fantastic about the Asian cities that don’t even bother to have one or two downtowns but just scatter their skyscrapers across the horizon because there is nowhere to go but up, which is a very physical manifestation of the striving that is every city ever.


electricity. it is all about electricity

We have had horizontal cities and vertical cities and both have scared us to death, from Towering Infernos real and imagined to Unabated Sprawl and the ennui of little houses made of ticky tacky but those are really the extreme ends of all the options and those too are formalities, not functionalities.


this is Manek Chowk, which fulfills three completely different functions everyday

We can’t resist getting together and my whole life I have loved cities, loved their energy and even their fear, which is a more familiar and somehow friendly fear than the fear I feel in the wide open rural places…


saw a movie once where the character declared his love “was higher than a Flatiron Building” so I guess we will take that…

I used to decry Beijing for having such a horribly oversized scale to it, each block a half-mile long, but now I am used to it and I get it, it is not the pseudo-European Shanghai nor is it the Fritz Langy Chongqing but it is a funny combination of imperial and commercial and it is human even if it is oversized.

I want to run in their streets and catch their cabs and ride their subways and even, every once in a while, buy something in a shop. We can’t plan them but we have to try to plan them. We can’t control them but we want to. We can’t design them but we know they are fundamentally, biologically, of our own design.


We have met the entropy and he is us