Suburban Decline

    A few excerpts from an excellent article by Michael Gecan:
    In DuPage County near Chicago, Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York, in Montgomery and Baltimore Counties in Maryland, in Bergen and Essex and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey, in almost every mature suburb in the northeast and Midwest and mid south, families face ... suburbia’s midlife crisis. It may be part of America’s midlife crisis as well.

    No longer young, no longer trendy, no longer the place to be, no longer without apparent limitations or constraints, these places, like people, have developed ways of avoiding reality.

    We have moved a long way from the vision of the nation that Abraham Lincoln described in his Message to Congress, on July 4, 1861, “To elevate the condition of man . . . To lift artificial weights from all shoulders; To clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; To afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life...” “All” is what FDR had in mind when he formulated the New Deal. It is not a word you hear in the public arena—city, county, state, or nation—these days.

    (In Chicago) the Democratic machine and its allies have fought an increasingly costly rear-guard action for nearly half a century. At the end of that period, the image of the city has been burnished, but Chicago is basically broke. Housing abandonment, homelessness, and foreclosure rates are all at historic highs. 34 public school children were murdered during the 2006-7 school year alone. The police force staggers under multiple charges of abuse and corruption. The old bungalow bedrock of the city—blue-collar and tax-paying—has disappeared.

    During the most productive years of its housing revival, New York City spent more than the next fifty American cities combined on housing creation and rehabilitation. It shows. The return on this investment is incalculable.

    Many of the current political structures and leaders are either unable or unwilling to deal with new realities.

    There may be a need for less government and more planning.

    New kinds of money, from new sources, used in creative ways, will be required if cities, counties and regions are to revive.

    Read the whole thing here.

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A mile-high tower?

Get naked for Mies!

Jean Nouvel takes this year's Pritkzer Prize!

    My National Public Radio story on this links here.

    Creator of

    The Arab World Institute in Paris

    The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis

    40 Mercer Street in New York's SoHo
    And more than 200 other good buildings around the world.

    Projected are a new Philharmonic Hall for Paris:

    and a nice video rendering of the inside of the concert hall:

    He's also designed a 75 story bent needle shaped tower for New York, next to MoMA:

    a tall thin glass residential high-rise for Century City Los Angeles which all the way could look like this:

    and a branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi:

    "Oh finally, finally, I’m very happy he finally made it. It was a complete injustice for him not to receive it."
    -Jean-Louis Cohen
    Architecture Historian
    Institute of Fine Arts
    New York University
    A student with Nouvel in Paris in the rebellious days of '68.
    Nouvel says he took from the days of 1968 that all things are possible.

    To close, the infamous "Separated at Birth" with "Dr. Evil"

    Felicitations, congratulations to the firm, Ateliers Jean Nouvel.

    The Pritzker Architecture Prize website links here.

    L.A. rendering via Ateliers Jean Nouvel
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The 2008 Pritzker Architecture Prize goes to...

New Directions at SOM. Aren't they still going up?

Farnsworth House in Second Life

    Well-rendered, well-detailed.  The landscape is not at all accurate, but haven't you always wanted to see the Farnsworth in various sites?  Via computer that is.  To see it in "Second Life" your computer will need to be able to access this address.

    Here's the story of how it was made, and why so many architects snap up 'land' in Second Life, the virtual world with almost eight million residents. 
    Designer Dingson, the avatar of Lester Clark, (graphics manager for the British firm PRP, which won the Architectural Practice of the Year building award in the UK.) "Given what I know about the real Farnsworth and how it was almost completely unlivable in, (Second Life) is probably the best place for it," he says. "I don't have to bleach the decks every couple of weeks, nor worry about the ventilation or flooding. And people love seeing it - I've been getting 400 to 500 visitors a day." 
    Clark didn't build his Farnsworth House from scratch. He bought it for 30,000 Linden dollars (about $120.) from an in-world store called Maximum Minimum, which specializes in modern designs. Its owner goes by the name of Maximilian Milosz, and he's happy to teleport me to his showroom for a chat.

    He looks like a big friendly goth, and tells me he is a Norwegian designer in real life, with a background in art direction and digital media. Since last November, he's been making a full-time living selling his designs in Second Life.

    "I found building very rewarding from day one," he says, as we stroll past another Farnsworth House at his showroom (he's sold quite a few, he admits). "In theory, anyone can do it, of course. But having worked with Photoshop since version 1.0 helps." Working from drawings and photos, the Farnsworth House took him three weeks to "build", he says. Like Lester Clark, he has never visited the real one.
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Delicate Connections

The good old stuff

Wanna buy a Lou Kahn?

    The Esherick house. 1961. Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. For Sale at Wright, May 18, 2008 in Chicago. Estimated at $2–3 million. That's all? How much was that Jasper Johns you just bought?

    By the way, the Esherick house is right across the street from Robert Venturi's house for his mother, completed just three years later.

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Modernism, you're so country!

Now I've seen something

    If Lee Bey is not the best photographer capturing Chicago area faces and places, then who is?

    Scroll all the way down his site and go through every one of his archives, if you haven't already. "Oh, that way, Chicago lies."

    Here's his shot of Jeanne Gang's Aqua,

    The 80+ story residential high rise going up in Lake Shore East in Chicago.Source URL:
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Now I've seen nothing-ness

Now I've seen everything

Lego Nighthawks

    To mark the Art Institute of Chicago Edward Hopper exhibition.
    Up through May 10.
    Taking off from the previous post: the large pane of glass of the cafe reinforces the modernity of the scene, as well as the isolation of the people and their vulnerability. In an older building with more "wall" and less glass, especially in an urban ground floor setting, at night- they'd seem more protected. And looking through this framed glass makes it seem that something is about to happen. Without the large glass we'd feel less voyeuristic, and less excited.

    Remember the Lego Farnsworth House?

    go via
    Glass House photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times
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The Glass House Gang

    The Philip Johnson Glass House launches Glass House Openings. Three interesting online videos:
    "A Place in History, Vision of Place & Power of Place."

    A film project commissioned on the occasion of the Glass House's 2007 Inaugural Gala Picnic. These films capture the thoughts (reflections?) of guests who attended the opening of this National Trust Historic Site.

    Featuring Paul Goldberger, Hilary Lewis, Kurt Andersen, Julius Shulman, Pentagram, Michael Manfredi, Marion Weiss and others.

    Shouldn't the Farnsworth House (which is even better architecture) and other landmarks do something similar? The web is the way to get people to understand what they should look at. And to whet the appetite.

    I also like the Glass House web page called
    "Glass House Conversations."

    Philip Johnson's Glass House has been described as "the longest running salon in America."

    Vincent Scully told the New York Times, "I visited first when the house was under construction, in 1948. And when it was first built it was wide open. Yale students were there every weekend. It was sort of a running seminar. There was always a conversation about architecture. You’d go in and get a martini. It was a real salon — something we don’t have much of in America."

    Looks like a beautiful place to get some therapy.
    Just lay back on that daybed...
    And Lord knows Philip Johnson needed it.

    Designers create places in which they can finally find some comfort, don't they? The Glass House seems meant to purify. But it's also an essay in narcissism.

    This year the curators have also launched an exciting oral history project:
    "Artists from Robert Raushenberg to Frank Stella, architects and scholars from Vincent Scully and Robert A.M Stern, clients such as Gerald Hines, and close friends of Philip Johnson and David Whitney will be target of this Glass House project to capture and collect conversations, musings, and insight from people who frequented and contributed to the Glass House since it’s completion in 1949."
    We need to see more modernist landmarks record their histories and make them available. Now is the time.

    Top photo: Steve Brosnahan
    Second photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times
    With a shout-out to the "Gas House Gangs" of 1890's New York and 1934 St. Louis.
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Storefront for Art and Architecture to pop up in L.A., and then disappear

    Beginning April 11, the very first "Pop-Up" Storefront will, pop up in L.A. to exhibit Frédéric Chaubin's CCCP (Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed).

    Also in April, a Pop-up Storefront will appear in Milan during the 2008 edition of the Salone del Mobile (Milan Furniture Fair, 16-21 April). In June, Storefront will visit London for five weeks during the London Festival of Architecture (20 June - 20 July).

    It's the first time Storefront will set up shop beyond New York. Storefront says, "Pop-Ups will avoid the conventional gallery format by temporarily taking over unoccupied spaces in unexpected neighborhoods, to exhibit and discuss pressing topics in art and architecture."

    The one in L.A. will be in a partially disused print works at 7176 Sunset Boulevard.

    Sounds good to me. I hope they come to where you and I live.
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Will we rebuild Louis Sullivan's K.A.M. Pilgrim Baptist Church?

    Twenty-six months after the tragic fire that consumed Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler's masterpiece K.A.M synagogue on Chicago's South Side, aka Pilgrim Baptist Church, not much progress can be seen in the rebuilding effort.  Some 40 million dollars may be needed. The Governor is having a hard time getting the one million bucks he's trying to donate into the correct basket.  

    Here's a report - with pretty good video - from a year ago, precious little has changed, precious Lord.     

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Mies and Duke Ellington make music "Under Glass"

    Join the Mies van der Rohe Society to celebrate the 122nd birthday of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, accompanied by the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

    Relive the golden year of 1957 and a concert originally played in Crown Hall by the Duke.

    Dancing, cocktails and desserts
    Saturday, March 29, 20088–11pm
    S. R. Crown Hall 3360 South State Street Chicago

    Cost $40 - $75 per person. More info here.
    Free admission for IIT College of Architecture students, faculty & staff (cash bar)
    Reservations required by March 21st.

    Here's the history: In 1957 Crown Hall was new. Chicago architect John Vinci was in the first class to study architecture there. The school had a tradition of an annual "I-Ball" dance and Vinci became one of those responsible for putting it on. Vinci and many of the Modernists loved jazz, although Mies did say, "when you improvise you must be very careful." Vinci and his group booked Duke Ellington and his orchestra. The architecture students built a bandstand out of scaffolding, plywood and wooden forms used for concrete. It was nearly eight feet high, and they painted it all white. It must have been beautiful in Crown Hall. (I have not been able to find any photographs, but I'll ask John Vinci again. Many of the Miesians took photos and I bet some exist somewhere of this event.) Vinci remembers that Duke Ellington and his band had to climb a ladder to get onstage.

    Students from the Institute of Design decorated Crown Hall that night and their main effect was to shine blue and green spotlights from outside the building, through the branches of the honey locust trees around Crown Hall, so that the shadows of the branches were seen inside the building, playing on the milk-glass that goes from the floor to above eye-level. I've seen that effect at Crown (though not with colored lights) most memorable a few years back when the buidling reopened after a renovation. IIT shone spotlights through the branches, and on the inside it makes the milk glass look more than ever like living Japanese screens. (I have photos of this effect taken recently, I'll post one soon.) Crown's glass always has that effect, even during the day.

    Supposedly Duke Ellington enjoyed himself so much that night that he wanted to return to Crown Hall to record an album. It was to be called "Ellington Under Glass," - a great name - but that never happened.

    And students such as John Vinci remember Mies that night, sitting in a Barcelona chair, with a cigar, enjoying the evening.

    Crown Hall. Hear the music?

    (Me, I'd love to commission Philip Glass to write a piece for Crown Hall and perform it inside. No pun intended. John Cage was a fan of Mies' work also. But he's gone.)

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White people love Architecture and Barcelona Chairs!

    "If you want to fit in with white people you need to learn about I.M. Pei, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, and a whole swath of others. Also, be prepared to say “Bauhaus” a lot....

    Also of note, white people love big books about architecture. So if you need to get one a gift, this always goes over well because it makes them feel smart without having to read too much."

    ....Modern Furniture:

    "If they are able to acquire this, they will forever refer to it only by the designers name. “I spend hours in the van der Rohe, just looking through these beautiful books of his work.”

    Referring to a white person’s expensive chair as a ‘chair’ is considered poor form and will likely result in a loss of trust and/or respect."

    From a site devoted cheekily, tongue-in-cheekily, to "Stuff White People Like." Hilarious.

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Robert Irwin, Mies, Jasper Johns, and the flag

    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 1942
    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (American, born Germany. 1886-1969).
    Concert Hall Project, Interior perspective.
    Graphite, cut-and-pasted photoreproduction, cut-and-pasted papers, cut-and-pasted painted paper, and gouache on gelatin silver photograph mounted on board, 29 1/2 x 62" (75 x 157.5 cm). Mies van der Rohe Archive, gift of Mrs. Mary Callery.
    © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

    The comparison is not so far-fetched. We know Mies, like Robert Irwin, was above all avant-garde. Mies' use of collage to present his architecture, in 1942 and earlier, is radical. Mies was friends with Dada artists and worked with the progressive design magazine "G" whose contributors included El Lissitzky, Walter Benjamin, Man Ray, Georg Grosz, Kurt Schwitters, Piet Mondrian, Constantin Brancusi and Fernand Léger.

    And, as Architecture Historian Neil Levine tells us about another famous Mies collage, the one for a convention hall,

    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 1954
    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (American, born Germany. 1886-1969).
    Convention Hall, project, Chicago, Illinois,
    Preliminary version: interior perspective. 1954. Collage of cut-and-pasted reproductions, photograph, and paper on composition board. Mies van der Rohe Archive, gift of the architect. © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

    ....The design is a montage of sepia prints made from a Life magazine color photograph of the 1952 Republican Convention... (Notice) the signs for (Republicans) Ike and Taft. Somewhat more ominous are the posters, like the one in the foreground just to the left of center, that say "Impeach Earl Warren," the nemesis of conservatives in the McCarthy era.

    The most prominent, and perhaps most curious, element of the design is the lone vertical one to the left. It is an applique of a small American flag, made of fabric and hanging from the roof truss between two of the state seals. It is the kind of miniature flag attached to tiny sticks that are waved by children in July Fourth parades and bought in five-and-dime stores. The readymade, pop imagery recalls Jasper Johns' series of painted Flags, begun the same year the collage was finished
    Jasper Johns, 1954-55
    Jasper Johns. (American, born 1930).
    Flag. 1954-55 (dated on reverse 1954).
    Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels,
    42 1/4 x 60 5/8" (107.3 x 153.8 cm).
    Gift of Philip Johnson in honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
    © 2008 Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York

    and which, as much as anything else, returned the question of representation to the forefront of contemporary critical discourse while seemingly leaving the issue of politics up in the air.

    The choice of a Republican imagery for a city controlled by Democrats, for a project sponsored by a municipal authority, in the same year that the Democratic party itself nominated Illinois's own governor Adlai Stevenson as its party's presidential candidate - for whom Mies, a naturalized American citizen since 1944, himself voted - renders the issue of interpretation complicated indeed. For sure, Mies did not intend the work to have a specific, literal meaning in the context of contemporary affairs.

    It is neither pro-Republican nor anti-Republican, on the surface of things. But there is, as (Franz) Schulze noted, a "poetically representational" layer of meaning, one that Arthur Drexler earlier on described as "bring[ing] architecture into the realm of heroic enterprise" to create "the most monumental image twentieth-century architecture has yet produced."" Clearly signifying something beyond mere space or structure, the collaged imagery of the Chicago Convention Hall condenses, into what is arguably the most powerful political statement of architecture conceived in the Cold War era, a visual representation of the core symbolic moment of the American democratic political process, at the scale of modern technology and in the terms of modern mass culture. Neither explicitly celebratory nor overtly critical, the collage blurs the boundaries between those two poles - as it submerges the crowd of people beneath the deep walls and roof structure - to work across the entire spectrum as a stringent diagnostic.

    The frontispiece of the catalog that the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego published for their Robert Irwin exhibition shows two quotes
    Less is more.
    -Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

    Less is more when less is the sum total of more.
    -Robert Irwin

    In 2006 Robert Irwin gave a talk called “Less is More Only When Less Is the Sum Total of More.” In April of that year he gave the talk in Crown Hall - the Architecture school that Mies van der Rohe designed at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

    Mies standing over a model of Crown Hall.

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