Rest in Peace Jørn Utzon

    Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect, died on November 29, aged 90.
    He designed the Sydney Opera House
    but left the project and never saw it completed.

    From the Sydney Morning Herald:

    With a friend, Tobias Faber, Utzon wrote a controversial article espousing two central architectural principles; learning from vernacular architecture and intelligent response to function.

    If these were the seeds of the Sydney Opera House design, travel was the nutrient. In the late 1940s, the Utzons went to America, where Joern had warm meetings with the renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen in Michigan, Frank Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin and Charles Eames in California, as well as a bizarre encounter in Chicago with the cigar-sucking Mies van der Rohe, where communication, in English, was through a secretary. Mies allowed the Utzons to visit his newly finished Farnsworth House at Plano, Illinois.

    Utzon was struck by the way Miesian spaces were at once disciplined and voluptuous, by Wright's richly textural use of material and by the sheer panache with which Eames combined off-the-shelf componentry; lessons which he combined to good effect in his own house in Hammermill Wood, Hellebaek, 1952. Next stop Mexico, where Utzon had his first experience of the Mayan temples that, in creating massive stone platforms at the height of the jungle canopy, enabled the Mayans to break through into the sunlight and re-create lost horizons; much as Utzon would later do in Sydney.

    (From the New York Times) - As a young architect Mr. Utzon worked for Gunnar Asplund in Sweden and Alvar Aalto in Finland before establishing his own practice in Copenhagen in 1950. In 1956 he read about the Sydney Opera House competition in a Swedish architecture magazine. He spent six months designing a building with sail-like roofs, their geometry, he said, derived from the sections of an orange.

    (Back to the Sydney Morning Herald) ... by the time he won the Sydney Opera House competition, Utzon was a 39-year-old architect brimming with ideas and design skill but with relatively little experience in the tribulations of getting things built....

    The apocryphal story is that (Opera House competition judge) Saarinen arrived two days late and, plucking Utzon's scheme from the bin, declared it the winner. "So many opera houses look like boots," he told the press at the time. "Utzon has solved the problem." ... the winner was agreed.... Ten-year-old Lin Utzon, Joern's eldest child (who herself would later create a number of artworks for Sydney buildings) carried the news to her father, pedalling furiously through the frozen landscape on her bike. "Now," she said, "can I have my horse?"

    Even as Utzon basked in his win, the furor began. His winning scheme was displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art beside Saarinen's TWA Terminal. Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe hated Utzon's design; Saarinen and Richard Neutra loved it.

    Read the whole story here.


    A professor of mine, Rafael Moneo, worked on the building, under Utzon. He helped develop some of the geometries of the curved shells. Moneo spoke in superlatives of his former employer. And he said that working on that project influenced his design for the

    Kursaal Auditorium and Congress Center in San Sebastián, Spain (1999). Particularly in the use of two volumes to separate functions.

    Warning to those who like straight lines - I don't think his Kursaal - by all accounts wonderful - identifies San Sebastián as famously as Utzon's design identifies Sydney.

    But the Kursaal halls are said to have marvelous acoustics, whereas the acoustics in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House are said to be poor and artists complain about the lack of performance and backstage space.

    Lynn Becker has a smart post on Jørn Utzon.

    Utzon portrait AFP/Getty
    Sunset shot Greg Wood/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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Thanksgiving quiz - You've never been inside this building, but you will be. - What is it?

    Its indoor "street," with shops or galleries to each side reminds me of an Italian Galleria, such as

    Vittorio Emanuele in Milano.
    So yes, it is by an Italian.

    Its main staircase says "elegance"

    and it is the "son of"

    staircase at the Arts Club, Chicago, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

    So yes, this new building will grace, help transform, add greatly to, the Windy City. To help situate it for you, here's a view of Millennium Park, from the third floor window of the new building,

    in lovely autumnal colors.

    Do you know where I was today, to take these photos?
    In which major new cultural building, due to open
    (with a splash) in May?

    Details and more thoughts on this, more photos, exterior shots, plus- is the bridge to this any good? It's got a tough act to follow! Answers after we pause for Thanksgiving. I'll also write about the restoration work at Mies van der Rohe's 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments.

    I have much for which to be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. And write me, if you can name the building above.
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de Young by de Meuron and (de) Herzog

    Ah, the great de Young Museum in San Francisco by Herzog and de Meuron. It lays on the earth, not far from the ocean, like a beached whale; I mean it's a container of great mystery.
    And great power.

    With its shimmering skin

    and belly of an interior courtyard

    "waving" a great and mighty tail fin in the sky. It's a lookout tower. Rather than seeking the whale, now we're in the whale, seeking deeper meaning.

    This "fin" propels the place, creates waves of motion,

    It wants to swallow you, engulf you, and then spit you out a better person, as you've through a meaningful experience.

    And since I did it to Gehry, I'll add this roadside attraction, for kicks:

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Yale Whale

    Of course there's the "Yale Whale" by Eero Saarinen

    The David S. Ingalls Ice Arena (1956-58);
    which to me was always more of a


    But "stingray" doesn't rhyme with Yale.

    I'll post soon on a recent California museum with the power and mystery and belly of a whale. Know which one?
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Luring tourists with whales

LIFE imitates Mies

    Images of Mies and his work
    from Life Magazine.

    New York, New York. 1956

    1957. "Room reflecting in glass wall of apartment in Lake Shore Drive apartments. Outside view of companion building and traffic also visible."

    Nice that the popular magazine LIFE appreciated so early what Mies was trying to do.

    One of the more casual shots of him that you will see

    December 1956
    Mies van der Rohe relaxing on couch while smoking cigar and reading at home.
    (LIFE's caption says it was taken in New York, but I say Chicago.)

    Most shots of Mies have him concentrating, like this

    November 1956
    Mies in Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology

    They look to be working on a model of the New National Gallery in Berlin. Or is that a student's variation of it?

    Again thinking, with the thinking man's developer, Herbert Greenwald

    November 1956

    And with Philip Johnson. The woman looks like Phyllis Lambert.
    LIFE's caption says they're "studying technical problems concerned with model of a fountain. Chicago, October, 1956"

    Must be for the Seagram Building plaza

    Here are "Bronze I-beams ready to ship from Chicago Extruded Metals Company to New York City, where it will be part of the new Seagram's Building. November 1956."

    Nice to know they were made in Chicago.

    And finally, a photo of the still unfinished Mies' 860 - 880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments.

    Bottom Photo: Ralph Crane
    All other photos: Frank Schersel.
    A few more, here.
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Trains, cranes and museums

    Tyler Green says of Jeff Koons' project for outside LACMA, the L.A. County Museum of Art,

    "This is unrelated to the proposed Koons 'train' at LACMA, but what the heck..."

    I like that "rhyme" and wish I'd thought of it (after all, Montparnasse, where this occurred, was my train station when I lived in Paris and that image was all around)

    but Koon's project to me has always "rhymed with"

    Moshe Safdie's design (unbuilt) for the Stuttgart Museum of Contemporary Art (1990).

    Unlike Koon's proposal, Safdie's had a practical function
    "Served by a giant crane, the temporary galleries could be moved and transferred to off-site storage when not in use.... When not being used, the crane would stand motionless like a spire, but would appear to transform itself into a symbol of change while in use, as it swung to position new works or convert temporary galleries for upcoming exhibitions."

    And unlike L.A., Stuttgart does not suffer earthquakes, that I know of.


    And although it's very different in tone, reason and purpose - while we're talking Moshe Safdie, let's remember, with respect, that a little later, around 1991 - 1994, he designed the Yad Vashem Transports Memorial.

    (Click on either catalog image to enlarge it.)
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E.L. swell in Dwell

Opening Sunday and you may only have 25 years to see it - Sol LeWitt wall drawings at MASS MoCA

    This Sunday - the great Sol LeWitt wall drawings exhibition will open at MASS MoCA. Almost an acre of LeWitt. They'll stay up for at least 25 years.

    It'll be a knockout and will change forever how you look at art and exhibitions.

    So I thought I'd re-post my story from this past summer on how the LeWitts were made:
    You too can present a retrospective of the great Wall Drawings of Sol LeWitt!

    You'll need a crew. Art students will do. Also recent art graduates, and artists- if they can follow instructions.

    You gotta buy 'em some paint. Get the good stuff.

    Maybe they'll throw in some hats.

    Find a large space. Very large. We're not talking precious little miniatures. Usually, an abandoned industrial warehouse, factory, or a mill complex works well.

    From the days when America actually made stuff you could use.

    But inside you'll have to build white walls. Lots of them. And make sure they're to LeWitt’s specifications.

    Follow the plan for what goes where, or you'll be at your wits end.

    (Even the plan is beautiful.)

    Now pin up the working drawings by LeWitt so you know what to follow. They're done by hand, not computer. So, as "perfect" as they look, they're not. That's refreshing.

    If you're lucky, Sol LeWitt's daughter Eva, a colorful artist in her own right, might lend you transparencies and one of those good, old-fashioned overhead projectors.

    Now get out your tape and mock up the walls!

    Remember, Sol LeWitt had helpers too.

    If you've done it all right, interesting patterns will start to appear.



    Line up your charts of the colors LeWitt specified to make sure you get 'em right

    and let 'er rip! (click the arrow)

    Music to my ears.

    Handwork, as at Lascaux.

    Yes, if you follow LeWitt's instructions you too can produce absolutely stunning Wall Drawings

    The world around you is transformed.



    The later, bolder ones

    show how artists use of color often changes as they age.

    So for your retrospective, try to include some of LeWitt's more subtle works

    Those are revelatory. And it's moving to follow the artist's path.

    For these subtle ones, have the crew keep the pencils very sharp

    To get

    Can you say compulsive?

    And keep the lines fine and straight, or this poor guy will go blind to correct it! (click on arrow)

    When you're all done, you'll have wonderful, jarringly powerful spaces:

    just like at the Sol LeWitt retrospective opening at MASS MoCA November 16, 2008.

    Congratulations to the crew! And to MASS MoCA's Director Joseph Thompson, and to all involved, including Yale University Art Gallery, and the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and Bruner/Cott and Associates architects, who restored the building.

    Done in collaboration with Sol LeWitt, before his death in April 2007. The retrospective will include one hundred works—covering nearly an acre of wall surface—that LeWitt created from 1968 to 2007.

    Here's how it came to be, according to MASS MoCA: Jock Reynolds, the Director of the Yale University Art Gallery, who in 1993 worked closely with LeWitt to produce an earlier retrospective of his wall drawings brought Sol LeWitt to see MASS MoCA and its Director Joseph Thompson.

    "LeWitt toured the MASS MoCA's campus of industrial buildings, where the artist was immediately intrigued by Building #7. The structure, situated at the center of MASS MoCA’s multi-building complex, and featuring large banks of windows that open onto two flanking courtyards, appealed to LeWitt as an ideal site for a multifloor installation of his work. His specifications for the space included new circulation paths, including a series of “flying bridges” and newly created courtyard spaces, that will connect the LeWitt building to MASS MoCA’s changing exhibition galleries and entry lobby.

    Thompson comments, “As we’ve built the interior partitions to Sol’s specifications, it has become clear that his understanding of architectural space was as masterful as his wall drawings themselves. He consciously sited his wall drawings to engage both the interior of Building #7 and its outside environment. It is stunning to see how well his monumental aesthetic intervention within the heart of the MASS MoCA campus of buildings is going to enliven the entire museum. Sol left almost every window in Building #7 generously open to invite in a play of continuous natural light—which is somehow typical of his creative spirit.”

    “Detailed,” “painstaking,” and “strangely liberating” are terms that have been used to describe the experience of creating Sol LeWitt’s monumental wall drawings. The drawings at MASS MoCA will be executed over a six-month period by twenty-four of the senior and seasoned assistants who worked with the artist over many years. They will be joined by thirty students from Yale University, Williams College, and North Adams’s Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, as well as by undergraduate students from other colleges and universities around the country."

    Along with Tadao Ando's buildings for the Clark Art Institute in the same area, by November this is worth a trip.

    Rest easy, in your pretty little town in the Berkshires, knowing you've added interest to the world. Rest easy too - your work lives on - Sol LeWitt.


    MASS MoCA has a fine website. And read Richard Lacayo's excellent posts and interview with MASS MoCA's director Joe Thompson: parts 1, 2, 3, 4.

    Did I make a LeWitt with the ad boxes?
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