Category: Architecture

Don’t Get up, Win a Copy of Lina Bo Bardi From Your Chair

Although Lina Bo Bardi was not registered as a professional architect in Brazil until 1955, she played an integral role in designing and building her house in São Paolo, built between 1951 and 1952. The Bardi residence was the first house built in São Paolo’s Morumbi neighborhood and would become a meeting place for many artists and intellectuals. Known today as the “Casa de Vidro,” or “Glass House,” the home features an open floor plan enclosed by wide floor-to-ceiling glass windows that look out onto the lush forest, celebrating Bo Bardi’s “reverence for nature and simple things.”

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Lina Bo and P.M. Bardi house in Morumbi, Sao Paolo, 1949-52, view from the northeastern side showing main glazed volume. Photo by Nelson Kon.

 

Bo Bardi refused to furnish her home with sofas, opting instead for chairs of her own design as seating for her guests. One of the most iconic chairs in her home was her sleek bowl chair, designed in 1951. This chair features a concave, upholstered seat upon a four-legged, simple steel support. Only a few of these chairs were ever made as the design was never industrialized. However, Bo Bardi’s bowl chair was rereleased in a limited run of 500 in 2012.

Lina Bo Bardi, Bardi Bowl chair in steel and leather, c. 1951.  Photo by Nelson Kon.

Lina Bo Bardi, Bardi Bowl chair in steel and leather, c. 1951. Photo by Nelson Kon.

In Bo Bardi’s “Glass House,” one could relax in a bowl chair amid the Bardis’ artworks, possessions, and books and gaze out at a rainforest vista. But what would you do in your own bowl chair?

We can’t give away one of these chairs (alas), but we would love to give you a copy of our brand new book Lina Bo Bardi, by Zeuler R. M. de A. Lima.  To win, send us an email by 12/19/2013 and tell us what color (or fabric) your ideal bowl chair would be, where it would be situated, and what book you would read while sitting in it (in addition to Lima’s book, of course). Each of the three best submissions will receive a copy of this gorgeous book.

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Lina Bo Bardi: Points in Narrative

BoBardiZeuler R. M. de A. Lima—

The fact that Lina Bo Bardi (1914–1992) has so far received less critical and popular recognition in the US than in the rest of the Western world perhaps reveals more about the architectural culture in this country and elsewhere than about the architect herself.

Let’s remember that Lina Bo Bardi left Italy at the beginning of her career and that she remained, for a long time, marginal to the prevalent architectural discourse in her adopted country, Brazil.

Part of the long disregard, in Brazil, toward Lina Bo Bardi’s career had to do with the diversity and unevenness of her production, which escaped modernist categorizations, and part of it had to do with her uncompromising disposition, nuanced by the fact that she was a woman and a foreigner.

Lina Bo Bardi’s idiosyncratic work only started to receive wide recognition in Brazil at the end of her life, in the 1980s, especially due to the success of her project for SESC Pompeia leisure center in São Paulo.

Not only is SESC Pompeia leisure center Lina Bo Bardi’s most complex and accomplished work, it also introduced new vitality to the debate about modern architecture at the height of its ideological crisis.

Lina Bo Bardi proposed to reconsider the ethical principles of the modern movement during a period in which Brazil struggled with both political and economic crises amidst the international restructuring of capitalism, which enhanced the challenges faced by architects.

Lina Bo Bardi’s enduring praise of aesthetic simplification, lived experience, and historical awareness expressed in hybrid projects and thoughtful programs offered critical alternatives to the standardization of high modernism, the pastiche of postmodernism, and the aestheticization of minimalism.

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By the time Lina Bo Bardi’s career was celebrated in Brazil, the country’s architectural production—similar to that of much of the southern hemisphere—had vanished from the focus of the narrow and competitive debate established between the two sides of the north Atlantic.

Between the 1980s and the early 2000s, the logic of neoliberalism dominated the international architectural culture, with the ascendance of celebrity designers and critics at the service of a high-end symbolic economy, the devaluation of cultural resistance, and dismissal of ethical-social concerns, all of which were antithetical to Lina Bo Bardi’s belief system.

As the world and especially the US entered a new economic and cultural crisis in the late 2000s, the claims, the cynicism, and the extravagances by the design star system have found a dead end, yielding visibility to practices and values that had been neglected for the last few decades. Perhaps these changes help us understand the increased interest in the US in the career of an architect such as Lina Bo Bardi.


Zeuler R. M. de A. Lima is an architect and associate professor of history, theory, and design at the School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of Lina Bo Bardi, recently published by Yale University Press.

The Houses that Louis Kahn Built

KahnThe Houses of Louis Kahn, by George H. Marcus and William Whitaker, a book about which Witold Rybczynski recently wrote “[an] exemplary study… If you thought you knew all there was to know about Kahn, read this splendid book—there is still more to learn about the greatest American architect of the second half of the 20th century,” officially publishes this week. The images and the writing in the book are equally captivating, and we are pleased to share a sample of each today.

In the Prologue to the book, Marcus and Whitaker write, “In writing about Kahn’s houses, scholars have relied principally on his poetic statements, such as the one that appeared in his essay ‘Form and Design’ in 1960: ‘Reflect on what characterizes abstractly House, a house, home.  House is the abstract characteristic of spaces good to live in.  House is the form, in the mind of wonder it should be there without shape or dimension.  A house is a conditional interpretation of these spaces.  This is design.  In my opinion the greatness of the architect depends on his powers of realization of that which is House, rather than his design of a house which is a circumstantial act.  Home is the house and the occupants.  Home becomes different with each occupant.’  While such statements illuminate Kahn’s perspective and demand serious consideration, they do little to shed light on his concrete experiences in designing houses.  They say nothing about how he was inspired by his clients, how he transmuted their aspirations into built form, or how he completed many of his commissions with designs for their interiors and furnishings.  Nor do they say anything about his process of invention, which, because of the small scale of these projects, can be followed in vivid detail.  In this study, his earliest architectural endeavors have been brought to surprising light, his creative influences revealed, and his youthful method uncovered.  This method continued to enrich his vocabulary as his houses evolved, often before these new ideas were explored in his monumental works, and he developed them over a period of more than forty years into one of the most remarkable expressions of the American private house.”

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New Haven Atlas of Street Art

Several weeks ago, our recently released Interaction of Color iPad app caught the attention of veteran New Haven street artist BiP, a self-professed Albers fan. Of course we had to let BiP know, too, about our brand new print publication The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti, by Rafael Schacter, and as we did, we realized something: there is a huge range of stunning street art right in Yale University Press’s own back yard! The Yale ARTbooks blog asked an adventurous intern to sally forth and learn more. This is what she – and we – found: a collection of pieces that we think reflect a sense of optimism and play, adding a colorful punch to New Haven’s urban surroundings. Whether created as public art installations by established artists like Josef Albers himself, or painted by the notoriously secretive BiP, these works harmonize with each other in interesting and unexpected ways.

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The Gateway Arch : A National Icon with a Troubled Past

The Gateway Arch: A Biography

An abstract and mysterious structure, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis conveys wonder, but leaves many visitors questioning the “why” behind the monument. Its history is surprisingly sordid. In The Gateway Arch: A Biography, a new addition to the Icons of America series, author Tracy Campbell documents the series of questionable political maneuvers, accusations of plagiarism aimed at Arch architect Eero Saarinen, and city planning failures that built this national monument.

To get off of the ground, the Arch required voter approval of a $30 million expenditure. This was an  incredible amount for St. Louis, a struggling city in the 1930s. As Campbell tells the University of Kentucky News in an interview on the The Gateway Arch, “the election was fraudulent in a lot of ways – that thousands and thousands of false voters were registered in empty parking lots or run down tenements, but that was necessary to get the approval of the voters.”

Tracy Campbell The Gateway Arch Interview

The Gateway Arch provides an interesting case study on the results of pork-barrel spending on the economic life of a city. In the context of the current debt crisis, it inspires reflection on the current and past financial strategies for dealing with economic depression and recession. In the 1930s, election fraud approved funds to start the monument project that, while beloved, failed to inspire the economic development that city planners hoped—an interesting consideration to keep in mind for determining the legacy of our current financial decisions.

Building Seagram

Building SeagramThe Seagram building rises over New York’s Park Avenue, seeming to float above the street with perfect lines of bronze and glass. Considered one of the greatest icons of twentieth-century architecture, the building was commissioned by Samuel Bronfman, founder of the Canadian distillery dynasty Seagram. Bronfman’s daughter Phyllis Lambert was twenty-seven years old when she took over the search for an architect and chose Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), a pioneering modern master of what he termed ‘skin and bones’ architecture. Mies, who designed the elegant, deceptively simple thirty-eight-story tower along with Philip Johnson (1906–2005), emphasized the beauty of structure and fine materials, and set the building back from the avenue, creating an urban oasis with the building’s plaza. Through her choice, Lambert established her role as a leading architectural patron and single-handedly changed the face of American urban architecture.

Below is an excerpt from Building Seagram, by Phyllis Lambert:

Phyllis Lambert—

Looking at the past through the eyes of the present, it might be assumed that the commissioning, design, and construction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building were politically driven by the world of power and intrigue. In face, Building Seagram is not a story of architectural or corporate power plays but rather one of unlikely convergences, extraordinary coincidences, and ironic turns. In 1951, when the building project got under way. my father, Samuel Bronfman, whom I still refer to as SB, the ‘client’, de jure, was still effectively an outsider in New York, Mies was living in Chicago, and I was working as an artist in Paris. Only Philip Johnson, through his longtime position as director of the Department of Architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, was any sort of powerful figure in New York City at the time. Real estate development, on the threshold of a postwar boom, did not yet wield the influence that it would eventually assume. Though it is difficult to comprehend today, architecture itself was generally considered to be little more than a commercial product at the beginning of the 1950s.

This book is based on my involvement with the Seagram building from its beginnings – identifying the architect, serving as director of planning and, in effect, as ‘client’ from 1954 to 1959, building the company’s collections, and continuing to be involved with the maintenance and stewardship of the building as well as the artworks and programs through the end of the twentieth century. It is a personal account of how Mies designed the Seagram building as well as Philip Johnson’s role, both as I experienced the process at the time and as I see it now, some fifty years later. Ultimately, it is very much about the life of the building in the city. This post-World War II phenomenon is seen against and within the coming of age of architecture and the arts in New York, transformations from war technology to building construction, the first real changes in zoning regulations in New York City, the evolution of real estate from individual practices to a highly structured and influential industry in the city, and the onset of legislation aimed at sustaining the urban fabric.

[...]

The story of Building Seagram offers insight into the arcana of commissioning buildings  in New York City after World War II. In this volume I have sought to explain in some detail Mies’s approach to building - Baukunst, he called it, the building art. This encompasses the questions he posed about the time he lived in, the logical, the less than logical, and the spiritual, as well as the instances of his auto-generative process. Rising prominently on park Avenue, New York’s broadest and most majestic street, Seagram was immediately perceived as the great exemplar of the prototypical American building type. What industry and lesser architects learned from it was not its exemplary form and proportions, not its refined details, not its astute siting (which changed the concept of public space in New York City), but the idea of the glass and metal curtain wall, which was roughly copied and deployed in countless buildings insensitive to site, context, or proportion, and, one must say, far removed from the philosophical and cultural foundations of the art of architecture in which Mies was immersed. Like all, or almost all, of the buildings Mies forged, the Seagram tower was bound to an open platform forming a podium establishing a vista and an oasis in the grid of the busy city. Mies had explored the spatial interrelationship of building and landscape from his first built work in the first decade of the twentieth century. The glass towers he drew in the early 1920s as revolutionary manifestos remained theoretical for forty years, until the circumstance materialized in which they could be built. However, neither his low rise structures nor his towers were entities in themselves. Rather, each was resolved as a union of house and garden or building and plaza, as elements bound together to become clearings in the ‘forest’ of the city. In looking back at the birth and life of the Seagram building, it is not enough to recount what happened, as complex and compelling as that might be: It is also necessary to examine the unfolding of Mies’s course in architecture, the evolution of his ideas over half a century, from his independent building of the 1909 to the completion of Seagram and its plaza in 1958. Similarly, it is necessary to revisit Philip Johnson’s Glass House to understand his contribution to the building. It is equally vital to consider the impact of the Seagram building in the public realm of the city over the next fifty years, from 1959 through the first decade of the twenty-first century, when the Seagram company ceased to exist.

Excerpted from Building Seagram, by Phyllis Lambert, available now from Yale University Press. Copyright © 2013 by Yale University. All rights reserved.

 

Announcing Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary App

Pevsner's Architectural Glossary App

The perfect way to check architectural terms when you are out and about, exploring buildings.

Just in time for National Landscape Architecture month, Yale University Press is pleased to announce the release of Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary app. Based on the 2010 publication of Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary, this iOS app will allow users to interactively engage with Pevsner’s vocabulary and knowledge base. With a glossary of architectural terms, explanatory line drawings, specific building maps, and beautiful color images, the app will allow both beginner students and expect scholars to explore Pevsner’s masterful understanding of the field.

Sally Salvesen, publisher of the Pevsner Guide Series said of the app, “This vocabulary is absolutely central to Pevsner’s famous survey of British architecture and the Glossary book has shown how keen people are to engage with it. We are excited to be taking this first step in digitizing Pevsner content…”

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-83), one of the most learned and stimulating twentieth-century writers on art and architecture, began his career in Germany. He later became Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck College (University of London), Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge and a Gold Medallist of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In addition to The Buildings of England, first published from 1951 to 1974, he was founding editor of The Pelican History of Art and of The Buildings of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Among his many publications are An Outline of European Architecture, Pioneers of Modern Design and A History of Building Types. See all available titles from the Pevsner Architectural Guides here.

The Rise and Fall of Urbanism: Douglas W. Rae’s City

Settled by Puritans in 1638, New Haven, Connecticut was the first planned city in America. A few weeks ago in New Haven, a group of citizens met in the basement of a middle school to discuss the well-being of their town. Issues like “food deserts,” street crime, and health problems came to the forefront as dozens of people discussed the results of a health survey targeting specific neighborhoods, while suggesting possible solutions.

With a storied history, New Haven is the site of both the affluent Yale University as well as significant poverty. This city makes a fascinating case study for examining urban development and decline. In City: Urbanism and Its EndDouglas W. Rae, Richard Ely Professor of Management and professor political science at Yale, explores New Haven’s urban life and in doing so illuminates urban vitality and decline more generally.

City: Urbanism and Its EndParticularly in the 19th century, unexpected and unplanned events such as immigration patterns, transportation development, and shifts in industry and energy came together to form the character of city-life in the United States. Rae notes, “there was nothing inevitable or even predictable about this temporary historical alignment: if God, or nature, should elect to run the same history a thousand times, there is no particularly good reason to expect that the same alignment would recur very often, or at all.” Rae describes how economic, political and social factors came together in America’s newly industrialized cities to form “urbanism.” City describes how these elements slowly and unevenly eroded within that concentrated city space, which he understands as the end of urbanism.

Within this decline, city officials were faced with the task of managing and revitalizing New Haven. Rae gives a fascinating account for these efforts and the personalities of those involved, like Mayor Richard Lee and his administration in the 1950s and ‘60s whom Rae calls “the smartest and most arrogant people who had ever served in the management of so modest an American city.”

Rae brings out the way cities live or die based on incremental shifts over time. “Downward-sloping change in a city typically unfolds without a big bang, without an eruption that makes headlines,” he explains, “but instead by the rapid accumulation of small changes.” These changes are hard to undo as well. Rae explains, “Cities are among the least agile creatures in America’s system of capitalist democracy – they most slowly, reactively, and awkwardly in response to change initiated by more athletic organizations.”

As suburbs grew, expectations and experiences of the city changed too. Commuters on their way to work approached its limits at certain times of day, which Rae describes in appealing prose: “Morning was for the city — its noise, its traffic, its strangers, its cash.”

Any city develops its character from disparate and complicated pressures. Rae paints a picture that is rich in detail and expertise from factors as varied as the inner-workings of municipal government, to the influence of the burgeoning railroad, to the development of capitalist enterprise. In doing this he illustrates not only the history of one city, but both the small and sweeping ways any urban centre is shaped.

In his final chapter, while laying out the factors the city could not control, the author suggests opportunities for action. Rae quotes Bart Giamatti, former president of Yale University:

Human beings made and make cities, and only human beings kill cities, or let them die. And human beings do both – make cities and unmake them – by the same means: by acts of choice.

Building the Cloisters

At first glance The Cloisters might be seen as an anachronism to its northern Manhattan neighborhood. Nestled within Fort Tryon Park (opened 1935), sitting above a grid of 1920s low-rise apartments, 1950s high-rise housing projects and the requisite array of fast food franchises, parking garages, and bodegas that dot the city, The Cloisters brings a decidedly Medieval feel to the neighborhood. This is not surprising; much of the building predates its neighboring structures by several centuries. A branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the renowned collection of European art and architecture, including the famed Unicorn Tapestries, is housed in an elegant stone structure that combines a little bit of 12th-century France here, a little bit of 11th-century Spain there, and some Belgian cobblestones (extracted from lower Manhattan) and Connecticut granite added during the 1930s for good measure.

The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture, Revised and Updated EditionThe Cloisters is truly the sum of its parts, a series of attractions that is as likely to be a wall hanging as the wall itself. What makes this so fascinating, beyond the pleasure of proximity to so many artistic and architectural treasures, is that these paintings, tapestries, ceramics, and sculptures, not to mention arches, courtyards, and apses, tell a story not simply of the European Middle Ages, but  of the brisk trade in medieval artifacts that flourished at the turn of the 20th century. As Nancy Wu and Peter Barnet note the in their introduction to a newly revised and expanded guide to the collection, the history of The Cloisters begins with George Grey Barnard, an American sculptor who lived in rural France with his family between 1905-1913. At that time, ruins and relics of the Middle Ages were easily available to those with the interest and means to acquire them. Over centuries many of these objects had been uprooted from their original contexts by war, looting, and architectural renovations; some structures that once served ecclesiastical purposes were put to decidedly mundane use storing livestock and farming equipment. Barnard, who had a longstanding fascination with medieval stonework, was able to build an impressive collection which he shipped to New York just before the French senate passed a law impeding such exports.

Barnard’s collection, originally on display at 698 Fort Washington Avenue in Washington Heights, was purchased for The Metropolitan Museum of Art by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1925 and continued to expand through new acquisitions over the subsequent decade. In the late 1930s new galleries were built for collection in Fort Tryon Park, an Olmsted brothers-designed space commissioned by Rockefeller and donated to the city. The updated structure combined contemporary construction modeled after various European medieval monuments, with several historical elements from France, including a chapter house from an abbey in Pontaut that had most recently served as a stable, a 13th century doorway from Burgundy that had been refitted for a barn, and 12th century chapel that had been put to use during the 19th century as a stable, dance hall, theater, and finally as a storage space for tobacco. Barnet and Wu’s guide gives readers and museum-goers detailed biographies of these elements, often with images of the pieces in their original, re-purposed contexts. The result is a rich history of how a museum collection is built. Such an in-depth story of architectural refurbishment and innovation, coupled with close readings of key pieces from the collection, makes the guide an invaluable insight into the art and culture of the Middle Ages and tells a truly enchanting slice of New York City history.

Happy Birthday, Berenice Abbott!

After exploring her creative urges through journalism, sculpture, poetry, and theater, Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) found a home for her artistic talents in photography while working in Paris as a darkroom assistant to Man Ray. Abbott knew Ray from an earlier encounter in New York, and though at the beginning of her tenure as his assistant she knew nothing about photography, she soon acquired her prodigious skills.  Three short years later, in 1926, she had her first solo exhibition.

In 1929, she returned to New York from Paris and, as she would later report to a radio interviewer, “The minute I touched New York, I had a burning desire to photograph this city of incredible contrasts, the city of stone needles and skyscrapers, the city that is never the same—New York.”

Many of Abbott’s visually arresting New York images are gathered in the recently-published catalogue Berenice Abbott, edited by Gaëlle Morel, which accompanies an exhibition currently on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  We’ve been particularly captivated, though, by the work in a subsequent group of photographs, collectively known as Abbott’s “scientific photography.”  Abbott herself considered these some of her most “realistic” work.  In 1946, Abbott wrote, “To me photography is a means, perhaps the best means of our age—of widening knowledge of our world.  Photography is a method of education, for acquainting people of all ages and condition with the truth about life today.”  With birthday wishes and gratitude to Abbott for her contribution to the fields of photography and science, here is a brief slide show of some magnificent images that represent properties and phenomena of physics.