Architecture, Towns, Cities > Architects, Houses, Buildings, Flats
Whatever style you please …
Soane’s designs for Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone,
in variously Norman, Gothic and neoclassical manners.
All images courtesy of the Soane Museum
A battle of iron wills: the fractious world of
architects v clients
Architects have always used alluring (or deceiving) drawings
to get their way with ‘meddling amateurs’
– as a new exhibition at the Soane Museum proves
February 2015 12.13 GMT
Frank Gehry on Cones, Domes and Messiness
NYT 6 December 2014
Frank Gehry on Cones, Domes and Messiness
Video The New York Times
6 December 2014
The architect Frank Gehry
talks about his asymmetrical design
for the planned 450,000-square-foot Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
and his inspiration for the museum’s huge, cooling cones.
Produced by: Channon Hodge
Read the story here:
Watch more videos at:
The Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert
at 111 South Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, California
7 Apr 2005
Author: Carol M. Highsmith
Frank Gehry's Disney Hall.
J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times
New Los Angeles Dream Factories
25 December 2006
black architects UK
black architects USA
architecture UK / USA
modern architecture USA
architecture > USA > Chicago
Ysrael Abraham Seinuk, structural engineer
Stirling prize UK
USA > Cathedrals of power:
Philadelphia's abandoned turbine halls – in pictures
UK 27 February 2017
Atlantic Yards (Brooklyn)
British piers – in
UK / USA
a 12-story building
The Superman Building in Providence, R.I.
great modern buildings of the 20th century
condominium / condo
giant housing estate
The 10 best council estates
From Aberdeen's rugged Gallowgate
castle-like crown of Harlow's Bishopsfield,
the Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore
chooses his favourite council
USA > search and rescue
operations UK / USA
the Harvard Five
a group that made New Canaan, Conn.,
a hotbed of architectural experimentation
in the 1950s and ’60s
River view of
in County Wicklow, Northern Ireland.
Richard Powers/Sydney Living Museums
allure of fantasy homes where money is no object
Wednesday 5 August 2015 07.35 BST
Philip Johnson’s Glass House
Los Angeles > the Stahl house
superhouses / fantasy
penthouses / sky-high apartments
converted loft room
architecture > city > Leeds
bullet-shaped office tower
USA > The Sears Tower in Chicago
NYC, USA > Chelsea hotel
art deco UK
art deco > Chrysler building in NYC
USA > art deco tower
an 1894 Romanesque Revival building
George Gilbert Scott's landmark hotel
above St Pancras
a gothic masterpiece
USA > New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Gorham Building USA
at Chambers Street and West Broadway
New York Times Building
the O2 / Millenium Dome in London
USA > The online presentation
of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive
features photographs of landmark buildings
and architectural renovation projects
in Washington, D.C.,
and throughout the United States.
The first 23 groups of
contain more than 2,500 images and date
from 1980 to 2005,
views in color
as well as black-and-white.
of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building
was added in
The archive is expected to grow
to more than 100,000 photographs
covering all of
the United States.
a distinguished and richly published
donated her work
the Library of Congress
Starting in 2002,
Highsmith provided scans
with new donations
to allow rapid online access
throughout the world.
Hawksmoor > Christ Church
High Victorian Gothic > St. Paul’s School
Garden City, N.Y. USA
pitched slate roof USA
such as wrought-iron
cornices and working wood shutters
As Heroes Disappear,
the City Needs More
August 24, 2009
The New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
The death of Charles Gwathmey early this month has provoked a
lot of nostalgic reminiscence in the New York architecture world: not just about
Mr. Gwathmey himself, but also about the New York Five, a group of influential
architects of which he was part.
This nostalgia has much to do with what’s been lost in the years since the
group’s prominence in the 1970s. The early years of that decade was a time when
this city was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture. But it
was also a time when New York could still claim to be the country’s center of
architectural thought, and Mr. Gwathmey and his colleagues had a great deal to
do with maintaining that pre-eminence in the public imagination. The New York
Five came to represent the idea that architecture could still express and
advance our values as a culture. To some, the group embodies the last heroic
period in New York architecture.
That the five came together at all seems almost an accident of fate. They had no
real manifesto, no common aesthetic. Several young, promising New York
architects were invited by Arthur Drexler, the director of the Museum of Modern
Art’s legendary architecture department, to meet informally in the museum board
room one day in the late ’60s to talk about their work. More meetings followed,
a few attendees dropped out, others joined in. When the book “Five Architects,”
which inspired the group’s name, was published in 1972, its success was a shock
What the five architects did share, however, was a desire to reassert the
importance of architecture as art form during a crisis in the profession. By the
mid-1960s much of the Modernist dream was in ruins, and one of its central
tenets — that architecture could act as an agent of positive social change — lay
buried beneath decades of failed urban housing projects, soulless government
buildings and sterile concrete plazas.
At the same time activists like Jane Jacobs were portraying modern architecture
as the product of smug, pointy-headed academics out of touch with the way real
people live. Her vision of the ideal city — a historical community of
brownstones, front stoops and corner stores — was modeled on the North End in
Boston and Greenwich Village. It left little room for new architectural ideas.
Faced with such a hostile climate, some of the New York Five began looking to
other creative disciplines for a way out of this malaise. John Hejduk, for
example, often cited Fernand Léger and Juan Gris as an inspiration. The
carefully assembled forms of Michael Graves’s early projects drew inspiration
from the still-life paintings of Giorgio Morandi. (Even Richard Meier’s refined
glass-and-steel aesthetic, which owed its most obvious debt to orthodox
Modernism, turned the classical Modernist house into a fetishized art object.)
The group’s greatest contribution, in retrospect, was its assertion that
architecture had not reached a dead end. The architects saw themselves as
artists and thinkers — not activists — and this was particularly true of Peter
Eisenman, sometimes to a fault. The distorted grids of his early houses, with
their references to Renaissance precedents and Structuralist theory, were not
only a way to thumb a nose gleefully at Jacobs-style populism; they also
elevated conceptual ideas above material and structure, the life of the mind
over the life of the body.
To many in the profession this aesthetic approach represented a way forward.
Philip Johnson, who seemed to rule the American architectural scene from his
perch as a trustee at the Museum of Modern Art, began to fete the five over
lunches at the Four Seasons and black-tie dinners at the Century club. He
introduced them to powerful figures in the art establishment.
Yet to those who were paying attention, the party’s end was evident almost as
soon as it had started. By the mid-1980s the effort to suburbanize the city’s
core and make it safe for tourists — a process that many associate with Rudolph
W. Giuliani and his mayoral quality-of-life campaigns a decade later — was well
under way, and the group’s members had splintered off in different directions.
Mr. Graves, once a dogmatic Modernist, retreated into an ersatz historicism. Mr.
Hejduk, who died in 2000, beat a similar retreat into academia. Although Mr.
Meier continues to create works of remarkable refinement, his vision has not
significantly changed in decades. Only Mr. Eisenman has kept up a theoretical
practice, one in which the work is continually evolving, but he has built little
— and nothing in New York.
The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant
mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of
confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom
that had become virtually impossible in New York.
Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, Robert Mangurian, Craig Hodgetts —
these architects were not only the creative equals of their New York
counterparts, they were making architecture that was rooted in popular culture
and as rich in ideas as anything that has come out of New York in decades. They
have been joined by a younger generation, including Greg Lynn, Michael Maltzan,
Neil Denari and the team of Kevin Daly and Chris Genik, that has no real
equivalent in New York.
A similar energy could be found in Europe and Japan, where the crisis of
Modernism had not been felt as deeply and architects had never stopped
Given that reality, it should not be surprising to anyone that the most
important works of contemporary architecture to rise in New York over the past
decade — Mr. Gehry’s IAC headquarters on the West Side Highway, Mr. Mayne’s
Cooper Union building, the Tokyo firm Sanaa’s New Museum of Contemporary Art on
the Bowery and Jean Nouvel’s tower under construction in Chelsea — were designed
not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos, a Japanese woman and a Frenchman.
It is hard to know how the current financial crisis will affect this trend. More
than once I’ve heard it suggested that the downturn will be good for
architecture. The argument goes something like this: The economic tailspin will
put an end to the boom in gaudy residential towers that are distorting the
city’s skyline. Cheap rents will attract young, hungry creative types. This will
spawn a cultural flowering similar to that of the 1970s, when the Bronx was
burning, graffiti artists were the norm and Gordon Matta-Clark was carving up
empty warehouses on the Hudson River piers with a power saw.
But cheap rents alone won’t do it. On the contrary, the construction slowdown,
if it lasts long enough, will likely drive many young talents out of the
profession for good. It also looks less and less likely that a
government-sponsored, Works Progress Administration-style civic project will
revive the profession — another favorite fantasy of the ever-optimistic
Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities.
Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s
core identity. New York’s cultural institutions will need to shake off the
complacency that comes with age and respectability. Architects will need to see
blind obedience once again as a vice, not a virtue. And New Yorkers will have to
remember why they came to the city in the first place: to find a refuge from
suburbia, not to replicate it. That’s a tall order.
As Heroes Disappear,
the City Needs More,
Architect Without Limits
May 15, 2009
The New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Frank Lloyd Wright died half a century ago, but people are
still fighting over him.
The extraordinary scope of his genius, which touched on every aspect of American
life, makes him one of the most daunting figures of the 20th century. But to
many he is still the vain, megalomaniacal architect, someone who trampled over
his clients’ wishes, drained their bank accounts and left them with leaky roofs.
So “Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward,” which opens on Friday at the
Guggenheim Museum, will be a disappointment to some. The show offers no new
insight into his life’s work. Nor is there any real sense of what makes him so
controversial. It’s a chaste show, as if the Guggenheim, which is celebrating
its 50th anniversary, was determined to make Wright fit for civilized company.
The advantage of this low-key approach is that it puts the emphasis back where
it belongs: on the work. There are more than 200 drawings, many never exhibited
publicly before. More than a dozen scale models, some commissioned for the show,
give a strong sense of the lucidity of his designs and the intimate relationship
between building and landscape that was such a central theme of his art.
Taken as a whole, the exhibition conveys not only the remarkable scope of his
interests, which ranged from affordable housing to reimagining the American
city, but also the astonishing cohesiveness of that vision
— an achievement that has been matched by only one or two other architects in
the 20th century.
One way to experience the show is as a straightforward tour of Wright’s
masterpieces. Organized by Thomas Krens and David van der Leer, it is arranged
in roughly chronological order, so that you can spiral up through the highlights
of his career: the reinvention of the suburban home and the office block, the
obsession with car culture, the increasingly outlandish urban projects.
There is a stunning plaster model of the vaultlike interior of Unity Temple,
built in Oak Park between 1905 and 1908. Just a bit farther up the ramp, another
model painstakingly recreates the Great Workroom of the Johnson Wax Headquarters
in Racine, Wis., with its delicate grid of mushroom columns and milky glass
Such tightly composed, inward-looking structures contrast with the free-flowing
spaces that we tend to associate with Wright’s fantasy of a democratic, agrarian
But as always with Wright, the complexity of his approach reveals itself only
after you begin to fit the pieces together. For Wright, the singular masterpiece
was never enough. His aim was to create a framework for an entire new way of
life, one that completely redefined the relationships between individual, family
and community. And he pursued it with missionary zeal.
Wright went to extreme lengths to sell his dream of affordable housing for the
masses, tirelessly promoting it in magazines.
The second-floor annex shows a small sampling of its various incarnations,
including an elaborate model of the Jacobs House (1936-37), its walls and floors
pulled apart and suspended from the ceiling on a system of wires and lead
weights. One of Wright’s earliest Usonian houses, the one-story Jacobs structure
in Madison, Wis., was made of modest wood and brick and organized around a
central hearth. Its L-shape layout framed a rectangular lawn, locking it into
the landscape, so that the homeowner remained in close touch with the earth.
The ideas Wright explored in such projects were eventually woven into grander
urban fantasies, first proposed in Broadacre City and later in The Living City
project. In both, Usonian communities were dispersed over an endless matrix of
highways and farmland, punctuated by the occasional residential tower.
The subtext of these plans, of course, was Wright’s war with the city. To
Wright, the congested neighborhoods of the traditional city were anathema to the
spirit of unbridled individual freedom. His alternative, shaped by the car,
represented a landscape of endless horizons. Sadly, it was also a model for
Wright continued to explore these themes until the end of his life, even as his
formal language evolved. A model of the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective and
Planetarium captures his growing obsession with the ziggurat and the spiral. A
tourist destination that was planned for Sugarloaf Mountain, Md., but never
built, the massive concrete structure coiled around a vast planetarium. The
project combines his love of cars and his fascination with primitive forms, as
if he were striving to weave together the whole continuum of human history.
In his 1957 Plan for Greater Baghdad, Wright went a step further, adapting his
ideas to the heart of the ancient city. The plan is centered on a spectacular
opera house enclosed beneath a spiraling dome and crowned by a statue of
Alladin. Set on an island in the Tigris, the opera house was to be surrounded by
tiers of parking and public gardens. A network of roadways extends like tendrils
from this base, weaving along the edge of the river and tying the complex to the
Just across the river, another ring of parking, almost a mile in diameter,
encloses a new campus for Baghdad University.
Wright’s fanciful design was never built, but it demonstrates the degree to
which he remained distrustful of urban centers. Stubborn to the end, he saw the
car as the city’s salvation rather than its ruin. The cosmopolitan ideal is
supplanted by a sprawling suburbia shaded by palms and date trees.
And what of the Guggenheim? Some will continue to see it as an example of
Wright’s brazen indifference to the city’s history. With its aloof attitude
toward the Manhattan street grid, the building still pushes buttons.
For his part, Wright saw the spiral as a symbol of life and rebirth. The
reflecting pool at the bottom of his rotunda represented a seed, part of his
vision of an organic architecture that sprouts directly from the earth.
Yet Wright also needed the city to make his vision work. The force of the
spiral’s upward thrust gains immeasurably from the grid that presses in on all
sides. The ramps, too, can be read as an extension of the street life outside.
Coiled tightly around the audience, they replicate the atmosphere of urban
intensity that Wright supposedly so abhorred.
Or maybe not. In preparing for the show, the Guggenheim’s curators decided to
remove the frosting from a window at the lobby’s southwest corner. The window
frames a vista over a low retaining wall toward the corner of 88th Street and
Fifth Avenue, where you can see people milling around the exterior of the
building. It is the only real view out of the lobby, and it visually locks the
building into the streetscape, making the city part of the composition.
I choose to see it as a gesture of love, of a sort, between Wright and the city
he claimed to hate.
Limits, NYT, 15.5.2009,
Streetscapes | 527 West 110th Street
Under the Gobbling Gargoyles
January 18, 2009
The New York Times
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY
Q For decades, I have chuckled while passing 527 West 110th Street, which is
adorned with gargoyles and singing warlocks. Would you shed some light on this
uptown gem? ... John K. Bahr, Leonia, N.J.
A Does a gaggle of grimacing gargoyles make you think of home? That was the idea
in 1909, when Waid & Willauer designed this remarkable building, the Britannia.
Architects’ and Builders’ Magazine called it “perhaps the most homelike
apartment house in New York.”
Although five- and six-story apartment buildings were common around the turn of
the last century, after 1905 taller structures became the rule where land costs
were high. This was a new form, and for a few years developers were open to
In 1908, Gracehull Realty, of which J. Charles Weschler was the president,
bought a plot between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue on the north side of
Cathedral Parkway, as 110th Street is known in that section.
He hired Waid & Willauer, and instead of ordering a 12-story building like those
going up elsewhere on the street, he had them experiment with a more
distinctive, lower building — only nine stories. Revenue was sacrificed for
Reviewing the completed building in 1909, Architects’ and Builders’ Magazine
said that the typical apartment house in New York was “much more suggestive of a
barracks, a storage-warehouse or a jail, than of a home,” calling the Britannia
a “shining exception” to the rule.
The Real Estate Record and Guide said it was reminiscent of “the old English
house,” with flanking wings, a central court and multipaned windows.
One of the designers, Arthur Willauer, wrote an apologia for his creation in a
1909 issue of The American Architect. He proclaimed, “Let us give to the crowded
thousands some portion of that joy that we have known abroad and from the real
homes in our own country — what finer work could the members of our profession
do than this!”
Courts opening onto streets were often used to provide light, but almost always
at the minimum widths prescribed by the building code, or about 20 feet. Mr.
Willauer said they were narrow enough to hear the neighbors gossip. Thus his
35-foot-wide court — also a vehicle turnaround — allowed sunlight into the
oversized windows, especially given the reduced height of the building.
The developer and architect used gargoyles and similar ornament all over the
Britannia, most noticeably at the top of the first floor, just above the
sidewalk. A series of crouched, grimacing figures in limestone runs across each
wing: a cook stirring a pot, taking a taste with his finger; a man with a spoon
eagerly eating from a bowl; another carrying a platter with a roast chicken; and
a man with a long flowing beard writing in a ledger with a quill pen.
The Record and Guide said that each was “symbolic of some form of the homely art
of housekeeping” but did not elaborate; period references do not mention the
carver or the artist.
The 1909 “Supplement to Apartment Houses of the Metropolis” by G. C. Hesselgren
shows floor plans for the Britannia. It has been digitized by the New York
Public Library, and is posted and searchable at digitalgallery.nypl.org —
although the supplement misspells the name as “Brittania.”
The Britannia was built with apartments of five to nine rooms, with rents of $90
to $250 per month, and the Hesselgren work noted that “none of the apartments
contain the long dark narrow hallway, so objectionable to dwellers in apartment
Mr. Weschler built a few other buildings, but none was so ambitious as the
Britannia, and soon apartment houses settled into the conventional patterns. But
apartment design in this brief period has a wonderful, unrestrained quality.
What sparked Mr. Weschler to build this Anglophile structure is difficult to
fathom. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, the son of the Austrian consul, but he
studied at City College and New York University’s law school, working
principally as a lawyer. Real estate was a sideline. He was among the building’s
first tenants and stayed on after he sold it in 1910.
A loiterer in front of the Britannia today will, within a short period of time,
encounter people who pause, or at least slow down, to smile at its amusing
sculpture. The original wooden windows survived until recently, albeit with
bright green paint instead of the original tan or gray. But last year the
condominium replaced them with new dark-green wooden windows, forgoing the usual
cheap-looking bronze-colored replacement aluminum.
They, and the Britannia’s exuberant singularity, are wonderful things to see.
Meet Me Under the
Gobbling Gargoyles, NYT, 18.1.2009,
A Building That Blooms and Grows,
Balancing Nature and
September 24, 2008
The New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
SAN FRANCISCO — Not all architects embrace the idea of
evolution. Some, fixated on the 20th-century notion of the avant-garde, view
their work as a divine revelation, as if history began with them. Others pine
for the Middle Ages.
But if you want reaffirmation that human history is an upward spiral rather than
a descent into darkness, head to the new California Academy of Sciences, in
Golden Gate Park, which opens on Saturday. Designed by the Italian architect
Renzo Piano on the site of the academy’s demolished home, the building has a
steel frame that rests amid the verdant flora like a delicate piece of fine
embroidery. Capped by a stupendous floating green roof of undulating mounds of
plants, it embodies the academy’s philosophy that humanity is only one part of
an endlessly complex universal system.
This building’s greatness as architecture, however, is rooted in a cultural
history that stretches back through Modernism to Classical Greece. It is a
comforting reminder of the civilizing function of great art in a barbaric age.
The academy building is the last in a series of ambitious projects to be
conceived in and around the park’s Music Concourse since the devastating 1989
Loma Prieta earthquake. Herzog & de Meuron’s mesmerizing de Young Museum,
enclosed in perforated copper, opened three years ago. Scaffolding is to come
down at the concourse’s neo-Classical band shell this week after a loving
Glimpsed through the concourse’s grove of sycamores, the science academy gives
the impression of weightlessness. A row of steel columns soaring 36 feet high
along the facade lends the building a classical air; the sense of lightness is
accentuated by a wafer-thin canopy above that creates the illusion that the roof
is only millimeters thick. It’s as if a section of the park carpeted in native
wildflowers and beach strawberries had been lifted off the ground and suspended
The idea is to create a balance between public and private, inside and out, the
Cartesian order of the mind and the unruly world of nature.
A glass lobby allows you to gaze straight through the building to the park on
the other side. Other views open into exhibition spaces with their own
microclimates. The entire building serves as a sort of specimen case, a
framework for pondering the natural world while straining to disturb it as
little as possible.
Mr. Piano’s building is also a blazingly uncynical embrace of the Enlightenment
values of truth and reason. Its Classical symmetry — the axial geometry, the
columns framing a central entry — taps into a lineage that runs back to Mies van
der Rohe’s 1968 Neue Nationalgalerie and Schinkel’s 1828 Altes Museum in Berlin
and even further, to the Parthenon.
Just as Mies’s glass-and-steel museum reworked Classical precedents, Mr. Piano’s
design invokes Mies’s model, though with a sensitivity that makes the
muscularity of the 1968 museum look old-fashioned. The roof of the academy’s
lobby, supported by a gossamerlike web of cables, swells upward as if the entire
room were breathing. Views open up to the landscape on all four sides,
momentarily situating you both within the building and in the bigger world
outside. A narrow row of clerestory windows lines the top of the lobby. One of
the building’s many environmental features, these windows let warm air escape
and create a gentle breeze that reinforces the connection to the natural
From here you can proceed into the exhibition halls, delving deeper into the
universe’s secrets. Two enormous 90-foot-tall spheres — one housing a
planetarium, the other a rain forest — beckon from either side of the lobby.
They are the most solid forms in the building, yet seem to hover in the space.
The base of the planetarium sphere floats in a pool; a broad ramp snakes around
the rain-forest sphere. Enveloped in gnarled branches, the ramp seems to have
been swallowed up by the jungle landscape over millenniums.
Once you reach this point, the genius of the green roof’s design becomes
apparent. The mounds of earth visible on the exterior turn out to be hollow:
their forms, punctured by round skylights, bulge upward to make room for the
giant spheres underneath. It’s as if a lush protective rug has been gently
draped over the entire building.
Additional exhibition spaces just beyond the spheres were designed with movable
partitions that give them a temporary feel. Large windows open onto more park
The museum has also preserved its African Hall, with its gorgeous vaulted
ceiling and dioramas of somnolent lions and grazing antelopes, integrating it
into the new design. Built in the 1930s, this neo-Classical hall is a specimen
of sorts. Its massive stone structure reflects colonial attitudes about the
civilized world as a barrier against barbarism. It was intended as a symbol of
Western superiority and a triumph over nature.
By contrast, Mr. Piano’s vision avoids arrogance. The ethereality of the
academy’s structure suggests a form of reparations for the great harm humans
have done to the natural world. It is best to tread lightly in moving forward,
he seems to say. This is not a way of avoiding hard truths; he means to shake us
out of our indolence.
A Building That
Blooms and Grows, Balancing Nature and Civilization,
To Name Towers in the Sky,
Many Look There for Inspiration
July 8, 2008
The New York Times
By MICHAEL BARBARO
They are advertised as one-of-a-kind homes in the air.
But the floor-to-ceiling glass towers popping up in record numbers across New
York City are starting to sound an awful lot alike.
Two new high-rises, one on the Upper East Side, the other in Brooklyn, a have
the same name: Azure, a deep shade of blue. Seem familiar? It should. On the
Lower East Side, another new building is called Blue.
Sky House, under construction on East 29th Street, is not to be confused with
the Cielo (Italian for “sky”), on East 83rd Street. And then there are Star
Tower, in Long Island City, and Solaria, in the Bronx.
It is an unintended consequence of the city’s historic building boom: a traffic
jam of similar sounding names. To showcase the sweeping views from buildings
with huge, wrap-around windows, real estate developers are flocking to a set of
words that evoke the sky, clouds and stars.
Builders say there are only so many ways to describe a glass box, the undisputed
architectural aesthetic of the moment. Similar names, they argue, are
But several acknowledged that the fixation with all things celestial could
backfire. “The danger is that they start to sound the same,” said Nancy Packes,
president of Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing, which helped name Azure on
the Upper East Side.
At least four new buildings, for example, are named for objects in the night
sky: Orion, Lucida (the brightest star in a constellation), Ariel (a moon of
Uranus) and South Star.
“Many of these names are really bumping into each other,” said David J. Wine,
vice chairman of Related Companies, a major developer in the city, which has
favored traditional-sounding names, like the Brompton, for a luxury condominium
under construction on the Upper East Side.
“It is a bit surprising,” he added.
Trends in New York building names are not new. Builders seized on the American
West around 1900, producing the Wyoming, on West 55th Street, a block away from
the Oregon, on West 54th, and across the park from the Idaho, on East 48th. And,
of course, there is the Dakota, on West 72nd Street.
Soon after, a wave of Francophilia yielded the Bordeaux, the Cherbourg and the
Paris. Native American motifs were enshrined in the Iroquois, the Seminole and
Trees (Laurel), Greek mythology (Helena) and Spanish cities (Madrid) have all
woven their way into the city’s skyline.
And mailing addresses are often used as building names, especially when the
street is considered prestigious, like Park Avenue or Perry Street, in the West
Occasionally, names flop. When developers converted the Stanhope Hotel, across
from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue, into luxury apartments two
years ago, they called the project the Stanhope. Few takers emerged, and the
name was discarded in favor of the street address, 995 Fifth Avenue.
What is striking about the latest wave is just how closely — or haphazardly —
some of the names overlap.
The goal, after all, in a crowded real estate market like New York, is to stand
out, not to blend in, said Mr. Wine, of Related. Most of the units in the new
towers go for $1 million or more.
“You need to be distinctive,” he said, “and a good name can do that.”
A building’s name is so important that developers spend months deliberating over
it. People involved in the process describe it as the most intense, emotional
and combative phase of a building’s development.
The name must at once convey an image — trendy or traditional, luxurious or
affordable — it must be catchy and, of course, it must be memorable.
Developers generally start with a list of more than 100 names and, working with
marketing experts, advertising executives and graphic artists, slowly whittle
them down to one. The winner becomes the centerpiece of a marketing campaign,
typically costing millions and including newspaper advertisements, Web sites,
glossy advertorials and sales centers.
The group charged with naming a condominium on Norfolk Street on the Lower East
Side began with 300 possibilities. The 16-story building, which is cantilevered,
is wrapped in five shades of blue glass. Everyone agreed that blue would be in
the final name, said Barrie Mandel, senior vice president at Corcoran Group
Marketing, which is promoting the building.
But the debate did not end there. “We thought about La Blue, about Azure, but
those names were way too cutesy for such a gritty neighborhood,” she said. In
the end, they settled on the unembellished Blue.
A similar debate raged among the developer, the marketing firm and the ad agency
for a building at 91st Street and First Avenue. It is 34 stories tall, with
wall-to-wall windows on all sides, and prices for the homes there are expected
to range from $605,000 to $4.8 million.
The developer said the majority of the building’s apartments would have views of
the skyline on three sides or the river to the east, a rarity in that
neighborhood. “The thing both those carry in common — river views and sky views
— is blue,” said Ms. Packes, of Brown Harris Stevens Project Marketing.
Ms. Packes said the team working on the building thought the name Blue, on its
own, was “too blunt,” adding: “It wouldn’t be very suitable for family residence
on the Upper East Side.”
So they picked a synonym: Azure. “It just is a classier way of saying blue,”
said Luis Vazquez, director of sales for the building.
The resemblance between Blue and the two Azures was pure coincidence, said Ms.
Packes, who said she was certain buyers would see them as distinct. “The test is
confusion,” she said. “When you are in different neighborhoods, it minimizes the
possibility of confusion.”
Matt Parrella, the broker at the Corcoran Group working on the other Azure, in
the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, said the developer did not realize
the building shared a name with another apartment building “until after the
Glass-encased residential buildings like Azure and Blue have existed in New York
for decades, but over the last five years they have started to dominate new
Developers say that buyers prize height and views above nearly all else and that
a building’s name is the best way to communicate those amenities.
“That is what people pay for: views, light, sky, air,” said Louise Sunshine,
development director at Alexico Group, a developer. “That is why there is such a
huge emphasis on that in these names.”
Alexico is finishing a building on East 67th Street that was intended to be a
glass tower. But the developer changed its mind and created a limestone exterior
instead. The project’s original name? Celeste, in honor of its views of the
stars, Ms. Sunshine said. It is now called the Laurel.
It is not clear who started the heavenly naming trend, but a developer called
Extell is happy to take credit. The firm is building several new projects in
Manhattan named after stars, like Lucida, at 85th Street and Lexington Avenue.
Raizy Haas, a senior vice president at Extell, said the star theme captured the
appearance of the firm’s buildings, especially at night, when its glass walls,
suffused with light, glow like stars. She said the company was “flattered” to
see rival developers follow Extell’s designs and names, “But sometimes we think,
‘Why couldn’t they be more creative and not copy us?’ ”
To Name Towers in the
Sky, Many Look There for Inspiration,
Madeline Gins and Arakawa
say that their house in East
Hampton, N.Y., opposes death.
Eric Striffler for The New York Times
A House Not for Mere Mortals
A House Not for Mere Mortals
April 3, 2008
The New York Times
By FRED A. BERNSTEIN
East Hampton, N.Y.
THE house is off-limits to children, and adults are asked to sign a waiver when
they enter. The main concern is the concrete floor, which rises and falls like
the surface of a vast, bumpy chocolate chip cookie.
But, for Arakawa, 71, an artist who designed the house with his wife, Madeline
Gins, the floor is a delight, as well as a proving ground.
As he scampered across it with youthful enthusiasm on a Friday evening in March,
he compared himself to the first man to walk on the moon. “If Neil Armstrong
were here, he would say, ‘This is even better!’ ”
Then Ms. Gins, 66, began holding forth about the health benefits of the house,
officially called Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa). Its architecture
makes people use their bodies in unexpected ways to maintain equilibrium, and
that, she said, will stimulate their immune systems.
“They ought to build hospitals like this,” she said.
A reporter, who thinks they should never, ever build hospitals like this, tried
to go with the flow. Like the undulating floor, Arakawa and Gins, as they are
known professionally, tend to throw people off balance.
In 45 years of working together as artists, poets and architects, they have
developed an arcane philosophy of life and art, a theory they call reversible
destiny. Essentially, they have made it their mission — in treatises, paintings,
books and now built projects like this one — to outlaw aging and its
“It’s immoral that people have to die,” Ms. Gins explained.
The house on Long Island, which cost more than $2 million to build, is their
first completed architectural work in the United States — and, as they see it, a
turning point in their campaign to defeat mortality.
The house, which is still unoccupied, was commissioned in the late 1990s by a
friend who sold the property to an anonymous group of investors after the
project dragged on and costs mounted. But it is ready, Arakawa and Ms. Gins
said, to begin rejuvenating whoever moves in.
In addition to the floor, which threatens to send the un-sure-footed hurtling
into the sunken kitchen at the center of the house, the design features walls
painted, somewhat disorientingly, in about 40 colors; multiple levels meant to
induce the sensation of being in two spaces at once; windows at varying heights;
oddly angled light switches and outlets; and an open flow of traffic, unhindered
by interior doors or their adjunct, privacy.
All of it is meant to keep the occupants on guard. Comfort, the thinking goes,
is a precursor to death; the house is meant to lead its users into a perpetually
“tentative” relationship with their surroundings, and thereby keep them young.
The architect Steven Holl, who has known the couple for at least 15 years, said
their architecture is intended to evoke a youthful sense of wonder. “It has to
do with the idea that you’re only as old as you think you are,” he said.
For Arakawa, reversible destiny is about more than just a state of mind. By way
of example, he described the experience of elderly residents of a building in
Mitaka, Japan, that the couple recently designed. Having to navigate a
treacherous environment — in some cases by moving “like a snake” across the
floor — has, in fact, boosted their immune systems, he claimed. “Three, four
months later, they say, ‘You’re so right, I’m so healthy now!’ ”
Like many of Arakawa and Gins’s assertions, it’s hard to know just how seriously
this one is meant to be taken. Even those closest to the couple disagree about
what they really believe.
Don Ihde, a professor of the philosophy of science and technology at Stony Brook
University and a friend of the couple, described them as provocateurs. Their
work “makes people think through what they wouldn’t normally think through,” he
(As if to prove that point, Professor Ihde has written a paper speculating about
how his cat would feel in the Bioscleave House, which he will present on
Saturday at the Second International Arakawa + Gins Architecture + Philosophy
Conference in Philadelphia, subtitled “Declaration of the Right Not to Die” and
sponsored in part by the English department at the University of Pennsylvania.)
“Most people who interpret their work take it as metaphorical,” Professor Ihde
Lawrence Marek, a Manhattan architect who helped steer the house through the
construction process, disagreed. “Arakawa does believe that if you build things
the way he says to build them, life will be prolonged,” he said. “I don’t know
if it will or not.” But, he added, “the house has a way of making people happy —
it’s a feeling you don’t get from many buildings — and we should be studying how
ARAKAWA, who dropped his first name more than 40 years ago, grew up in Nagoya,
Japan, studied medicine and art in Tokyo, and moved to New York in 1961, when he
was in his 20s. In his pocket, he said, were $14 and the phone number of Marcel
Duchamp, who was then living in Greenwich Village. Duchamp, he said, became his
Two years later he enrolled in art school in Brooklyn (for the visa, he said,
not the education). There, he met Ms. Gins, a fellow student, who had grown up
on Long Island. At the time, she said, “I was deeply alienated from society,
which I didn’t see as having any answers.”
Within days they had become a couple and begun making art together. Over the
next several decades, living in a loft building on Houston Street, they produced
a body of work that includes poetry, philosophy, paintings and conceptual art.
From the start, Ms. Gins said, the central theme of their work was “how to
reverse the downhill course of human life.”
One of their first built architectural projects, a park in central Japan called
“Site of Reversible Destiny,” was completed in 1995. Made up of acres of warped
surfaces, it offers visitors advice, in a handout leaflet, like “Instead of
being fearful of losing your balance, look forward to it.” (Several people who
are said to have broken bones there might wish the name of the park were
In 1997 the SoHo branch of the Guggenheim Museum put on a retrospective of the
couple’s works. Roberta Smith, writing in The New York Times, noted that “their
philosophical or linguistic puzzles can stretch the mind in briefly pleasant
ways,” but did not applaud their efforts to build real-world buildings:
“Theoretical follies, one of the plagues of contemporary architecture, have
their place, and it’s on paper,” she wrote.
For the couple, though, “one building is worth a decade of theoretical
exploration,” Ms. Gins said. In 1998 they won a competition, sponsored by the
city of Tokyo, to build a vast housing project on 75 acres of landfill. The
project was never realized, but a group of supporters in Tokyo arranged to build
nine loft-style units, which in many ways resemble the house in East Hampton.
More recently, they said, they have been trying to find backers — an effort that
has included failed overtures to Russian oil billionaires — for a reversible
The East Hampton house grew out of the couple’s friendship with an Italian
artist named Vincenzo Agnetti, who died in 1981, and his longtime partner,
Angela Gallmann. In 1998 Ms. Gallmann, who owned a small post-and-beam house in
East Hampton, commissioned them to build an addition that would explore their
reversible destiny theory. Soon they had produced elaborate models of a
structure in which the ceiling sometimes swooped down to meet the floor.
Even when the couple greatly simplified the plans, finding someone to build it
was tricky. “One contractor said he could build the addition for $1.5 million,
and one contractor said he could build it for $385,000,” Ms. Gins said. “Guess
which one she chose?”
But costs soon increased sharply and Ms. Gallmann abandoned the project. Her
daughters had “thought she was insane for working with us,” Ms. Gins said.
(Attempts to contact Ms. Gallmann were unsuccessful.)
For a time, it appeared the shell (connected by a hallway to the original
cottage) would be torn down. But last year, according to Arakawa and Gins, a
group of professors came forward with about $1.25 million to buy the house from
Ms. Gallmann and another $1 million or so to complete it.
Arakawa and Ms. Gins won’t say who the buyers are or how they plan to use the
house. David Schwartz, a partner in the Manhattan law firm Duval & Stachenfeld
and a lawyer for the buyers (who are listed as Professors Group LLC in property
records), said he was “not at liberty to say anything” about his clients.
The finished house consists of four rectangular rooms surrounding a free-form
living space. The walls are made of various materials including metal and
translucent polycarbonate, which admits a gentle light; the floor is made in a
traditional Japanese style, using hardened soil, here mixed with a little
cement. For those who aren’t especially sure-footed, there are a dozen brightly
colored metal poles to grab on to.
The absence of internal doors creates a dramatic flow — and seemingly insoluble
privacy problems. “You make your own privacy,” Ms. Gins said, cryptically. In
fact, there are hooks in the ceiling, and someday the house could be festooned
with curtains or other dividers.
Arakawa and Gins persuaded companies to donate what they said were hundreds of
thousands of dollars’ worth of materials and products to the house.
George Bishop, president of Get Real Surfaces, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which
fabricated counters, tabletops and an elaborate bathtub to the couple’s
specifications, charged about a tenth of the usual cost, he said, largely
because he was so taken with the couple. “They have the enthusiasm of
10-year-olds at a birthday party,” he said.
Part of their appeal, certainly, has to do with their unwavering conviction. Ms.
Gins speaks passionately and fluidly about their work, while Arakawa, whose
heavy accent is sometimes hard to decipher, tells charming if immodest anecdotes
about the couple’s triumphs. According to him, they have educated physicists
about physics, doctors about medicine and painters about art. (In one Arakawa
story, de Kooning and Rothko are bowled over by his brilliant observations on
Now Arakawa and Gins are determined to conquer architecture. “After this, Gehry,
Rem Koolhaas — boring,” Ms. Gins said.
“We should win a Nobel Prize for this,” Arakawa said. Asked if her husband was
serious, Ms. Gins replied, “Of course he is.”
Additional reporting by Zahra Sethna.
A House Not for Mere
Mortals, NYT, 3.4.2008,
French Architect Wins Pritzker Prize
March 31, 2008
The New York Times
By ROBIN POGREBIN
Jean Nouvel, the bold French architect known for such wildly
diverse projects as the muscular Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the
exotically louvered Arab World Institute in Paris, has received architecture’s
top honor, the Pritzker Prize.
Mr. Nouvel, 62, is the second French citizen to take the prize, awarded annually
to a living architect by a jury chosen by the Hyatt Foundation. (Christian de
Portzamparc of France won in 1994.) His selection is to be announced Monday.
“For over 30 years Jean Nouvel has pushed architecture’s discourse and praxis to
new limits,” the Pritzker jury said in its citation. “His inquisitive and agile
mind propels him to take risks in each of his projects, which, regardless of
varying degrees of success, have greatly expanded the vocabulary of contemporary
In extending that vocabulary Mr. Nouvel has defied easy categorization. His
buildings have no immediately identifiable signature, like the curves of Frank
Gehry or the light-filled atriums of Renzo Piano. But each is strikingly
distinctive, be it the Agbar Tower in Barcelona (2005), a candy-colored,
bullet-shaped office tower, or his KKL cultural and congress center in Lucerne,
Switzerland (2000), with a slim copper roof cantilevered delicately over Lake
“Every time I try to find what I call the missing piece of the puzzle, the right
building in the right place,” Mr. Nouvel said this month over tea at the Mercer
Hotel in SoHo.
Yet he does not design buildings simply to echo their surroundings. “Generally,
when you say context, people think you want to copy the buildings around, but
often context is contrast,” he said.
“The wind, the color of the sky, the trees around — the building is not done
only to be the most beautiful,” he said. “It’s done to give advantage to the
surroundings. It’s a dialogue.”
The prize, which includes a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion, is to be
presented to Mr. Nouvel on June 2 in a ceremony at the Library of Congress in
Among Mr. Nouvel’s New York buildings are 40 Mercer, a 15-story red-and-blue,
glass, wood and steel luxury residential building completed last year in SoHo,
and a soaring 75-story hotel-and-museum tower with crystalline peaks that is to
be built next to the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown. Writing in The New York
Times in November, Nicolai Ouroussoff said the Midtown tower “promises to be the
most exhilarating addition to the skyline in a generation.”
Born in Fumel in southwestern France in 1945, Mr. Nouvel originally wanted to be
an artist. But his parents, both teachers, wanted a more stable life for him, he
said, so they compromised on architecture.
“I realized it was possible to create visual compositions” that, he said, “you
can put directly in the street, in the city, in public spaces.”
At 20 Mr. Nouvel won first prize in a national competition to attend the École
des Beaux-Arts in Paris. By the time he was 25 he had opened his own
architecture firm with François Seigneur; a series of other partnerships
Mr. Nouvel cemented his reputation in 1987 with completion of the Arab World
Institute, one of the “grand projects” commissioned during the presidency of
François Mitterrand. A showcase for art from Arab countries, it blends high
technology with traditional Arab motifs. Its south-facing glass facade, for
example, has automated lenses that control light to the interior while also
evoking traditional Arab latticework. For his boxy, industrial Guthrie Theater,
which has a cantilevered bridge overlooking the Mississippi River, Mr. Nouvel
experimented widely with color. The theater is clad in midnight-blue metal; a
small terrace is bright yellow; orange LED images rise along the complex’s two
In its citation, the Pritzker jury said the Guthrie, completed in 2006, “both
merges and contrasts with its surroundings.” It added, “It is responsive to the
city and the nearby Mississippi River, and yet, it is also an expression of
theatricality and the magical world of performance.”
The bulk of Mr. Nouvel’s commissions work has been in Europe however. Among the
most prominent is his Quai Branly Museum in Paris (2006), an eccentric jumble of
elements including a glass block atop two columns, some brightly colorful boxes,
rust-colored louvers and a vertical carpet of plants. “Defiant, mysterious and
wildly eccentric, it is not an easy building to love,” Mr. Ouroussoff wrote in
A year later he described Mr. Nouvel’s Paris Philharmonie concert hall, a series
of large overlapping metal plates on the edge of La Villette Park in
northeastern Paris, as “an unsettling if exhilarating trip into the unknown.”
Mr. Nouvel has his plate full at the moment. He is designing a satellite of the
Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, giving it a shallow
domed roof that creates the aura of a just-landed U.F.O. He recently announced
plans for a high-rise condominium in Los Angeles called SunCal tower, a narrow
glass structure with rings of greenery on each floor. His concert hall for the
Danish Broadcasting Corporation is a tall rectangular box with transparent
Before dreaming up a design, Mr. Nouvel said, he does copious research on the
project and its surroundings. “The story, the climate, the desires of the
client, the rules, the culture of the place,” he said. “The references of the
buildings around, what the people in the city love.”
“I need analysis,” he said, noting that every person “is a product of a
civilization, of a culture.” He added: “Me, I was born in France after the
Second World War. Probably the most important cultural movement was
Structuralism. I cannot do a building if I can’t analyze.”
Although he becomes attached to his buildings, Mr. Nouvel said, he understands
that like human beings, they grow and change over time and may even one day
disappear. “Architecture is always a temporary modification of the space, of the
city, of the landscape,” he said. “We think that it’s permanent. But we never
French Architect Wins
Pritzker Prize, NYT, 31.3.2008,
a Heroine of Chicago Architecture
January 1, 2008
The New York Times
By FRED A. BERNSTEIN
If women are underrepresented in the architecture profession in 2008, a
century ago they were hardly represented at all.
Which makes Marion Mahony, the first woman to obtain an architecture license in
Illinois, seem all the more remarkable. By 1908, she had been working for Frank
Lloyd Wright for a decade.
Mahony (pronounced MAH-nee) had developed a fluid style of rendering derived
partly from Japanese woodblock prints, with lush vegetation flowing in and
around floor plans and elevations. Her masterly compositions also made the
buildings appear irresistibly romantic.
Mahony’s drawings, retraced in ink, formed much of what came to be known as the
Wasmuth Portfolio, a compendium of Wright’s designs published in Germany in
1910. The portfolio not only established him as America’s reigning architectural
genius but also influenced European Modernists like Mies van der Rohe and Le
“She did the drawings people think of when they think of Frank Lloyd Wright,”
said Debora Wood, who organized a show of Mahony’s work at Northwestern
University in 2005.
If Mahony — often known by her married name, Marion Mahony Griffin — has
remained a relative unknown, scholars are hoping to change that as part of a
larger process of raising the profile of women in the profession
Until a few months ago, anyone longing to read Mahony’s memoir, “The Magic of
America,” had to visit the Art Institute of Chicago or the New-York Historical
Society, where Mahony, unable to find a publisher, deposited copies of the
manuscript before her death in 1961. Each consists of 1,400 typed pages and
nearly 700 illustrations, making the book at once too unwieldy — and too
precious — for general distribution.
But in August the Art Institute made a facsimile of the manuscript available at
artic.edu/magicofamerica. The work is now as easy to navigate as a blog, and it
shares some of a blog’s characteristics, including enthusiastic attention to
The broader effort to devote more attention to female architects has also
focused attention on Lilly Reich, who worked in Germany with Mies; Aino Aalto,
who worked in Finland with her husband, Alvar; and more recently, Denise Scott
Brown, the Philadelphia architect who many say was cheated when her husband and
partner, Robert Venturi, was awarded the Pritzker Prize on his own in 1991.
Among Mahony’s champions is Elizabeth Birmingham, an assistant professor of
English at North Dakota State University in Fargo. “The specifics of Marion’s
life fell victim to the primary scholarly effort to establish and fix the canon
of ‘great men’ whose genius-personalities, buildings and texts would become
central to the story of architecture,” she wrote in a dissertation.
Ms. Birmingham points out that architectural historians who acknowledge Mahony
have tended to focus on her relationships with men and on her physical
appearance, often in unflattering terms. (She was frequently described as
homely, though Brendan Gill, in “Many Masks,” his 1987 biography of Wright,
called her a “gaunt, beaky beauty.”)
That Mahony spent her most productive years in Australia, where she and her
husband designed a plan for the new city of Canberra in 1911, has also lowered
her profile in the United States. But “the Australians take Mahony as seriously
as we take Frank Lloyd Wright,” said David Van Zanten, a professor of art
history at Northwestern University.
One of those Australians, Christopher Vernon of the University of Western
Australia, has written extensively of Mahony’s talent as a designer. Mr. Van
Zanten goes so far as to say that Mahony, after Wright and Louis Sullivan, was
“the third great progressive designer of turn-of-the-century Chicago.”
But in determining her contribution to American architecture, there is no more
confounding figure than Mahony herself. In 1911 she married Walter Burley
Griffin, a Prairie School architect five years her junior, and began devoting
the bulk of her efforts toward furthering his career.
That required both beautiful renderings and — any time his talent was questioned
— self-effacement. That self-effacement may also have served the purposes of
Wright, who more than most architects cultivated the image of the lone genius;
he never acknowledged Mahony’s contributions and dismissed her and her husband
Still, said Paul Kruty, an architectural historian at the University of
Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, “It is generally accepted that the rendering style
through which Frank Lloyd Wright became known was Marion Mahony’s.”
In her manuscript Mahony depicts herself as indissolubly fused with her husband.
The memoir is divided into four sections, each casting the couple as champions
of a cause. “The Emperial Battle” describes Griffin’s final project, a library
for the Indian city of Lucknow; “The Federal Battle” focuses on their largely
failed efforts to see Canberra built as they envisioned it; and “The Civic
Battle” describes Castlecrag, a planned community near Sydney that the couple
The final section is “The Individual Battle,” which describes the couple’s
struggles within American society. Mahony rails against class structure,
imperialism, environmental degradation and of course Wright, whom she never
names but refers to as “a cancer sore” who “originated very little but spent
most of his time claiming everything and swiping everything.”
Marion Lucy Mahony was born in Chicago in 1871 and grew up in nearby Winnetka,
where her family moved after the great Chicago fire. She became fascinated by
landscape as the area surrounding her family’s home was carved up into suburbs.
She received her architecture training at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. Back in Chicago, she went to work for her cousin Dwight Perkins in a
studio designed by Perkins and shared by several architects, including Wright.
In 1895 Mahony became Wright’s first employee.
Barry Byrne, who came to work in the studio in 1902, reminisced in several
articles after Wright’s death about the informal design competitions among that
architect’s employees. He recalled that Mahony won most of them and that Wright
filed away her drawings for future use, chastising anyone who referred to them
as “Miss Mahony’s designs.”
In 1909 Wright left his wife for a client’s wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, with
whom he fled to Europe. Mahony worked with several other Wright employees to
complete the firm’s commissions, but soon focused her attention on her
husband-to-be, whom she had met in Wright’s studio.
Around the time they married, in 1911, Mahony persuaded Griffin to enter the
competition to design Canberra, and she created 14 huge presentation drawings in
ink on satin in which the rugged Australian landscape seemingly embraced her
husband’s buildings. The drawings, which seemed to capture the essence of
Australia — a place she had never been — were instrumental in the judges’ choice
They moved to Australia in 1914. Only small parts of the plan for Canberra were
executed, but the Griffins won acclaim for several other buildings there. Mahony
also became renowned for her ravishing paintings of local flora, many of which
were published in 2005 in “Marion Mahony Griffin: Drawing the Form of Nature.”
In 1936 she joined her husband in Lucknow, where he was designing a university
library. After he died there in 1937, she returned to Australia, settled her
affairs and moved home to Chicago.
Although she lived another 24 years, she took on few commissions and did
virtually nothing to enhance her reputation. The one time she addressed the
Illinois Society of Architects, she made no mention of her work, instead
lecturing the crowd on anthroposophy, a philosophy of spiritual knowledge
developed by Rudolf Steiner.
In the United States a few works attributed solely to Mahony survive, including
a mural in the George B. Armstrong elementary school in Chicago, and several
private homes in Decatur, Ill. (The Decatur houses are the subject of a new
book, “Marion Mahony and Millikin Place: Creating a Prairie School Masterpiece,”
published by the Walter Burley Griffin Society of America as part of its
continuing effort to assess her contribution.)
There is no doubt that Wright would have been an important architect with or
without Mahony. It’s harder to say how Walter Burley Griffin would have been
received without his wife.
Harder still is knowing how Mahony would have fared without either of them.
Rediscovering a Heroine
of Chicago Architecture, NYT, 1.1.2007,
In Plans for Railyards,
a Mix of Towers and Parks
November 24, 2007
The New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
The West Side railyards are the kind of urban development project that makes
builders dance in the streets. A footprint bigger than Rockefeller Center’s and
the potential for more commercial and residential space than ground zero: what
more could an urban visionary want?
So the five proposals recently unveiled by the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority to develop the 26-acre Manhattan railyards are not just a
disappointment for their lack of imagination, they are also a grim referendum on
the state of large-scale planning in New York City.
With the possible exception of a design for the Extell Development Company, the
proposals embody the kind of tired, generic planning formulas that appear
wherever big development money is at stake. When thoughtful architecture
surfaces at all, it is mostly a superficial gloss of culture, rather than a
sincere effort to come to terms with the complex social and economic changes the
city has been undergoing for the last decade or so.
Located on six square blocks between 30th and 33rd Streets and 10th Avenue and
the West Side Highway, the yards are one of the few remaining testaments to New
York’s industrial past. Dozens of tracks leading in and out of Pennsylvania
Station carve through the site. A string of parking lots and old industrial
buildings flanks the tracks to the south; the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
is a block to the north. To build, developers first will have to create a
platform over the tracks, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion; construction of
the platform and towers has to take place without interrupting train service.
City officials and the transportation authority, which owns the railyards, have
entertained various proposals for the site in recent years, including an
ill-conceived stadium for the Jets. The current guidelines would allow up to 13
million square feet of commercial, retail and residential space; a building to
house a cultural group yet to be named; and a public park.
All five of the development teams chose to arrange the bulk of the towers at the
northern and southern edges of the site, to minimize disruption of the tracks
below, and concentrated the majority of the commercial towers to the east, and
the residential towers to the west, where they would have views of the Hudson
But none of the teams have fully explored the potentially rich relationship
between the railyards and the development above them, an approach that could
have added substance to the plans. Nor did any find a successful way to come to
terms with the project’s gargantuan scale.
The proposal by the Related Companies would transform the site into a virtual
theme park for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the developer’s main tenant.
The design, by a team of architects that includes Kohn Pedersen Fox,
Arquitectonica and Robert A. M. Stern, would be anchored at its eastern end by a
74-story tower. Three slightly smaller towers would flank it, creating an
imposing barrier between the public park and the rest of the city to the east.
The plan also includes a vast retail mall and plaza between 10th and 11th
Avenues, which could be used by News Corporation for advertising, video
projections and outdoor film and concert events — a concept that would
essentially transform what is being hailed as a public space into a platform for
corporate self-promotion. A proposal by FXFowle and Pelli Clarke Pelli for the
Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust is slightly less disturbing.
Following a similar plan, it would be anchored by a new tower for Condé Nast
Publications to the north, and a row of residential towers extending to the
west. Sinuous, elevated pedestrian walkways would wind their way through the
site just above the proposed public park. The walkways are meant to evoke a
contemporary version of the High Line, the raised tracks being converted into a
public garden just to the south. But their real precedents are the deadening
elevated streets found in late Modernist housing complexes.
By comparison, the proposal by Tishman Speyer Properties, designed by Helmut
Jahn, at least seems more honest. The site is anchored by four huge towers that
taper slightly as they rise, exaggerating their sense of weight and recalling
more primitive, authoritarian forms: you might call it architecture of
intimidation. As you move west, a grand staircase leads down to a circular plaza
that would link the park to a pedestrian boulevard the city plans to construct
from the site north toward 42nd Street.
Mr. Jahn built his reputation in the 1980s and ’90s, when many modern architects
were struggling to pump energy into work that had become cold and alienating.
Over all, the design looks like a conventional 1980s mega-development: an oddly
retro vision of uniform glass towers set around a vast plaza decorated with a
few scattered cafes. (In a rare nice touch, Mr. Jahn allows some of his towers
to cantilever out over the deck of the High Line, playing up the violent clash
between new and old.)
Another proposal, by Brookfield Properties, is an example of how real
architectural talent can be used to give a plan an air of sophistication without
adding much substance. Brookfield has included a few preliminary sketches of
buildings by architectural luminaries like Diller Scofidio & Renfro and the
Japanese firm Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa, but the sketches are nothing more
than window dressing. The proposal includes a retail mall and commercial towers
along 10th Avenue, which gives the public park an isolated feel. A hotel and
retail complex cuts the park in two, so that you lose the full impact of its
For those who place urban-planning issues above dollars and cents, the Extell
Development Company’s proposal is the only one worth serious consideration.
Designed by Steven Holl Architects of New York, the plan tries to minimize the
impact of the development’s immense scale. Most of the commercial space would be
concentrated in three interconnecting towers on the northeast corner of the
site. The towers’ forms pull apart and join together as they rise — an effort to
break down their mass in the skyline. Smaller towers flank the site’s southern
edge, their delicate, shardlike forms designed to allow sunlight to spill into
the park area. A low, 10-story commercial building to the north is lifted off
the ground on columns to allow the park to slip underneath and connect to 33rd
The plan’s most original feature is a bridgelike cable structure that would span
the existing tracks and support a 19-acre public park. According to the
developer, the cable system would reduce the cost of building over the tracks
significantly, allowing the density to be reduced to 11.3 million square feet
from 13 million and still make a profit. The result would be both a more
generous public space and a less brutal assault on the skyline. It is a
sensitive effort to blend the development into the city’s existing fabric.
But what is really at issue here is putting the importance of profit margins
above architecture and planning. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority could
have pushed for more ambitious proposals. For decades now cities like Barcelona
have insisted on a high level of design in large-scale urban-planning projects,
and they have done so without economic ruin.
By contrast, the authority is more likely to focus on potential tenants like
News Corporation and Condé Nast and the profits they can generate than on the
quality of the design. A development company like Extell is likely to be
rejected outright as too small to handle a project of this scale, however
original its proposal. (In New York dark horse candidates often find that
ambitious architectural proposals are one of the few ways to compete with bigger
This is not how to build healthy cities. It is a model for their ruin, one that
has led to a parade of soulless developments typically dressed up with a bit of
parkland, a few commercial galleries and a token cultural institution — the
superficial gloss of civilization. As an ideal of urbanism, it is hollow to its
In Plans for Railyards,
a Mix of Towers and Parks, NYT, 24.11.2007,
Pride and Nostalgia
Mix in The Times’s New Home
November 20, 2007
The New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Writing about your employer’s new building is a tricky task. If I love it,
the reader will suspect that I’m currying favor with the man who signs my
checks. If I hate it, I’m just flaunting my independence.
So let me get this out of the way: As an employee, I’m enchanted with our new
building on Eighth Avenue. The grand old 18-story neo-Gothic structure on 43rd
Street, home to The New York Times for nearly a century, had its sentimental
charms. But it was a depressing place to work. Its labyrinthine warren of desks
and piles of yellowing newspapers were redolent of tradition but also seemed an
The new 52-story building between 40th and 41st Streets, designed by the Italian
architect Renzo Piano, is a paradise by comparison. A towering composition of
glass and steel clad in a veil of ceramic rods, it delivers on Modernism’s
age-old promise to drag us — in this case, The Times — out of the Dark Ages.
I enjoy gazing up at the building’s sharp edges and clean lines when I emerge
from the subway exit at 40th Street and Seventh Avenue in the morning. I love
being greeted by the cluster of silvery birch trees in the lobby atrium, their
crooked trunks sprouting from a soft blanket of moss. I even like my
fourth-floor cubicle, an oasis of calm overlooking the third-floor newsroom.
Yet the spanking new building is infused with its own nostalgia.
The last decade has been a time of major upheaval in newspaper journalism, with
editors and reporters fretting about how they should adapt to the global digital
age. In New York that anxiety has been compounded by the terrorist attacks of
2001, which prompted many corporations to barricade themselves inside gilded
Mr. Piano’s building is rooted in a more comforting time: the era of corporate
Modernism that reached its apogee in New York in the 1950s and 60s. If he has
gently updated that ethos for the Internet age, the building is still more a
paean to the past than to the future.
What makes a great New York skyscraper? The greatest of them tug at our
heartstrings. We seek them out in the skyline, both to get our bearings and to
anchor ourselves psychologically in the life of the city.
Mr. Piano’s tower is unlikely to inspire that kind of affection. The building’s
most original feature is a scrim of horizontal ceramic rods that diffuses
sunlight and lends the exterior a clean, uniform appearance. Mr. Piano used a
similar screening system for his 1997 Debis Tower for Daimler-Benz in Berlin, to
mixed results. For The Times, he spent months adjusting the rods’ color and
scale, and in the early renderings they had a lovely, ethereal quality.
Viewed from a side street today, they have the precision and texture of a finely
tuned machine. But despite the architect’s best efforts, the screens look flat
and lifeless in the skyline. The uniformity of the bars gives them a slightly
menacing air, and the problem is compounded by the battleship gray of the
tower’s steel frame. Their dull finish deprives the facades of an enlivening
play of light and shadow.
The tower’s crown is also disappointing. To hide the rooftop’s mechanical
equipment and create the impression that the tower is dissolving into the sky,
Mr. Piano extended the screens a full six stories past the top of the building’s
frame. Yet the effect is ragged and unfinished. Rather than gathering momentum
as it rises, the tower seems to fizzle.
But if the building is less than spectacular in the skyline, it comes to life
when it hits the ground. All of Mr. Piano’s best qualities are in evidence here
— the fine sense of proportion, the love of structural detail, the healthy sense
of civic responsibility.
The architect’s goal is to blur the boundary between inside and out, between the
life of the newspaper and the life of the street. The lobby is encased entirely
in glass, and its transparency plays delightfully against the muscular steel
beams and spandrels that support the soaring tower.
People entering the building from Eighth Avenue can glance past rows of elevator
banks all the way to the fairy tale atrium garden and beyond, to the plush red
interior of TheTimesCenter auditorium. From the auditorium, you gaze back
through the trees to the majestic lobby space. In effect, the lobby itself is a
continuous public performance.
The sense of transparency is reinforced by the people streaming through the
lobby. The flow recalls the dynamic energy of Grand Central Terminal’s Great
Hall or the Rockefeller Center plaza, proud emblems of early-20th-century
Architecturally, however, The New York Times Building owes its greatest debt to
postwar landmarks like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Lever House or Mies van der
Rohe’s Seagram Building — designs that came to embody the progressive values and
industrial power of a triumphant America. Their streamlined glass-and-steel
forms proclaimed a faith in machine-age efficiency and an open, honest,
Newspaper journalism, too, is part of that history. Transparency, independence,
the free flow of information, moral clarity, objective truth — these notions
took hold and flourished in the last century at papers like The Times. To many
this idealism reached its pinnacle in the period stretching from the civil
rights movement to the Vietnam War to Watergate, when journalists grew
accustomed to speaking truth to power, and the public could still accept
reporters as impartial observers.
This longing for an idealistic time permeates the main newsroom. Pierced by a
double-height skylight well on the third and fourth floors, the newsroom has a
cool, insular feel even as the facades of the surrounding buildings press in
from the north and south. The well functions as a center of gravity, focusing
attention on the paper’s nerve center. From many of the desks you also enjoy a
view of the delicate branches of the atrium’s birch trees.
Internal staircases link the various newsroom floors to encourage interaction.
The work cubicles are flanked by rows of glass-enclosed offices, many of which
are unassigned so that they can be used for private phone conversations or
spontaneous meetings. Informal groupings of tables and chairs are also scattered
about, creating a variety of social spaces.
From the higher floors, which house the corporate offices of The Times and 22
floors belonging to the developer Forest City Ratner, the views become more
expansive. Cars rush up along Eighth Avenue. Billboards and electronic signs
loom from all directions. By the time you reach the 14th-floor cafeteria, the
entire city begins to come into focus, with dazzling views to the north, south,
east and west. A long, narrow balcony is suspended within the cafeteria’s
double-height space, reinforcing the impression that you’re floating in the
Many of my colleagues complained about the building at first. There’s too much
empty space in the newsroom, some groused; they missed the intimacy of the old
one. The glass offices look sterile, and no one will use them, some said.
I suspect they’ll all adjust. One of the joys of working in an ambitious new
building is that you can watch its personality develop. From week to week, you
see more and more lone figures chatting on cellphones in the small glass offices
with their feet atop a table. And even my grumpiest colleagues now concede that
a little sunlight and fresh air are not a bad thing.
Even so, you never feel that the building embraces the future wholeheartedly.
Rather than move beyond the past, Mr. Piano has fine-tuned it. The most
contemporary features — the computerized louvers and blinds that regulate the
flow of light into the interiors — are technological innovations rather than
architectural ones; the regimented rows of identical wood-paneled cubicles
chosen by the interior design firm Gensler could be a stage set for a 2007
remake of “All the President’s Men,” minus the 1970s hairstyles.
Maybe this accounts for the tower’s slight whiff of melancholy.
Few of today’s most influential architects buy into straightforward notions of
purity or openness. Having witnessed an older generation’s mostly futile quest
to effect social change through architecture, they opt for the next best thing:
to expose, through their work, the psychic tensions and complexities that their
elders sublimated. By bringing warring forces to the surface, they reason, a
building will present a franker reading of contemporary life.
Journalism, too, has moved on. Reality television, anonymous bloggers, the
threat of ideologically driven global media enterprises — such forces have
undermined newspapers’ traditional mission. Even as journalists at The Times
adjust to their new home, they worry about the future. As advertising inches
decline, the paper is literally shrinking; its page width was reduced in August.
And some doubt that newspapers will even exist in print form a generation from
Depending on your point of view, the Times Building can thus be read as a
poignant expression of nostalgia or a reassertion of the paper’s highest values
as it faces an uncertain future. Or, more likely, a bit of both.
Pride and Nostalgia Mix
in The Times’s New Home, NYT, 20.11.2007,
- Designed Fountain Works _ Finally
October 26, 2007
Filed at 10:48 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) -- The giant water fountain Frank Lloyd Wright designed
here is no longer the unworkable dud it was for decades.
Thanks to computers and extensive restoration, the ''Water Dome'' finally
produces the three-story dome of water Wright envisioned 70 years ago as the
centerpiece of his architectural design for Florida Southern College's campus.
''He was very far ahead of his time, and sometimes materials are just catching
up with him,'' said New York-based architect Jeff Baker, who heads preservation
work at the college where 12 structures make up the largest collection of
Wright's works on a single site.
More than 1,000 people cheered the fountain's opening Thursday, when the school
celebrated Wright's vision if not his engineering ability. Spectators ringed the
fountain more than 10 deep in places, and some had black and white pictures
taken with a cutout of Wright.
Construction of the fountain took place between 1941 and 1958, and Wright
himself visited the campus during construction. Florida Southern students today
attend class in Wright-designed rooms and walk under his covered esplanades. The
school, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, also holds services in the
Until now, his Water Dome though was a disappointment. Its pool was completed in
1948, and contemporary newspapers said the fountain's opening was imminent. That
never happened. Low water pressure, or low funds, may have been the cause. In
the late 1960s, the school covered much of the pool with cement, creating three
A $1 million restoration started a year ago. Preservationists visited Wright's
archives in Spring Green, Wis., to research early plans and letters between
engineers. Paint analysis recreated the original bright aqua of the fountain's
basin, and a Wright-designed pump house was reclaimed.
Other features, however, Wright might not recognize: Computers control the water
streaming from the 74 nozzles; public water rather than a well fills the basin,
which is a few inches shallower because of new building codes. Architects also
added underwater lighting.
There's even a modern solution for a problem rumored in Wright's time: that wind
blew the water around, drenching students. A wind meter on top of a nearby
building can now help adjust the water height if winds get too high.
That feature had been turned off Thursday night, however, so the dome would stay
at its maximum, 45-foot height. And mist swept off the fountain, cutting short a
performance by a band under its path. Most students didn't seem to mind,
however, taking pictures with cameras before heading to the library or dorms.
Freshman Shannon Ryan, 18, rode a Ferris wheel the school had set up for an
overhead view. How would Wright feel about finally seeing his fountain on? Ryan
thought she knew: ''Um, hello, it took you long enough.''
Wright - Designed
Fountain Works _ Finally, NYT, 26.10.2007,
Group Seeks to Restore
1916 Wright Home
June 16, 2007
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:25 p.m. ET
The New York Times
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Pieces of architectural history sit on Milwaukee's south
side -- a row of four duplexes and two cottages designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
more than 90 years ago for low-to-moderate-income families.
But years of extreme makeovers, including aluminum siding added to one house,
rendered some of them shells of their former designs. Now a nonprofit group
wants to restore the Frank Lloyd Wright charm to one of the single-family homes
-- right down to the crushed quartz stone-infused stucco on the exterior.
Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin has bought one of the single-family houses and a
duplex, and plans to start restoring an 850-square-foot, two-bedroom home to its
1916 condition, possibly as early as fall.
The group hopes to make it a museum, inspire others to renovate the four
remaining structures and motivate architects to design housing for the
Wright historian Jack Holzhueter said the houses, known as the American
System-Built Homes, are the best example of the beloved architect's lifelong
pursuit of providing affordable housing for low-income residents.
''It's early relatively in his career, 1916,'' he said. ''It's a very large
group of buildings. No other cluster of Wright buildings begins to resemble this
one, in proximity, density, etceteras.''
Wright, who was born in Richland Center, Wis., and died in 1959 at the age of 92
in Arizona, is known for his sprawling, earth-hugging homes in the countryside,
but he took a special interest in creating low-cost shelter in urban settings.
He believed all economic classes were entitled to good architecture.
Wright produced more than 900 drawings of various designs. To reduce costs,
factory-cut materials were assembled onsite, said Mike Lilek, the group's
Developer Arthur Richards built the compact, geometric homes -- five of the six
have flat roofs -- in 1915 and 1916. They sold originally for $3,500 to $4,500.
Eight others have been identified around the Midwest. Wright and Richards
recruited builders from around the Midwest for the American System project
through 1917, but the effort was largely abandoned because of World War I and
Wright's other endeavors, Lilek said.
Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin bought the single-family home in 2004 for $130,000
from an owner who lived there for about 40 years and a duplex for $142,000 in
The group hopes its efforts serve as a catalyst for the entire block's
restoration, said Denise Hice, the group's president. Members also want to
create educational programs.
''We feel that it's important that we restore them as well and open them again
leading into the educational component to maybe have people design homes today
just like Wright did almost 100 years ago,'' Hice said.
Lilek expects work on the house to take more than a year.
They have so far raised $298,500 toward the $379,369 needed, Lilek said.
The home is in relatively good shape. One of the first tasks will be to remove
an unoriginal enclosed porch, which surrounds full-length windows inside. The
group wants to replace the 3/4-inch layer of stucco outside with an original
1/4-layer with crushed quartz stone. It will recondition the roof with modern
materials and rebuild an enclosed rear stairwell.
Other repairs include updating electrical, removing varnish on woodwork,
stripping the hardwood floors and restoring the wooden kitchen counter.
The Historic Preservation Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,
School of Architecture and Urban Planning, helped research the house's original
condition, Lilek said. Its work, along with that of Italian conservator Nikolas
Vakalis, can be seen in swatches of color on the walls that show the original
Vakalis had 17 samples of finishes, plaster, stucco and paint analyzed by a lab
to determine the composition so they could be replicated. They will try to
restore as much as they can, but not if it won't hold up, Lilek said.
Eventually, they will also have furniture made, based on Wright's drawings.
Wright saved space by adding a folding door to the kitchen, a built-in kitchen
table and chairs and built-in closets, which are all still there.
Caretaker William Krueger said despite the square footage, the house is
spacious. He earned his master's degree in architecture last year and gets a
small stipend to live in the house and give tours.
''I have no problems entertaining up to 30 guests in this house,'' he said.
''It's so small and yet things are interlocked or overlapping each other.''
Hice said they have charged $2 for tours once a month for about a year and plan
to give tours during restoration.
The group eventually wants to refurbish the exterior of the duplex, which is now
a rental property. But what will be done, if anything, to the remodeled interior
has not been decided, Lilek said.
Their intent isn't to make each house into a museum. ''We're going to try and
turn these back to owner-occupied buildings,'' he said. ''I don't know if me or
you would move into a building in its 1916 condition.''
Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin bought the two houses because no one else was
making a major effort to preserve them, Hice said, except for the Arena family.
Jillayne and Dave Arena bought one of the duplexes 25 years ago. They put
hundreds of thousands of dollars into making it a one-family home, after it had
been a rental property, Jillayne Arena said.
They removed paneling, restored the original hardwood floors, added stucco on
the exterior, created 80 leaded glass windows and attached trellises to the
She said living in Wright's design has taught her to approach problems
''I think when you live in a house like this you ... understand that the
conventional view, the conventional wisdom is not always what should be,'' she
said. ''So you kind of end up thinking and being perhaps a bit eccentric.''
Holzhueter, the historian, said Wright wanted to bring beauty into everyone's
''Beauty was the goal -- to live in harmony with your surroundings, to have a
more beautifully proportioned and designed house for very little money,'' he
said, ''and that would bring you into a state of greater appreciation for the
world around you and for your own potential.''
Group Seeks to Restore
1916 Wright Home, NYT, 16.6.2007,
Famed Glass Hous
Opens for Public Tours
June 16, 2007
Filed at 8:43 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW CANAAN, Conn. (AP) -- By design, Philip Johnson's iconic Glass House
evokes openness and accessibility.
For decades, however, only the late architect's friends and guests could visit
the famed 1949 home and explore the surrounding 47 acres of New England
That changed when invitation-only tours of the Glass House began this spring,
and the structure deemed a harbinger of U.S. modernist design opens to the
public starting June 23.
The tours also include many of the property's 13 other structures -- several of
which are architectural showpieces in their own right -- and acres of ponds,
landscaped hills and walkways.
Most of the 2007 season tour tickets, ranging from $25 to $40, sold out right
away, and potential visitors are already seeking spots for the 2008 season. The
enthusiasm is considered a testament to the site's cultural importance and to
Johnson, winner of his profession's top awards and designer of several of the
most notable structures nationwide, including the AT&T Building in New York, the
soaring glass Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., and the 56-story pink
granite Bank of America building in Houston.
Johnson won the prestigious Silver Medal from the Architectural League of New
York for the Glass House, yet always considered the transparent cube much more
than a professional triumph. It was also his muse, showcase for art and the
emotional refuge he shared with his longtime partner, art collector David
Johnson died in the Glass House in January 2005 at age 98 while the 66-year-old
Whitney died five months later of cancer in New York. The National Trust for
Historic Preservation acquired the property under a 1986 agreement with Johnson,
and both men endowed money for its preservation and operation as a museum.
''This was really a canvas for innovation over Philip Johnson's and David
Whitney's lifetimes,'' said Christy MacLear, the site's executive director.
''It's a very significant site in and of itself, and also as an inspiration in
The tours start at a new visitor center in downtown New Canaan, where a shuttle
takes guests for a short ride to the property.
Johnson, a master of ''the reveal'' long before television makeover shows
embraced the concept, lined his property's main walkway with white pines to
obscure the view ahead. With a few steps around a curve, the full effect of
''the reveal'' strikes visitors with their first look at the Glass House.
Approached at an intentional angle, the rectangular home sits surrounded by a
natural vista of hills and greenery -- a view that Johnson affectionately called
his ''very expensive wallpaper.''
Containing just the minimal trappings of daily life, only clear panes separate
people inside from the scenes of pastoral New England.
A brick cylinder hides a fireplace on one side and a bathroom on the other.
Simple modernist furnishings by designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe provide
lounging spots, and an austere marble-topped dining table at one end of the home
is balanced by a leather-topped desk at the other.
Accommodations were made for pragmatism, such as the inclusion of a system to
radiate heat from the floor and ceiling. It made the structure livable even in
the depths of winter, although even Johnson -- whose professional success and
family wealth shielded him from money woes -- acknowledged the bills were
In recent years, the site's caretakers had to make another accommodation to
nature by stationing plastic coyote cutouts along the perimeter to deter the
area's replenished population of wild turkeys from crashing through the
In the years after Johnson and Whitney died, the National Trust had to replace
several windows after wild turkeys broke the quarter-inch glass, perhaps
spotting their reflections and rushing at the windows in a territorial act, or
because they simply did not see the glass.
The fake coyotes, which caretakers rotated frequently to trick the wayward
turkeys, seem to have done the trick. Other than damage from broken tree limbs
and other occasional weather problems, none of the panes have needed replacement
in the last few years.
A few steps away from the Glass House, a 1949 structure known as the Brick House
offers in solitude what the transparent cube provides in openness. With
silk-covered wall panes to block the light from its circular windows, it was
often Johnson's refuge for naps or contemplation.
Guests frequently stayed in the home, where Johnson's love of blending opposites
shows in the contrast between the intellectual heft of his book collection and
the whimsical purple carpet in the library that houses it.
He also blended so-called ''safe danger'' in designs throughout the property,
such as an eyebrow bridge over a shallow gorge that offers in simple aesthetics
what it lacks in handrails.
Circles and rectangles also are an opposites-attract Johnson theme throughout
the site, such as the round pool and its rectangular off-center deck.
A few steps away, the 3,778-square-foot Painting Gallery is built into the side
of a hill, its unassuming doorway flanked by simple red sandstone panes. The
tomblike doorway dampens expectations before dramatically revealing vibrant
works by longtime Johnson friend Frank Stella, an Andy Warhol print of Johnson
and other notable pieces.
The nearby Sculpture Gallery, built in 1970 and home to an eclectic collection
of art forms and themes, was another favorite contemplation spot for Johnson and
Whitney. Today, guests are limited to viewing the expansive interior from a site
just inside the entry rather than traversing the series of stairs that jut at
45-degree angles from the walls.
The tour concludes at the 990-square-foot, black and red modernist structure
that Johnson completed in 1995 and deemed, ''Da Monsta.'' Built in what he
called the ''structured warp,'' it is inspired by Stella's work and intended to
resemble a sculpture with uneven forms and no continuity to the angles.
The Glass House, the other buildings and the surroundings will start hosting a
lecture series this fall, a fellowship program that launches in 2008 and other
events that Johnson and Whitney supported in the name of culture.
The property, which sits behind an avant-garde entrance gate flanked by 20-foot
concrete forms inspired by medieval monuments, had a 2003 market value of more
than $19 million. The bulk of that value, more than $10 million, comprises the
portion that includes the Glass House, Brick House and the sculpture and art
galleries, according to town assessment records.
New Canaan Assessor Sebastian Caldarella said it includes the value of materials
and replacement costs, along with an estimate of its unique value as an
''How do you set a value on that?'' he said. ''There's no right answer and no
wrong answer. It's irreplaceable.''
On the Web:
Famed Glass House Opens
for Public Tours, NYT, 16.6.2007,
Gehry to Design Playground in NYC
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 3:30 p.m. ET
The New York Times
(AP) -- Architect Frank Gehry, renowned for his daring and whimsical urban
designs, will create his first playground -- at the historic Battery public park
in Lower Manhattan.
The playground will be part of a larger redevelopment of Manhattan's
southernmost tip that includes the four-acre Battery Bosque Gardens; a bike path
connecting Manhattan's east and west sides; a town green; and the planned
restoration and expansion of historic Castle Clinton, a fort built in 1811 to
defend New York Harbor.
The Battery also serves as the disembarkation point for ferries to the Statue of
Liberty and Ellis Island.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the announcement at the Battery Conservancy's
annual gala benefit Tuesday night, attended by the city's cultural and business
''We look forward to his brilliant addition to our world-class city,'' Bloomberg
said of Gehry's playground design, which is expected to be unveiled later this
year and will cost about $4 million. The funds will be raised by the
conservancy, which was formed to rebuild and revitalize the Battery and Castle
Clinton National Monument.
The prize-winning, Los Angeles-based designer will create a one-acre play space
that will feature a ''green'' comfort station with a green roof and vegetal
walls. His other works include the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and
the titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
Calling Gehry ''one of our nation's great magical thinkers,'' Warrie Price, the
Battery Conservancy president and founder, said the architect ''will bring his
remarkable spirit to a new play space at the Battery, a destination for children
of all ages.''
Gehry to Design Playground in NYC, NYT, 6.6.2007,
New Los Angeles
Dream Factories Design Buildings
December 25, 2006
The New York Times
By ROBIN POGREBIN
LOS ANGELES — To the extent that Los Angeles is a company
town — that company being movies and television — it isn’t easy to gain fame as
an architect here, especially in the shadow of Frank Gehry, one of the
profession’s few West Coast celebrities.
There are those who maintain that Angelenos don’t care that much about
architecture, except when it comes to designing their own houses. While the city
is home to top-flight architectural talents like Mr. Gehry and Thom Mayne, some
say it has been slow to champion unorthodox civic design as a source of local
But it’s becoming harder to make that argument these days, as developers, arts
benefactors and academic institutions in Los Angeles begin to embrace the notion
that cutting-edge design — however costly — can sow both economic and social
dividends by spurring development and enlightening the public.
At the California Institute of Technology alone, Mr. Mayne of Morphosis is
designing the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, a building that
would draw light from above while affording vistas of the sky; Joshua
Prince-Ramus is at work on the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center for
Information Science and Technology, a steel-braced frame supporting a concrete
ring of offices; and Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners has designed Broad Center, a
biology research building with etched stainless steel wall panels cladding
laboratory spaces and a glazed “light tower” animating the center of the
At the Art Center College of Design, a private institution in Pasadena, the
local firm Daly, Genik redesigned the south campus, which opened in 2004. The
U.C.L.A. Hammer Museum has been redesigned by the local architect Michael
Maltzan as a more transparent, porous space with a courtyard that integrates the
museum into the surrounding streetscape, along with a 300-seat theater that was
completed this month and a restaurant, bookstore and public classrooms.
Some Los Angeles architects say that Mr. Gehry and Mr. Mayne helped raise the
bar for them. “Both of those people have changed the expectations of people
pretty substantially,” said Kevin Daly of Daly Genik, which is working on the
second phase of a bold redesign of the south campus of the Art Center College.
“It’s the obligation on our part to make sure that starts to happen for the next
Meanwhile up-and-coming Los Angeles architects have distinguished themselves in
the annual Young Architects Competition sponsored in New York by P.S. 1 and the
Museum of Modern Art. Hernan Diaz Alonso of Xefirotarch won in 2005 with a
swirling, billowing composition of tentlike bio-organic forms inspired by the
tango. Jason Payne and Heather Roberge of Gnuform were finalists this year with
a proposal called “Purple Haze,” after the Jimi Hendrix song, that featured
“altered sensory states” like loungers made of rubber tube rings with depressed
centers that become wading pools.
Architects from distant points also seem to be doing more in Los Angeles. For
example Renzo Piano, from Italy, has designed an addition to the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art that includes a glass entrance pavilion, a park and a new
gallery building named for the businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad.
The New York architects Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey and Robert A. M. Stern
and the Mexican architect Enrique Norten have recently designed apartment
buildings and hotels. Steven Holl of New York is working on a makeover of the
Beaux-Arts-inspired Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Most prominent of all perhaps is Mr. Gehry’s Grand Avenue redevelopment, a
project by Related Companies near his acclaimed 2003 Walt Disney Concert Hall
that aims to create a vital downtown core in Los Angeles. “The only way to do
something transformational is to do something above and beyond what’s already
there,” Stephen M. Ross, the chairman of Related, said in an interview. “It’s
incumbent on developers to take things to that level.”
There are now at least three significant buildings in close proximity to Grand
Avenue: Disney Hall; the 2002 Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, designed by
the Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo; and Mr. Mayne’s path-breaking Caltrans
District 7 Headquarters (2004) for the state transportation agency, whose facade
morphs as its perforated aluminum screens open and close. Mr. Mayne, the winner
of the 2005 Pritzker Prize, has also been asked to come up with architectural
proposals to enhance the city’s 2016 Olympics bid.
“There is a level of consciousness in Los Angeles that I think has spread in the
20 or 25 years I’ve been doing this,” said Eric Owen Moss, the architect in
Culver City, Calif., who is designing a large mixed-use project and a medical
building on the Sunset Strip. “There is a broader constituency of politicians,
developers and clients who are interested in design and supportive of
architecture on a large scale.”
The urgent focus on downtown is partly related to shrinking space for housing
development in outlying areas and an increase in traffic congestion, which has
made driving to and from work more onerous than ever.
“Los Angeles is moving from a suburban culture to an urban culture,” said
Richard Koshalek, president of the Art Center College of Design. “It’s a seismic
shift. The frontier now for L.A. is closed. It can’t expand any further. People
are frustrated with the commutes.”
As a result developers are focusing on high-rises, and public officials are
trying to improve mass transit. “There is a conversation in Los Angeles — it’s
very nascent — about what urbanism is going to mean in coming years,” Mr.
Maltzan said. “The city’s changing. It’s becoming significantly denser. The city
has grown to its physical boundaries.”
Mr. Ross said: “You’re dealing with a different generation. Young people don’t
want to spend as much time in their cars. They want to be close to their work.”
Whether this growing attention to urban development will result in
architecturally distinctive projects is another question. While universities
have demonstrated a willingness to take chances with their architecture, many
Los Angeles design professionals say, developers generally have not.
“There is still a certain anxiety and a certain apprehension about architecture
in this city,” Mr. Koshalek said. “It can’t just be the educational
institutions. It has to be the political leadership.”
Much of the credit for New York City’s new focus on architecture goes to Mayor
Michael R. Bloomberg, who has made high-quality design a priority of his
administration through the City Planning Department and the Department of Design
and Construction. Yet even in New York, architects note, exciting designs can be
compromised by neighborhood opposition, preservationist concerns or the kind of
political infighting that has dogged the rebuilding effort at ground zero and
the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.
Paul Lubowicki of Lubowicki/Lanier Architects in El Segundo, Calif., said he
thought there was still an endemic indifference to architecture among
politicians and the public in Los Angeles. “I don’t think the general public
values architecture in this town,” he said. “I don’t think architecture makes an
impact at all. Everywhere else but here.”
Even Mr. Gehry’s Disney Hall, with its heady swooping curvilinear metal
exterior, did not shake up the city’s sensibilities, some say.
Last year’s film “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” by the Hollywood director Sydney
Pollack could be considered an exception to this indifference.
“When the concert hall was going up, you would hear people talking about Frank
and how negative they view anything different around here,” Mr. Lubowicki said.
“It’s different from Chicago, where you’re walking around, and the buildings
draw you in. Here you go in a car, you go in a parking lot, you go up in a
Because of the city’s sprawl, it’s not easy for a single building to become the
galvanizing force it might be in a more concentrated landscape. “The problem
with L.A. is the impact of various projects is so diffuse, given the size of the
city,” said Mr. Stern, who is the dean of Yale’s School of Architecture.
“There’s not much next to anything else.”
Mr. Meier’s 1997 travertine-clad Getty Center complex, for example, with its
signature curves and rectangles, is isolated on a hilltop. “It’s part of L.A.,
everyone goes there, but it doesn’t seem to influence anything,” Mr. Meier
“The commercial architecture is terrible” in Los Angeles, said Mr. Meier, who
also recently designed the new Broad Art Center at U.C.L.A., the city’s Museum
of Television and Radio (1996) and the local branch of Gagosian Gallery (1995).
“I don’t know who the developers are who do these things. They don’t come to
Central to traditional Los Angeles thinking is the primacy of one’s own home and
backyard. There is also a longstanding reverence for the city’s mid-century
Modernist residential architecture, like the Eames House and other landmarks
built as part of the Case Study House Program, which ran from the mid-1940s
through the early 1960s.
Mr. Lubowicki said his practice lies mainly “in the rich-people house category,”
but added: “I’d love to do a library, stuff that makes people aware of what you
can do with a building. There’s so little of that around here.”
Others counter that the so-called local disdain for architecture has been
exaggerated, in part because it plays into Los Angeles architects’ image of
themselves as countercultural cowboys. “L.A. architects present themselves as
fugitives on the run,” said Sylvia Lavin, a professor in the architecture and
design department at U.C.L.A. “The stories that the culture needs to tell itself
here are quite different.”
While the public may not be passionate about architecture, others point out,
some crucial players are. Mr. Broad, for example, was the prime mover behind
Grand Avenue, Disney Hall, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Caltrans, as
well as the Los Angeles High School For the Visual and Performing Arts, designed
by Coop Himmelblau, which is under construction.
“Key individuals who are the kind of people who can change things — we don’t
have enough of them,” Mr. Daly said.
Mr. Koshalek said: “We need great patrons who believe in ideas and are willing
to commit to young architects so we will have something to advance in the
future. There is so much that needs to be done here.”
New Los Angeles
Dream Factories Design Buildings, NYT, 25.12.2006,
At 150 Edgars Lane,
Changing the Idea of
January 2, 2006
The New York Times
By LOUIS UCHITELLE
HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - The handsome
Tudor-style home at 150 Edgars Lane, built for less than $10,000 in 1925 on a
hillside in this Hudson River town, never seemed to change much through all of
its previous owners. Each family updated the house, but in modest ways until Tom
and Julie Hirschfeld came along.
The Hirschfelds purchased the two-story house with its gabled roof and
stucco-and-wood-beam exterior for $890,000 in the fall of 2002. Good schools,
safe streets, a picturesque community, like-minded neighbors, a relatively short
commute to New York - all these drew the family, just as they drew the previous
But as home prices have soared in recent years, houses like this one have become
not just nice places to live but remarkably valuable investments as well.
Responding to this newly embedded wealth, the Hirschfelds, like hundreds of
thousands of other families living in suburbs of cities like New York, Chicago
and San Francisco, have transformed their homes into something grander and more
Tracing the history of the house at 150 Edgars Lane through the decades shows
how the Hirschfelds have broken with the past - and how the idea of what a house
means to a family has changed. Eight different families have lived in this house
for at least a year. Most were middle-income earners in their day: a high school
principal, a typographer, a civil engineer, a psychiatrist, an environmentalist,
In contrast to the previous owners, the Hirschfelds have poured many thousands
of dollars into renovation, making their home more comfortable and
well-appointed than the earlier owners considered necessary. And more so than
the others, they can certainly afford it.
As the chief operating officer of a hedge fund, Mr. Hirschfeld has plenty of
income to sink into renovation without going into debt. The couple has not held
back. Lifting the house to their standards has become so important to them that
between the purchase price and the outlays for improvements, Mr. Hirschfeld
says, the investment exceeds his home's current market value, estimated at $1.2
Juliet B. Schor, a Boston College sociologist and the author of "The Overspent
American," classifies the burst of spending on home improvement in recent years
as "competitive consumption going on in the top 20 percent of the income
But many home owners, the Hirschfelds among them, insist that quite apart from
status and comfort, what was once mainly a dwelling in a compatible suburb now
assumes even greater personal importance in an age when families increasingly
focus on themselves.
"Community is still very important," said William M. Rohe, director of the
Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill. "But homeowners today pay greater attention to the house itself as
an expression of themselves and as a haven for family life."
For the Hirschfelds, a spacious new kitchen wing that juts into the backyard of
their property embodies their sense of how they want their home to enhance their
lives. Finished a year ago, the kitchen has become a gathering place not just
for cooking and meals, but for homework, games, art projects, reading and
conversation with the Hirschfelds' children, Ben, 12, and Leila, 8.
"We didn't build this kitchen for any trophy motivation or to achieve any level
of luxury," Mr. Hirschfeld said, pointing out that the appliances, including the
refrigerator and stove, are ordinary off-the-floor models, not state-of-the-art
extravaganzas. "We did it to make our family life more free-flowing and warm."
The yard was not suitable for the new kitchen wing, however. So a stone
retaining wall went up to carve more flat space from the sloping land -
unexpectedly adding thousands of dollars to renovation costs.
The Hirschfelds also spent more than planned to reverse the deterioration of
their 80-year-old house - one of the tens of thousands built during the nation's
first great suburban housing boom, before the Depression.
"We really bought this to be our family home," Mrs. Hirschfeld said, "and we
made an error in judgment in not knowing what it would cost to deal with the
deterioration." But the basement, she added, which "was wet for 40 years, is no
Before the Hirschfelds, each of the previous owners made incremental
improvements, spreading renovation over their years in residence rather than
bunching it at the beginning. Mostly those earlier owners lived with the house's
shortcomings, including the cramped kitchen, now converted into a mud room.
Wealthy Buyers Move In
The Hirschfelds, in their early 40's, were less constrained by income, an
increasingly common characteristic of the households engaged in home
improvement. Those with at least $120,000 in annual income accounted for 32
percent of all the spending on home renovation in 2003, the latest year for
which data is available. That is up from 21 percent in 1995, adjusted for
inflation, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. The
spending itself reached $233 billion in 2003, a rise of 52 percent from 1995.
For decades, a home in the suburbs was a family haven for the middle class, "a
kind of anchor in the heavy seas of urban life," as Kenneth T. Jackson, a
Columbia University historian, put it in his 1985 book "Crabgrass Frontier."
That was true of the owners of 150 Edgars Lane. But with the surge in home
prices, the big side yard took on a new dimension as a potentially valuable
building plot. It was no longer cherished as the colorful, terraced flower
garden nurtured by several former owners and written up admiringly in the local
The objections of neighbors stopped the owner of the house in 2001, a woman who
had received it in a divorce settlement, from obtaining a zoning variance so
that she could split off the old flower garden and sell the property as two lots
for more than the $819,000 that she finally received.
With that sale, the house moved out of the reach of middle-income buyers. The
buyer, Matthew Stover, came from Wall Street, and he soon sold the house to Mr.
Hirschfeld, also from Wall Street.
Still, the Stovers and the Hirschfelds, like nearly all of the owners before
them, came to Hastings from apartments in New York City, choosing the town in
part because it offered a demographic mix greater than many other suburbs, as
well as neighbors who were often artists, writers and academics.
The intellectual aura was particularly present on Edgars Lane. Margaret Sanger,
an early leader of the birth control movement, lived across the street from 150,
and Lewis Hine, the famous photographer of industrial realism, owned the house
two doors up. They are long gone, but the Hirschfelds, who received graduate
degrees from Oxford after going to college in the United States, are proud of
"We really wanted to live in Hastings," Mr. Hirschfeld said.
The homes that made this town a suburb went up in the woody hills above
Broadway. Below that dividing street, blue-collar workers, many of them Polish
and Italian immigrants, occupied the apartments and row houses near the
waterfront, close to the chemical plant and the copper mill that employed them,
until the last factory closed in 1975.
The children of those workers went to school with the children in the hills and
"there is still a feeling that the diversity continues to exist - more a feeling
than a reality," David W. McCullough, a local historian, said.
As a community, Hastings tries to resist the trappings of affluence that are
spreading through so many suburbs. The downtown is still a collection of mostly
older stores and restaurants - reflecting "a certain pride that we have in the
shabbiness," as Mr. McCullough put it.
Very few of the upscale stores and restaurants evident elsewhere have arrived
here yet. But almost certainly they will as rising home prices, which limit
eligible newcomers to families like the Hirschfelds, gradually squeeze out
The Hirschfelds, adding even greater value to their home, have installed air
conditioning, expanded the master bathroom and more than doubled the size of
Leila's bedroom, by constructing a second story on top of the kitchen wing. They
rebuilt the basement, spending far more than they intended to get rid of mold
and wetness, and took down the wall between the living room and the dining room,
creating what Mr. Hirschfeld described as "a flowing space so we can have a
conversation from the kitchen with someone who is two rooms away in the living
room." New windows are next.
"You can't live in this day and age with drafty windows," Mrs. Hirschfeld said.
"Either you pump your furnace for all it's worth all winter, or you have
Drafty windows did not bother Ralph Breiling, who designed and built this house
in 1925 on land he had purchased three years earlier, spending less than $10,000
in all, or about $111,000 adjusted for inflation. Mr. Breiling was an architect,
but in the severe recession after World War I, he shifted to teaching school,
later rising to assistant principal and then principal of Brooklyn Technical
A group of teachers had purchased land in Hastings, and Mr. Breiling joined
them, buying one of the lots.
"He loved the Hudson Valley and when the leaves were off the trees, we had a
view of the river and the Palisades," Robert, one of his sons, remembered. For
years, "he commuted an hour and a half each way to his job."
When the Breiling family moved to Edgars Lane, the exterior was finished - it
looked then much as it looks today - but the interior walls were mostly
unfinished plaster. From then on, until he sold the house in 1950, Mr. Breiling
renovated, with his own hands.
A Love for the Hudson Valley
He built the one-car garage that is still there, and the room above it, which
became a children's playroom. He enclosed a patio, incorporating it into the
living room. When his third child, Clover, was born, he expanded a small sewing
room into the fourth bedroom, building out over the front door.
"He spread the work out; he could not afford to do it all at once," said Robert
Breiling, 83, now a retired engineer. "The Depression hit him hard. The New York
City schools cut pay in half. They said they would make it up after the war,
which they didn't. My mother started a nursery school in the dining room. She
had a bunch of little tables and chairs; made a schoolroom out of it. I thought
she liked doing it. But looking back it was for need."
The Breilings' lasting legacy was the garden in the big side yard, which Mr.
Breiling's wife, Leila, tended. In a 1933 article on "beautiful gardens of
Hastings," the weekly Hastings News had this to say about the Breilings' place:
"From the stone retaining wall along the street with its dense privet hedge up
to the children's terrace that now backs against the farm wall on the garden's
highest level, one passes, terrace by terrace, through grassy greensward,
flowering shrubs, long borders aglow with a hundred blossoms."
From that garden came the holly that Duncan Wilson fashioned into wreaths and
sold at Christmas. His parents, Byron and Jane Wilson, purchased 150 Edgars Lane
in 1951 for $25,000, the equivalent of a little less than $190,000 in today's
dollars, moving from a smaller home in nearby Dobbs Ferry when their third child
was still young.
"My mother decided that the family needed more space," Duncan Wilson, now 69,
The Wilsons put energy into maintaining the elaborate garden, but they did
little to the house itself. They were square dancers, so they fixed up the
basement, refinishing the walls and tiling the floor, Mr. Duncan said. Like the
Breilings, they sold the house after their youngest child finished high school,
The next four owners either moved on quickly, to new jobs in other cities, or
stayed to raise children. The turnover helps to explain why the typical American
family owns a home for five or six years, a tenure unchanged going back decades.
Jerome and Carolyn Zinn stayed for eight years, having purchased the house in
1964 from a psychiatrist who lived in it only 18 months. The Zinns paid $40,000
- roughly $250,000 adjusted for inflation - coming from a city apartment with
eight-week-old twin boys.
"I knew that you raised children in a house," Mrs. Zinn said. "I didn't know
anything about Hastings or anyone in the community. We started out looking in
Yonkers and we wandered into Hastings and we liked the hilliness and the trees."
Mr. Zinn had started as a linotype operator, and his wife taught school, saving
enough from her salary for the $11,000 down payment. The remaining $29,000 was
the amount still owed on the psychiatrist's mortgage, which the Zinns took over
- a common practice in those days. Before coming to Hastings, Mr. Zinn had gone
from printer to owner of a small typography shop. It flourished, and in 1982 the
Zinns built a bigger home in Irvington, a neighboring town.
"I kept thinking I wanted to do this to the house and that to the house," Mrs.
Zinn said, "and then I said, if there are so many things I want to do we should
buy a house, or build one."
In 1974, the Zinns sold 150 Edgars Lane for $67,500 - adjusted for inflation,
not that much more than they had paid - to Gerald Franz, a specialist in
environmental issues then employed by the New York City Planning Commission, and
his wife, Susan, a public school math teacher. They had been married five years,
hoping to have children - they later adopted two daughters - and the purchase
price was a stretch for them.
"My expectation was to be married forever and to live there forever," Mrs. Franz
What Was Once a Garden
The Zinns agreed to let the Franzes postpone payment for the side yard, and they
waited nearly a decade before they purchased that portion of their property for
$17,000. By then, with neither family caring for the garden, it had gone to seed
and Mr. Zinn, in any event, was thinking of its value as a building plot. "I had
always hoped in the back of my mind to get the variance to build," he said.
Divorce interrupted those plans. Mrs. Franz, who recently remarried and is now
Susan Franz Ledley, got the house in the 1996 settlement. By then, it was valued
at $500,000. As a school teacher, she could barely afford the upkeep and in
2001, while her youngest daughter was a high school senior, she sold it for
$819,000 - about $900,000 in today's dollars - to Mr. Stover, a stock analyst
for Citigroup, and his wife, Jeanine.
The Stovers were in their 30's and planning a family, like the Franzes nearly 30
years earlier. Unlike the Franzes, however, and all the other earlier owners,
they began to plan renovations, hiring an architect.
"Just as we were starting to get some steam, we were called to Boston," Mr.
Stover said. He took a better job in that city.
Now that housing prices are subsiding, the future monetary payoff from owning
150 Edgars Lane is clouded. But for the Hirschfelds the pleasures of indulging
themselves count for more. Julie Hirschfeld points to the new bathroom sinks,
for example, which resemble 19th-century wash bowls, and the "ridiculously
expensive" border tiles in the master bathroom.
"Once we started," she said, "because we had to do so much, it seemed we should
make the choices about how we wanted it to look."
150 Edgars Lane, Changing the Idea of Home,
3BR, $1 Million.
December 25, 2005
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 24 (AP) - In
the still brisk Washington real estate market, the white Colonial seems like an
easy sale, with three bedrooms, easy access to a major commuting route and an
acre of land, a rarity in the tightly packed suburbs.
And the 18th-century house, which went on the market earlier this month, has
another thing newer houses could never claim: the original Uncle Tom's cabin.
Attached to the house is a one-room building, its walls made of graying oak
beams held together with mortar and stone. The roofing is cedar shingles, some
tinged with green moss. In the back, a stone chimney pushes upward, holding the
large hearth where slaves once tended to meals for a plantation owner.
Among the farm's slaves was Josiah Henson, the man Harriet Beecher Stowe used as
a model for the Uncle Tom character in her 1852 novel on slavery, "Uncle Tom's
Less than a month after being put on the market for about $1 million, the cabin
and the house are being bought by Montgomery County.
The parents of Greg Mallet-Prevost, one of the owners, had owned the house since
the early 1960's. Mr. Mallet-Prevost put it up for sale after his mother,
Hildegarde, died in September at age 100.
The Mallet-Prevosts were history buffs, their son says. They tolerated the
occasional visitor but rebuffed efforts by preservation groups to open the house
to the public.
"To have the house in the county and not open to the public is a terrible loss,"
said Peggy Erickson, executive director of Heritage Montgomery, an agency that
promotes historic tourism and worked with the county to raise money to buy the
house. "We don't want it to turn into a dentist's office."
The owners signed a contract this week with the county, rejecting rival bids
from a group of doctors who wanted to establish a center to study world health
and from a private bidder. The sale price was not immediately released. The sale
is expected to be final at the end of January.
Mr. Mallet-Prevost said his father, Marcel, a lawyer for the National Labor
Relations Board who died in 2000, would have wanted the property to go to a
buyer who would preserve the cabin and the house. He said his father did not
object to the house becoming a public historic site.
The house was once the anchor of a 3,700-acre farm that sprawled over much of
modern-day Rockville. It was owned by Isaac Riley, who bought Josiah Henson and
his mother from a Charles County plantation in the 1790's.
Henson was born in 1789 and sold to Riley roughly five years later, after his
master died. In his autobiography, published in 1849, Henson recalls how his
anguished mother pleaded with Riley to buy both her and her child, only to be
beaten by Riley as she clutched his legs.
He recounted long days of grueling work but also some pride that Riley
eventually made him manager of the farm. Of his quarters, Henson wrote of "the
cabin used for a kitchen, with its earth floor, its filth, and its numerous
When Riley fell into debt, he had Henson lead a group of slaves to his brother's
Kentucky farm to protect them from creditors. The group passed through Ohio,
then a free state, but Henson decided against running away to keep his word to
Riley. When Riley later reneged on a promise to free him, Henson and his family
escaped to Canada in 1830 through the Underground Railroad.
It was Henson's book that Stowe used as a basis for her story, which became a
catalyst for abolitionists in the pre-Civil War slavery debate. The Uncle Tom
character, however, was eventually seen as a traitor to his race, and the name
became an insult for black people who acted subservient to white people.
That characterization overlooks Henson's later life in Canada, when he spoke out
for abolition and founded a settlement in Dresden, Ontario, that welcomed
escaped slaves, said Steven Cook, manager of the Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site
there. Henson, who is buried there, is a significant historical figure in
Canada, and his preserved home in Dresden is also billed as "Uncle Tom's cabin."
But it was Maryland where he was a slave, local preservationists say, meaning
the cabin in Rockville has a legitimate claim to the name.
The cabin will probably need some work, Mr. Mallet-Prevost said. That could
include restoring it to its original form if it is to be used for historical
purposes. A wood floor and wood paneling were installed in the 1930's. At some
point, a door was cut linking the cabin to the main house, and outside doors
were changed to windows.
3BR, $1 Million. Plus: Uncle Tom's Cabin,
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