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Vocapedia > Arts > Architecture, Towns, Cities > Architects, Houses, Buildings, Flats




The Great Northern Elevator was set for demolition,

but preservationists say it must be saved

as an architectural and historical wonder.



Libby March for The New York Times


Eyesore or Monument?

Preservationists Fight to Save a Grain Elevator in Buffalo

The current owner of the Great Northern

has been pushing to demolish the building

— possibly the last grain elevator of its type in the world.


Jan. 22, 2022    Updated 10:06 a.m. ET



















Grain elevators were invented in Buffalo in the 1840s.

The Great Northern grain elevator, in its heyday above,

is now a shell of itself.



Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group,

via Getty Images


Eyesore or Monument?

Preservationists Fight to Save a Grain Elevator in Buffalo

The current owner of the Great Northern

has been pushing to demolish the building

— possibly the last grain elevator of its type in the world.


Jan. 22, 2022    Updated 10:06 a.m. ET




















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

The Guardian

Tuesday 17 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: http://nyti.ms/1zqaOHY

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video





















The Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall

at 111 South Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, California

7 Apr 2005

Author: Carol M. Highsmith


Primary source



















Frank Gehry's Disney Hall.



J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times


New Los Angeles Dream Factories Design Buildings


25 December 2006
















architect        UK

















architect        USA
















black architects        UK










black architects        USA










“starchitects”        UK










“starchitects”        USA










architecture        UK / USA

























architecture    USA



























modern architecture        USA










modern homes        UK










postwar architecture        USA


















livable architecture        USA






 “locatecture”        USA






architecture > USA > Chicago        UK






architectural drawings





Ysrael Abraham Seinuk, structural engineer        USA        1931-2010






Stirling prize        UK
















international style















USA > Cathedrals of power:

Philadelphia's abandoned turbine halls – in pictures        UK        27 February 2017
















home        UK








home        USA






housing        UK






Atlantic Yards (Brooklyn)        NYC, USA

















British piers – in pictures        UK

















construction site        USA










crane        UK / USA




























building        UK












a 12-story building        USA










The Superman Building in Providence, R.I.        USA










green building        UK










360° buildings        UK










grain elevator        USA










condominium / condo        USA

















giant housing estate










The 10 best council estates        UK


From Aberdeen's rugged Gallowgate

to the castle-like crown of Harlow's Bishopsfield,

the Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore

chooses his favourite council estates

























































condition        USA










collapse        USA




















come down        USA










fall        USA










rumble        USA










rubble        USA










search        USA










USA > search and rescue operations        UK / USA


























architectural style        UK










the Harvard Five        USA


a group that made New Canaan, Conn.,

a hotbed of architectural experimentation

in the 1950s and ’60s




















River view of Goulding Summerhouse

in County Wicklow, Northern Ireland.



Richard Powers/Sydney Living Museums


Superhouses: the allure of fantasy homes where money is no object


Wednesday 5 August 2015    07.35 BST
































detached house








semi-detached        USA









bungalow        UK










cottage        UK










stone house        UK









Philip Johnson’s Glass House        USA        1948










Los Angeles > the Stahl house        USA










superhouses / fantasy homes        UK












Regency home        UK




















Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off the coast of Oregon,

also known as Terrible Tilly,

is overrun with sea lions and extremely difficult to reach by sea or air.



Brandon Carter Grindstone Media/ASP via ZUMA Press Wire


Terrible Tilly, Oregon’s Legendary Lighthouse, Is for Sale

The current owner of the lighthouse, built in 1881,

has used it for decades to store cremated remains.

Its new owners will decide its next chapter.


April 9, 2022, 6:45 a.m. ET

















lighthouse        USA


























penthouses / sky-high apartments        USA































reception room





drawing room










loft room





converted loft room





downstairs rooms





upstairs rooms















rest room





lounge        UK


























sash shutter








































architecture > city > Leeds        UK































breweries        UK











bullet-shaped office tower





USA > The Sears Tower in Chicago        UK










low-rise building        USA








round-arched windows        USA






serpentine ornamentation        USA






NYC, USA > Chelsea hotel        UK





art deco        UK






art deco > Chrysler building in NYC        USA






USA > art deco tower        USA






an 1894 Romanesque Revival building        USA






Georgian homes








gothic        USA








George Gilbert Scott's landmark hotel

above St Pancras station, London:

a gothic masterpiece

















Gorham Building        USA        1884






1845 > USA > Cosmopolitan Hotel,

at Chambers Street and West Broadway        NYC, USA






New York Times Building        USA        2007








the O2 / Millenium Dome in London        UK






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 photographs

contain more than 2,500 images and date

from 1980 to 2005,

with many views in color

as well as black-and-white.


Extensive coverage

of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building

was added in 2007.


The archive is expected to grow

to more than 100,000 photographs

covering all of the United States.



a distinguished and richly published

American photographer,

has donated her work

to the Library of Congress

since 1992.


Starting in 2002,

Highsmith provided scans

with new donations

to allow rapid online access

throughout the world.

























Nicholas Hawksmoor > Christ Church        UK
















Victorian        USA






High Victorian Gothic > St. Paul’s School        Garden City, N.Y.        USA






folly        UK






spire        USA






gargoyle        USA






pitched slate roof        USA






keystone        USA






architectural details

such as wrought-iron balconies,

cornices and working wood shutters        USA
















windmill        UK

















USA > New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission        USA










preservationists        USA














Corpus of news articles


Arts > Architecture, Towns, Cities >


Architects, Houses, Buildings, Flats





As Heroes Disappear,

the City Needs More


August 24, 2009

The New York Times



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 to everyone.

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 experimenting.

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 architecture scene.

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,
NYT, 24.8.2009,







Architect Without Limits


May 15, 2009
The New York Times


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 ceiling.

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 society.

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 suburban sprawl.

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 old city.

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.

    Architect Without Limits, NYT, 15.5.2009,






Streetscapes | 527 West 110th Street

Meet Me

Under the Gobbling Gargoyles


January 18, 2009
The New York Times


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 experimentation.

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 architectural effect.

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 houses.”

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,






Architecture Review

A Building That Blooms and Grows,

Balancing Nature and Civilization


September 24, 2008
The New York Times


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 restoration.

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 in midair.

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 setting.

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 views.

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,
    NYT, 24.9.2008,






To Name Towers in the Sky,

Many Look There for Inspiration


July 8, 2008
The New York Times


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 inevitable.

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 the Waumbek.

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 Village.

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 fact.”

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 construction.

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,
    NYT, 8.7.2008,


















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        NYT        3.4.2008















A House Not for Mere Mortals


April 3, 2008
The New York Times


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 consequences.

“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 said.

(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 added.

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 that happens.”

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 patron.

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 literally true.)

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 destiny hotel.

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 color.)

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


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 architecture.”

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 Lucerne.

“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 Washington.

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 followed.

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 towers.

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 The Times.

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 screen walls.

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 know.”

    French Architect Wins Pritzker Prize, NYT, 31.3.2008,







a Heroine of Chicago Architecture


January 1, 2008
The New York Times


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 Corbusier.

“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 retrospectively.

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 personal grievances.

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 as imitators.

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 designed.

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 of Griffin.

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



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 River.

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 sweep.

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 Street.

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 rivals.)

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 core.

    In Plans for Railyards, a Mix of Towers and Parks, NYT, 24.11.2007,






Architecture Review

Pride and Nostalgia

Mix in The Times’s New Home


November 20, 2007
The New York Times


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 anachronism.

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 fortresses.

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 mobility.

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, democratic society.

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 Midtown skyline.

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 now.

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
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 architect's chapels.

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 smaller ponds.

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
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 disadvantaged.

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 treasurer.

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 2005.

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 paint.

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 front.

She said living in Wright's design has taught her to approach problems differently.

''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 home.

''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


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 countryside.

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 Whitney.

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 their work.''

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 exorbitant.

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 floor-to-ceiling panes.

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 architectural icon.

''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: www.philipjohnsonglasshouse.org 

    Famed Glass House Opens for Public Tours, NYT, 16.6.2007,






Gehry to Design Playground in NYC


June 6, 2007
Filed at 3:30 p.m. ET
The New York Times


NEW YORK (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 leaders.

''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


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 pride.

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 building.

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 generation.”

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 building.”

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 mused.

“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 us.”

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 Home


January 2, 2006

The New York Times



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 owners.

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 personal.

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, small businessmen.

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 million.

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 distribution."

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 longer wet."

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 newspaper.

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 this legacy.

"We really wanted to live in Hastings," Mr. Hirschfeld said.


Suburban Diversity

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 lower-income families.

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 double-glazed windows."

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 High School.

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, recalls.

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, in 1963.

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 said.


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."

At 150 Edgars Lane, Changing the Idea of Home,






3BR, $1 Million.

Plus: Uncle Tom's Cabin.


December 25, 2005

The New York Times



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 Cabin."

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 occupants."

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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