Browsing Category


Architecture Design Published

Restoring Wright

June 28, 2017

Metropolis Magazine

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)’s new exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive (on view through October 1, 2017), explores lesser-known chapters from Wright’s 70-year-long career. Reviewers have understandably dwelled on his little-known projects for an experimental farm and a series of rural school buildings in the segregated South. Few, however, have focused on the prominent—and fascinating—role given to Wright’s architectural models in the show itself. “For him, they were presentation pieces meant to seduce the clients or put them at ease, especially if the designs were avant-garde or difficult to picture on paper,” says MoMA conservator Ellen Moody. And when the models failed to woo the clients, Wright, ever the showman, recycled the objects and enlisted them to promote his practice as part of touring exhibits.

Wright continuously tinkered with his models, forcing them to undergo extensive modifications. With the help of archival materials, MoMA’s curators have used the models to analyze Wright’s thought process and the evolution of his ideas. This process also revealed the alterations performed by other stakeholders, including clients and conservators. A model of an early iteration of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1943–59)—distinguished from the built version by a series of small, domed skylights and extensive interior landscaping—arrived at the MoMA in almost pristine condition. Yet, Moody’s research pointed out a series of telling transformations. A cross-sectional analysis of the exterior paint revealed an under-layer of warm ocher paint, clearly different from the cool white found in MoMA’s model. The discrepancy reveals a history of disagreements between Wright and his clients—and how Wright’s preference for a darker color was subsequently undermined, both in the model and in reality. (In alternative renditions, he even depicted the museum in pink.)

Continue Reading

Architecture Design

Villa Beer

March 7, 2017
Josef Frank Haus Beer Vienna

Today, Josef Frank is perhaps primarily known for the colorful textiles and furniture of his later years, and his substantial impact on design in Sweden, where he emigrated in 1933. But Frank’s work in Vienna, and particularly Villa Beer, which is currently facing substantial alterations to its interior, deserves more than just a cursory glance.

Designed in 1927, Frank envisioned Villa Beer as a collection of interior sequences, layered to produce dynamic spatial effects, as visitors enter through a red door hidden under a large central oriel and proceed through a small anteroom into a spacious two-story hall. The hall, which centers around a dramatic spiraling staircase, reveals the home’s different levels, while floating platforms project outward like branches, providing dramatic views of the space.

The Beers of Villa Beer are Julius and Margarete Beer, owners of a successful shoe factory and fervent music lovers who were eager to make the experience of music the focal point of the home. Frank responded to their requests by housing a grand piano in a floating mezzanine which allows the sounds of music to be carried throughout the house.

Josef Frank Haus Beer ViennaDespite what the almost-modern open plan of the central hall and the stark white paint of the rooms might imply, Frank found inspiration for the Villa in English homes of the second half of the 19th century, with their rambling layouts, winding stairs, and cozy inglenooks. Frank also turned to the fabric of historical urban spaces, believing that “a well-organized house should be laid out like a city, with streets and alleys that lead inevitably to places that are cut off from traffic, so that one can rest there.” His interiors offer the visitor a variety of possibilities, providing seemingly natural pathways that lead to nooks and outlooks offering a variety of vantage points from which to experience the space. “The shortest path is not the most comfortable one, and the straight stairway is not always the best—indeed almost never,” Frank wrote.

Josef Frank Haus Beer ViennaFrank designed the complex spatial configuration of Villa Beer in the service of producing psychological impressions on the visitor. Much like his contemporary, Adolph Loos, Frank designed his homes from the outside in, believing architecture should provoke a strong emotional response with its complex interrelationship between the spaces, varied room levels and heights, and sensuously articulated interiors where soft and rich materials contrast with the relative harshness of the architecture.

Please take a minute and sign the petition to preserve the original interiors of Villa Beer.

Some additional photos of the beautiful Villa Beer after the cut.

Continue Reading

Architecture Design Published

A Decade after Katrina, Tulane Expands Its Social Innovation Agenda

October 20, 2015

Tulane University’s URBANbuild initiative was founded in 2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina ravaged much of the surrounding area. And if its mission had been important before, it became even more pressing in the storm’s aftermath.

As Tulane’s School of Architecture’s design-build program, URBANbuild sets out to give students firsthand experience of the work that goes into building an energy-efficient home, combining academic with technical knowledge. Over the course of the semester students participate in every aspect of the building process, from researching and developing proposals to communicating with material providers and working directly with subcontractors.

Following Hurricane Katrina, URBANbuild turned its focus toward designing for the immediate community as it dealt with the consequences of the natural disaster. “We had an opportunity and a responsibility to help the communities in a much greater way,” Byron Mouton, director of URBANbuild, says. “Helping people who decided to return to understand that they had access to greater options.” Since its inception, the program has spearheaded the design and execution of 10 projects, including affordable housing in underserved areas and even a pop-up community market—all have had a small-scale but deeply-felt impact on the urban fabric of New Orleans.

Now, with the ten-year anniversary of Katrina, many are revisiting the extent of Katrina’s impact on the area and reassessing how the disaster has shaped how designers can deal with catastrophe and hardship on a broader scale. In these discussions, Tulane has stepped up to the plate once more, with its Tulane City Center projects (the community outreach arm of the Tulane School of Architecture) and its newly founded Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking.

As a university-wide initiative, the Taylor Center is committed to becoming the area’s hub for social innovation and design thinking. Through a wide array of programs and activities—including lectures, workshops, and fellowship opportunities—Taylor is seeking to blur the lines between the academic environment and the larger community, by acting as a resource to both. Its Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship minor creates an academic framework for understanding and enacting social change, with student organizations and speaker series helping to spread the ideas of the program. Additionally, the Changemaker Institute Accelerator helps turn these pursuits into potential careers.

Apart from its programs, Taylor also offers several funding opportunities, including the New Day Challenge, which supports student-led projects that address social challenges affecting New Orleans. The development of the city and the surrounding area remains one of Tulane’s main concerns, as its programs seek to not only confront immediate issues but integrate community engagement as part of the curriculum. “At Taylor, URBANbuild, and Tulane City Center, engagement and social innovation are at the very core of everything we do,” Taylor’s founding director Kenneth Schwartz says. “Adding these programs up, it’s a remarkable confluence of social innovation for this university-wide enterprise.”

Full article here.

Architecture Design Published

Spatial Reasoning: Gender, History, and Minimalist Spaces

September 22, 2015
Frances F Denny

Article for the Minimalism issue of A Women’s Thing magazine.

“Penny Sparke begins her book on the relationship between gender politics and design, As Long as It’s Pink, by recounting a segment from the cult 1990s BBC television series Signs of the Times. The show, which set out to document the personal tastes of British homeowners, featured a woman “married to an architect for whom white walls and minimal décor were de rigueur. The woman explained how she sometimes went into the children’s bedroom—the only room in which curtains were permitted—and softly wept.” What could be so unsettling about the design of a room that it would drive a woman to tears? And more generally, what is it about minimalist spaces, those mainstays of architectural history classes and interior design magazines, that makes them seem cold and alienating to people who actually spend time in them?”

Full article (+beautiful layout) here
Photography: Frances F. Denny


Pirelli Tire Building

August 6, 2015
Pirelli Tire Building by Night Owl City

While the severe beauty of some modernist buildings seems to finally be getting the recognition it deserves (Marina City), many other Brutalist works seem to have used up all of their luck in fighting criticism from both the public and (some) experts (Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore). The recent Rhode Island trip reminded me of another Brutalist wonder that seems to be sitting out its slow and ungraceful demise—Marcel Breuer’s 1970 Pirelli Tire Building.

Today known for the name given by a later owner, the building that marks the entrance to New Haven was originally built by the Armstrong Rubber Company—a family-owned tire company that started to fear it was becoming too dependent on orders from its primary client, Sears and Roebuck. Seeking to strengthen its identity the company’s leaders approached the mayor of New Haven about purchasing a plot of land right off the highway in  New Haven’s Long Wharf neighborhood. The mayor, eager to increase the presence of New Haven and have the building become a symbol of the city, requested the work of a noted architect and—having previously worked with Johnson, Saarinen, and Kahn, among others—recommended Marcel Breuer for the job.

The Armstrong Rubber Company called for a relatively simple plan. The company needed two or three floors of administrative offices, which they wanted separated from their research and development laboratories in order to minimize the noise of testing tires. The mayor, on the other hand, worried this would make the building imperceptible from the road and demanded a skyscraper be built instead. Breuer offered a compromise by building a two story base that housed the laboratory and suspending the offices over a two floor gap. The goal was for the offices to expand and fill the in-between slot in the future, although that became unlikely as the company asked Breuer to reduce the number of office floors from five to four instead.

And although the main form, at once hefty and gravity defying, as well as the freestanding sign that once accompanied it are undoubtedly stunners, Pirelli’s most distinct feature remains the narrow side of the building, boasting one of the most striking examples of Breuer’s use of molded pre-cast concrete panels (what he referred to as crystallic forms) which give it a highly sculptural presence while providing protection from the sun.

After changing owners several times and finally being abandoned in 1999, the land Pirelli occupies was acquired by Ikea in 2002. After much criticism from the public and media the company reneged on its original plan to demolish the building, but knocked down the extension of the originally L-shaped building to build a large parking lot, at the same time draping the main form in advertising. Not much has changed since then but, as several journalists have noted, the neglect has likely had an significant impact on the structure and the interiors of the building, leaving its future resurgence highly unlikely.

Continue Reading

Architecture Travel

Rhode Island Modernism | Ira Rakatansky

July 28, 2015
modernist rhode island architect ira rakatansky office

From striking Colonial-era houses to the splendor of Newport mansions Rhode Island is undoubtedly rich in architectural history. However, its modernist tradition lies surprisingly empty. The main exception is Ira Rakatansky, a Harvard alum who, in the 1940s, studied under Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. Rakatansky left behind a selection of elegant residential works mostly centered around Providence, so when a recent trip to Rhode Island included a stopover in Providence, a quick tour of Rakatansky’s work was in order (I primarily followed this map, which lists his key buildings). I was surprised that many of these structures were often difficult to spot from the street, appearing almost hidden on their lots. And although Rakatansky believed landscape was secondary to architecture, the discrete volumes, large windows and muted palette of his buildings undeniably establish a gentle rapport with their surroundings.

One of my favorites was Rakatansky’s architecture office (above), all angles and glass. Not to mention the striking detail of clerestory windows in the main building, particularly powerful when seen from the inside.

In 2010 Apartment Therapy presented a lovely tour of Rakatansky’s own home, which can be found here.

modernist rhode island architect ira rakatansky houseRhode Island Recommendations: 

Cabin (Jamestown)

The Mooring (Newport) / Simpatico (Jamestown) / Al Forno (Providence)

Cable Car Cinema (Providence) / RISD Museum (Providence) / Newport Mansions (Newport)


Finn Juhl’s House

July 17, 2015

Although today relatively obscured by the fame of his peers, Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl remains a central name in the story of Danish modernism. His chairs still impress with their sculptural, expressive forms (his Pelican chairs, which critics dubbed “tired walruses” when they first came out, look avant-garde even today) and the meticulous craftsmanship required to produce them. Finn Juhl and His House (Hatje Cantz), a new book by Per H. Hansen, reevaluates Juhl’s famous design—as well as the best exhibition space of the designer’s work, his own home in Ordrup, just outside of Copenhagen. Remarking that “When I build a house, I don’t like someone else to come in and spoil it,” Juhl made sure to design every detail of his home, and he adjusted the details until his death in 1989.

Although Juhl was educated as an architect, he designed only a few houses. He built his own home in 1941, with the inheritance received after his father’s death. He approached the design of his home primarily as a furniture and interior designer, starting from articulating the interiors and reserving the development of the exteriors for the very end. His idea was that furniture created the room, and the room created the facade.

The 2,200-square-foot home is made up of two buildings connected by a low entrance hall. As one of the early examples of open plan houses, the spaces flow into one another organically, and all the rooms open up to the surrounding garden through large windows and doors, making the outside a direct extension of the interior.

Juhl kept the the inside of the house in a constant state of flux. The furniture and the layout changed throughout the years as Juhl developed new designs and incorporated them into the interiors. In the dining room, for instance, Juhl originally employed Windsor chairs, only to replace them with his own designs sometime in the 1940s and finally settle on his Egyptian chairs in 1949. While he mostly utilized furniture he designed with cabinetmaker Niels Vodder, some pieces he designed specifically for the space, like the famous Poet sofa of 1942. “One cannot create happiness with beautiful objects, but one can spoil quite a lot of happiness with bad ones,” said Juhl, as he kept developing his designs, keeping in his home only the ones he was fully satisfied with.

Juhl’s guiding thought was to foster an interaction between furniture, art, color, and light. Perhaps the best example of his approach can be found in the living room where, above a white Poet chair, hangs Vilhelm Lundstrom’s painting of Juhl’s wife, around a white brick hearth that extends into the room like a rug. The room becomes a medley of light and texture.

Now, as the house has become a part of Ordrupgaard museum, visitors get to experience the effects of this midcentury marvel for themselves.

Full article: Dwell.