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End of an Era Ray Kappe and Dion Neutra: Close of a 100-year Time in Architecture

With the passing of Ray Kappe and Dion Neutra in Los Angeles, a heroic era of architecture has come to an end. The tributary sources were two: Organic Architecture in the United States, envisioned by Frank Lloyd Wright and, in Europe, Rationalism / International Style, headed by Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Pieter Oud, and Erich Mendelsohn.  These two tributaries bifurcated into many streams, becoming a present-day “delta,” mislabeled as “Modernism.” Both sources wanted to change the world. The first one, by changing people’s mindsets. The second one, by providing how-to solutions easy to apply.

Sources: Wright, Gropius, Neutra, Mendelsohn, Schindler

Ray Kappe’s most creative segment of his productivity belonged to the first source. His houses in Pacific Palisades’ Rustic Canyon remain excellent examples of an indoor-outdoor architecture conceived as a whole. Yet, in spite of this Wright-influenced architecture, Kappe continued to evolve, both as an educator and as an architect. In the last two decades, he embarked on the challenge of creating quality prefabricated homes.

Dion Neutra’s father, Richard Neutra, although aware of the difference between the two currents from having spent some time working for Wright, belonged to the European source. Later called “therapeutic architecture” adapted to California’s weather, it remained linked to the International Style.

Milton Goldman Residence, Encino, 1951

Dion Neutra and Eric Lloyd Wright in Malibu, 2017

Kaufmann Desert House, Palm Springs, 1946

When I read that Kappe didn’t like the term ‘modernist,’ I was not surprised. “He embraced the term ‘modern’ because it represented to be current with the latest ideas, technologies, and materials.” In that sense, as stated by Bruno Zevi, both Michelangelo and Borromini were, in the 16th and 17th centuries, modern to their times.

My first encounter with Ray and Shelly Kappe, Ray’s partner in work and life and an educator in her own right, was during the mid-1980s when they invited Luigi Pellegrin to give a lecture at SCI-Arc in Santa Monica. I was then asked to be the Italian-to-English translator. During Pellegrini’s visit, the Kappes invited us for dinner at their residence in Rustic Canyon. The conversation was definitely “organic.” Following that visit, Ruth and I met the Kappes several times. We sympathized with them. We felt that we had many ideas in common.

My encounters with Dion Neutra were more recent, at Carol King’s Salon, in Pasadena. Dion, who had worked with his father on many projects was, in the last few years, embarked on a one-man crusade to save some of the Neutra buildings from demolition.

The “architectural delta” of the early 21st century is melting into the ocean of the world’s challenges: climate change, sustainability, affordable housing, infrastructure, food production, universal health and education, preservation of nature, and much more. In spite of notable self-expressions by some architects, a meaningful new direction in architecture demands now an urgently needed change of mindsets, beyond that of architectural design language, towards a new meaning of what represents life quality today.

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030

Marcello Guido: Architecture in Motion Poetic Perception of Space in Movement

From Calabria, in the southern tip of Italy, architect Marcello Guido sends a powerful message of “architecture in motion” expressed in concrete, steel, and glass. His poetry generates continuously changing perceptions of space.

Born in Acri, Cosenza, in 1953, he studied architecture in Rome and graduated in 1977 cum laude under the tutorship of historian and critic of architecture, Bruno Zevi. In four decades he built projects and participated in design competitions that brought him recognition in Italy. This presentation is intended to bring to the attention of the general public the remarkable work of Marcello Guido.

At first sight, his work could be mistakenly classified under Deconstructivism, a movement which appeared in the 1980s under the influence of French philosopher Jacques Derida. Architects frequently associated with Deconstructivism includes Daniel Libeskind, Frank Gehry, and Bernard Tschumi.  But unlike these, Guido’s architecture is deeply rooted in history.

Borromini is clearly present in the fluidity of Guido’s lines, as in Wright’s philosophy of Organic Architecture, that anticipated the Netherlands-based De Stijl movement.

Guido reinterprets history in the spirit of Bruno Zevi’s Modern Language of Architecture, which advocates asymmetry and dissonance, antiperspective three-dimensionality, the use of space in time as perceived in movement, and the reintegration between building, city, and territory.

My discovery of Guido’s architecture occurred last summer in Rome while visiting the exhibition celebrating Zevi’s 100 birthday, focused on Zevi’s influence on many important Italian architects. My late “discovery” reminded me when, as a student of architecture in Rome, I encounter the work of Luigi Pellegrin. Then as now, my reaction was instantaneous, non-intellectual: this is an Architect with the capital A.

As We Saw It – Part 7: Emotional Rome Streets, People, Architecture: A Personal Journey

Coming back to Rome is always emotional. It triggers pleasant memories of our days as students of architecture, of lifelong friendships, of great teachers, of great art, architecture, lifestyle.

To link the central theme of “As We Saw It,” ‘what makes a city great,’ with what we chose to document through film and photography, we focused on ‘the city’s emotional intelligence’ and its connection to our own emotions. To do that, we decided to record streets and piazzas rather than buildings, with few exceptions, such as the Pantheon, the MAXXI and the church of Sant’Andrea Della Valle.

View of Rome – Piazza di Spagna

Piazza navona

Formative Past: Architecture and Cinema

We were “adopted” by Bruno Zevi soon after we joined his History of Architecture class. Besides tutoring our theses, he also invited us to his home to have lunch with Carlo Scarpa and connected us with Edgar Kaufmann Jr. in New York, who opened for us the gates of Wright’s Fallingwater.

Our relationship with Pellegrin was also unique. He co-tutored our theses, and we worked for him on important projects: many competitions for schools, the University of Barcelona, Goree Island’s master plan in Senegal, Palazzo Aldobrandini’s restoration in Rome, and research on futuristic habitats.

Professor Bruno Zevi – Photo: Elisabeth Catalano

Architect Luigi Pellegrin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we moved to Rome to continue our studies in architecture, going to the movies was an essential way of learning Italian fast. We were also lucky. In the vicinity of where we first lived, in the Parioli neighborhood, there was a cinema club at a church that showed every week movies followed by a Q&A with the directors. Among many others, we treasure having listened to Roberto Rossellini (Rome, Open City; Paisan; Stromboli ) and Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers; Kapò; Burn!)

After graduation, we moved to Rome’s Historic Center, minutes away from the Trevi Fountain and from Pellegrin’s studio. Our same-floor neighbor was Adriana Chiesa, who, at the time worked at La Medusa, one of Italy’s leading film distributors. We were friends when Adriana met and fell in love with cinematographer Carlo Di Palma (Divorce Italian Style, Red Desert, Blow-Up, Hanna and her Sisters, Radio Days.)

Carlo had a rich experience with directors like Michelangelo Antonioni (he shot Antonioni’s first color film, Red Desert) and with Woody Allen. He also worked for Bernardo Bertolucci, Lucchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, Francesco Rosi, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. I remember his comments about Igmar Bergman (“he worked like a scientist”) and about Federico Fellini (“a magician; he ‘hypnotized’ his actors, shooting without sound and talking to them while shooting.”)

The MAXXI – Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo

Coincidentally with our visit, Zaha Hadid’s-designed MAXXI held two exhibitions that we wanted to see: one dedicated to Zevi’s 100th birthday, titled “Zevi’s Architects. History and Counter-History of Italian Architecture 1944-2000.” The other, “Tel Aviv the White City,” dedicated to the Bauhaus architecture in the city.

As a historian and critic of architecture, Zevi’s influence in Italy during the second half of the 20th Century was impacting. He published several pivotal books, such as Architecture as Space, The Language of Modern Architecture, A History of Modern Architecture, Erich Mendelsohn, was the editor of the magazine L’Architettura for over fifty years, taught history of architecture in Venice and in Rome, and was militant in the Radical Party, which he represented in the Chamber of Deputies from 1987 to 1992.

Zevi brought Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas of Organic Architecture to the Italian peninsula, which influenced many architects, such as Carlo Scarpa, Luigi Pellegrin, Paolo Soleri, Marcello D’Olivo, Giovanni Michelucci and Aldo Loris Rossi, to name just a few.

The exhibition on Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus architecture, although very compact, provided an idea of the city’s rich past, which includes over 1500 buildings of the period.

Rome’s beauty is the ultimate urban beauty because it has been shaped by time, uninterruptedly, over more than two thousand years.

ZEVI Bruno Zevi on Architecture, Culture and Politics

MAXXI’s celebration of Bruno Zevi’s 100th birthday with an exhibition on his prolific production as a historian and critic of architecture, who influenced many of the world’s best architects of his time, poses an important question: can Zevi’s ideas, today, help young people to become finer architects in the creation of a better tomorrow? The video that accompanies this blog tries to give, through Zevi’s own words, a visual answer.

Zevi as Zevi

 Zevi’s capacity to communicate ideas and inject enthusiasm into architects of all ages – and not only to architects – was unique. At the base of his exuberance was a passion for questioning “assumed truths.” He brought to the surface what was really meaningful of a particular place, time, culture and architecture, such as the human scale of Greece, the static space of Rome, the complexity of Gothic space, the movement of Baroque’s space and the “free plan” and organic space of the modern era. He believed that culture and politics should be intimately related, with culture leading politics and not the other way around.
While supporting the positive aspects of 20th Century ‘s Rationalist architecture – the Bauhaus’ architects, Le Corbusier and followers – he acknowledged its limits. He knew that Frank Lloyd Wright’s principles of Organic Architecture where long-lasting because based on nature and history’s essentials. His first books “Towards an Organic Architecture” and “Saper vedere l’architettura / Architecture as Space,” both published when he was in his early thirties, had a powerful impact in  Italy and around the world as well.
You can’t read Zevi’s books lying on a couch. They have to be studied. Similarly, the monthly magazine that he published during fifty years, L’Architettura, was filled with content, not about the on-going fashions, but on projects of relevance.  John Lautner once said that it was the only architectural magazine he read, and Wright himself considered Zevi one of the few critics he had respect for. When we facilitated the connection between Bruce Goff and Zevi, he published an entire issue on one of Goff’s works.

Zevi and Us

Our relationship to Professor Bruno Zevi spanned over thirty years.  To tell of the many stories that surrounded our long relationship through letters and one-to-one discussions would take many pages, but a few paragraphs can give an idea.
  • As a teacher, Zevi demanded to visit at least once all the important architectural monuments in Rome, and many other across Italy. That meant intense traveling, photographing, writing notes and drawing. We made many trips throughout Italy and across Europe together with our French friend Bernard Lege in his Citroën 2CV (“deux chevaux.”)
  • Occasionally, Zevi and his wife Tulia invited us to have lunch with distinguished guests. One of these was Carlo Scarpa and his wife, who told us about his recent visit to Louis Kahn’s office in Philadelphia. 
  • Zevi was the tutor of both our graduating theses, and  Luigi Pellegrin was our co-tutor. When we first met him, at midnight in his studio, we had a two-hour conversation. We remained in close contact with him until Pellegrin’s death, in 2001.
  • In 1971, when we made our “Wright pilgrimage” across twenty-five states, Zevi introduced us to Edgar Kauffmann Jr., then the director of the Industrial Design Department at MOMA, who facilitated for us exclusive access to Fallingwater. We spent there three days walking in and around, observing and photographing.
  • In 1975 we won the first prize for a conceptual design competition on high density in Israel. He wrote about our project in an article published in L’Espresso magazine. When we finished our first small apartment in Tel Aviv, he climbed ten floors – the elevators were not functioning – to visit us. He asked to send him photographs of it, and also of a project for a memorial in the Golan Heights which we had not won. Over the years he published several of our projects: our house in Westwood, which was the first on record to have had solar panels and a vegetable garden; and our Senior Housing project n Jaffa.
  • For New Year’s Eve of 1988, we visited Rome with our daughter Gabby, who was then eight years old. As it rarely happens in Rome, the city was covered with snow. It was a unique event. Tulia Zevi invited us for lunch.  As Professor Zevi was playful with our daughter, she shot a memorable photograph of him.

Zevi by Gabby Meghiddo, age 8, January 1, 1988,

Letter to Gabby

  • We met Zevi for the last time in 1998, when returning from a three-week workshop in Palermo between Italian, Israeli and Palestinian architects. The news of his passing, in January of 2000, reached us in Los Angeles, while on short visit at the turn of the millennium. When we returned to Tel Aviv, I wrote “Pronto Professore.” The poem was later on read at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles by poet-actor Jack Grapes.
On writing upon his death, Thomas Muirhead wrote in The Guardian (February 29, 2000:) “Zevi was a major architectural scholar and polemicist. With his passing, suddenly everything has gone flaccid; it is a disaster.”

It is now time to go back and learn from Bruno Zevi “How to Look at Architecture.”

Renzo Piano and Kerry Brougher at theThe Samuel Goldwyn Theater

Architecture + Cinema + Hollywood Work-in-Progress: The Academy Museum of Motion pictures in Context

Rendering of Academy Museum. Courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop

The work-in-progress of the Academy Museum in Los Angeles, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is scheduled for opening in 2019. In “Architecture + Cinema + Hollywood”, the three are connected through images of the museum’s construction at the present time, historic and contemporary examples of architecture, mementos from classic movies, metaphors of Hollywood, and segments from my previous films.

We live immersed in architectural spaces throughout our lives. Filmmaking tells us stories through space, light, motion and human scale. The Acadamy Museum of Motion Pictures offers an opportunity to make tangible the connection between the two sisters’ arts.

 Both crafts have many things in common. They both are realized with the help of a team guided by a creator. On both disciplines, a spatial sequence is critical. In architecture, we perceive space as we move. In cinema, the spatial movement comes to us linearly, as may have been defined through editing.
Both disciplines interact with the other arts. Both must control sound, operate at different scales and deal with significant costs for their realization. Both create stages, one for everyday life, the other as a background for a story.
Architecture’s fundamental difference lays in its materiality. It deals with the law of gravity and with the nature of materials: strength, weight, texture, color, shape, durability. Yet the thinking process of architectural design and filmmaking is the same: we first dream, then we program/script, then we design/shoot, then we build/edit and finally we occupy/distribute. Criticism follows!

Architect Renzo Piano

Prof. Bruno Zevi

What does the museum’s “program/script” tell us? There are two main components: exhibitions and movie screenings. The exhibitions will be housed within the 1939 May Co. building, at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. The main screenings will be presented in the new 1,000-seat state of the art theater.
To emphasize the contrast between the existing building and the theater, Piano chose to formalize the later with a sort of molded sphere “suspended in space,” mostly cantilevered, standing on mayor pillars. This approach reminds me both Michelangelo’s structural support of Saint Peter’s dome and John Johansen’s Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, more than Bucky Fuller’s dome.
The overall context couldn’t be more eclectic. Within the LACMA campus, old and new “connect” only by adjacency. Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” , reminding us that we are still standing on the Earth, is in total contrast with everything else. The Petersen Automotive Museum, at the opposite corner of the intersection, wraps around with metal ribbons a Bernard Tschumi-like red box, bringing to the scene a sort of caricature of adaptive-reuse. In a way, the whole area represents ultimate Los Angeles’ exiting disjunctions.

Using filmmaking techniques to communicate architecture, short of providing the physical experience of moving through space, can bring to the viewer much more than a succession of single frames. It can create associations with other places or stories, it allows for multiple perceptions in seconds, it can use drawings, photography, and art to illustrate a point. The film at the top of this blog tries to express that.

'>The Wright Way – An Overture On Wright's 150th Birthday and the Future of Organic Architecture

Why Wright now? What can a man born 150 years ago, tell to a young generation of architects likely to be responsible for the invention of the future? The following documentary is intended to emphasize the link between Wright ideas and the needs of tomorrow.

At the time of his death, the world’s population was three billion. Today it is 7.2 billion, likely to become ten billion by mid-century. We must confront sustainability, higher mix-use urban density, working space closer to dwellings, less dependence on the car, food production closer to home, flexible prefabrication and self-help.
During the last years of his life, when asked how he saw the future of architecture, Wright’s answer was: “the future of architecture is the future of the human race. If civilization has a future, so will architecture. Democracy was never intended to be a mass production affair. A free life is not necessarily a free-for-all. It is nothing someone gives you. A free life is something you work out for yourself. Freedom is not conferred, must be worked out from self.”
There is no substitute for reading Wright’s prolific writing while filtering “the Wright’s Style” from his principles. There is no alternative to walking through his spaces, to absorb them in their totality – fluidity, scale, light, views, and details. To take Wright’s words literally would be as misleading as all dogmas are. Wright’s principles of Organic Architecture can be understood and reinterpreted to match the needs of our time.
Here is my take:
1. Space is the fundamental component of the architecture. In a profound sense, it is mostly “interior space,” where streets and plazas are the interior spaces of a three-dimensional city.
2. Continuity, physical and spatial, is as essential for organic architecture as the relationship between skin, muscles, bones, organs, blood, and nerves.
3. Nature implies not just the nature of a site, or the nature of materials, or the nature of production; it also means the nature of humans, both in their ergonometric and psychological dimensions.
4. Human scale is the only scale of architecture, and it should not be confused with “size.” Human scale defines the relation to purpose. Bernini’s Saint Peter’s square is at human scale, in spite of its size. Fascist architecture, whether governmental or corporate, is not.
5. Context is not only the relationship between a building and its surroundings; it is also a connection between a building and the culture within which it surges.
Flashback: we were recently graduated architects, influenced by our master teachers and mentors, Prof. Bruno Zevi and architect Luigi Pellegrin when we decided to come to the United States to experience Wright by ourselves. Together with our friend Viviana Campajola, we embarked on a “Wright pilgrimage” that took us through ninety-six of his works along more than twenty states.
Following are some samples of photographs we shot during our trip (click on the link.) They are presented here for the first time. After more than 40 years we remain amazed at seeing how much of Wright’s architecture withstood the passage of time. His works look as fresh today as when we visited them.

 Let’s face it: the world won’t stop at ten billion. The order of “pragmatic idealism” remains unchanged, independently of scale, place or time: DREAM first, then PROGRAM and quantify, then DESIGN, and then BUILD.

 The Wright Way Photos. Copyright Ruth and Rick Meghiddo. All Rights Reserved.

Wright 150 - by Rick Meghiddo.

Wright 150

 SOME TIPS

– For The Wright Way gallery of selected photos, click here.

– A great PBS visual biography of
  Frank Lloyd Wright by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Part 1
  Frank Lloyd Wright by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick Part 2
THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW with Wright, 1957.

Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings:

     Volume 1   Volume 2   Volume 3 

     Volume 4   Volume 5 

One of the best books about Wright:

   Frank Lloyd Wright by Neil Levine