Berlin is today “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” for thousands of artists from all over the world. It is estimated 20,000 artists are living and working in the city. Why? Berlin is home to hundreds of galleries and art museums that boast unparalleled collections. For the ambitious artist, this city is overflowing […]
Berlin is regarded as one of the most exciting architectural experiments in the world, with a cultural life second to none. On our first visit to Berlin since its reunification, our goal was to try to understand why the city has become a mecca for artists, a place of attraction to architects and filmmakers, internationally […]
Paris without art is inconceivable. The art world permeates the city at all levels. It impacts people’s lifestyle, what they eat and its aesthetics, their fashion, their filmmaking, their architecture.
As We Saw It – Part 4: Brushing Art in Paris is a potpourri of art seen during the summer of 2018. The focus was on alternatives to traditional tourist art-sites such as the Louvre and the Orsay museums.
The biggest surprise was the Palais de Tokyo. Sitting next door to Paris’ Museum of Modern Art, this place it has an intense program of avant-garde contemporary art that includes all media. In spite of its name, the artists – many women – shown are from many countries. We found remarkable the works of Anita Molinero, Caroline Achaintre, and Laure Prouvost.
The Museum of Modern Art, besides its own collection, also has periodical shows. During our visit we so a retrospective of Judit Reigl’s fantastic work. She continues to be productive at age ninety-five!
The Centre Pompidou had a large exhibition on the Russian avant-garde in Vitebsk during the 1918-1922 period. Very well curated, it showed artworks by Marc Chagall, El Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich.
The Picasso Museum was a surprise, not so much for the collection of the master’s work – that can’t match those shown at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona – but of Picasso’s own collection of other artists works, such as Miro and Modigliani.
We found the relatively small Musée de l’Orangerie collection exquisite for the quality of the works exhibited. Besides Claude Monet’s large paintings of water lilies, the show included first-rate works by Matisse, Soutine, Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir, Utrillo, and Pollock, to name some.
The Guimet Museum of Asian Arts has an extraordinary collection of Chinese, Cambodian, and Indian art. On both the Orangerie and the Guimet, the presence of children being taught about art was uplifting. Its renovation was sensibly designed by architects Henri and Bruno Gaudin.
Other visits included the Grand Palais‘ retrospective on the work of František Kupka, the Petit Palais with great art from the late 1800s, and the new Louis Vuitton Foundation, by Frank Gehry, shown in Part 2: Paris Builds.
Street art in Paris has become part of the urban components, as in many other cities. Some are very good, like the works of JR.
Vision and political will are a good combination. This is the case of Paris 2018, looking into the future with pragmatic imagination.
Parisians have a high consciousness level of sustainability and climate change. They are now led by their Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who has decided to turn their city into a green capital of the world. Besides seven major projects under construction to transform famous squares into pedestrian and bike-friendly areas, urban farming has now new legislation that promotes growing vegetables on roofs and public spaces.
in the accompanying documentary, we have chosen three examples of green urbanity: the Parc de Bercy, the Parc de la Villette, and the Promenade Plantee. They show how building green, when integrated with urban design, architecture and public art, can be transformative.
PARC DE BERCY
Designed by architects Bernard Huet, Madeleine Ferrand, Jean-Pierre Feugas, Bernard Leroy, and by landscapers Ian Le Caisne and Philippe Raguin, the park is made of three gardens connected by footbridges: The “Romantic Garden”, which includes fishponds and dunes; The “Flowerbeds”, dedicated to plant life; and “The Meadows”, an area of open lawns shaded by tall trees.
In the north-east of the park stands the Cinémathèque Française (the former American Center) designed by Frank Gehry, and on the raised terraces are the 21 sculptures of Rachid Khimoune’s “Children of the World” installation, created in 2001 to honor children’s rights.
The park has also a covered skatepark and is adjacent to a major sports arena, the Palais Omnisports, with a sitting capacity of 20,000.
PARC DE LA VILLETTE
The Parc de la Villette is a 37-acre / 55 hectares area that houses one of the largest concentration of cultural venues in Paris. These include the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (City of Science and Industry, Europe’s largest science museum), three major concert venues, and the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris.
The park was designed by Bernard Tschumi, a French architect of Swiss origin, who built it from 1984 to 1987 in partnership with Colin Fournier, on the site of the huge Parisian abattoirs (slaughterhouses) and the national wholesale meat market, as part of an urban redevelopment project. He conceived thirty-five architectural “follies“ to give a sense of orientation to the visitors.
In architecture, a folly is a building constructed primarily as an ornament but suggesting through its appearance some other purpose. One can only imagine what a system of follies could do for a city like Los Angeles, to provide orientation within its vast urban grid. Since the creation of the park, museums, concert halls, and theatres have been designed by several noted contemporary architects, including Christian de Portzamparc, Jean Nouvel, Adrien Fainsilber, Philippe Chaix, Jean-Paul Morel, and Gérard Chamayou. These include City of Science and Industry, ]La Géode, an IMAX theatre inside of a 36-meter (118 ft) diameter geodesic dome; The City of Music, designed by Christian de Portzamparc which opened in 1995 and it includes also a museum of historical musical instruments with a concert hall, also home of the Conservatoire de Paris; the Philharmonie de Paris which opened in January 2015 designed by Jean Nouvel.
The Promenade plantée (also called Coulée Verte – “Green Stream”) is an extensive green belt that follows the old Vincennes railway line. Beginning just east of the Opéra Bastille with the elevated Viaduc des Arts, it follows a 4.7 km (2.9 mi) (2.9 mi) path to the Bois de Vincennes.
At its west end, near the Bastille, the parkway rises above the surrounding area and forms the Viaduc des Arts, over a line of shops featuring high quality and expensive arts and crafts. The shops are located in the arches of the formerly elevated railway viaduct.
The design was created by landscape architect Jacques Vergely and architect Philippe Mathieux. The Viaduc des Arts was designed by architect Patrik Berger, who also designed the recently completed Canopy of Les Halles.
The project is an ultimate example of “walking urbanity,” with multiple experiences along its path. It includes different types of gardens, it traverses existing buildings, it crosses boulevards. Twenty years later, Promenade Plantee inspired the now successful High Line in New York.
The creation of a humane urban quality does not depend only on the quality of a city’s buildings. The design quality of open public spaces, way beyond landscape architecture, is critical. It the demands imaginative long-term thinking accompanied by political vision and will.
The four recently completed architectural works that accompany the documentary “Paris Builds” send powerful messages of what is possible to elevate the quality of life in the city.
Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation is not only an architectural masterpiece and a new icon in a city where icons abound, but it also brings an example of what is possible to cover urban spaces, an alternative to Buckminster Fuller-like geodesic domes.
Renzo Piano’s Foundation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé is a hidden gem that exemplifies what is possible in a small site surrounded by historic buildings.
Paris’ new Palais de Justice, also designed by Renzo Piano, responds to a very complex program – ninety new courtrooms built vertically – while confronting sustainability and the creation of new green spaces on roofs.
Also, the Canopy of Les Halles, designed by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti, sensibly responds with daring technology to an urban place crossed daily by tens of thousands of people, in a historic location that Emile Zola called “The Belly of Paris.”
The Louis Vuitton Foundation
Commissioned by Bernard Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury brand empire, the complex houses his collection of modern and contemporary art and hosts temporary exhibitions. Built on public land with private funds, it will be given as a gift to the city in 55-years time.
Inserted in the middle of Bois de Boulogne’s woodland park, the building is an assemblage of white blocks, so-called “icebergs,” clad in panels of fiber-reinforced concrete, surrounded by twelve immense glass “sails” supported by wooden beams. The sails give Fondation Louis Vuitton its transparency and sense of movement while allowing the building to reflect the water, woods and garden, and continually change with the light.
The ground-level entrance hall is designed as an active social space, featuring a restaurant and bookstore. The ample, multi-purpose space directly adjacent to the entrance hall may be used as an auditorium accommodating 350 persons, an exhibition space, or an event venue.
The upper floors accommodate straightforward gallery spaces. Of the 11,000 m2 across which the building spreads, just 3,850 m2 are exhibition rooms. More than 3,600 glass panels and 19,000 concrete panels that form the façade were simulated using mathematical techniques and molded using advanced industrial robots, all automated from the shared 3D model. The new software was developed specifically for sharing and working with the complex design.
The structure of the glass roof allows the building to collect and reuse rainwater and improves its geothermal power. Besides, the Foundation has attained its overall goal to reach HQE (Haute Qualité Environmentale) certification noted as Très Performant. The steps taken to achieve this level of certification could be considered equivalent to LEED Gold.
The Foundation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé
The new headquarters of the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, by architects from Renzo Piano Building Workshop, is an unexpected presence, a curved volume glimpsed floating in the middle of a courtyard, anchored on just a few supports. It is complemented by a group of birch trees, a floral island set in the dense mineral context of the city.
This “organic creature” is located in the courtyard of a 19th-century block that includes a complex of historical Hausmann-era buildings. This structure houses the headquarters of the Foundation Jerôme Seydoux-Pathé, a foundation dedicated to preserving the history of the French film company Pathè and to promote cinematography.
The 839 m2 headquarters are located in Paris’ 13th arrondissement and their construction has been completed in September 2014. The clever use of the site includes a main entrance on a restored and preserved facade along the Avenue des Gobelins which features sculptures by Auguste Rodin. This stone-made building is not only a historical landmark, but also an icon and symbol for the Gobelins area of Paris.
New Paris Palais de Justice
Since the Middle Ages, Parisian justice has been dispensed from the famous building that surrounds the Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité. However, over the years an increasing shortage of space has resulted in many good offices having to be located in a multitude of locations spread out over all four corners of the city. The new Paris law courts at the Porte de Clichy will enable the judicial institution’s courtrooms and offices to occupy the same building.
The new law courts stand 160 meters high, has an internal area of around 100,000 m2 and accommodates up to 8,000 people per day. The building’s facades are fully glazed. On the three blocks of the tower, fine blades extend the glazing beyond the facade, exalting its verticality. The building’s primary structure, robust and orthogonal, ensures flexibility over the long term that will be able to accommodate future requirements and any changes in the way the justice system operates.
In developing the scheme, the architects sought to reduce the apparent scale of the building by breaking it down into four volumes of decreasing size.
50 desks within the reception areas minimize visitor waiting time, while three atria ensure that space is filled with natural light. A system of vertical and horizontal circulation routes lead to the 90 courtrooms above. The subsequent three volumes, which contain around ten-story each, include offices and meeting rooms: the second is the domain of the magistrates, the third of the public prosecutor’s offices, and the fourth and final volume houses the presiding judges.
The stacked system results in large roof terraces — around a hectare in total — which have been landscaped and planted with trees and other vegetation. From an environmental standpoint, the project employs a range of strategies including the use of natural ventilation, the incorporation of photovoltaic panels on the façade, and the collection of rainwater.
The Canopy of Les Halles
The long-awaited cultural center and metro station created by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti on the site of a historic Paris marketplace is now a new urban reality. The design at Les Halles is known as the Canopy due to its enormous umbrella-like glass roof, which comprises 18,000 pieces of glass supported by 7,000 tons of steel.
Construction on the €1bn (US$1.42bn) project, funded by the City of Paris, began ten years ago following several architecture competitions to choose a design popular with both politicians and the public.
The completed Canopy and the center below replaces a deeply unpopular concrete shopping complex – nicknamed ‘the hole of Les Halles’ – which was built in the place of the market’s original 19th-century glass and iron buildings designed by architect Victor Baltard. They were demolished in the 1970s in an act many critics have described as cultural vandalism.
The new center features shops and high-end retailers, some of which are located underground, and these combine with leisure facilities such as a new library, a conservatory for the arts and a hip-hop center, all underneath the 270,000sq ft (25,000 m2) roof – described by Berger as a “translucent envelope”.
Explaining the design, Berger said: “The shape, its spaces, and its materialization arise from a confrontation between the state of things and the emergence of new energy to Les Halles. “The Canopy is designed as a substance. The ceramic glass material means that light diffuses in the day and it becomes a chandelier at night. It’s also a shelter at an urban scale against the weather, protecting a global space where one can travel at all times and in all seasons. The morphology of the architecture is the result of a balance between the building’s program and its dynamic location.”
As We Saw It – Part 1: Parisians Paris“As We Saw It” is a series of work-in-progress short documentaries centered around the question “what makes cities great?” While not pretending to provide scholarly answers to such a complex subject, we tried to document things relevant to it that caught our attention. Our journey covered Paris, […]
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.
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.”
The short documentary that accompanies this blog is a tribute to Wim Wenders.
About twenty years ago I discovered Wim Wenders’ work, through his film Wings of Desire. Later on, I fell in love with Buena Vista Social Club. Then came Pina, about the late choreographer Pina Bausch, whom we had first seen perform sitting on the last row of a “loges de côté,” way up at Paris’ Garnier Opera. Then came The Salt of the Earth, about Sebastião Salgado’s photography, whose life work honors the dispossessed and bears witness to the human condition. We saw it at a private screening in Hollywood. Wenders sat next to me, but we didn’t talk. He was much into himself, but we had a long conversation with Sebastião Salgado’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, who co-directed the film. And, recently, we went to see Pope Francis, preceding the interview of Ben Mankiewicz with Wim Wenders at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.
Wenders seemed relaxed and willing to bring up some of his experiences and ideas. He confided with an audience of filmmakers how surprised he was when he received a letter from the Vatican, asking him to make a documentary on the first pope from the Americas, also the first Jesuit.
Why did the Vatican or Pope Francis himself choose Wim Wenders to produce a documentary on the Argentinean pope? It was not only because of Wenders’ skills as a filmmaker, photographer, painter, playwright, and author. I think it was, above all, because of the humanism embedded in his work. The two men could communicate intellectually and emotionally. They could understand each other without talking.
Wenders told the audience that when he started his research, he realized that he had to tell something visually about Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226.) He watched many films on the subject, however, none was satisfying. Finally, he decided to produce black-and-white vignettes of St. Francis, with a look borrowed from the silent films era – a film within a film – shot on a vintage hand-cranked Debrie camera from the 1920’s.
Four interviews with the pope were recorded with a crew of three: cinematographer Lisa Rinzler, sound engineer Régis Muller and Wim Wenders. Archive footage from the pope’s many trips around the world and encounters with heads of state was later added, to provide context to the story.
My decision to make a short documentary about Wenders came as an urge. I had to offer a tribute.
Within a week difference, Jews around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah, commonly known as the Holocaust; Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism; and Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. In parallel, we witness a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and in Islamic countries. In view of these, I decided to produce a short documentary as a reminder that visualizes aspects of these conflicting forces, brings personal stories and testimonials, and shows Israel’s life and architecture today as an extraordinary “human laboratory” to change the world for the better. To set this reality within a global context, I include here a Humanistic Agenda for the 21st. Century.
1. Shoah and “Leprosy of the Spirit”
On April 11, I assisted to a commemoration of the Shoah at the Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes. The mass murder of six million Jews by the German Nazi regime and its collaborators during 1941-45 was reminded through the lighting of six candles and the presentation of the documentary, “Never Again is Now,” about Evelyn Marcus’ family journey in her native Netherlands, and her personal confrontation with the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Evelyn Markus is a psychologist expert on managing resistance and conflict at work, and emotional self-control. When asked during the Q & A “how one confronts xenophobia and hatred,” her answer was: “you first show that it is wrong and that should not be rewarded.” Sure, but that is not enough. Bernard Henry-Levi defined anti-Semitism as the leprosy of the spirit. In an article published four years ago,“A 100-Year Cease-Fire,” I proposed a “carrot and the stick method” to solve Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict.
2. Dreaming + Will vs. Xenophobia
Theodor Herzl, considered to be the father of political Zionism, believed that antisemitism could not be defeated or cured, only avoided, and that the only way to avoid it was by the establishment of a Jewish state. Today we all know that even the Jewish State, which this year celebrates its seventieth anniversary, is not a cure for the leprosy of antisemitism, yet it offers a strong “antibiotic” through a combination of creativity and military strength.
Architecture and planning in Israel played a vital role in Israel’s development, from the foundation of Tel Aviv in 1909 as a modern city on the sand dunes North of Jaffa, to the absorption of Bauhaus and Le Corbusier’s ideas into a social agenda, to many examples on forefront architecture today. If and when the many xenophobic Islamic countries that surround Israel will realize how much their own development could benefit through collaboration rather than hatred, Israel’s know-how can help the Middle East to become a new Renaissance.
3. A humanistic Agenda with a Vision
Whether the world’s population will be 10,000,000,000 in 2050, 2044 (my 100-year birthday!) or 2060, is not important. We’ll get there and far beyond. At a global level of a social agenda, the priorities are:
Universal Physical and Mental Healthcare
Universal Income-producing Jobs
Sustainable Food Production
In this context, architecture has a moral responsibility. The social agenda is part and parcel of the architectural agenda and of the sustainability agenda.
In a world where the speed of growth of human needs exceeds the speed of production to satisfy those needs, SPEED OF CONSTRUCTION and AFFORDABILITY are critical.
Also critical is the QUALITY OF THE HUMAN HABITAT. It starts with the DWELLING UNIT, it expands to the URBAN ENVIRONMENT, and it touches every single aspect of human life: the quality of the working space, of the learning space, of the social space.
SUSTAINABILITY brings GLOBAL CONSCIOUSNESS to the realm of architecture.
ARCHITECTURE AS ART is critical to integrate the physical and the emotional human needs.
MIXED-USE AND MULTI-FUNCTIONALITY are integral components of the sustainability agenda. While mixed-use juxtapose multiple functions (housing, commerce, education) multi-functionality makes possible the multiple uses of the same space, and the multiple-use of the same component: a stairway as structure, a column or beam as a container of ducts, a wall as a container of storage, a roof as an edible garden.
PROXIMITY BETWEEN LIVING SPACE AND WORKING SPACE are part of the sustainability agenda. It can be a. Within the dwelling unit; b. Adjacent to the dwelling unit (price Tower); c. Within walking or bike distance from the dwelling.
MOBILITY is integral to both human needs and to sustainability, yet it demands a total revision of how it works. It consists of three categories. A. Emergency access (firemen, ambulances, police, rescue from disasters.) b. Public use: air mobility and public transportation of multiple kinds: trains, tramways, air tram cable cars, moving conveyors, buses, taxis (with drivers or driverless;) Pc. Private: bikes, skateboards, cars, trucks (private or rented.)
ART, together with nature, remain an important source of inspiration and, as in the case of nature, it must be read in the context of time and place, and it must be reinterpreted. The sources could be many: the Caves of Altamira, the graphics of mud huts in Africa or of American Indian tents, and the works of Western and Eastern high-art through the millennia.
In all these areas, Israel is likely to play a vital role. Its success is as an antibiotic against anti-Semitic leprosy as one can get.
Jasper Johns’ exhibition at The Broad, titled “Something Resembling Truth,” is revealing. It illustrates the integrity of a life-long research and provides a stimulant example to the young generation. At a time when art flows in all directions without clear distinction and criteria between serious or trivial, committed or casual, Johns shows us how one can be an explorer of meaning and forms of expression without falling into platitude. The documentary tries to establish a link between one of the most important artists of the 1960s avant-garde, and some of today’s avant-garde artists in multiple disciplines and media: painting, sculpture, film, video-art, choreography, architecture.
The show raises some questions: What is really ‘avant-garde’ today? Who are today’s Jasper Johns? Are there any ‘Leo Castelli-like” art dealers around? Are today’s architects connected to the art scene, and artists connected to architecture?
Fast backward: the display triggered some memories. During the late 1960s we were students of architecture in Rome. Since the National Academy of Modern Art was next door to our school, we visited it frequently. The Gallery’s director, Palma Bucarelli, was a strenuous promoter of Abstract Expressionists as well as Neo-Dada, Pop, Minimalist and Conceptualist artists. It was during that time when we first came across some of Jasper Johns’ paintings.
In parallel, while working as apprentices at the studio of architect Luigi Pellegrin, we listened to time and again his insights on the new American art. Opening a publication illustrating contemporary American art, he would say “Look at this well: it is acid, it is crude, it is purposefully not-finished. It reflects our time.” The design of his house in via Aurelia carried some of these attributes.
When we traveled to the United States to visit and photograph Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture across the country, we started our trip in New York. It was 1971, and we were in our twenties. At the time, Soho was the epicenter of contemporary art. Leo Castelli had just opened two branches of his gallery on 77th street, one on the second floor of 420 West Broadway, and an even larger one at 142 Greene Street. It was there we saw newer works of Jasper Johns, along with those of several vanguard artists of the time: Frank Stella, James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman, Sol LeWitt.
A month later, when having a private stopover at Phillip Johnson’s glass house in New Canaan, we visited, within his estate, Johnson’s ‘buried’ panting gallery and his underground sculpture gallery. They both contained multiple masterpieces of contemporary art.
Did we see any reflection of the art-of-the-times in architecture? Wright was out of all trends. The architecture of the establishment “didn’t talk” to the on-going art vanguard. A rare exception was John Johansen’s Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, built in 1970, outrageously demolished in 2014. Bruce Goff and Herb Green’s architecture were in-between organic and dissonant.
Fast forward to the present. The Broad exhibition of over one hundred Jasper Johns’ works, spanning sixty years of his career, is not a retrospective. Works from different decades and in various media have been curated thematically, to demonstrate Johns’ career-long preoccupations.
And today? Art is breaking away from the confines of museums and art galleries. Perhaps the more strident example street art is the work of JR, which surpasses in scope that of Christo. He is not alone. There is a good number of forefront artists breaking new ground in film, video art, dance, sculpture, painting, music.
And in architecture? It is a tough call. Gehry led the way to liberate architects’ forms of expression, but the results come with many question marks about their social content. There seems to be an infatuation with the endless possibilities offered by new 3-D technology, but is… are these result also socially responsible?
“And the Winner Is…” brings segments of a Q&A with the five Foreign Films directors nominated for the Golden Globes Awards sharing their thoughts and experiences on the making of their latest films. Angelina Jolie, Ruben Östlund, Andrey Zvigagintsev, Sebastian Lelio and Fatih Akin sat next to each other at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater and answered questions posed by the moderator, Mike Goodrich, on their films: FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER, THE SQUARE, LOVELESS, FANTASTIC WOMAN AND IN THE FADE respectively, dealing with contemporary themes addressing the world today.
The day preceding the Golden Globs Awards night we sat at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood surrounded by a public of creative people from the filmmaking community. The Q&A was moderated by Mike Goodrich. The directors, in spite of being competitors, were friendly and unassuming. Although my preferred film among the very good five was Ruben Östlund’s The Square, whom we had encountered the preceding day at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, I was very impressed by the humanity, eloquence and thinking of Angelina Jolie, well beyond her beauty and talent as an actress. Being acquitted with Cambodia’s genocide – back in 2008 we were commissioned to design a memorial in Long Beach, which has the largest Cambodian community outside of Phnom Penh – I thought that They Killed My Father First was important to raise the public’s awareness of the Cambodian tragedy. The film was well crafted, besides its content.
Why was The Square my preferred film? Because I saw it as one of those films that mark a “before and after” point of reference, like La Dolce Vita in the 1960’s. It is a breakthrough in filmmaking, and I am glad that the Cannes Festival acknowledged that by awarding it the Palme d’Or. Many professional critiques disagree, and in fact, contrary to my predictions, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did not award it, neither did it award Jolie’s film, which I considered the second best. The critique is that it is “disjointed.” Sure, and that’s the point. Östlund is perfectly coherent in the way he presents his social critique in a language consistent with the message. In a way, its satirical aspect reminded me the films of Luis Buñuel and the plays of Eugene Ionesco.
Fatih Akin’s input at the symposium was genuine. In the Fade is a very good thriller, but I agree with him that he would not have been there without the participation of Diane Kruger’s fabulous acting. The importance of this film dealing with terrorism and neo-nazi racism is that it focuses on the victim, rather than on the terrorists or the police investigators.
In Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio confronted a difficult subject in telling the story of a transexual as a social message, to a great extent thanks to the performance of its star, Daniela Vega. He acknowledges that before the film he had had many prejudices about the subject, and only after long research he changed his mind.
Last but not least, Andrey Zviyagnitsev’s Loveless develop a theme that, unfortunately, it is quite universal: the victimization of children from an ugly divorce. The filmmaking is masterful in a classical cinematographic way of painting a drama, but, like In the Fade, it is essentially a thriller.
Why would a filmmaker of architecture documentaries step on the field of feature films’ critique? An easy answer is ‘why not’? But the truth is that I see architecture as the ultimate expression of life itself, and it is nourished by all the arts and sciences. In many ways, I find that architecture and filmmaking have a similar process. As a personal note: in my first year at the School of Architecture of the University of Buenos Aires, we had a course named “Cultural Integration,” taught by Jorge Romero Brest. As part of the course, we had to go to watch assigned good cinema (Fellini, Antonioni, Tati, Kurosawa) every Saturday morning, and write a review by Monday. It was the way the school saw how to develop critical thinking in students that didn’t know a jota about architecture.
“And The Winner Is…” Obviously, YOU!
We went to the open-house day of the “Pearlman Cabin” in Idyllwild, designed by John Lautner. While being at the event, Nancy Pearlman asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed for her KBPK 90.1 FM Environmental Directions program. I said, “Yes, when, where?” “Today, here,” she said. “OK,” I answered, surprised.
Nancy Pearlman is an award-winning broadcaster, environmentalist, college instructor, anthropologist, editor and producer and who has made safeguarding the earth’s ecosystems a career. Since 1977, she has hosted and produced the country’s longest-running environmental radio show: Environmental Directions.
I thought the main subject of the radio interview was going to be John Lautner. Unscheduled, and spontaneous, we touched many subjects: Wright, organic architecture, sustainability, Lautner’s architecture, the cabin’s integration to nature, Idyllwild, organic architects, Ruth’s Farm Urbana, solar energy, desalination and irrigation in Israel, population growth and a view of the future. Several weeks later Nancy sent me an unabridged copy of the recorded interview, edited by Robert Payne. I decided to produce an abridged version of it, including relevant images and background music. The result is in the documentary included here.
John Lautner is one of the few Frank Lloyd Wright’s disciples I appreciate for his originality. He absorbed the essence of Wright’s philosophy without becoming an imitator of “the Wright’s style.”
I met him once. The encounter was circumstantial. During the late 1980s, a couple of clients we had planned to buy the Concannon Residence in Bel Air, designed in 1960, and wanted us to remodel it. We went to visit the site. The house was in very bad shape. It had been abandoned for more than five years by its owner, and puddles of water from leakings were everywhere.
Since Lautner was still an active architect, I suggested to visit him and check if he wanted to do the job, or if he had any particular suggestions. We went to his office, on the 7000-block of Hollywood Boulevard. In the middle of the waiting hall there was a huge model of a house at scale 1:20. When we entered his private office, a tall man with a grave voice stood up and shook our hands. I explained to him why we came. Facing my clients, he asked “with whom of you two shall I talk? I deal only with one person. If you have any differences of opinion, you solved them at home.” After listening what they had to say, he decided to delegate the project to us. Before leaving, he handed to me a complete set of working drawings.
Our clients had indeed different opinions. So much so, that they ended up divorcing before the house was bought, and the project vanished. Recently, thirty years later, I learned from Lautner’s daughter, Judith, that the Concannon Residence had been demolished.
The problems ahead of us are not only quantitative, they are also qualitative. The message is how to create spaces for people in tune with resources and Nature.