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The New OCMA A Placemaking Museum

The opening of the new Orange County Museum of Art is good news for architecture, art, and especially for community life. The museum has a poetic edge without being overwhelming; the space has flow and transparency, and artworks can be seen with good lighting and without distractions. More than a museum, it is an educational facility that stimulates social interaction.

Poster of The New OCMA documentary

OCMA Museum. Richard Serra’s “Connector” in the foreground. Copyright: R&R Meghiddo. All Rights Reserved.

Night view of OCMA from its terrace. Copyright: R&R Meghiddo. All Rights Reserved.

Orange County has grown from a semi-rural farming area to an urban development that includes the South Coast Plaza shopping center and the John Wayne Airport in seventy years. It has a balanced ethnic mix, with 66% of its population under 45.

OCMA’s pivotal location is relevant to generating a cascade of public spaces. The 53,000-square-foot new museum completes a cultural campus that includes the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the South Coast Repertory Theater, the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, and the Samueli Theater. Richard Serra’s 64-foot tall sculpture, “Connector,” defines a clear point of reference.

OCMA’s project’s architect, Pritzker Price winner Thom Mayne, known for his “muscular architecture,” confronted the 73,000 square-foot site sensibly to its surroundings. He has produced here a more lyrical and well-balanced project. Brandon Welling was the Partner-in-Charge. The building’s primary structure is composed of structural steel and concrete.

A sculptural wing hovers over the lobby atrium. It is an inspiring, artful, and dynamic architectural space of curved walls covered with white terracotta tiles. A full-height irregular window overlooks the large terrace. Within the building, fluidity is stimulated by transparency. The relationship between indoors and outdoors is graceful at the terrace’s level.

The building’s entrance faces the piazza where Serra’s sculpture sits. The eastern elevation, facing Avenue of the Arts, has a street-lever curtain wall that shows artworks in conversation with the street. The other two sides (west and north elevations) are introverted. This design approach works particularly well in the rear, where the building’s identification is defined only by the OCMA sign. By doing so, the new building pays respect to Cesar Pelli’s Plaza Tower, the Samueli Theater, Peter Walker’s landscape design, and Aiko Miyawaki’s Utsurchi G1 sculpture.

The museum’s director, Heidi Zuckerman, started her new position at OCMA with an admirable job. In this exhibition, she was seconded by Courtenay Finn as the Chief Curator and a team of curators that helped assemble the various in-tandem shows. These include:

  1. “13 Women” pays homage to the 13 women who founded the Balboa Pavilion Gallery, the earliest iteration of OCMA, which opened sixty years ago.
  2. The “California Biennial 2022: Pacific Gold “exhibits sixty works of art, including ceramics, painting, sculpture, textiles, video, and large-scale installations. Some of these have been commissioned for this exhibition.
  3. Fred Eversley, a former consulting engineer for NASA, brings samples of his work at the mezzanine, which spans forty years of practice as an artist.

At the terrace, Sanford Biggers’ 24-foot wide by 16-foot-tall outdoor sculpture is a two-dimensional stage with an allegoric reclining black male figure that combines an archetype reclining male figure with non-Western culture symbolisms.

Director Zuckerman’s statement clearly defines OCMA’s direction: “Our mission here is to enrich people’s lives in a diverse and fast-changing community. We carry out this work with the conviction that access to art is a basic human right. And we want to provide that access in such a way that everyone feels welcome and at home.”

From Ukraine to Basavilbaso A Jewish Family Story of Emigration to Argentina

From Ukraine to Basavilbaso from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

The horrors of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that enters our homes daily get mixed with a tsunami of domestic and international negative news. How to filter through these constructively?

The news from Ukraine triggered in me two sets of questions:  1. How does Ukraine not shown on television look like? What is its history, its geography, its art? 2. What is the link between the centuries-long Jewish presence in Ukraine and the story of my family’s emigration from Ukraine to Argentina?

The short documentary embedded here, “From Ukraine to Basavilbaso,” is a story of migration from a land afflicted by anti-Semitism to a land that promised freedom and opportunity. It is a story shared by millions of people.

Since the staging of my family’s story was Ukraine and Argentina, I wanted to link their story with a hopeful present. In contrast to tragedies and hardships, I framed the main story with images of the ongoing war at the beginning and present-day artists at both ends. Through my research, I discovered Daria Marchenko, Pazza Pennello, the DakhaBrakha–Monakh band, and Stepan Ryabchenko from Ukraine, to name just a few. From Argentina, I brought in the legendary conceptual and performance artist Marta Minujín and also a segment of the Argentum performance at Teatro Colon during the G-20 meeting.

When a couple of months ago, a cousin sent me from Argentina photos of his newly discovered graves of our mutual great-grandfather Moises and of our grandfather Aron in Basavilbaso’s oldest cemetery, I decided to connect the dots between my questions.

The photographs of my great-grandfather’s grave were particularly revealing. In it was written, in Hebrew: “Moises Frenkel. Born in Dubna, died (according to the Gregorian calendar) on February 24, 1917, at the age of 107.” Where is Dubna, I ask myself? One hundred and seven years old? That means that he was born in 1810, the year Argentinians celebrate the May Revolution, commemorating their detachment from Spain’s monarchy, which for me, as a child growing up in Buenos Aires, was “old history.”

Soon I discovered that “Dubna” was the Yiddish spelling of Dubno, a town whose history begins in the 1100s and where its oldest Jewish tomb dates from 1581. I also learned that in 1794 the first Hebrew printing press was established there and that in the 19th century, Dubno was a place of Haskalah activists. Haskalah was the Jewish Enlightenment movement in Europe that promoted rationalism, liberalism, and freedom of thought.

How did all these factors impact my great-grandfather’s upbringing? The little I know is that he had been kidnapped by the Russian Army when he was seven years old, which was not uncommon at the time, and was released when he was twenty. He then married but, not having children, he divorced. He remarried a widow with six children; together, they had four more children. Since grandfather Aron Frenkel was the oldest of these, born in 1870, Moises was sixty years old when Aron was born. Where did they live?

Aron’s wife, grandmother Catalina Torgavetzky, referred to the Kherson Gubernia as their place of origin. That is a vast area, about the size of South Carolina. Where in Kherson? Judging from the upbringing of the Frenkels offspring, the Frenkels were well-educated in both the Bible and the Talmud and Russian and Yiddish literature. They probably lived not far from Odessa, already a sophisticated city by the end of the 19th century with an imposing Opera House and large boulevards enhanced by Italian and French architecture.

The Kherson Gubernia was a part of the Pale of Settlement, the area where 5.3 million Jews were allowed to live within the Russian Empire. The Pale of Settlement included modern-day Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, parts of Poland and Latvia, and most of Ukraine. Their common language was Yiddish, a German dialect with words from Hebrew. They all suffered from anti-Semitic attacks and discrimination. Pogroms, the organized massacre of helpless Jews, were a common occurrence.

By the beginning of the 1900s, when pogroms became more murderous, Moises decided it was time to live, but where? The United States, “the Goldene Medina,” had strict immigration quotas that took years to qualify. Palestine was a poor land that had only Zionist ideals to offer. At the time, Baron Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Association offered 150 hectares (about 370 acres) per family to settle in Argentina, subject to a down payment and repayment in 25 years, starting three years after arrival. It seemed like a definite possibility to sustain the livelihood of a large family.

In 1904 the Jewish Colonization Association selected one-hundred families in the south of Russia to settle in Argentina’s Jewish colonies. Where in the colonies? “Basavilbaso,” they were told. Basavilbaso was a train station of a major railway intersection, about 320 km from Buenos Aires. Founded in 1887, the Jewish immigrants called the colony Lucienville, about 40,000 hectares of cattle pasture.

The Frenkel’s accepted the offer. They moved to Argentina in 1904 as a group of about eighty people: Great-grandfather Moises, 94, and his married sons and daughters, already in their thirties, with their spouses and children. The whole family must have traveled by train to Hamburg in Germany to board a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean in two to three weeks.

They reached Buenos Aires in June-July 1904. It was winter in the southern hemisphere. They had to endure several days of Argentina’s bureaucracy in crowded, terrible conditions. From Buenos Aires, they traveled 320 km to Basavilbaso, where there was not much more than a train station and plenty of mud. Basavilbaso was an Argentinean version of a small shtetl, yet the surroundings had wide horizons, and for the first time in their lives, they did not fear pogroms.

The Jews that settled in Basavilbaso were well-educated. Contrary to the romantic image generated by writer Alberto Gerchunoff of Jewish gauchos, the immigrants were not farmers and did not aspire to become farmers. They became farmers to make a living and to be able to provide their children with a good education.

Grandfather Aron chose to be a merchant rather than a farmer. He bought a lot in the new village’s center and built a house to accommodate his family. His son and two daughters born in Ukraine were followed by five daughters born in Basavilbaso, among them, my mother.

Stories tell that great-grandfather Moises built Basavilbaso’s first synagogue, Tfila Le-Moshe, completed in 1912. Yet religion was not central to the Frenkels. The food they prepared was not kosher, and they limited their celebrations to the High Holidays and Passover, yet education was an essential subject.

The Frenkel’s home had a well-supplied library with many books in Russian and Spanish. There was a pianola, and the siblings had to learn to play music and do their regular school chores. By 1900, the colonies already had twenty elementary schools teaching 1,200 pupils. The classes included Spanish, Argentinian history, and Hebrew and Jewish rituals. Children learned to read and write both in Spanish and in Yiddish. However, since there were no high schools in the vicinity, the new generation moved to Buenos Aires during their teens. Many became professionals.

My father emigrated to Argentina in 1925, when he was twenty years old. He was born in Kalarash, a shtetl located about 50 km from Kishinev, the present-day capital of the Republic of Moldova, which was called Bessarabia between 1818 and 1919.

His parents were poverty-stricken religious Jews with ten children. The boys all studied Hebrew at the local yeshiva, but my father also got a secular education by going to a gymnasium, the Russian high school. There he discovered his talent for math and memorizing long Russian poems. I was this unusual combination that would impact his future life. Although he dreamed of becoming a writer, he soon became a businessman using his learned skills to achieve his goals.

My mother, a heavy reader like my grandmother, became self-educated. She performed poetry declamations, wrote in impeccable Spanish, and sang with an opera-level mezzo-soprano voice. She married my father in her early twenties. I showed up eleven years later.

Today approximately 180,000 Jews live in Argentina, and about 140,000 in Buenos Aires. About 100 are part of my family. Most of them live in Buenos Aires.

 

Ukrainian Bullets Young Ukrainian Artists at the Forefront of Art, Architecture, and Music

Ukrainian Bullets from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

With the war in Ukraine entering most people’s lives worldwide, Ukrainian Bullets shows creative alternatives from life before the beginning of the war. In delineating a short documentary, I focused on contemporary young artists at the forefront of art, music, and architecture.

Artists

 

Daria Marchenko graduated from Kyiv National University of Technologies and Design. She is best known for her involvement as an advocate for public art in Ukraine. She has created wall murals in over thirty countries. In “The Face of War,” she portrays Putin made from 5,000 bullet casings. Trump’s portrait “The Face of Money,” made together with Daniel Green, is made out of mostly pennies, nickels, and poker chips.

 

Pazza Pennello (b. 1987) is a Ukrainian pop artist born in Odessa. She lives in Kyiv. Her artworks are part of private collections in Ukraine, France, Switzerland, and the USA.

 

Alina Samanova (b. 1993) graduated from the University of the Arts in London. She lives in Kyiv. Her paintings depict both confident and vulnerable women in their chosen environment.

 

Stepan Ryabchenko was born in Odessa (b. 1987) in a family of artists. Hi graduated as an architect.

 

Musicians

 

Antonii Baryshevskyi is a pianist and composer. He was born (b. 1988) in Kyiv. He studied music at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music of Ukraine and at the École Supérieure de Musique in Paris.

 

DakhaBrakha is a Ukrainian folk quartet that combines the musical styles of several ethnic groups.

 

Dakh Daughters is a Ukrainian music and theater project started in 2012 in Kyiv. The band consists of seven women who play various instruments and sing in different languages (English, French, Russian, German) and dialects of Ukrainian. Dakh Daughters has performed in various Ukrainian cities and Poland, the Czech Republic, France, Russia, and Brazil. 

 

Go_A is a Ukrainian electro-folk band first formed in 2012 sent to represent Ukraine in the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 in Rotterdam, Netherlands (canceled due to COVID-19.)

 

Architects

 

SPRW Architects, based in Kyiv, with architect Vitaly Vorobey and designer Aleksey Zvoliansky, conceived “Flatness,” an art gallery.

 

Permaculture Design for Tomorrow Ecological Sustainability for Cities

Permaculture Design for Tomorrow from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

What is Permaculture? The word derives from “permanent” and “agriculture.” It is a design-thinking process aimed to integrate systems like gardening, architecture, planning, horticulture, ecology, and community development. Permaculture master-planning and design layout the roadmap to sustainability: it connects design elements with the natural world. Permaculture-designed landscapes mimic patterns and relationships found in Nature that provide diversity, stability, and resilience.

 

Bill Mollison, an Australian field biologist, and teacher spent decades in the rainforests and deserts of Australia studying ecosystems. He observed that plants naturally group themselves to support each other, forming guilds.

Today his ideas have spread and taken root in almost every country globally. Permaculture is now being practiced in the rainforests of South America, in the Kalahari Desert, in the arctic north of Scandinavia, Europe, and all over North America.

Why is Permaculture so important and urgent? The challenges facing our food systems are daunting. Every year, the demand for food rises, people flock to cities, climate change alters weather patterns, and unpredictability threatens the ability to get the healthy food we need. Permaculture strives to create sustainable opportunities in growing fresh local food wherever people live. Urban farming ensures thriving the future of cities by maintaining the connection with Nature.

Edible gardens encourage communities to cultivate healthy food, increase physical activity, and benefit their mental state. Growing food in urban farms can become the multi-generational centerpiece of friends and families, providing a place to meet, socialize, share ideas, and have laughter.

For city planners, the main challenge is to promote empty lots as community gardens, plan the inclusion of food-growing areas within existing parks, and stimulate the planting of vegetables and fruit trees in private properties. For developers and architects, the challenge is two-fold: to include permaculture gardens on existing buildings and plan gardens, roofs, and balconies to facilitate the planting of fruits and vegetables.

L.A.’s New Icon Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences

Los Angeles has a new icon: the spherical Geffen Theater, a state-of-the-art place for film projections designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano. It is part of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, inaugurated last September.

 

The City of Angels is not short of icons, but few have visual clarity. The most explicit are the Theme Building at LAX, the Hollywood Sign, the Watts Towers, and the Disney Hall. To these, the Geffen Theater marks a significant addition. It becomes even more important because it is linked to the adaptive reuse of the May Company Building of 1939, now renamed the Saban Building.

 

The Geffen Theater, a concrete-and-glass sphere -150 feet in diameter – on the north side of the museum, seems to be suspended in space like a spaceship from another planet that just landed. It was first called “Death Star,” like the space station and galactic superweapon featured in Star Wars. Piano detests that label! He suggests “Dirigible,” “Zeppelin,” “Spaceship,’ “Flying Vessel,” “Soap Bubble.” I would call it “The Geffen Sphere.” Geffen means grapevine in Hebrew. The theater’s shape relates to the spherical grapes that produce the human finest drink, wine.

 

Context

Museum’s context: building, art

The museum is amid eclectic surroundings. The neighboring Pavilion of Japanese Art, designed by Bruce Goff and realized by Bart Prince, is the jewel of the lot. But there are others. The functional yet not exiting Resnik Pavilion, also designed by Piano; Michel Heizer’s “Levitated Mass,” intended to be a “large-scale” 340-ton granite megalith that in reality will remain minuscule in relation to the surroundings; across the Saban Building, the exhibitionist Petersen Automotive Museum red box structure wrapped in a series of convulsing steel ribbons; the now-under-construction $750-million LACMA Museum expansion, designed by another Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Peter Zumthor; and further away, the La Brea Tar Pits Park and Museum define a prehistoric area in total contrast to the Geffen Sphere’s modernity.

 

Some Details

 

The new 300,000 square-foot new museum includes 250,000 square-foot exhibition areas, the 288-seat Ted Mann Theater, the 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater, and the cascading glass-covered Dolby Family Terrace, where guests have stunning views of the LA skyline and the Hollywood Hills. Additional uses include the Shirley Temple Education Studio, the Debbie Reynolds Conservation Studio, the Fanny’s restaurant and café, and the Academy Museum Store.

 

The museum Director and President, Bill Kramer, was pivotal in the puzzle of coordinating the design team. It included Renzo Piano Building Workshop, executive architect Gensler, preservation architect John Fidler, structural engineers Buro Happold, general contractor MATT, and the exhibition’s designer, Kulapat Yantrasast, from Thailand, founder of the LA-based firm wHY. Yantrasast worked closely with Academy representatives and more than a dozen curators. They wrangled the Academy’s extensive array of film artifacts and memorabilia into immersive experiences rich with diverse narratives.

 Piano stripped the former May Co. department store to its bones. Then he created an atrium that contains the escalators and the elevators. A glass curtain wall entirely replaced the north façade of the Saban Building. The two parts of the building are connected by filigree steel-glass bridges. The bridges consist of glass roofs and parapet glazing. The museum’s massive, 690-panel theater is supported by four columns with seismic isolators and can move freely up to in an earthquake. The Geffen Sphere is covered by a steel-glass dome that has been manufactured and installed by the German firm Gartner.

 

“The idea of the sphere,” says RPBW project architect Jonathan Jones, “was to create an otherworldly object that transports you, as movies do.” With most of its form hovering above a pedestrian plaza, the sphere was envisioned, explains RPBW partner Luigi Priano, “almost like a spaceship—levitating above the ground, as if ready to take off as soon as the movie starts.”

 

Unlike many famous architects, past and present, Renzo Piano is not a mannerist of his style. He confronts projects open-mindedly, relating to the surroundings in many different ways. In the building that made him famous, the Pompidou Center, Piano and his British partner, Richard Rogers, approached the Parisian project through total contrast. On the other extreme, at The Fondation Jerôme Seydoux-Pathé, he developed the building inconspicuously, behind an entrance made by young August Rodin. In my film As We Saw It- Paris Builds, you may appreciate the contrast between this poetic project and Paris’ new huge Palais de Justice.

 

Beyond becoming a new icon in Los Angeles, the Geffen Sphere is a new landmark of architecture from now on.

The Wende A Museum of Art and Culture Behind the Iron Curtain

The Wende Museum is a unique depository of memories from the Eastern European countries beyond the Iron Curtain that endured Communism-labeled fascism during the Cold War. It is dedicated to preserving this period’s art, culture, and stories.

West and East Europe divided by the Curtain Wall

When my friend Elisa Leonelli sent me a recent article she wrote about her visits to The Wende, we followed after her steps. It was quite a surprise. We found very appealing both the museum’s content and the space that architect Christian Kienapfel of Paravant Architects created within Culver City’s old National Guard Armory.

Engels, Mark, Lenin, Stalin

 

Bust of Lenin, Istaravshan, Tajikistan, 1965

The Cold War era started with the end of World War II and ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was a conflict between American-led democratic capitalism and Russian-led Communism. It includes the atrocities committed by Stalin and the Gulag it created; it includes Russia’s invasion of Hungary and the Prague Spring’s crashing; and it also includes the obsessive period of McCarthyism that contributed to a distorted view of socialism.

The Wende Museum (wende in German means in English, “change, turning point”) is the brainchild of Justinian Jampol, its founder and director. It raises awareness to the world behind the Iron Curtain. Arts and artifacts, censured literature and publications, and human stories about everyday life can now be seen, read about, and listened to. The artifacts exhibited in the 13,000 square foot space are only a fraction of the collection, which is more geared to educate and entice curiosity rather than to enshrine masterpieces. Segal Shuart Landscape Architects designed a pleasant rear garden to accommodate outdoor events.

My personal experience with the subject is indirect. I heard stories from Ruth, who spent her teens in Communist Romania. While we were students in Rome, we befriended Romanian artist Ion Nicodim, who in 1963 made a tapestry, Ode to Man, (approximately 32 x 15 feet) that was donated by the Romanian government to the United Nations. We traveled throughout Romania during Ceaușescu’s regime and felt the oppression in the air. In 1976 we visited then Berlin divided Berlin. Years later, in 2018, we made two documentaries in the unified city.

Ode to Man, by Ian Nicodim, 1963

The film included in this article brings some visuals of paintings, murals, and monumental sculptures from that period (such as GDR’s painters Heinz Drache and Willi Sitte,) and also artworks by some Eastern European contemporary artists that became famous in the West, such as Christo and Marina Abramović, and younger ones still living in those countries, such as Pazza Pennello (Kyiv, Ukraine,) Jana Želibská (Bratislava, Slovakia,) and Ewa Juszkiewicz (Warsaw, Poland.)

The Wende Museum is an inducement not only to learn about a recent past but also to us warn about the dangers of fascist movements at the present time.

The Kiss – leonid brezhnev and Enrich Honecker, 2009, Berlin Wall

The Ford in Hollywood Theater Setting as a Hidden Treasure

When you go to the Long Beach Opera, expect the unexpected. The program fitted our expectations: Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912) and Kate Soper’s Voices from the Killing Jar (2012.), an all-women performance. Jenny Wong directed the music, the choreography was directed by Danielle Agami, and the singing was by soprano Laurel Irena. Yet the greatest surprise was its staging at The Ford Theater by the Cahuenga Pass, next door to the Hollywood Hall.

The Ford is, since its renovation, a hidden treasure, a cultural gem, one of the best-kept architectural secrets of Los Angeles.

The Holywood Bowl and The Ford Theater

In 1918, Christine Wetherill Stevenson (1878-1922) bought a 60-acre land known as Daisy Dell, including the Hollywood Bowl area. An amphitheater was built in 1920 as a venue for the religious-themed Pilgrimage Play. In 1929 a fire destroyed the original theater, and in 1931 a new one was built made of cast concrete to resemble the ancient architecture of the Holy Land. In 1952 the Pilgrimage Theater closed for two years due to the construction of the Hollywood Freeway. It came to a final close in 1964.

Following popular periodical productions, including rock band performances, an extensive renovation started in 2014, designed by architect Brenda Levin and landscape architect Mia Lehrer. The renovation was dedicated in 2017. In 2019 the theater’s operation was transferred to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Ford’s 1,200-seat setting is unique, not only by comparison to the nearby 17,500-seat Hollywood Bowl but also to classical amphitheaters. The Greek amphitheater was conceived to have a natural horizon behind the stage. The Roman amphitheater had its stage built, and therefore could more easily adapt to urban environments. What is unique at The Ford is that nature beyond the stage is steeply uphill, a background of a different character than historical precedents.

The picnics areas are also very different than the ones at the Bowl; their terracing makes them humanly scaled, more intimate.

The project faced many challenges. First and foremost, a lot of water flows off that hillside. One of the deferred maintenance problems was the infiltration of water into the theater. There was also needed to stabilize the hillside. Acoustics was a significant issue, considering the proximity of the Hollywood Freeway.

Besides its design qualities, The Ford’s renovation stresses the importance of the relationship between a building and its setting on the land.

Frank Gehry 2021 A Playful Ninety-two Years Young Master

We are not surprised by Frank Gehry surprising us as an architect. We know that he is also prolific as an artist. What surprised me this time is that, at ninety-two, following a pandemic year when he had to lay 170 people working at his office, is that he has not stopped pushing the envelope of creativity. 

Gehry’s dual exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills (June 24 – August 6, 2021) is remarkable. The ground floor exhibition is titled Spinning Tales and shows several hanged Fish Lamps made for the first time in polyvinyl and copper. This last version of his fishes evolved through large-scale sculptures, such as Standing Glass Fish at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, 1986; the 22-meter high fish for a fish restaurant in Kobe, Japan, 1987; and El Peix (The Fish) at the Barcelona Olympics, 1992.

The upper floor immersive installation, Wishful Thinking, is based on a scene of Alice Adventures in Wonderland. Framing the show is a mirror wall and a textured chain-link fence. This artwork echoes preceding architectural works such as the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, 2000; the Marqués de Riscal Hotel, Elciego, Spain; and the Biomuseo in Panama City, 2014.

During the last nine years, I documented three of his architectural masterpieces: Disney Hall in Los Angeles in 2012, the Lou Ruvo Center for Mental Health in Las Vegas in 2013, and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris in 2018. This is the first time that I approach his artwork unlinked to a building. Although the scale and complexity of architecture and art can be very different, this exhibition proves that one medium can feed into the other.

Fairfax Mishmash Disjointed Places, Events and Architecture

Mishmash: a confused mixture of things.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Fairfax Avenue is an excellent example of an urban mishmash of disjointed places, events, and buildings. The documentary visually shows many of the incongruities and contradictions that characterize our time.

The contrast between the long line of colorful young people hoping to find a deal at the funky Dolls Kill store, and the background of a historically Jewish neighborhood since the mid-1900s, couldn’t be stronger.

Zigzagging along a three-mile stretch of Fairfax Avenue, my scanning included:

  • The now-defunct Silent Movie Theatre, aka Cinefamily, Fairfax Cinema, Brain Dead Studios.
  • The Directors Guild of America, at Sunset Blvd., and Fairfax.
  • The Writers Guild of America West, at Fairfax and Beverly.
  • The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial.
  • CBS Television City.
  • Samy’s Camera.
  • The Original Farmers Market and The Grove.
  • Little Ethiopia.
  • The Petersen Automotive Museum.
  • The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
  • The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA.
  • Some examples of street art.

Around the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, we encounter three architectural works that resemble a conference of monologues in different languages without translations.

 

The Petersen Automotive Museum is an adaptive reuse of a building designed by Welton Becket in 1962. In 2015, the architectural firm Kohn Pederson Fox wrapped it with stainless steel ribbons in the act of large-scale exhibitionism.

Pritzker Price-awarded Renzo Piano’s design of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, soon to be inaugurated, is more subtle. While maintaining the facade of the original May Company building, it reshaped its six floors from within. Inside there will be immersive permanent and temporary exhibition galleries, an education studio, two state-of-the-art theaters, and public special event spaces. The sphere-shaped theater in concrete and steel will float above the ground floor level.

The original LACMA buildings were designed by William Pereira in 1965 and by Holzman Pfeiffer Hardy in 1986. Neither were gems of architecture. However, the decision to demolish them and substitute square footage with a new one designed by the Pritzker Price-awarded Peter Zumthor is an act of brutality and lack of imagination. The Amoeba-shaped plan, which reminds Oscar Niemeyer’s own house built in 1951, is far less organic when reviewing its poor use of space, at a tag of $750 million.

Is intellectual hubris better than political hubris? Time will tell.

Piazzolla Con Brio Astor Piazzollas Music, Influences and its Reflection in Architecture

Many places around the world celebrate this year Astor Piazzolla’s centenary of his birth (1921-1992.) A full-page article published recently in the Los Angeles Times triggered some personal memories about my encounter with Piazzolla when I was seventeen years old. I decided to make a documentary on him, his music, his influence on some contemporary musicians, and some contextual background on Buenos Aires, the tango capital. I also included in the film some works of architecture conceived in a similar spirit to the one that inspired Piazzola’s music. “Piazzolla Con Brio” (Con Brio means in a vigorous or brisk manner in musical vocabulary) sound and images deliver the message more powerfully than this blog. Yet, I’ll bring here a few observations.

Piazzolla Con Brio Documentary – Poster

 

Buenos Aires’ Impact

 

“Three teachers influenced my music,” Piazzolla said. “Alberto Ginastera, Nadia Boulanger, and Buenos Aires.” Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) was a leading 20th-century Latin-American composer known for his use of local and national musical idioms in his compositions. Piazzolla, his first student, studied for six years with him. Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979,) conductor, organist, and one of the most influential teachers of musical composition of the 20th century, helped Piazzolla to find his voice. And Buenos Aires helped Piazzolla to become a Porteño, the way are called the inhabitants of Buenos Aires. 

 

Buenos Aires molds the identity of its inhabitants, who see themselves as more European than Latin American. Italy exerts the most potent cultural influence, but Buenos Aires is a complex place that includes great architecture, art and has more bookstores per habitant than any other city in the world. Its people are also passionate about soccer, meat, pizza, wine, ethnic food, and, yes, tango. 

 

As a young bandoneonist, Piazzolla started playing traditional tango in the orchestra of Anibal Troilo, a composer, arranger, and bandleader. However, studying with Ginastera, he abandoned the bandoneon and decided to become a symphonic composer. He returned to the tango as a source of inspiration following Nadia Boulanger’s advice. 

 

Although Piazzola spent many years of his life living in New York and Paris, Buenos Aires’ lifestyle exerted on his identity was crucial.

 

Buenos Aires’ Architecture 

 

The population of Greater Buenos Aires is today about 15,000,000. The capital consists of 48 official barrios or neighborhoods, many of these having a strong local identity. The city’s original architecture was strongly influenced by French and Italian neo-classical architecture. It evolved into Modernism under French architect Le Corbusier, who built many of his main works in exposed concrete. One of the city’s most prominent architects, Clorindo Testa (1923-2013,) about the same age as Piazzolla, designed and built two important buildings: the Bank of London, now called the Banco Hipotecario, completed in 1966, and the National Library, completed in 1992.

 

Two concepts characterize the uniqueness of the National Library. The first lies in the idea of the strength of the part that lifts the reading rooms above the ground, burying the deposits of books underground. The second concept lies in the strength and monumentality of the building in the vicinity of existing parks. 

 

A minor but poetic work I bring to the film is the Xul Solar Museum, designed by architect Pablo Tomas Beitia and completed in 1993. Alejandro Xul Solar (1887-1963) was an Argentinean painter, sculptor, and writer. The over one hundred years old building that faces the street was his residence. The renovation and expansion project was designed to interpret the particular artist’s pictorial world.

 

Floralis Genérica is a sculpture made of steel and aluminum, a gift of architect Eduardo Catalano (1917-2010). The sculpture was created in 2002. It was designed to move, closing its petals in the evening and opening them in the morning.

 

The former Grand Splendid Theater was designed by architects Peró and Torres Armengol and opened in 1919. In 2000 the building was subsequently renovated and converted into a book and music shop under the direction of architect Fernando Manzone. It’s been called the world’s most beautiful bookstore.

 

These five architectural examples relate to Piazzolla’s music in a number of ways. Clorindo Testa’s bank and library express energy and strength; the Xul Solar Museum and the Ateneo Grand Splendid bring a reinterpretation of the old with a new language; Floralis Generica tells of the creative interpretation of a flower.

 

Porteño

 

The film includes an abridged version of a poem I wrote in 1988, Porteño. It portrays how I then saw some aspects of my upbringing. You may read the unabridged version rolling down towards the end on http://meghiddoarchitects.com/selected-poems/ .

Astor Piazzolla

An Alternative Lifestyle? The Procedural Architecture of Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins

Arakawa & Gins from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

The little-known architectural work of artists Arakawa and Gins carries a powerful message: we can design a sensory interaction with our surrounding environment to physically and emotionally impact what we become as humans. In doing this, we are offered an alternative lifestyle to spaces conditioned by functionalism.

This approach is substantially different than just being impacted emotionally by a space conceived to respond to a given program. In their work, the senses’ hyper-activation is a programmatic goal, even if it provokes discomfort. They see the creation of discomfort as a positive stimulant.

Arakawa and Gins investigate the body-environment relationship by producing situations that dismantle and allow reconfiguration of sensing, perception, and comprehension. They call this approach “procedural architecture.”

Shusaku Arakawa (1936-2010) was born in Nagoya, Japan, and moved to New York in 1961. He was one of the founding members of the Japanese avant-garde Neo Dadaism Organizers, strongly influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s ideas. In 1962 he met American poet Madeline Gins (1941-2014.) Born in the Bronx, she grew up in Long Island, studied physics and philosophy, and became a poet, writer, and philosopher. From then on, they became partners in their creative activities as a married couple.

Inspired by continuously transforming cells and by Leonardo’s approach to the interrelation between science and art, they insisted that research should be conducted “not in a library or laboratory, but where the living happens.” Their artwork and writings evolved towards architecture since the late 1980s.

The critical point of transformation from art to architecture is reflected in their “Process in Question / Bridge of Reversible Destiny and developed in 1987 as a 140-meter bridge over the Moselle in Espinal, France. The proposed unbuilt structure consisted of 21 sections that each offered different spatial experiences.

They suggested that the built environment should continuously challenge and surprise our senses. Although Frank Lloyd Wright had the same attitude on creating continuous changing spaces along the human path of his buildings, Arakawa and Gins saw these contiguous spaces as drastically different from another in form, texture, color, and light. They believed that changes in bodily perception would lead to changes in consciousness.

Arakawa and Gins first built architectural environment was the Site of Reversible Destiny in Yoro, Japan, completed in 1995. It is a 195,000 sq ft / 18,100 sq m park containing pavilions (referred to as architectural fragments,) undulating planes, shifting colors, disorienting spaces, 148 paths, and vegetation, including 24 breeds of herbs selected by Arakawa and Gins to emphasize the changing seasons.

The next built project is the Reversible Destiny Lofts in Mitaka, Tokyo, completed in 2005, with 8200 sq ft / 762 m2. It consists of nine residential units primarily utilizing three shapes: the cube, the sphere and the tube. Each apartment has a circular room at its center and includes three or four shapes. The floor of the central space is made of uneven compacted material. The entire complex is painted in fourteen colors.

In 2008 Arakawa and Gins completed a single-family home, the Bioscleave House, located in East Hampton, New York, as an “inter-active laboratory of everyday life.” At its center is a sunken kitchen and dining area surrounded by uneven floors.

Arakawa and Gins aspired to create buildings that people would “learn not die.” They firmly believed that their architectural works would impact the residents’ personal well-being and longevity and formalized their belief as the concept of “reversible destiny.”

Setting aside the belief-system that motivated and guided the Arakawa-Gins couple’s creativity, their contribution represents an important addition to the language of architecture.

For a visualization of the Arakawa and Gins approach to architecture, see the documentary “Children who won’t die,” (1 h 19 min) directed by Nobu Yamaoka.

Jack Reads Pronto Professore 2000 to 2021: Poet Jack Grapes recorded soundtrack of his Pronto Professore poem

Jack Reads Pronto Professore from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

January 2021. At the beginning of a new post-pandemic and post-Trump era, we are framed between the barbarian actions on January 6 and a new beginning on January 20. The world’s main agenda needs to focus on healing and growth. Furthermore, we need to reinvent the human condition.

While evaluating past achievements and failures, I rediscovered a long poem I wrote during May 2000, Pronto Professore. In November, the Italian Institute of Culture in Los Angeles sponsored a memorial to honor Professor Bruno Zevi. Since I was living in Tel Aviv and could not come to L.A. for that occasion, Jack Grapes volunteered to read the poem publicly in my stead. During the event, my friend Nathan Shapira recorded Jack’s reading and subsequently sent me a copy. It remained in a drawer for almost twenty years.

In 2018, while editing the documentary ZEVI, I inserted two segments of Jack’s reading and illustrated them. The video that accompanies this writing brings the public at large, for the first time, those two segments and the entire soundtrack. It seems to me that it remains actual.

Pronto, Professore

 

Pronto, Professore, can you hear me?

I can hear you well,

as if you were just around the corner,

as if it were yesterday

when we used to dissect on location

the interior space of the Pantheon,

the interrupted rhythm of Santa Maria in Cosmedin,

the central split of Santo Stefano Rotondo,

the link between the interior and the facade of San Carlino,

the ascendant spiral of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza,

as if it were yesterday

when we listened to your lectures at the faculty’s auditorium,

the darkened room, the students occupying every available step,

lights and cigarettes’ smoke projected over three screens:

the Parthenon on the left, a drawing of young Le Corbusier on

the center, a photograph of Ville Savoye on the right,

you, walking up and down along the isles, a Muratti between your

fingers,

your other arm gesticulating,

arguing with history, arguing with yourself

like a Talmud student interpreting and reinterpreting

what does that choice mean rather than the other,

what is the relationship between form and content,

where does that space come from, is it ancient or modern,

how do we live a building, how do we possess light,

what does all this mean for us today,

what was the language of the time and its relationship to society,

how were matter, space-time and technology used,

why is that window there and not there,

why, why?

 

Pronto, Professore, can you hear me?

I can hear you well

We need your help, give us your hand,

we are drowning in ignorance,

we are drowning in the drunkenness of power,

we are drowning in the mud of mediocrity,

we are drowning in the blindness of bureaucracy;

You left us a surgeon’s knife to operate on a patient

that barely breathes;

We injected on him with shots of asymmetry and dissonance,

of antiperspective tridimensionality and of cantilevered

structures,

but he does not react,

he is intoxicated by television,

he is intoxicated by yellow newspapers,

he is intoxicated by technological gadgets,

he is intoxicated with hyper-sex

with hyper-tourism,

with junk food,

with junk-music

with junk-houses

 

the patient doesn’t read anymore, doesn’t write anymore,

he speaks with fifty words,

he escapes towards hedonism or Messianism,

he lost his site,

he lost his vision

he lost his trust in the future,

he lost his trust in humankind,

he lost his trust in himself.

 

Pronto Professore, can you hear me,

I can hear you well.

I turned to Michelangelo for help

but his urbanism is too complex for today’s planners;

I called Borromini, but the public doesn’t want tormented souls,

the public wants “happiness”;

I talked to Wright…are you kidding!

His language is incomprehensible; the universities

must produce graduates fast and at a reasonable price,

what is necessary is formulas, slogans,

“how to do this, how to do that”,

a page by Wright is too charged, makes you waste time,

it is much easier to copy from fashion magazines;

I called the poets – Gaudi, Scarpa, Bruce Goff, John Lautner;

I called the visionaries – Fuller, Soleri, Pellegrin…

 

You say that one must remain optimistic

in spite of the periodic regressions of history;

You think that after 1988 there is light at the end of the tunnel

in the rebellious adolescence of the Deconstructivists,

in the recycling of kitsch, banality and trash, but

what shall we do of the abyss that exists between

quantity and quality?

 

As we talk the world’s population continues to grow

one hundred and sixty six human beings per minute,

ten thousand per hour

two hundred and forty thousand per day;

 

We need,

more houses,

more schools,

more factories,

more sports centers,

more cultural centers,

more power plants,

more parking structures,

more freeways,

more airports,

more prisons,

more cemeteries.

 

What shall we do, Professore

shall we produce one hundred Guggenheims per hour?

shall we produce “readymade” pseudo Venice, clean, odorless,

like the one made in Las Vegas,

or shall we leave it all to the “do it yourself” suburbs, happily mediocre?

 

Who shall take care of the Leonardo’s subtleties that you quote:

the fog,

the mist

the rain

the ungrateful climate,

the heat,

the clouds,

the shadows and the transparencies,

the smells and the perfumes,

that is, the matter-less materials of architecture?

 

And then, let’s take a good look at this patient,

who is he, what does his face look like?

It is not an architect, Unknown Soldier of the existential battle;

Our patient is the captain of industry that produces nano-technologies,

our patient is the minister that makes decisions of billions with our money,

our patient is the real estate speculator that sells houses as merchandise,

is the bank director that lends money to old projects,

is the lawyer that knows how to convince us that black is white and

white is black,

is the general that considers a war plane more important

than four thousands apartments for the elderly,

is the mayor with a vision that doesn’t go beyond the next elections,

is the elite that proclaims itself as educated:

the judge,

the school director,

the accountant,

the physician,

the scientific researcher,

the fund-raising lady of the charity institution;

It is the public that flocks to concerts and to gallery-openings

and visits the world’s museums

but never heard of

the Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine,

nor of the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp,

nor of the Einstein Tower at Potsdam,

nor of Aalto’s church at Imatra,

nor of Michellucci’s church of the Autostrada,

nor of Johansen’s Mummer’s Theater in Oklahoma City,

nor of the Brion-Vega Cemetery at San Vito di Treviso;

 

May be our real patient still frequents the elementary school,

or may be, actually, probably, he is still not yet born.

 

So, Professore,

what shall we prescribe to this patient, vitamins?

 

Let’s try a dose of

 

vitamin H, for the history of architecture,

vitamine V for the vision of the future,

vitamin W for the works of Wright,

vitamin Z for the writings of Zevi;

 

Shall we prescribe him interactivity,

particularly with painters, sculptors, poets, scientists and inventors?

Shall we prescribe him the drawing of trees,

to learn from their variety lectures of democracy,

to understand what is the continuity that links

earth, roots, trunk, branches and leaves to our solar energy,

to understand what is a cantilevered structure,

to understand the space-time relationship

between the permanent and the temporary,

to understand the functional aesthetics of flowers?

Shall we prescribe him with green, aaah, plenty of green,

green in the working spaces,

green in the stations of transportation,

green in the schools of our future citizens,

green, green, the green that links everything, saves everything,

idiocies, ugliness, crimes, monstrosities?

 

Shall we prescribe him convalescence in Venice, to learn

how can pedestrians’ movement be separated from the means of

transportation,

how can the rainwater of the block be recycled,

how can the arts be integrated into architecture

in houses, in piazzas, in campi?

Shall we turn Verona’s Castelvecchio

into an intensive care center for buildings’ restorers

on how to infuse modernity into our historic heritage

with sensible and respectful imagination?

 

And what about prescribing intelligent structures

to last five hundred years

as an answer to a “sustainable architecture”

with less waste, better use of energy,

and better qualified spaces?

 

Our patient is in very serious condition,

simplicity is not simple.

 

Pronto, Professore, can you hear me

We can hear you well.

You opened an unfinished road

still to be explored,

still to be built,

still to navigate

towards the horizon,

towards the center of the Earth,

toward the expanding galaxies,

towards a new civilization where

science, vision and art,

space, matter and time,

and the spirit of man

become One, indivisible,

in the image of God.

 

Pronto, Professore,

we are listening

to you,

still.

 

 

Ricky Meghiddo

Tel Aviv, May 28, 2000