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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.

With Piazzolla at the Bowl An Historic Event at the Hollywood Bowl Amphitheater

The concert of Astor Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas / The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, at the Hollywood Bowl, on August 26, 2021, was of historic importance. A public of about 15,000 people came to the concert conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, with the performance of Karen Gomio as a soloist.

Astor Piazzolla

Unlike Vivaldi’s concertos, Piazzolla’s Four Seasons wasn’t originally intended to be in four movements.  Piazzolla wrote the first of the four compositions, Summer (Verano Porteño) as a standalone work for Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz’s play The Mane of Gold (Melenita de oro). Autumn (Otoño Porteño), Spring (Primavera Porteña), and Winter (Invierno Porteño) came around five years later, in 1970. Piazzolla alludes to some of Vivaldi’s melodies in his own series, yet his composition is unique. The pieces were conceived for his quintet of violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneon, of which he was a virtuoso.

Piazzolla was not only one of the 20th century’s great musicians, but he was also one of the most prolific. His over 3,000 compositions include avant-garde tango music, opera, symphonic compositios, and music for film.

The concert at the Bowl brought the extraordinary performance of Karen Gomio, a musician born in Tokyo who developed her career in Montreal and New York. She now resides permanently in Berlin.

The coupling of Piazzolla’s Seasons with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5 surprised me. It seems to me that the music of Bela Bartok, Stravinsky, Copland, and Gershwin are much closer to his spirit. And also the music of great jazz composers and performers, such as Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck.

In the film I included brief segments of interviews with some musicians that played with him for many years, such as Pablo Ziegler and Fernando Suárez Paz. To learn more about his complex life, Maria Susana Azzi’s detailed and knowledgeable biography is highly recommended, particularly the expanded new edition in Italian.

For brief a scheme of his life, you may watch my recent Piazzolla Con Brio film.

Hollywood Bowl Marquee

 

¡Pura Vida! A Taste of Nature, Architecture, Permaculture and Lifestyle in Costa Rica

¡Pura Vida! from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

“¡Pura Vida!” is a phrase used daily in Costa Rica, which means “pure life” or “simple life.” It is not a slogan; it is a lifestyle, a way of being. Although I had initially planned to make a visual memoir as my 100th documentary, I ultimately decided to dedicate this occasion to our family experience in Costa Rica six years ago. Why? To raise awareness for the urgency of the need for a change in lifestyle as needed today. 

Covid-19 has globally brought us to a turning point. As it impacts the minds of billions of people since post-WW-II, the American Dream has reached a dead-end. It is simply non-sustainable. For the planet to survive and thrive, we must collectively change our mindset. Costa Rica offers a model worth studying carefully. 

The 25-minute documentary presented here tells much more than I may describe in writing, so consider this blog complementary to the film. Our trip was a 1,000+ km long drive nine-day vacation on a moderate budget, which we planned to combine between nature, permaculture, and architecture. 

The Trip

Gabby created the initial itinerary after consulting with Gabriel Saragovia, who lives in Costa Rica. Gabriel is the son of my old friend Efraim Saragovia, with whom I studied architecture at Israel’s Technion, and now lives in Florida. The father and son duo became sustainability-conscious developers of resorts in Costa Rica. They built Rio Perdido, an award-winning project, which was one of the highlights of our trip.

Our first stop was at La Ecovilla, a community of forty families from different countries, thirty of which having school-aged children. They focus on permaculture, not just as a source of food, but also as a tool for education. 

Finding La Ecovilla was not easy since the streets do not have names, and no signs were pointing us in the right direction. After climbing a rugged road carved from stone, surrounded by jungle-like vegetation, we found a nicely designed gate in the middle of nowhere. When it opened, it felt like entering another planet: Organic Architecture-inspired homes, homegrown food, and community areas geared towards creating a harmonious life with nature. In other words, a meaningful message for a future based on alternative values to a consumption-based society. 

After spending a few hours exploring La Ecovilla, Gabby navigated the one-lane Route 34 road through a tropical storm to our next stop, adjacent to the Manuel Antonio National Park’s entrance. 

The next morning, we were the first visitors of the day to enter the Park. Following a hike through the jungle, with toucans and sloths, we reached a beach that made me feel like a Spanish conquistador stepping on the soil of the Americas for the first time. Our company was birds chirping, iguanas sunbathing, and monkeys swinging between the branches. 

Our next destination was Malpaís, on the northern side of the Nicoya Gulf. We drove to Puntarenas to board the ferry which would take us to Paquera, a 1½ -hour ride surrounded by a view of islands and the sinuous coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

The path to our destination was an unpaved, bumpy road through the countryside of small farms and ranches. Occasionally we would see a herd of cows grazing on the rolling hills. 

The hotel we stayed at provided a sense of idyllic peacefulness. Without ostentatious luxury, its sparse buildings were immersed in a tropical garden surrounded by dense jungle.

We first explored Malpaís, a laid-back small village with a rocky shore of bizarre volcanic formations and a jungle forest reaching the shore. The main road that links Malpaís with Santa Teresa was the area’s main street, with shops, markets, and stores. 

After a few hours of walking on the beach and talking to people in the village, I got a sense of the vibe. It attracts young, educated people, escaping the traps of urban life. The crowd was quite international, with a strong American, Argentinean, and Israeli presence, which made us feel like a good fit for the place.

On our third day, we explored Montezuma, a small village known for its multi-ethnic bohemian atmosphere of young people looking for an alternative lifestyle. It is also known for its beaches, rivers, and waterfalls. 

It took us most of the next day to reach Rio Perdido, first having to drive back through the Nicoya Gulf. When we finally got there, our first impression was a sense of overwhelm.

“In the middle of nowhere,” five design firms – C2 Arquitectura, Vida Design Studio, Project CR+d, Garnier Arquitectos, and OUSIA Design – led by Gabriel and Efraim Saragovia, had created a masterful architectural complex with virtually no land movement

In respect to the existing natural land it sits on, the facility includes a unique thermo-mineral gorge with eight hot springs. The hotel’s main area was conceived to minimize the number of columns and ease the view of the surroundings. The prefabricated bungalows elevated above the original topography, give a sense of peacefulness, with a 180-degree view of vegetation. The place also has multiple swimming pools at different water temperatures.

Passive cooling techniques were applied throughout the facility that requires little to no maintenance. An “aerodynamic architectural structure” proved to be very effective in properly channeling the currents during the 4 months of heavy winds that this area experiences. Water use was taken into consideration as part of the reforestation effort for the native plant species. The treated water is directed towards the irrigation of thousands of plants.

Besides the architecture, the Rio Caliente hot water river is in itself, an important reason to visit the place. It is not only relaxing, but also has medicinal properties used by the natives for generations. 

For those in search of adventurous excitement, this ecotourism includes a state-of-the-art Zipline course which loops across the main canyon, tubing through the winding currents of Rio Perdido and trails for walking, hiking and mountain biking.

 Our final stop was at the La Paz Waterfall Garden and Zoo, near the Poás Volcano. This is a lush tropical forest with a huge waterfall, and many species of local wildlife, including birds, insects, monkeys and leopards.

 L.A. 2020

We are currently living during the worst global pandemic of the past century, the worst recession since the 1930s, and now we are on the cusp of one of the most critical elections in recent American history. The future is now, and it is daunting. Costa Rica, besides its natural beauty, is a stable democratic republic with a long list of attributes: it is the greenest country in the world, home to the highest density of animal species; It produces 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, has had no army since 1949, has spends 7% of its budget on education (U.S.: 3.5%.) There is much to learn from this small country.

In short: ¡Pura Vida!

PELLEGRIN Buildings and Visions for Spaceship Earth

Luigi Pellegrin was a visionary architect way ahead of his time. He realized that the human settlement, as created 35,000 years ago, must be reset now at a geographic scale and become an integral part of the planet. I believe that bringing Pellegrin’s work to public awareness during a global illness and uncertainty is vital for the re-invention of a post-pandemic world. 

His vision transcended Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture both in scale and time. His fantasy was grounded on a prolific professional practice and experience in prefabricated technology. His territory was that of the Earth’s crust. His history was the history of the universe. 

Vision of integrated habitat

The 20th Century produced a large number of highly-skilled architects, yet few delivered a transformative message. Le Corbusier’s saw the detachment of buildings from the ground as a way of expanding green open spaces; Frank Lloyd Wright’s interpreted the laws of nature and translated them into Organic Architecture design principles; Buckminster Fuller transcended land use by proposing a planetary vision of geography; and Paolo Soleri attempted to demonstrate an alternative human habitat by creating a walkable, social city that could meet the needs of future societies. Pellegrin, the least known of this small group of visionary thinkers, believed in PROCESS, in open-minded architectural research based on trial and error, like in science.

 

WORK

 Pellegrin assumed his social commitment through the design of popular housing and schools. His first period, 1955-1965, is characterized by a poetically organic approach to low-budget design, using simple construction materials. His artistic creativity exploded in the design of the via Aurelia bi-family house in Rome (1964.) The traditional box is crushed. The round living room is suspended in space like a bridge that rests on two multi-functional pilasters. The bedrooms, enclosed within triangular prisms, are perforated by windows that direct views and light as needed. This is an organic architecture expression, not-mimetic of Wright’s style.

During the 1965-1976 period, Pellegrin focuses his social commitment on the design of prefabricated schools. From kindergartens to high schools, he laboriously invested most of his energy in the design of articulated interior spaces, even when, given limited budgets, he had to simplify the buildings’ exteriors.

The accumulation of knowledge and creativity in prefabricated technology generated a gigantic design-jump in 1969, with the International Competition for the Design of the New University of Barcelona. Pellegrin’s concept had no precedent. He designed the common areas, such as libraries, sports facilities, and cafeterias on the ground, and suspended from the top, above these, classrooms to be used by the students as a circuit. The project won second prize. The jurors were not ready for such an outbreak.

The spatial concept for the University of Barcelona leads to another revolutionary project in 1970. The subject was a design competition for the ZEN Cardillo neighborhood in Palermo. While the ground was dedicated to commercial, social and cultural activities intertwined with green areas, the housing for 17,000 inhabitants was suspended in the space 30 to 90 feet above it. The structure was defined by 30 hollow pylons supporting the housing above, and its total footprint was 35% of a conventional project for the same number of inhabitants.

The ideas for the Barcelona and Palermo projects found their way in a design competition of two unified schools in Pisa. The program was complex. His design concept included the roof as a ramp that would become an open space accessible to the neighborhood, flexible classrooms on the top, and at the ground floor all the common services that could be used by the neighborhood when the classrooms were closed. The design was way ahead of his time. It was misunderstood by its users. Conservative teachers and city authorities asked for its demolition which was fought by many committed architects.

During the twenty-five years that followed the Pisa school’s building, Pellegrin’s prolific production moved in three parallel directions:

1. He continued to design and build prefabricated schools. It is notable to observe that out of 300 built buildings he produced, 200 were schools, 72 of which were built in Saudi Arabia.

2. He focused his research on the industrialization and mobility of components (roofs, walls, column-beams, residential tubes, emergency housing units) in many materials (concrete, aluminum, steel, fiberglass, bamboo.)

3. He expanded his research on integral urbanization at a geographic scale (habitat, services, commerce, mobility) through multi-directional and multi-use “vectors.” These complex structures were elevated like freeways not only over country fields, mountains, and historic places without altering them but also over artificial islands in the sea.

 WHO WAS PELLEGRIN?

 Pellegrin’s architecture was an expression of his will to change the world from the bottom up throughout his professional life. His upbringing was modest. His father, Paolo Pellegrin, was a construction worker from Italy’s northern region of Friuli, which borders the Veneto region, Austria, and Slovenia. When Paolo got a building job in Courcellette, ninety miles northeast of Paris, he took his family with him for the duration of the project. Luigi Pellegrin was born there in 1925. Although technically he was French, he saw himself as a son of Friuli, an area with a strong sense of identity, where people speak a regional dialect, have a unique cuisine, and are proud of their way of life.

 His humble origin and his contact with the proletariat of building sites molded his character and care for people’s needs, for excellent craftmanship, and for a sense of hard work to reach goals. Unlike many Italian architects and artists of his time, who manifested their concerns for social justice by joining the Communist Party, Pellegrin spent his mostly secluded life trying to elevate the people’s built environment with limited resources.

 He studied architecture at the University of Rome, but, fundamentally, he was a self-taught person, an acute observer of reality, visible or hidden, in the spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci.

 The one year he spent in New Orleans after graduation opened his horizons. He saw America as a land open to experimentation. When he visited Chicago and saw some of Sullivan and Wright’s works, he set his direction towards Organic Architecture. 

Back in Rome, he felt estranged from most architects but established an intellectual dialogue with Bruno Zevi, who had brought to Italy an awareness of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. This relationship developed into a not so easy 50-year long discussion. Zevi was Italy’s best historian and critic of architecture, the only one that Wright respected. Over the years he published most of Pellegrin’s works in L’Architettura. Yet, in 1974, he lamented: “Pellegrin was born to be a great architect, but he reduced himself to become a technician.”

 Although Pellegrin respected Zevi, he felt misunderstood by the master critic. For him, Wright was not only a genial architect but also as a thinker that transcended the Judeo-Christian and Greek philosophies that dominated Europe. Wright understood Buddhism and Taoism, Japanese art, and pre-Columbian civilizations. He believed in exploring the potential of materials and technologies and would have understood Pellegrin’s innovative productivity.

With Frank Lloyd Wright in Rome, 1956

MODUS OPERANDI

 Pellegrin’s studio was located at the heart of Rome’s historical center. The 18th Century building belonged to the Aldobrandini family. It was placed halfway between the Trevi Fountain and the Gregorian University, just across a small 17th Century church denominated Santa Croce e Santa Bonaventura de Lucchesi. The street was pebbled and had no sidewalks. The entrance to the building was through a large portal, sized to allow access to carriages. A smaller door was cut within it to allow people’s access. As in many old palaces, the ground floor was defined by a court decorated with marble busts and sculptures. A broad stairway led to the second floor, twenty feet above the ground floor.

 His work habits were unusual. He arrived at the office after errands in the city around noon, met with clients and consultants in the afternoon, left for dinner with his family, and returned to the studio at around 10:00 pm. That was when his design-time started. Surrounded by young architects, he worked until 4:00 am, seven days a week. 

Pellegrin spoke out aloud while designing so that everyone could follow his thinking process. We listened attentively, with music (Albinoni, Aretha Franklin) playing in the background.

 When he was relaxed, he spoke critically about many subjects: nature, science, history, art, politics, philosophy, literature, fashion, cinema, food, soccer. He could talk with the same ease about Michelangelo, Bernini, Borromini, Raphael, and Caravaggio on the one hand, and about Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Siqueiros on the other.

 His teaching method was indirect, not explicit. He gave clues to stimulate self-discovery through hard work. He thought that artists, mainly those of American Pop Art, understood the world better than architects. While New York’s artists adopted “the crude, the acid and the non-finished” for their artworks, most architects were busy creating monuments for posterity.

PELLEGRIN AND US

The students’ revolt of 1968 in Berkeley, Paris and Rome marked an era and defined a generation. It was punctuated by demonstrations, general strikes, and the occupation of universities and factories. The protests spurred movements worldwide, with songs, imaginative graffiti, posters, and slogans such as “Imagination to Power.”

The revolt was a protest against consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions. There were over half a million troops in Vietnam, who in less than a month had killed 37,000 of the ill-supported enemy. There were a counterculture and a revolution in social norms about clothing, music, drugs, and sexuality, all amplified by the lyrics of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon.

We were third-year students of architecture at the University of Rome. The school had been occupied. We were not part of the revolt, but we were actively becoming conscious of the times. The Club of Rome had been founded at the Academia dei Lincei by former heads of state, economists and business leaders from around the world. The world population, 3.6 billion at the time, was predicted to be 6 billion by the year 2000. It was 6.1 billion when the time came. Right on target.

 The view of the Earth from outer space generated a planetary self-consciousness. There was an acknowledgment of the world’s limited resources. Buckminster Fuller published a book under the title “Operating Manual of Spaceship Earth.” Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” predicted the internet 30 years before it was invented.  

In the summer of 1968 we made a two-month drive to Scandinavia, mainly to visit and photograph the works of Alvar Aalto in Finland. We had in mind to arrive to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) but we were in Stockholm when the Soviets invaded Prague and decided to change our plans. On our way back we visited Le Corbusier’s RonchampLa Tourette and the Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles. The trip gave us a direct experience with great contemporary architecture, and we were eager to follow into the steps of masters.

During the course of our fourth year of architecture, we started to think about our graduating theses. We asked Professor Bruno Zevi to be our tutor. He accepted but said that we should have a co-tutor, a practicing architect. “Chose anyone you want,” he said. Whom shall we choose? We wanted someone “organic,” with an affinity for Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas. After investigating the works of a dozen architects in Rome, we narrowed down our list to three: Lucio Pasarelli, Maurizio Sacripanti and Luigi Pellegrin. When we saw one of Pellegrin’s smallest projects in Rome, a pavilion for selling flowers, we chose Pellegrin.

Trying to reach him was another story. For two months, we called several times a week and we were always told: “the architect is not available.” Nobody would set an appointment for us, and he never returned our calls. One day, already frustrated, I made a call from a public phone at school. “Yes?” answered a grave voice. It was Pellegrin. I told him why I called, and of the strong impression, we had had visiting the flower pavilion that he had designed. “Come next Thursday at midnight,” he said, and without adding any comment, he switched the line to his secretary, who gave us directions on how to enter the studio.

Luigi Pellegrin’s studio was located at the very heart of Rome’s historic Center, in an 18th Century building belonging to Aldobrandini noble family, halfway between the Trevi Fountain and the Gregorian University, and just across a small 17th Century church denominated Santa Croce e Santa Bonaventura de Lucchesi . The street was pebbled and had no sidewalks. The entrance to the building was through a large portal sized to allow access to carriages, in which a smaller door was cut to allow for people’s entrance. As in many old palaces, the ground floor was defined by a court decorated with marble busts and larger sculptures. A beautiful stair led to the second floor, which was about twenty feet above the ground floor.

Pellegrin’s quarters were divided into two separate areas. On one were the drafting rooms. On the other, facing the floor lobby, was a private area that included a reception room, a conference room, and his office. That was where he met his clients and professional consultants.  

We arrived on time at midnight. His secretary received us, let us know that the architect had not returned yet and that he will be late. She invited us to wait. We started to explore walls and shelves, containing samples of his work.  

Pellegrin arrived at about 2:00 AM. His presence was powerful. He was thin, with deep green eyes, a chiseled face, and abundant hair, undulated and almost entirely white, despite being only forty-three years old. He was well dressed, wore a green jacket, dark brown pants, and a tie. We shook hands. He apologized for being late and asked us to follow him. We walked through a conference room filled with blueprints of works in progress and entered into his private room. There were books everywhere: on the walls, over his table, on the floor, resting on chairs. His desk was laid out diagonally, with his chair facing the entrance. The only source of light was that of a drafting lamp attached to his desk. He lowered it to one side below the desk’s surface and asked us to sit down. Then he remained silent, waiting for us to start. I felt like being in a psychologist’s room.

We told him about ourselves, about Zevi’s request. I had written a few pages about my goals and he read them. Ruth told him about her ideas. We showed him drawings of our first joint projects, a public library, and a condominium tower. He looked at them in silence. Taking a deep breath, he said: “They are extrusions, thought in plan only. The generator of architectural space is the section, and the section is not there. Organic architecture cannot be an extrusion nor an addition. The tower is both.” Then he continued: “I can read the inspiration from Wright but if you want to have and architectural education, you must study Wright for six months. Read him, analyze his work. Wright’s works are not extrusions or additions. They are spaces to be walked through, to be lived in.”

He asked some questions about our relationship to Israel. Why Israel? Although he never visited it, he spoke as if he knew everything about it. He then faced me and said: “You can write. Write an essay titled “California today and Israel in the year 2000.” To Ruth he said, “start drawing.” “How do you know I can draw?” Ruth said with a humorous tone. “It is written on you,” he answered without smiling. During the two hours we spent with him, he never smiled. By 4:00 AM we felt a deep sense of connection. He shook our hands once again, walked us to the floor’s lobby, and continued towards the drafting rooms’ area.

We started to go periodically to Pellegrin, to get reviews on our theses. He was a harsh critic. Ruth’s subject was an integrative center for the arts in Jerusalem. Mine was a university in Eilat, specialized in oceanology. Since he had decided to participate in an international competition for the design of the University of Barcelona’s new campus, a subject related to both our theses, he offered to both of us to come and work at his studio through the competition’s design process. We were thrilled.

He gave Ruth a small room adjacent to his office. Handing her a rough schematic of “dwelling units suspended in space” drawn with thick colored markers (the genesis of many future projects,) he asked her to put it to scale. Then he took me to his conference room and, pointing at a mountain of books piled over the table, he said: “All these are related to the design of campuses and university buildings. Read them, and when you are done, summarize for me what you learned and what is relevant for the competition.” When I did, a month later, he said: “you have not understood a thing.” In his eyes, the old concept of campus with separate buildings for each faculty had become obsolete.

His submission to the competition was revolutionary. The classrooms were suspended in space, with all the common facilities on the ground. He won the second prize. The jurors were not ready for such an innovative project.

In 1972, when we returned from our Wright pilgrimage and stopped in Rome on our way to Israel, we went to visit him. He proposed for us to stay “for a while” and join him. There were many projects going on: a dozen prefabricated schools, a development for the island of Goree in Senegal and the country’s presidential residence, studies for prefabricated hotels, and continuous research on habitats. Our “shortstop” lasted for sixteen months. A lifelong impacting experience. 

One day he convened some consultants and the office’s architects at 10:00 PM. We all sat in the conference room. He said: “During the last year I lost several design competitions for schools. The deadline for the competition on the design of two unified schools in Pisa is in ten days. I decided to submit an entry.”

 It seemed “mission impossible.” The project was large, and the program complex. He presented his concept: The roof as a ramp that would become an open space accessible to the neighborhood; the flexible classrooms on the top, and the servicing areas on the ground floor, so that all common services could be used by the neighborhood when the classrooms were closed.

 Discussions followed until 6:00 AM. When the meeting was over, he called Ruth and me, handed us a set of keys and a big bag containing an expensive Hasselblad camera with interchangeable lenses, and said: “Take my car, photograph the site in Pisa (220 miles away,) come back and leave the negatives for development at the photography laboratory. I’ll see you tonight.”

 Twelve hours later we were back in Rome, took a nap (after 32 sleepless hours,) and returned to the studio at 10:00 PM. During the following days, two shifts of architects and drafting technicians worked 24 hours a day to prepare drawings for the competition. A month later, we found a handwritten paper stuck at the entrance of the studio that read: “This studio of incompetent designers won the First Price at the Pisa Competition.”

We went back to Israel in April 1973 and started our own practice in September, one month before the Yom Kippur War. In December of 1974 we won a conceptual competition for a 5,000 dwelling-unit neighborhood influenced by Pellegrin’s ideas.

During the years that followed, we maintained periodic contacts by phone, and during our visits to Rome. Our last encounter was in August of 1998. He made arrangments to have lunch together for five consecutive days. We were in California when we got notice of his death, on September 15, 2001. His ashes rest in Domanins, San Giorgio in Richinvelda, Friuli, at his father’s grave.

It took me almost twenty years to decide to make this documentary, during the Convid-19 pandemic. Pellegrin’s message for the re-design of the world has become more tangible now than ever before. We have all to contemplate a radical transformation of life on Earth. The young generation of architects and those following them will benefit from studying Pellegrin’s work, not as a template to copy but as a way of thinking. 

Connecting Edges Wake-up Calls from DocuDay to Jane Fonda


Connecting Edges is a film about five unrelated events that I experienced during the second week of February 2020: DocuDay, the Oscars, a pre-screening of the TV series HuntersFrieze Los Angeles, and a presentation by Jane Fonda of the restored film F.T.A. from 1972.
I thought of connecting dots between subjects that they contained: war, the threat to democracy, inequality, art, and architecture-related contradictions. Putting them together attempts to sound a warning for the times we live.

The Events

  1. DocuDay is a yearly event organized by the International Documentary Association. The day preceding the Oscars, ten nominated documentaries – five features and five shorts – are shown from 8:30 AM to midnight. Q&As follows each screening.
  2.  Watching the Oscars, together with another 23 million people. I correctly predicted two winners: the Korean Parasite and Joaquin Phoenix acting in Joker.
  3. Pre-screening of a pilot for a television series, Hunters. The message: fighting anti-Semitism. 
  4. Frieze Los Angeles, an international contemporary art fair showing emerging and established artists alongside a program of talks, films, and artists’ projects. The three-day event happens at the backlot movieset of Paramount Pictures Studios. 
  5. A presentation by Jane Fonda of the film F.T.A. from 1972, restored by HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association,) at the American Cinematheque. 

Connecting Dots

War. The two Oscar-nominated documentaries, The Cave and For Sama, both showing the crude realities of Syria’s civil population being bombarded daily by President Bashar Hafez al-Assad forces and by Russians’ airplanes. It has been realized by extraordinarily courageous filmmakers (four crew members lost their lives during the filming of The Cave.) Listening live to surviving witnesses – the main characters of both films – was heartbreaking. And listening to Jane Fonda presenting the anti-war film F.T.A. almost half a century after is was done raises the question: will we ever learn?

The threat to democracy. The Brazilian documentary The Edge of Democracy shows a reality that could spread to other democratic countries, including the United States. The resemblance between far-right President Jair Bolsonaro (“Well, the pope may be Argentinian, but God is Brazilian”) and President Trump (“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”) is amazing. The dots also connect to Joaquin Phoenix’s speech at the Oscars and to some aspects of Joker’s message. Warnings about the dangers of resurrecting Fascism are also present in the TV-series Hunters.

Inequality. Director Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite is more than just Oscar’s big winner. It is a film that also sends a warning about inequality and what it may lead to. A new French Revolution?

Art. The film Honeyland is one of the most poetic documentaries I have seen. Some of the scenes seem to be painted by Caravaggio. It also brings us to see a hidden world in a remote land, where resilience is key to survival. Its authenticity is in plain contrast to much of the artworks that I have seen at Frieze.  

Architecture-related contradictions. Putting together images of Paramount’s backlot fake New York facades, of Brasilia’s out-of-human-scale formalisms, of Honeyland’s main character house and of the caravan in which her new neighbors reside open serious questions about the future of architecture as expressed by Frank Lloyd Wright: “The future of architecture is the future of humanity; if humanity has a future, so will architecture.”

As We Saw It – Part 3: Paris Green Urbanity Green Open Spaces as Urban Design

Vision and political will are a good combination. This is the case of Paris 2018, looking into the future with pragmatic imagination.

Anne Hidalgo, Paris’ first female mayor

Stephane Malka Architecture, Paris

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.

PROMENADE PLANTÉE

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.

From Six Million to Seventy Years Shoah, Israel, Anti-Semitic Leprosy and Architecture

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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
  • Universal Shelter
  • Universal Education
  • 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.