The turn of the year offers an opportunity to summarize what we have seen, done and thought, and to program a new year. I am sharing with you selected photos we shot, films we watched and produced, architecture we recorded or selected, relevant books I read, and some thought on “The State of the World,” and what we can do to create a better tomorrow.
Showing images is the best way of “making a long story short.”
Click on: Selected Photography 2017.
The selection is personal and eclectic. Some have value as a document of an event rather than for its quality as a photograph. The gallery includes panoramic photos, images of historical value (such as of architects Eric Lloyd Wright and Dion Neutra getting together in Malibu during Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday celebration, and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, who coined the slogan “Yes We Can – Si Se Puede,” borrowed by Obama ; film directors, producers and actors at Q & As’ we frequented; Richard King’s memorial and the spreading of his ashes; and some people we met. As a coda, I also added recent underwater photos sent by our daughter Gabby from the Maldives Islands, southwest of Sri Lanka and India; and a few shots of us.
“Stars” included veteran director Marcel Ophuls, Alexander Payne (“Downsizing,”) Kathryn Bigelow (“Detroit,”) director Joe Wright and actor Gary Oldman (“The Darkest Hours,”) Annette Bening (“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,”) some images of nature in Idyllwild, and even a bird visiting my desk.
This year I also published for the first time a selection of photographs shot during our “Frank Lloyd Wright pilgrimage” back in 1971, when we visited over one hundred of Wright’s buildings across twenty-five states.
SELECTED FILMS SEEN IN 2017
We had a busy year watching documentaries + Q & As’ (presented by the International Documentary Association – IDA ) We also saw many feature films at the American Cinematheque, at the WRAP, at the LA Jewish Film Festival, and at the Israel Film Festival. I share the list of some of them. They are all very good. The ones in bold letters are “must see.”
Alone in Berlin, Neruda, Hidden Figures, Gigi Gorgeous, Hell on Earth, Nobody Speaks, Dolores, Trophy, Icarus, Intent to Destroy, City of Ghosts, New York Times Op-Docs, 11/8/16, God Knows Where I Am, I Call Him Morgan, Step, One of Us, The Work, Oklahoma City, Finding Oscar, Atomic Homefront, The Rape of Recy Taylor, Under One Sun, An Inconvenient Sequel, Detroit, Columbus, I Am Evidence, Arthur Miller – Writer, Kedi, Chasing Coral, Ben Gurion, Epilogue, Cries from Syria, The Divine Order, The Final Year, Machines, Foxtrot, Call Me by Your Name, Downsizing, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, The Square, Human Flow, I Am not your Negro, Intent to Destroy, Strong Island, Phantom Thread, The Post.
Documentarians are real contemporary heroes. Many risk their lives in bringing to us images of genocidal wars, human brutality, racism, inequality, global warming, migration tragedies, political and corporate corruption, and also beauty in nature, indigenous cultures and extraordinary human beings. Most of this is produced following prolonged research, scouting, shooting, hard-editing work, meager budgets and scarce distribution.
They are a unique mix of artists-journalists working with passion, combining filmmaking excellence with the search for truth. Their work contributes to expanding our consciousness of the world we live in.
FILMS PRODUCED IN 2017
My own production this year was intense. With fifteen published titles, most of which have been published in Cultural Weekly, they exceeded two hours of film. This year I crossed the mark of sixty short documentaries. The ones published during 2017 are:
Tangoing with Paul & Amigos (12:13) A non-scripted experiment.
The Wright Way – An overture (17:21’) The Wright Way Hint (2:36) Both the “Overture” and the “Hint” were preliminary warm-ups towards The Wright Way feature documentary (work-in-progress.)
Tongva Park and the Angelbird (5:33′) This open public space is the best architecture that we have documented this year in Los Angeles.
Architecture + Cinema + Hollywood (29:52) Renzo Piano’s Academy Museum under construction provided an opportunity to link the museum’s content with the Hollywood context and with architecture.
Idyllwild Idyll (9:12) “Back to nature,” this documentary includes the little-known Pearlman Cabin designed by architect John Lautner in 1957.
Netflix Night (2:55’) A not-scripted documentation of my first visit to Netflix.
Normality “Lo-Normali” /(4:56’) It summarizes the documentaries I shot in Israel during 2016.
Radio Day Unabridged (26:11) and Radio Day (16:43) Both the full version (“Unabridged,” which includes questions on Israel) and the short version are the result of a radio interview hosted by Nancy Pearlman, to which I added visualization later on.
Architecture in a Nutshell (9:20’) An introduction to principles of architecture.
Human-Made Plastic Ocean (3:55) A Plastic Ocean premiere in Beverly Hills. See full cast.
Hanukkah’s First Candle (40:32) The lighting of Hanukkah’s fifth candle in a Greater Los Angeles home was not only the place for the gathering of people from many backgrounds and areas of the the city, but also for the screening of “Never Again is Now,” a new documentary telling a unique story of survival in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation, and sending a message about the danger of raising antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere, including the United States.
Mormon Temple Visit (1:51) A brief first visit to the secluded Mormon Temple in Los Angeles.
Food for Thought (2:58) Farm Urbana, as presented in “Food for Thought,” proposes practical solutions to help the rapidly growing urban population’s access to fresh food close to home.
The Wright Way, my first feature documentary, is on the way. It is to be a cry-out documentary about how some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas and principles can help to inspire and appeal the young generation to create a sustainable future of livable cities and human settlements. Not a biography, it looks at Wright with fresh eyes and will suggest alternative scenarios for the future of the human environment with a sense of urgency.
Although 2017 has produced many new projects, I found most of them dominated by “acrobatics,” infatuation with 3-D renderings, and little concern confronting an urgent agenda towards sustainable quality mass-production, to narrow the gap between population growth, decaying cities, climate change and poverty. The production of Organic Architecture was practically zero. I chose to produce a short documentary on one of the exceptions, the Tongva Park in Santa Monica (see “Tongva Park and the Angelbird” listed above.)
The exception is Snøhetta, an international architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and brand design office based in Oslo, Norway and New York City with studios in San Francisco, Innsbruck, Singapore and Stockholm. A major new building has opened in the south of France, framing a huge replica of one of the world’s most important examples of prehistoric cave art. Called Lascaux IV, the new visitor complex recreates the appearance and atmosphere of the caves in Montignac where the 20,000-year-old Lascaux paintings are located, but which have been closed to the public for over 50 years.
The examples that follow have been produced by committed architects and designers: Brooks + Scarpa, Snohetta, Whitaker Studio, Eric Rosen, Patkau Architects, Thomas Heatherwick, and Herzog & de Meuron.
World politics had been dominated by the ascent of Trump to power. He is a symptom that denotes a sick society suffering from branding brainwashing, widespread ignorance of the world’s reality and dogmatic beliefs, all of which have been brewed during the past half-century.
Solutions will demand both talking and action, such as:
Containment of Trump until 2020 through the rule of law. All other alternatives are worse.
Awareness of reality as-is. Documentarians have much to say and show on this.
Action-oriented assumption of responsibility, particularly by millennials.
A vision of a better world in healthcare, housing, justice, the urban environment, closing the gap of inequality and much more.
The UN goals for sustainable development are quite detailed about 17 areas of challenge.
Scheduled to give a six-week class on “How to Look at Architecture” at the Skirball Cultural Center and at OLLI/CSULB, the classes will include the screening of architecture documentaries I made, to convey visually a better understanding of the importance of good design in our life.
h4>How can Wright’s ideas and principles help a young generation to create better livable cities and human settlements? This is the central question that motivated me to start the production of a feature documentary, The Wright Way, as a transformational film that may benefit people of all cultures around the world. I know that when young people begin to study Frank Lloyd Wright, a better future will be invented based on the laws of nature, which includes human nature.
Wright’s iconic works should not be turned into objects of worship, nor should his writings become a dogma. After studying Wright in depth, his ideas should be challenged to generate new ideas. By learning from history and from Wright, a new generation of designers willing to transform the world can get inspired to create original organic architecture from the city to the private dwelling.
Having visited many of his works, including less famous Usonian houses, and having met with some of his best followers, The Wright Way Hint “hints” at the production of a feature documentary that may contribute to a needed global transformation.
TRANSFORMING THE WORLD
In 2016 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution of 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. They included:
1. End poverty; 2 . End hunger; 3. Ensure healthy lives; 4. Ensure inclusive quality education; 5. Achieve gender equality; 6. Ensure water and sanitation; 7. Ensure sustainable energy; 8. Promote sustainable decent work for all; 9. Build resilient infrastructure, sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries, 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change; 14. Keep oceans, seas and marine resources sustainable; 15. Protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems; 16. Promote peace and justice for all; 17. Strengthen the means of implementation.
It is an ambitious wish-list out of which architecture can play a vital role (Goal #11.) If adopting Wright’s organic architecture principles, the result could extend a sustainable life on Earth well beyond 2030.
WRIGHT IDEAS IN A NUTSHELL
Like Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein, who discovered laws of nature, Frank Lloyd Wright formulated principles which have affected design throughout the ages, from the Nuraghe of Sardinia (1900-730 BCE,) to the Katsura Imperial Villa (1624,) to Fallingwater (1939.) Although he was as prolific a writer as he was an architect, the reading and studying his ideas has remained confined to few scholars. His language is not easily accessible, his books are rarely put in the schools of architecture’s “must read” list. How can one overcome these obstacles while young people’s span of attention is getting shorter and shorter?
What are Wright’s essential ideas?
Nature is the architect’s principal school. The creative possibilities of form, color, pattern, texture, proportion, rhythm and growth are all well expressed in nature.
The building grows out of the landscape as naturally as any plant. Its relationship to the site is so unique that it would be out of place elsewhere.
Materials are to be used based on their intrinsic nature: strength, color, texture. One material is not to be disguised as another.
A building should convey a sense of shelter, refuge, or protection against the elements. Its inhabitants should never lack privacy or feel exposed and unprotected.
Space: “The reality of the building does not consist of the roof and the walls but the space within to be lived in”, said Wright, quoting Lao Tzu. The interior space determines the exterior form. Interior space is not packed in boxes called rooms; rather, space should flow freely from interior area to interior area. An area is never fully comprehended when viewed from a single point, but it must be slowly experienced as one moves through space.
The human body should be the only scale of a building and its furnishings.
Each building has its own grammar, its distinct vocabulary of pattern and form. All parts of the building, from the smallest detail to the overall form, speak the same language. The grammar may be completely different for two buildings of similar functions.
Ornament, when used, it is to be developed as an integral part of the material, not applied.
Simplicity in art is a synthetic positive quality in which we may see evidence of mind, breadth of scheme, wealth of detail and with the sense of completeness found in a tree or a flower.”
Furniture should be built-in as much as possible.
Sculpture and painting are to become elements of the total design.
MODERN, CONTEMPORARY AND ORGANIC ARCHITECTURE
What became labeled as “Modern Architecture” or “Modernism,” originated in Europe of the 1920s. Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe’s ideas, based on constructive social programs, provided with a machine –like with no decoration and easy to learn slogans, such as “less is more,” ribbon glass windows, all-white rectangle walls, and building on piloti. They influenced the design of thousands of architects around the world, some with positive results, many with catastrophic effects of massive housing and urban sprawl lacking identity.
Wright’s work, although classified by historians under the umbrella name of “Modernism,” refused to be categorized in any one architectural movement. His master-teacher, Louis Sullivan, who pioneered the use of steel for office building, had coined the concept of “form follows function”, later on modified be Wright as “form and function are one.” Simplicity for Wright was an end-result of chiseling out the unnecessary, not a point of departure.
For most young architects eager to start building their own projects, it was impossible to learn Wright’s principles and ethic code without studying in depth his writings, analyzing his drawings and visiting his buildings. Most chose the shortcut.
In the 1960s the term “modern” was substituted by the more inclusive term “contemporary.” It included hundreds of art and architecture languages and grammars. Some were authentic, some were progressive, like “High-Tech,“ some were regressive, like “Post-Modernism,” many were trendy, and some “stararchitects” indulged in building acrobatics having little to do with people’s needs. “Contemporary” implied a freedom of expression that many interpreted as “anything goes.”
The Italian Website ADAO (Friends of Organic Archirecture) (http://www.architetturaorganica.org/architetturaorganica/HOME.htm ) shows links to many organic architects, such as John Lautner, Carlo Scarpa, Bruce Goff, Bart Prince, Kendrick Bangs Kellog, Robert Harvey Oshatz, to name a few, their numbers remain a small fraction in comparison to all what is being built.
A ONE-HUNDRED YEAR AGENDA
At a philosophical level, the quests of Dario Salas Sommer’s Moral Physics, Yuval Noah Harari’s New Human Agenda, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture, interact as “a cosmic vision beyond ever-changing creeds or viewpoints that have until now divided human beings according to their geography, their culture or their ideas.” God / Nature / Truth / Unity / Existence / Being / Whole become interchangeable words implying the working and interacting together as a whole. The time is now. As the world’s population grows to a likely ten billion by mid-century, twelve billion by 2100 and possibly 30 billion by 2200, planetary management that crosses borderlines and governments become indispensable.
In addition to all said, mixed-use and multi-functionality are integral components of a 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 a same component: a stairway as structure, a column or beam as a container of ducts, a wall as container of storage, a roof as an edible garden.
Proximity between living space and working space are part of the sustainability agenda. Working space can be: a. within the dwelling unit; b. adjacent to the dwelling unit ( see 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,) hot air balloons. c. Private: bikes, skateboards, cars, trucks (owned or rented.)
Organic architecture needs to awaken from its long sleep. It requires reinterpretation without falling into nostalgia or an imitative expression of Nature. Although nature remains the most important source of inspiration, it is to be interpreted, not copied.
Why Wright now? What can a man born 150 years ago, tell to a young generation of architects likely to be responsible for the invention of the future? The following documentary is intended to emphasize the link between Wright ideas and the needs of tomorrow.
At the time of his death, the world’s population was three billion. Today it is 7.2 billion, likely to become ten billion by mid-century. We must confront sustainability, higher mix-use urban density, working space closer to dwellings, less dependence on the car, food production closer to home, flexible prefabrication and self-help.
During the last years of his life, when asked how he saw the future of architecture, Wright’s answer was: “the future of architecture is the future of the human race. If civilization has a future, so will architecture. Democracy was never intended to be a mass production affair. A free life is not necessarily a free-for-all. It is nothing someone gives you. A free life is something you work out for yourself. Freedom is not conferred, must be worked out from self.”
There is no substitute for reading Wright’s prolific writing while filtering “the Wright’s Style” from his principles. There is no alternative to walking through his spaces, to absorb them in their totality – fluidity, scale, light, views, and details. To take Wright’s words literally would be as misleading as all dogmas are. Wright’s principles of Organic Architecture can be understood and reinterpreted to match the needs of our time.
Here is my take:
1. Space is the fundamental component of the architecture. In a profound sense, it is mostly “interior space,” where streets and plazas are the interior spaces of a three-dimensional city.
2. Continuity, physical and spatial, is as essential for organic architecture as the relationship between skin, muscles, bones, organs, blood, and nerves.
3. Nature implies not just the nature of a site, or the nature of materials, or the nature of production; it also means the nature of humans, both in their ergonometric and psychological dimensions.
4. Human scale is the only scale of architecture, and it should not be confused with “size.” Human scale defines the relation to purpose. Bernini’s Saint Peter’s square is at human scale, in spite of its size. Fascist architecture, whether governmental or corporate, is not.
5. Context is not only the relationship between a building and its surroundings; it is also a connection between a building and the culture within which it surges.
Flashback: we were recently graduated architects, influenced by our master teachers and mentors, Prof. Bruno Zevi and architect Luigi Pellegrin when we decided to come to the United States to experience Wright by ourselves. Together with our friend Viviana Campajola, we embarked on a “Wright pilgrimage” that took us through ninety-six of his works along more than twenty states.
Following are some samples of photographs we shot during our trip (click on the link.) They are presented here for the first time. After more than 40 years we remain amazed at seeing how much of Wright’s architecture withstood the passage of time. His works look as fresh today as when we visited them.
Let’s face it: the world won’t stop at ten billion. The order of “pragmatic idealism” remains unchanged, independently of scale, place or time: DREAM first, then PROGRAM and quantify, then DESIGN, and then BUILD.
– For The Wright Way gallery of selected photos, click here.
– A great PBS visual biography of
THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW with Wright, 1957.
– Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings:
– One of the best books about Wright:
We live within architectural spaces throughout our lives, 24/7. From the moment we open our eyes until we close them, the spaces we live in affect our lives and contribute to shaping who we are. They impact us physically, psychologically and monetarily. They contribute to our happiness or unhappiness.
While we can choose to eat healthily or to eat junk food, choose to listen to music we like, go to a museum or read a book, the spaces we live in – dwelling, work, streets – feed our subconscious at all times. Why is it that few people, besides professionals, “can see” architecture? The following video is a nine-minute jumpstart to better understand architecture.
There may be as many definitions of “What is Architecture?” as they are architects. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones.” Are the millions of dwellings around the world “architecture?”
The problem is not a semantic one. The point of “Architecture in a Nutshell” and of www.architectureawareness.com is to help more people to see. In a world where at least half of its population lacks essentials such as decent housing, schools, hospitals, open public spaces and institutions, architecture awareness can be a matter of survival. Even if all the world’s architects would be working 60–hour weeks, even if we would be using the best available technology at 100% efficiency, there’s no way we will be able to catch up in fixing the existing urban chaos while absorbing a population growth of about 80 million people per year. By or around 2050 we will be ten billion. And then?
It is a key issue today not just to inform people, but to change mindsets, so that many may learn how to help themselves and to contribute to the building of better environments. By combining architecture awareness with filmmaking knowledge, it is possible to help not only the consumers of architecture but also its generators – architects, institutions, government, educators – who are instrumental in the world’s betterment.
A Brief Story of a Vision
“While doing research on solutions for sustainable mixed-use urban corridors, I came to foresee the advantage of incorporating a food-growth area integrated to the common spaces of the habitat at arm length of people’s home.”
In a brief story of her vision, Ruth brings us the case of urban farming as a growing movement to tackle problems that the world faces in the 21st century. Her story is personal. She tells us how her vision evolved from childhood experiences in the Romanian countryside, to her life in Rome, to the mentorships of Zevi and Pellegrin, to her fascination with Wright’s thinking and works, to her practice as an architect, to her discovery of Permaculture, to her new passion for urban farming and local edible gardens.
She posed to herself some critical questions:
- How can urban farming contribute to make the world a better place?
- What is the connection between architecture, planning and urban farming?
- What can each of us do to become self-reliable on the food we put on our table?
- How can edible gardens become a design component integrated to urban development?
- How can urban farming provide a stage for social interaction?
Some facts may help to put a global problem into perspective:
- The First Agriculture Revolution started about 10,000 years ago. As nomads settled, cities were born. Until about a century ago, they were surrounded by farms, which supplied its population with fresh food.
- As the world’s population grew from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7.5 billion today, the way we feed ourselves was transformed radically. Industrialized farming brought us ecological degradation, aggravated by the massive use of toxic chemicals. In addition, the path of food from the farm to the city became dependent on carbon-based fuel for transportation.
- As the temperatures will continue to raise, climate change is likely to expand the areas of drought hurricanes and floods, diminishing the existing cultivable areas.
- Today’s global growth is about 75 million a year. We are likely to reach ten billion around by 2050. Too far away? Not really! That is just “around the corner.” By 2050, children born today will be in their thirties.
- One acre of land is needed to feed one person for one year. By 2050 we will need additional not-yet-existing cultivable land of about 10 million km2, equal to the size of the United States.
How shall we continue to feed the planet? How shall we invent the future while we free cultivable land from the voracious appetite of urban sprawl? If we want to create a decent living environment, action is needed NOW. Here are some possibilities:
- Increase mixed-use urban density along urban corridors.
- Create cultivable areas within residential multi-family buildings, office buildings, schools, factories, hotels, etc.
- Design common edible gardens as places for social interaction.
- Design workspaces that provide edible gardens to its tenants.
- Plan neighborhoods that include collective cultivable areas.
- Build multi-story farms.
Vertical Farming – Rendering: Blake Kurasek
No single solution can fit all needs. The use of eco-friendly lightweight hydroponic systems that consume 90% less water than traditional farming can be incorporated into the built environment.
On the other hand, permaculture, first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, brings a holistic approach that combines agricultural and social design principles. By increasing our awareness of “thinking globally and acting locally,” each of us can contribute to make the world a better place to inhabit.