Posts

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

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

 

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.

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

 

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. 

'>Vernissage at the Hammer The Opening of the Hammer Museum's "Winter Exhibitions Opening Celebration" Illustrates the Public's Attendance and the Works of Four Artists

The Hammer Museum’s latest vernissage, “Winter Exhibitions Opening Celebration,” was unexpected at various levels. The biggest surprise was seeing how many people of all ages attended. It was a welcomed abnormality, a good sign that there is life after Trump, climate change, and long wish-lists of We The People. The first impacting artwork was at […]

Anish Kapoor: Fluidity, Reflections, Space A spatial stainless-steel installation in Hollywood

Anish Kapoor is known as one of the world’s great living artists.  Since he won the Premio Duemila Prize at the 44th Venice Biennale back in 1990, his sculptural installations had a significant presence in many cities, including London, at the Tate Modern, Paris, at the Grand Palais, and Jerusalem, at the Israel Museum.

 

Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai in 1954 to an Iraqi-Jewish daughter of a rabbi who immigrated to India from Baghdad with her family when she was an infant. His Punjabi Hindu father was a hydrographer for the Indian Navy.  This mixed and complex background had a powerful influence in his attraction to dualities: concave and convex, matter and void, light and darkness, negative and positive, earth and sky, mind and body.  The range of materials he uses and pushes to their limits is astonishing: stone, steel, concrete, fabrics. Many of his projects are at an architectural scale.  He collaborated with architects Frank Gehry in Chicago’s Millenial Park, Arata Isozaki in Japan, and engineer Cecil Balmond at the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London’s Olympic Park.

Although his reflective artworks in highly polished stainless steel are easily recognizable, it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole Kapoor into this style only.  His crude artworks in sculptural painting and amorphous concrete tell us of an artist in continuous research for new forms of expression.

The exhibit of Kapoor’s stainless-steel Double S-Curve at the Regen Projects gallery in Hollywood is good art news for Southern California.

Filmmaking Resume Segments of Documentaries Shot over the Course of Several Years

This documentary is titled Filmmaking Resume as a reference to short bits of architectural footage shot over the course of several years, and published in Architecture Awareness, Cultural Weekly and in this website.

 

Although I have also created short films on art, politics, and cultural events, my focus here is on architecture-as-space, the essential language of architecture. This short documentary illustrates fragments on the works of twenty recognized contemporary architects. As such, it expresses how good design can resonate on a much deeper level and lead to a higher quality of life.

 

In dealing with the human condition in the 2020 decade, some of my future films are likely to focus on topics such as housing, sustainability, and open urban spaces.

12/12 in L.A. & 3 Pianists A link between long-term thinking and what is doable today through architecture and the arts

This short documentary tries to connect dots between three disparate experiences that happened in a single day, 12/12/2019. The dots are a brainstorming session with old friends, a visit to a new working environment in Hollywood, the discovery of an art studio by the Los Angeles River dedicated to environmental art, and three piano performers.

It all started with a scheduled breakfast at Coffee Cup, a reunion of four former members of a group known as “Rethinking Greater Long Beach.” At the table were Professors Alex Norman (UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs,) Jack Humphrey (Demography) Bill Crampton (Education) and myself.

After ordering sunny side up eggs for breakfast – out of the ordinary for me – and updating ourselves – we had not seen each other several years – we started our brainstorming session. This time, instead of rethinking Long Beach, we posed several questions at a global level. China thinks and plans long term, why can’t the US? Is Singapore urbanity number one, as Jack thinks after his recent visit? How many people can planet Earth take sustainably? What revolution is needed in education to face the future’s challenges? What are the dangers generated by Trumpism beyond Trump? Summarizing the results of our discussion, we voted. “Optimistic vs. Pessimistic.” The result: 1 to 3, respectively.

In the afternoon, Ruth and I made an unplanned visit to Second Home Hollywood. I only knew that it had been designed by the same architects that designed the Serpentine Pavilion near LACMA, Jose Selgas, and Lucia Cano, from Madrid. They had recently completed this new kind of working environment in London and in Lisbon.

We found Second Home Hollywood’s design impressive. Built with low-cost materials, and making intensive use of planting, the place is full of light, spatially vibrant and stimulates socialization. It is out-of-the-box thinking. Its success with young people is evident.

In the evening, we went for a first visit to Metabolic Studio, by the Los Angeles River, close to downtown L.A. Once again, we were surprised to discover a stimulant space to produce arts and crafts within an existing industrial warehouse.

Inspired by these three events in a single day, I decided to produce a short documentary, included here. While watching the Kennedy Center Awards 2019, I discovered Yuja Wang. Immediately it triggered the idea of bringing into the film the piece that she performed, “You Come Here Often?” by Michael Tilson Thomas. While researching for another two piano pieces, I first discovered Marco Mezquida, from Barcelona. He has played in many international jazz festivals. Then I discovered Joanna MacGregor. She is a British concert pianist, conductor and composer, who is also Head of Piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music. I found her playing of a Piazzolla arrangement fantastic! I couldn’t resist connecting the dots through a film collage.