My recent posts at World-Architects


Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Did YOU Do on My Summer Break?

This blog is going on a mini summer vacation for a couple weeks, so I'm highlighting a handful of architectural events taking place in New York City in that time – with one a nice scenic drive up north. If you don't see anything of interest, head over to New York Architecture Diary for more comprehensive listings.

From June 22
Kaneji Domoto at Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonia
Center for Architecture, Manhattan
Unlike such exhibitions as Frank Lloyd Wright at 150, which celebrate Wright's output on his sesquicentennial, this exhibition curated by Lynnette Widder focuses on the contribution of one of his apprentices, Kaneji Domoto, who designed a handful of the 47 houses at Usonia in Westchester County.

June 27
Sarah Williams Goldhagen Book Talk: Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives
Skyscraper Museum, Manhattan

I've been slowly making my way through this enjoyable and thought-provoking book about how new discoveries in cognitive psychology and neuroscience could positively shape the built environment – if architects and clients were willing to take them seriously. I'll have a review of Welcome to Your World soon after this blog's summer break.

From June 29
Young Architects Program 2017: Lumen by Jenny Sabin Studio
MoMA PS1, Long Island City

The annual installation covering the PS1 courtyard with shade and some water returns with a digitally knitted canopy and misting stalactites. The installation will serve as the setting for the museum's Warm Up series, when the glowing fabric should add a layer of interest to those dance parties.

July 11
Van Alen Book Club: The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
Van Alen Institute, Manhattan
What better way to beat the heat than head indoors and talk about climate change through the lens of the ever-prescient J.G. Ballard. Tickets are required, though the event is free, and dinner and drinks will be provided.

July 15
Garden Dialogue 2017: Vermont
South Londonderry, Vermont

In this TCLF program, landscape architect Robin Key (RKLA) and stone artist Dan Snow host a "garden dialogue" on Key's Vermont property. Together with Snow over the course of some decades, Key "has seamlessly woven a contemporary aesthetic into the historic fabric of [Winhall] Hollow." For those in search of learning units, 2.0 LA CES™ Professional development hours will be available to attendees.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Allan Wexler: Absurd Thinking

Allan Wexler: Absurd Thinking-Between Art and Design edited by Ashley Simone "with the close collaboration of Ellen Wexler"
Lars Miller Publishers, 2017
Hardcover, 296 pages

I first became acquainted with the architectural art of Allan Wexler in 2009 – well, maybe it was earlier, but that was the first time I wrote about it on this blog. It seems that since then I come across his work, unawares, in a number of places I go. There's the Overlook in the LIRR Terminal in Brooklyn, which became part of my G Train walking tour upon discovering it while scouting the route. There are the easy-to-miss but hard-to-forget Two Too Large Tables in Hudson River Park at 29th Street. And how could I forget my first encounter with the Parsons Kitchen, which was pulled out for drinks following a crit some years ago. These are just a few of the many Wexler artworks found in the new monograph published by Lars Müller Publishers.

Wexler, who collaborates with his wife, Ellen, describes himself as "an architect in an artist's body." I'd buy that, given the qualities of the artworks I've been subjected to, such as the ones mentioned above and those on display at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in 2014. What he/they produce can certainly be called art, though there is a clear predilection of architectural subjects: houses, stairs, fences, landscapes, and furniture, to name a few. Even when a chair, one of the most functional objects around, is a subject, it is maligned beyond function or sculpted in an unexpected manner, thereby pushing it into the realm of art. Of course, works like the Crate House (above) or the Parsons Kitchen confuse matters; they are compact yet highly functional pieces of equipment whose artistic merits are layered over their curious means of storage and use.

This isn't to say the Wexlers produce only architectural art. The Hat for Bottled Rainwater (above) is but one of many artworks that show their diversity of interests. Appearing to unite everything is the book's title, "absurd thinking." The hat is certainly absurd, though in many cases the absurdity is found in the process, not the end result. To put it another way, their absurd thinking is a way of considering the conditions for making art, conditions that for them are always contingent on place or space. This means that even the hat is arguably an architectural artwork, since it takes the human body as its site. Likewise, the Parsons Kitchen was made to fit into an awkward unused space next to an elevator, not just hold wine glasses and potato chips.

Covering 45 years of Allan's career – from his days as an architecture student at RISD and Pratt to the present – Absurd Thinking presents many, many projects in four thematic chapters: abstraction, landscape, private space, and public places. I would have assumed that works of interest to architects would be found in the last two chapters, but given Wexler's approach to each commission there is something architecturally appealing throughout. Take the tree branch pictured on the book's cover. Titled Reframing Nature, it started as a curved tree branch that he photographed, cut up, and then reconfigured into a straight branch; he then sawed and straightened the real thing with wood wedges. These wedges, or shims, are an integral part of any building project, and Wexler uses them in many of his pieces, all in surprising ways. The result may not look like architecture, but the thinking behind it and the means of its straightening get pretty close to the core of architecture: the fashioning of nature's raw materials into something organized for human use and pleasure.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Listening to Wright

With all of the Frank Lloyd Wright 150th anniversary brouhaha, there's plenty of Wright to read and to look at. But what about listening? To fill that apparent void, head over to 99% Invisible and check out a couple episodes from February about one aspect of Wright's career: Usonia.

Episode 256: Usonia 1 focuses on the first Usonian house: the Jacobs House built in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1937. The show intersperses audio clips from Wright and Jacobs with a visit to the house by Avery Trufelman.

Appropriately, Episode 247: Usonia the Beautiful picks up on the Usonian theme and heads to the Usonia community in Pleasantville, a 50-minute train ride north of New York City. Trufelman speaks with Rolald Reisley, who still lives in the house Wright designed for him in the early 1950s, about his experience with Wright and how the community has changed over time. The episode also ventures outside of Pleasantville to see what happened with Wright's dream of mass-produced Usonian homes.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Diane Lewis Memorial

A memorial for architect and educator Diane Lewis, who died on May 2 at the age of 65, will be held on Monday, June 26, in the Guggenheim Museum's Lewis Theater. A reception will follow at the Burden Mansion.

An RSVP is necessary, so email to confirm attendance and receive further details.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Frank Lloyd Wright at 150

Head on over to World-Architects to read my review of MoMA's Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive.

Frank Lloyd Wright at 150

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Folding Fallingwater

Yesterday an advance copy of Mark Hagan-Guirey's Frank Lloyd Wright Paper Models: 14 Kirigami Buildings to Cut and Fold arrived in the mail. It was a pleasant surprise.

So today I couldn't help but try one of the projects, even though it's been a while since I've wielded an X-acto knife. The directions recommend an X-Acto knife with plenty of blades, a self-healing cutting mat, a metal ruler, skewers, and a bone folder. I have most of those from my days of architecture school and practice so was ready to go.

I started with the Jacobs House, since it has the fewest cuts and folds and no overly tricky cuts; even then, I goofed and folded the "mountains" as "valleys" and vice-versa. After I reversed those folds and got kind of comfortable with the technique I moved on to Fallingwater.

Like Jacobs, it made sense to start with the straight cuts (solid lines), then tackle the freehand jagged cuts, and finally "half-cut" the mountain and valley folds (red and black dashed lines, respectively). The last are particularly tricky, given the weight of the paper (135 lb) and the ease of inadvertently cutting straight through the sheet. After the cuts, half-cuts and taped repairs to the half-cuts I had a ready-to-fold Fallingwater:

That's when the fun – and frustration – began. The instructions look straightforward enough:

And my in-progress folded model looked promising:

But it was very hard to get everything to lock neatly into place. This is best I could do before nearly pulling some hairs out of my head and crumpling up the sheet:

Although Hagan-Guirey doesn't say so, one way to know if the model is perfect is being able to close it completely flat. I was able to do that with the Jacobs House but not with Fallingwater, which is much more complex with its landscape and terraced cantilevers. Nevertheless, after tackling an easy and hard kirigami, I'll probably move on to one that falls somewhere in between – just not today.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: ITALOMODERN 1 & 2

ITALOMODERN 1: Architecture in Northern Italy 1946–1976 by Martin and Werner Feiersigner
Park Books, 2016
Paperback, 352 pages

ITALOMODERN 2: Architecture in Northern Italy 1946–1976 by Martin and Werner Feiersigner
Park Books, 2016
Paperback, 552 pages

Brothers Martin and Werner Feiersinger shared a passion and followed through on it, producing two amazing books about thirty years of postwar architecture in Northern Italy. The two researched, selected, visited, photographed, drew, and wrote about hundreds of buildings, creating an unparalleled survey with many surprises. For the most part, Martin, an architect practicing in Vienna, was responsible for the selection, texts and plans, and Werner, a sculptor and photographer also in Vienna, took the photos. Their contributions are accompanied by an essay by fellow Austrian Otto Kapfinger and biographical material on the architects of the buildings; all of it is handsomely packaged by Park Books into two bound volumes with simple linen covers that recall the era of concern.

I'm guessing the whole enterprise could have been squeezed into one book fairly easily, though most likely with larger pages. This would have turned the two portable volumes into coffee table books rather than travel guides. That, and the parallel between two brothers and two volumes makes the final result fitting. Regardless, it's not clear as to why certain projects are in Volume 1 and others (more of them) are in Volume 2; perhaps it's explained somewhere in the text and I missed it, or it's simply that there were too many good buildings to fit into one book so a second one was added. Whatever the case, I can't imagine having just the first or the second volume, such is their appeal.

Volume 1 starts with a "logbook" by Arno Ritter, who is credited as developing the concept with the Feiersinger brothers and Willi Schmid. Following that is a chronological presentation of the buildings mapped on the yellow spread above. Interspersed among the projects is the essay by Otto Kapfinger, an architect and author who singles out some of the projects for the exploration of thirteen "notes" that are paralleled by texts by Rossi, Tafuri, and others. The buildings he highlights from Volume 1 are exceptional, but the more I glance at the projects I wonder if that would be the case with just about any selection. Regardless, as in other books, real estate is one way to determine which buildings at least the authors find most interesting; some buildings receive only one spread, meaning the ones given multiple spreads must have really captivated the Feiersingers during their research and travels.

Volume 2 is a chronological presentation of even more projects (the blue map), but instead of an essay inserted between them intermittently, there are bios of the architects accompanied by bibliographies, selected works, and a list of their works in the books keyed to the page numbers. These bios and indexing are a strong argument for getting both books, in addition to, as already mentioned, the quality of architecture found throughout. What is most amazing for somebody like me, who thinks they know a little something about European architecture, is how many surprises are inside. The work of one architect is singled out in Kapfinger's essay as "a veritable 'discovery'" by the brothers: "Architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni? Never heard of him?" He's featured no less than fifteen times in the two volumes, alongside familiar names (Giancarlo De Carlo, Vittorio Gregotti, Giovanni Michelucci, Giò Ponti, and Aldo Rossi, to name just a few) and other "discoveries" that should entice people to drive around Northern Italy with these two books in hand.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Today's archidose #968

Here are some photos of The Sequential Roof (2016) at the Arch_Tec_Lab of the Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA) in Zurich by Gramazio Kohler Research. (Photographs: Trevor Patt)


To contribute your Flickr images for consideration, just:
:: Join and add photos to the archidose pool
To contribute your Instagram images for consideration, just:
:: Tag your photos #archidose

Friday, June 09, 2017

A Peek at 'Frank Lloyd Wright at 150'

Next week I'll be putting together a review of MoMA's Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, but in the meantime here is a slideshow of my photos of the exhibition from a press preview yesterday, the 150th anniversary of Wright's birth.

Frank Lloyd Wright at 150

Thursday, June 08, 2017

So You Want to Learn About: Frank Lloyd Wright

The "So You Want to Learn About" series highlights books focused on a particular theme: think "socially responsible architecture" and "phenomenology," rather than broad themes like "housing" or "theory." Therefore the series aims to be a resource for finding decent reading materials on certain topics, born of a desire to further define noticeable areas of interest in the books I review. And while I haven't reviewed every title, I am familiar with each one; these are not blind recommendations.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's birth, and with that sesquicentennial are lots of celebrations. These include exhibitions, such as Unpacking the Archive at the Museum of Modern Art, and numerous new and reissued publications. The latter provoked me to put together this small list of books on Wright – small in that it's a tiny fraction of the hundreds of books devoted to the architect, but these are the ones I'm most familiar with. Those interested in learning (more) about the great architect should find something useful in the pages of these books.


1: Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive edited by Barry Bergdoll, Jennifer Gray | Museum of Modern Art | 2017 | Amazon
Five years ago the Museum of Modern Art and Columbia University acquired the massive Frank Lloyd Wright archive – more than two million objects! This book is the catalog to the first exhibition to dig into the archive. Although the book, "a collection of scholarly explorations," only scratches the surface of the archive, it does so with great depth and promise for future "unpackings."

2: Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward by Richard Cleary | Skira Rizzoli | 2009 | Amazon | Review
Six years before MoMA, the Guggenheim mounted an equally ambitious exhibition upon the 50th anniversary of its Wright-designed home – and by virtue of that year of 1959, the 50th anniversary of Wright's death. The catalog is packed with images on many Wright projects, but unfortunately it doesn't include shots of the beautiful models made for the exhibition; to see those check out my exhibition review.

Primary Texts:

3: Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography by Frank Lloyd Wright | Barnes & Noble Books | 1998 | Amazon
It goes without saying that learning the most about an architect requires reading their own words. With Wright, that starts with his autobiography, first published in 1932 and then​ enlarged in 1943. At nearly 600 pages and made up of five "books" (Family, Fellowship, Work, Freedom, Form), the latter is a long read, and not one I've devoted enough time (or patience, given Wright's prose) to tackle. Nevertheless, Wright's autobiography is a must for anybody seriously interested in the man behind the buildings.

4: An Organic Architecture: The Architecture of Democracy by Frank Lloyd Wright | Lund Humphries | 2017 | Amazon | Review
A transcript of four talks Wright gave in London in 1939, this slim book (slim relative to his autobiography, at least) finds the architect taking a characteristically superior position to criticize retro and modern architecture, expound on his idea of "organic" architecture, and argue for urbanism to follow his Broadacre City, which he was working on at the time. Stemming from its origin, the text is more conversational than the books and essays he penned directly.

5: Frank Lloyd Wright: Essential Texts edited by Robert Twombly | W. W. Norton | 2009 | Amazon | Review
When I reviewed this collection of "essential" texts in 2009, I was critical of Wright's writing style, calling it "anachronistic" and "requiring a patience from the reader." Nevertheless I described the collection edited by Robert Twombly as "worth it, particularly for students and historians." Kudos to Twombly, who also wrote a biography of Wright, for wading through the architect's writings and supplying helpful introductions in this chronological presentation.


6: This Is Frank Lloyd Wright by Ian Volner | Laurence King Publishing | 2016 | Amazon | Brief
I was pleasantly surprised by this book, part of Laurence King's "This Is" series of artist biographies. Writer Ian Volner is paired with illustrator Michael Kirkham in a highly accessible narrative that hits about every highlight – and there were plenty – in Wright's long and dramatic life. The book is a great introduction to the architect's life, particularly for those not yet willing to dive into biographies by Robert Twombly, Brendan Gill, Ada Louise Huxtable, or Meryle Seacrest.

7: Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan Gill | Da Capo Press | 1998 | Amazon | Review
Many biographies of Frank Lloyd Wright exist (those by Twombly, Huxtable and Seacrest are ones I know about but am not familiar with first-hand), but this famous bio by New Yorker writer Brendan Gill was the first I read. The title is an analogy that Gill discovered and used to describe Wright over the course of his 91 years. It's been a dozen years since I read and reviewed the book, but I still remember not buying into the analogy: "The book reads much like contemporary tabloid fare" and "does not give us the depth that Wright's life deserves."

8: The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright & The Taliesin Fellowship by Robert Friedland, Harold Zellman | Harper Perennial | 2007 | Amazon | Review
This biography narrows in on one aspect of Wright's life: the Fellowship he ran at Taliesin from 1932 onwards and at Taliesin West during the winters starting in 1937. Although the authors focus on the fellowship and Wright's relationship with his third wife, Olgivanna, the book tackles many other aspects of the architect's life, in many cases trying to undo myths that have been carried down over the years and humanize a larger-than-life figure.


9: The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog by William Allin Storrer | University of Chicago Press | 2017 (Fourth Edition) | Amazon | Review
Books collecting the buildings of Wright are numerous and Storrer's compact catalog of 433 built works (in the third edition from 2002) is easily my favorite. He presents them chronologically – from Unity Chapel (1886) to the Lykes Residence (1966) – with descriptive text, photos, addresses, and maps for visiting the extant buildings. The fourth edition is being released to coincide with Wright's sesquicentennial and includes 37 new sites recently identified as the work of Wright.

10: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Masterworks edited by David Larkin, Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer | Rizzoli | 1993 | Amazon
This handsome coffee table book consists of nearly forty Wright buildings, most of them​ still standing at the time of publication. A few, such as the Larkin Building and Midway Gardens, no longer exist, but the remaining buildings were documented with brand new photos. The text by Wright scholar Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer is fairly lengthy (especially when compared to Storrer), so there is much to learn about the architect's many "masterworks" all in one place.

11: Wright Sites: A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright Public Places edited by Joel Hoglund | Princeton Architectural Press | 2017 (Fourth Edition) | Amazon | Brief
Like Storrer's book above, this guide to publicly accessible Wright building is receiving its fourth edition timed to the architect's sesquicentennial. With 71 buildings, it falls somewhere between the Storrer and Pfeiffer books in terms of quantity, but it's the smallest and therefore most portable of the three – fitting for a guidebook. It makes me want to rent a car and hit the road this summer to tackle one of the guide's six suggested itineraries.


12: Fallingwater edited by Lynda Waggoner | Rizzoli | 2011 | Amazon | Review
When I reviewed this book by the Director of Fallingwater in 2011, I mentioned that around a couple dozen books and DVDs on the famous house existed. Such is the impact and appeal of the house in Western Pennsylvania. (Another gauge is being able to recall first learning about Fallingwater; I was in architecture class in high school, watching a documentary on the house.) Most of this coffee table book is made up of a tour by Waggoner accompanied by Christopher Little's lush photos, though input from the restoration's structural engineer is also rewarding.

13: Fallingwater by Robert McCarter | Phaidon | 2002 | Amazon | Review
Phaidon's large-format "Architecture in Detail" series presented the most important modern buildings, so Fallingwater's inclusion was a must. (The book was also collected with Aalto's Villa Mairea and the Eames House in one of the must-have "Architecture 3s," which my review links to.) McCarter's text draws heavily on Donald Hoffman's "definitive historical study of this house" (below), but the book benefits from a solid selection of photographs by Peter Cook as well as plans, elevations, and sections, though I wish some construction details were included as well.

14: Fallingwater: A Frank Lloyd Wright Country House by Edgar Kaufmann Jr. | Abbeville Press | 1986 | Amazon
If anybody were most qualified to write about Fallingwater, it would be Edgar Kaufmann Jr., son of the client, apprentice to Wright, part-time occupant of the house for 27 years, and heir who donated it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Logically then, this large-format book has Kaufmann's recollections, as well as photos by Christopher Little (apparently the photographer of choice for the building), some beautiful drawings in color, and much more. It is a fitting balance of Kaufmann the client's son and Kaufmann the architectural historian.

15: Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater: The House and Its History by Donald Hoffman | Dover | 1978 | Amazon
Fifteen years after Edgar Kaufmann Jr. announced his intent to donate the house to a conservancy and therefore make it accessible to the public, Dover released what is considered the house's definitive account. If I had to choose only one book to keep on Fallingwater, it would be this one (or Kaufmann's, if images were a deciding factor). The details of Hoffman's deeply researched book have yet to be matched, though I have not read Franklin Toker's Fallingwater Rising from 2003, which is also considered definitive.


16: Usonia, New York: Building a Community with Frank Lloyd Wright by Roland Reisley with John Timpane | Princeton Architectural Press | 2001 | Amazon
I've been fortunate enough to have stayed in one of Wright's houses in Usonia, a development planned by Wright after WWII for a site in Pleasantville, New York. This book is authored by the utopian community's "de facto historian," Roland Reisley, who was also one of Wright's clients (Wright designed three of the 47 houses, with the rest by Kaneji Domoto, David Henken, Aaron Resnick, and other architects, most of them Wright apprentices). It's a thorough case study of an often overlooked project that was Wright's strongest chance of realizing something close to his Broadacre City ideal.

17: The Women: A Novel by T. C. Boyle | Penguin Books | 2009 | Amazon
Wright may have been one of the greatest architects ever, but he is also known for a life full of drama, the type that would get him on the front pages of newspapers even today. The women in his life were major parts of the drama, but with so much attention given the man himself it took a while for the stories of his wives and lovers to be the focus. T. C. Boyle, who lives in Wright's first California house (the 1909 Stewart Residence), wrote "a fictional re-creation of certain events in the lives" of his women. The stories of Miriam, Mamah, Olgivanna, and Kitty are well known to readers of any Wright bio, but Boyle tells their stories so beautifully it's hard not to get pulled along for the whole ride.

18: Frank's Home by Richard Nelson | Theatre Communications Group | 2011 | Amazon
This obscure inclusion – the script for a play about Wright – is something I found at a thrift store but would have passed up if not for having seen Richard Nelson's Frank's Home beforehand, back in 2006. In it, Wright was played by Peter Weller (yes, RoboCop) and much of the story, from what I recall, took place at a picnic and focuses on the architect's relationships with his wife, children, and Louis Sullivan. Though not as rewarding a fiction as Boyle's, Frank's Home reveals that Wright's life was worthy of a play, one of the few architects to boast as much.