Pedestrian Modern: Shopping and American Architecture, 1925-1956
(Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013)
In the architectural history or preservation literature about various postwar building typologies, very little can be found about one of the most unique American building types: the mall or the shopping center. Earlier publications by Richard Longstreth or Jeff Hardwick laid some of the ground work and had focused on either particular areas or architects but no comprehensive study existed. Smiley’s recent book with its 357 pages, extensive index and annotations as well as the numerous black and white contemporary photographs admirably fills that void.
In the discussion of what is fundamentally a suburban or rather a non-urban building type, the author pays attention not only to the pure architectural and formal aspect of the buildings but more importantly to its social and cultural significance. The mall was also about entertainment and education. Names of artists like Knud Lonberg Holm or George Kepes are found in the text as evidence of those broader aspirations.
The book discusses issues like display and merchandising, which was very much in the mind of the stoe and mall designers, and was core to what Smiley calls “consumption”. He remains somewhat ambivalent about the building type as architecture as his reference to consumption would suggest. In his own words in the preface: “…I still find malls and the quasi-public spaces like them to be slightly worrisome, more than a little strained, and all the more exciting for it”.
The title of the book is somewhat surprising when viewed within the traditional perception of the mall as a consequence of a society that has gone ‘automobile’ and by referring to ‘pedestrian’ it places an emphasis on the internal layout and ambiance once arrived and parked. However, it is also what makes the book interesting in today’s urban planning discussions and the pedestrian malls in the inner cities as once premiered by Kalamazoo and showcased in many new developments.
The book provides a solid basis for further study in two related areas. First is the influence abroad as evidenced by such projects as the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam, referenced at the end of the book and other European shopping developments as part of the reconstruction of old towns and the building of new ones. Secondly is the question as how to deal with the preservation of a culturally very significant building type that is fundamentally transitory in nature both commercially and often physically. Both questions hopefully to be addressed by others in the future.
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Donald Leslie Johnson
On Frank Lloyd Wright’s Concrete Adobe: Irving Gill, Rudolph Schindler and the American Southwest
(Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2013). 230 pages, drawings and black and white photographs.
The possibilities of concrete as an inexpensive and versatile building material have fascinated architects for more than a century. While reinforced concrete technology did not begin to develop properly till the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the history of the concrete block begins much earlier and continues all throughout the 20th century. The opportunities for an inexpensive but solid and decorative building material inspired many architects. Whereas Jeffrey M. Chusid in his recent book Saving Wright: The Freeman House and the Preservation of Meaning, Materials, and Modernity (Norton 2011)describes the use and construction of the textile block in one of the houses, Johnson attempts to place this one example in a larger context in terms of the historical narrative and Wright’s claims. The first two sentences of the introduction illustrate the premise the book seeks to explore: “In the 1920s Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) claimed to have invented a new system of concrete block construction and aruged (sic) its superiority. Since then people attempted to uphold the claim adding it presaged a new architecture and would satisfy the demand for cheap housing”.
As the use of the work ‘Concrete Adobe’ in the title of the book suggests, Johnson, who teaches in Australia, does not only look at the four houses Wright designed in California using his textile block system but at the larger sources of inspiration be it American Indian or the work of other earlier architects like Irving Gill or Rudolf Schindler (both mentioned in the subtitle). In addition, not surprisingly given where the writer lives, considerable attention is paid to the work and importance to Wright of Marion and Walter Griffin, both of whom worked for Wright before moving to Australia. During their work on Canberra they remained in contact with the States, which is detailed in the book.
Johnson has written extensively about Wright and the work of the Griffens. Trained as an architect, he tests the historical narrative surrounding Wright against what actually takes place in the entire design and construction process and how it ultimately shapes the building. The result is interesting.
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Pat Kirkham, Pat Moore and Pirco Wolfframm
Eva Zeisel: Life, Design and Beauty
(San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2013).
Eva Zeisel is one of the most renowned ceramicists of the 20th century. Her oeuvre spans more than eight decades and sought to bring modernist design to industrialized production of mostly household ceramics. Her work is infused with a modernist sensibility but without the strict adherence or the rigor of the followers of the modern movement. While some of her pieces reflect the times in which they were created most of her work can be described as timeless and is characterized by an elegance of line and form that is more organic and truly classic.
Born in Budapest, then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, she started her career in ceramics in an apprenticeship in 1924 and opened her own studio the year after. She worked alternatively in Budapest, Vienna and Berlin, until 1932, when she moved to Russia like so many artists and architects at the time. She remained in Russia till 1937 with the final year of her stay in prison accused of participating in a plot to assassinate Stalin. After her arrival in the US in 1938 she established herself as a ceramicist and industrial designer and in 1939 as a teacher at Pratt Institute where she remained active for many years. Over the many decades of her career, her work was produced in a number of European countries as well as Russia and the United States.
The beautifully illustrated Eva Zeisel: Life, Design and Beauty is divided in three parts. After a historic narrative about Zeisel’s life and career, the two subsequent sections address her work specifically. The second section consists of chapters describing and illustrating the different collections, while the final part is a catalogue raisonné detailing the various pieces of every collection in outline figures and diagrams giving both dimensions and marks. This part is a valuable tool for any collector of Zeisel’s pottery. The authors of the book can be described as “Zeisel aficionados”. Pat Kirkham, the editor of the book, is a well-known authority on modern design and teaches at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City and Pat Moore and Pirco Wolfframm as collectors of founders and participants in the Eva Zeisel forum. The photography does justice to the beauty of Zeisel’s ceramics and is the work of Brent Brolin.
While the book is intended more as a catalogue raisonné of her work and if a criticism is to be made, it involves the lack of any discussion of her influence as a teacher. Like Rowena Reed, who was already at Pratt when Zeisel arrived, she was at the forefront of teaching industrial design at a time when women designers (or architects for that matter) were rare. Their influence on many generations of students cannot be underestimated.
The title of the book is doubly appropriate. It is about Eva Zeisel and her life but it is also about design and above all beauty. This well-illustrated book does proper justice to the work of a great artist and designer with its 256 pages and many illustrations in color and black and white photographs as well as numerous drawings and diagrams.
Christopher Bascom Rawlins, Fire Island Modernism: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction (New York, NY: Metropolis Books, 2013).
The Sixties were about many things and with the continuously growing in postwar architecture and design different regions, architects and typologies are being discovered and highlighted. Clusters of significant buildings, the work of architects that have been less celebrated in the popular press, are being (re)discovered. Caroline Zaleski’s recent book Long Island Modernism 1930-1980 (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2012) brought attention to an area outside New York City that had not been the subject of much study and survey and included work by nationally known architects and designers.
Rawlins’ Fire Island Modernism: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction takes this interest a step further and focuses specifically one architect, Horace Gifford, whose prolific residential oeuvre with some 70 or so projects is largely concentrated in one location: Fire Island. The book is not only about architecture and the elegant and remarkable beach houses that Gifford designed with its open views and natural materials but it is also about the sixties and architecture as a reflection of a cultural period. In the words of the publisher’s press release: “Gifford’s serene 1960s pavilions provided refuge from a hostile world, while his exuberant post-Stonewall, pre-Aids masterpieces orchestrated bacchanals of liberation. Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift once spurned Hollywood limos for the rustic charm of Fire Island’s boardwalks.” Buy it here on Amazon.
"Le Corbuser: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes”, an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, is described as the first major exhibit of the work of Le Corbusier in the US. The exhibit, which will be at the museum through September 23rd of this year, is accompanied by a publication of the same title by Jean Louis Cohen with an introduction by Barry Bergdoll, the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the museum. The exhibit contains numerous original drawings and contemporary documents as well as the large scale color photos, which are the work of Richard Pare. The publication with the eponymous title has a large number of essays by Le Corbusier scholars from across the globe and includes with separate entries the archival material and color photographs in the exhibit.In their respective opening essays Cohen and Bergdoll explain the title of both the book and the exhibit. In Bergdoll’s words: as a reflection of a “new generation of research, analysis, and interpretation of Le Corbusier’s practice using the metaphor and, in part, the form of an atlas, as we have done here, is not, however, to return to the notion of an international practice..” but rather as an acknowledgement of a “profound relationship between practice and place in Le Corbusier’s life and work”. Cohen aside from the discussion of the meaning of the landscape in this context returns to the metaphor of the atlas in three ways: in the literal sense as a reflection of Corbusier’s extensive travel and his projects in many parts of the world – the publication is organized geographically -, as a metaphor for his process of observation, analysis, engagement and design and finally by evoking Atlas, the giant carrying the globe. He writes: “..it is hardly excessive to evoke the mythological figure of Atlas to describe the activities of a man who shouldered epic endeavors to transform the world.” The accompanying essays constitute the majority of the text includes the work of a great many Le Corbusier scholars in different parts of the world and, in that sense adding to not only the concept of the atlas but also highlighting the level of global interest and scholarship. In many ways the publication in both its title and its content presents through its very existence an argument for the significance and cohesion that should underpin the multi-national World Heritage nomination that has been proposed previously on several occasions. While piquing curiosity, the remarkable scholarly content and the unique assembly of original materials displayed leave for many preservationists something unaddressed. What is the status of the buildings, their condition and how have they been preserved or restored? Some of the buildings in the exhibit and book have been or are the subject of extensive on-going (interpretative) restorations and improvements. With this much original documentary material at hand it would have been interesting to see how that documentation guided (or not) that process. Maybe that is the next exhibition and publication.
Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, Wim de Wit and Christopher James Alexander, editors
(Los Angeles, CA: The Getty Research Institute, 2013)
Carl Abbott, In/Formed by the Land: The Architecture of Carl Abbott (n.pl.: Oro Editions, 2013).
The influence of Paul Rudolph on the architecture in Southern Florida is not limited to his buildings in Sarasota but extends itself in the work of others such as Carl Abbott. A graduate of Yale’s School of Architecture when Rudolph was dean, Abbott opens his practice in Sarasota in 1966 and is generally considered the youngest member of the so-called Sarasota School of Architecture, of which Rudolph and Twitchell were prominent members. Abbott’s work is beautifully illustrated in his recent book, In/Formed by the Land: The Architecture of Carl Abbott, which includes written contributions from Michael Sorkin, Peter Bohlin and Robert McCarter as well as Richard Rogers and Norman Foster. Rogers and Foster were classmates at Yale and in addition to evocative images of Abbott’s complete work the book also includes various photos of those students days. If the book proves anything it is that modern and modernist architecture can be very beautiful.
Franz Graf and Francesca Albani, editors, Il vetro nell’architettura del XX secolo: conservazione e restauro: Glass in the 20th Century Architecture: Preservation and Restoration (Mendrisio, Switzerland: Mendrisio Academy Press, 2011).
In 2008 the Swiss University Conference an ambitious research project titled Critical Encyclopedia for Restoration and Reuse of 20th Century Architecture. While its primary goal was to stimulate cooperation between different institutions of higher learning, the practical results were to be a series of publications addressing four separate issues, one of which was the Material History of Construction. This portion of the research is headed by Franz Graf, one of the editors of this volume in theCritical Encyclopedia. Others are forthcoming dealing with such aspects as philosophy, theory and methodology.
Glass – maybe only with the exception of concrete – is one of the most important materials in the history of modern architecture and in its practice today. Technological changes and different cultural expectations have also made this one of the most challenging materials to deal with in the preservation and conservation of buildings in modern history. This volume presents some discussions on the aesthetic and cultural importance glass but the majority of the text is dedicated to a series of case study discussion of well know modernist buildings ranging from the Maison de Verre – not surprisingly – by Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet to the curtain wall of the Pirelli Tower by Gio Ponti. The collection is impressive, the content stimulating but the case studies only concern European examples and, in a few instances, have been presented and published as papers at such conferences as those by Docomomo International. Nevertheless the collection is of great importance to anyone studying the use and restoration of glass facades of the 20th Century.
Joan Ockman, ed. with Rebecca Williamson research editor
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012
This large volume with contributions of individual authors was published on the occasion of the Centennial Anniversary of the ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) in the US. The emergence of current architectural teaching out of the Beaux Arts tradition is in many ways responsible for shaping our current attitudes towards the relationship between architecture and preservation. The preservation of modern architecture in turn is directly tied in to the teaching of modern architecture but also faces dilemmas rooted in the theories and ideas of the 19th Century Arts and Crafts movement. Understanding these often conflicting ideas are the basis for formulating a comprehensive and contemporary theory. Ockman’s book is not only an impressive piece in content and volume but also allows us to place the teaching of preservation in the larger context of architectural education of the last hundred years.