Move to Sarasota and Buy a Modern

I blogged like crazy about 18 months ago when Paul Rudolph's Micheels House in Westport, Connecticut, was razed by someone who preferred a McMansion. A reader in New Canaan who remembered that, and who lives in an interesting John Black Lee House, told me the other day that there's another Rudolph house on the market now, in Sarasota. The ad says you can be a hero by saving this masterpiece but it's not clear what the threat it. In any case, Florida is on my short list of places I'd probably never consider living, but I'd reconsider if I could live in this.

If you've been following even sporadically the efforts to build a modern, affordable prototype house in Philadelphia -- the 100K House -- you'll be interested in the first interior renderings, here.

Wondering what to do with an old barn? If it happens to be on Alex Haley's former farm in Tennessee, you let Maya Lin turn it into a library named after Langston Hughes, and you get something beautiful, here. -- ta

In the White City – Tel Aviv's new Bauhaus Museum

New to me is Tel Aviv’s “White City,” which comprises a collection of 4,000 International Style buildings built between 1931-1956 designed by immigrant architects trained in Europe who adapted the Modern style to suit Tel Aviv’s culture and climate. In 2003 it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Wow - 4,000 buildings? That IS a city!)

A new museum has opened and it's premiere exhibition, opening April 25, includes original furniture, graphics, lamps, and glass and ceramic ware, by Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Christian Bell, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, and others.

The museum is in an International Style building owned by the philanthropist Ronald Lauder, whose beginnings were "as a single-story residence in the 1920s; it was enlarged, a decade later, by architect Shlomo Gepstein. By the 1990s, it was dilapidated and largely abandoned, except for the ground floor, which housed a municipal dental clinic."

Read more at Architectural Record's site. – GF

Stone's Mandell House

More than once over the past few months, while I was writing about Edward Durell Stone's Celanese House, in New Canaan, I clicked through folder after folder in search of a couple of pictures I had taken of Stone's Mandel House, which is up the road from where I work in Bedford Hills. I couldn't find it and assumed it had been deleted during a computer-space crisis. But no -- I had hidden it away on a flash drive. I found it today:

mandell house bedford hills 2

I was aware of the house's location and knew it had been on the market for some time, so I drove up there one day, with camera. I clicked off a couple of shots and then drove the rest of the way up the driveway to the house, at which point I noticed that it was not unoccupied. So I left. So, as an editor once admonished me, when I publish the picture, I'm publishing the evidence of my trespass.

The house is truly of the International Style and was built in 1933. We used to think that our house, built in 1939, was the first modern in Westchester. We've realized many times over that we were wrong, of course. That honor might belong to the Mandell House. -- ta

Keeping current with MoMA

So you can stay current with every aspect of the installations leading up to the official opening of the show on July 20th, here is the link to the Museum of Modern Art's Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling exhibition.

In case you don't know about it, the exhibition “features five full-scale contemporary prefabricated houses, to be constructed in the outdoor space to the west of the main Museum building, continuing MoMA's rich history of presenting full-scale architectural projects. Five individuals and architecture firms have been given the unprecedented opportunity to deploy both commercially viable domestic creations and entirely new, speculative prototypes. The delivery and assembly of these projects functions as a real-time urban event, visible to the general public from the city streets beginning May 22, when the first house arrives for assembly. This Web site is dedicated to the documentation of the design, fabrication, and assembly process of these specially commissioned projects.”

So, at the site linked to above, you can read all about the pre-assembly stuff – design, fabrication, delivery, etc. – for each of the 5 houses, and every Saturday there is a post by the curatorial team telling about behind the scenes aspects of organizing and bringing the show to life from their perspective. – GF
Illustration from KieranTimberlake Associates

Connecting Modern Preservation Efforts

Modern house tours and local preservation movements are far more numerous in the U.S. than I had thought before we started this blog. There was one we heard about the other day, for example, in Portland, Oregon, called The Street of Eames (although if their preservation efforts are unsuccessful, they might have to change their name to The Boulevard of Broken Eames).

I make a mental note of all these tours and things, and tell myself to start compiling a list, but so far I haven’t. And maybe now I won’t need to, because of this great idea, which I read about in an email from the people at the Glass House in New Canaan:

Modern preservation starts at the grassroots level. The Glass House is compiling, sharing, and connecting modern preservation grassroots organizations and communities across the United States. We will post and share these modern preservation links through a Google map and our website.

And then when you click the link, it takes you to this:

With the idea that modern preservation starts at the grassroots level, the Glass House is compiling, sharing, and connecting links to modern preservation grassroots organizations and communities across the U.S. We will post and share these modern preservation links, through a Google map and our Glass House Connect page, as you continue to share them with us.

The Google map itself is here. It makes you want to start an organization just to be included. -- TA

Perdro E. Guerrero, "local" MCM photographer

While trying to find positive things to think about the redesign of Dwell Magazine (the only mag. I read pretty much cover-to-cover and still feel the need to save stacks of) I almost overlooked a story about Pedro E. Guerrero.

Guerrero became a photographer through of string of serendipitous events beginning slightly before 1939, when he showed up to register for art classes at Art Center School in L.A. only to find all the painting and drawing classes filled. All they could offer him were photography classes, which he took because he "would have taken embroidery classes rather than go beck to Mesa" (AZ, where he grew up and whose bigotry he wanted to escape).

At the age of 22, Guerrero brazenly drove out and presented himself to Frank Lloyd Wright who hired him as Taliesen West's resident photographer.

What was a complete surprise to me is that Guerrero, for a time, lived in New Canaan, CT, among so many of the Modern architects and designers who were active at the time. The ones he mentions in the story as being friendly with were Breuer, Stone, Noyes, Salerno, Gores, Christ-Janer, Risom.

His web site has collections of fabulous photos of houses by these architects as well as of Louise Nevelson and Alexander Calder, both of whom he photographed pretty intensively over years.

Although he is now 90 years old, it would be so great to have him as a speaker back in New Canaan at the next Modern House Day Tour and Symposium. The story in Dwell, which is really an interview, shows him to be a clever guy with a lot of fascinating anecdotes who lived through an amazing time, knew amazing people and has a lot to impart through his work and stories. Hang in there, Pedro, we'd welcome you back to New Canaan for the next MHD! – GF

Goodbye to Shea, Goodbye to Modern Baseball

I think the least-loved building that I love, and which also happens to be a work of modern architecture, is Shea Stadium. It is a big, impersonal bowl, one of the first of many major league stadiums built in that style, and even today, when I walk up the ramps and get my first look at the field, I grin with something like the same joy I felt on my first visit, in 1964, the year it opened.

In those days we almost always sat in the nose-bleed section. You could get a seat by giving the ticket taker 10 side panels cut from Borden’s milk containers, a promotion akin to sending in a cereal box top for a prize. The side panels had to be those with the Mets promotion on it, of course, but when we didn’t drink enough milk, my father would simply cut off all the panels and sandwich the ordinary ones inside the good ones, so it looked as if we had the right 10.

I was amazed, a number of years ago, to hear that people, even Mets fans, did not like Shea. When it opened it was nicer, to my 10-year-old sensibility, than Yankee Stadium, which until it was rebuilt in the mid-70s was an old dump. Unlike Yankee Stadium, it was new, clean, convenient, colorful – those big, corrugated steel panels on the fa├žade look like the prototype for this blog – with plenty of parking, and it was modern, built next to the World’s Fair, a showplace of the modern world.

In truth, after it was renovated, Yankee Stadium was nicer. But I loved Shea more because I loved the Mets.

Both now are in their last seasons, and both will be replaced by the newest trend in new ballparks – ballparks built to look old. Which brings me to this question:

In the last 25 years, Americans have designed, built and enjoyed modern office buildings, modern libraries, modern museums, and modern houses. Why is it so hard to build a baseball stadium that looks like it belongs in the 21st century?

There’s more about that, here, in a good post by Michael Bierut on Design Observer. He argues persuasively that a new modern stadium for the Mets would have been perfectly justified:

But in reality Flushing Meadows is hardly the middle of nowhere, and has a potent design tradition of its own. Originally a city dumping ground memorialized as The Great Gatsby's "valley of ashes," it was cleared by parks commissioner Robert Moses for the 1939 New York World's Fair, and fifteen years later, the 1964 World's Fair. Its grounds were the site of some of the most iconic and entertaining visionary architecture ever built in North America: Wallace Harrison's Trylon and Perisphere, Norman Bel Geddes' Futurama at the General Motors Pavilion, not to mention the Unisphere, which still stands today within sight of the new Citi Field. Wouldn't any of these have made great precedents for a new pleasure dome to be built in Flushing Meadows? Or, to go a little further afield — but at least within the same borough — how about Queen's greatest piece of architecture, from the same year as Shea, no less: Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal?

I also found a great video on this blog. -- ta

What we're reading

I'm enjoying a book called Small Houses, by Carles Broto for many reasons. Here are a few:

Tadao Ando's 2004 4x4 house – look at the glass . . . or don't – just let your eyes pass through it. What must if feel like to be right up against that, looking out and back through the other side? (Too bad for the power lines and sea-side building blight on the non-sea sides . . .)

I love the idea of a passel of kids bedding down in this camp-like setting by Schmidt, Hammer and Lassen.

And this: my dream is to open the sides of the house up to the out of doors, like this house in New Zealand, by Crosson Clarke Carnachan. As my mother says, "Dream on, Beloved!" . . .

Broto also wrote The Compact House which, as Treehugger points out, is not to be confused with The Compact House. which also looks quite interesting.

So many books, no budget to buy! . . . Lucky are we that our library is well-funded and generous in its buying habits! – GF

(By the way, my sincere apologies for the bizarre layout of these posts. Perhaps there is a way to tighten-up the placement of photos and type, but I haven't figured it out. So frustrating for a graphic designer!)

Another Look at Stone's Celanese House

Edward Durell Stone's Celanese House, two doors away from Philip Johnson's Alice Ball House, on Oenoeke Ridge Road in New Canaan, gets a lot of press, because of its style and because of the terrific renovation job its new owner, Bruce Capra, did. Capra bought it to renovate and sell but, despite all the press, it's still on the market.

New Canaan/Darien magazine has a nice story about it, here. Fans of the house won't learn much new but for those who are unfamiliar with it, it's a good introduction. And if you click here you can read what I wrote about it and a similar Stone House, in North Salem, New York, back in November. These pictures, which are better than the ones I've taken, are from the Flickr page of MidCentArc. - ta