January 26, 2005

R.I.P. Philip Johnson


Philip Johnson, age 93, has died today.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2004

A New Bridge

The French have opened a fantastic bridge today, a 1.6 mile bridge 891 feet above the Tarn River valley running through France’s Massif Central mountains and providing another link to the Med.

It is a visually stunning piece done by Lord Foster, "the steel-and-concrete bridge with its streamlined diagonal suspension cables rests on seven pillars – the tallest measuring 1,122 feet, making it 53 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower."




Fabulous, no?

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:01 AM | Comments (6)

December 07, 2004

Real Estate a la Balzac

I came across the following description of a rural auction in France of a property sold after the debtor had defaulted on his mortgage and thought it marvelous:

The auction itself might be a scene taken from one of Balzac's novels: three candles sit upon the notaire's table. The first is lit as the black-gowned barristers place the opening bids. The property is declared sold when the three candles, each one burning for a minute, have been lit in succession without another bid being made.

Isn't that a great image?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:17 AM | Comments (2)

November 30, 2004

Architecture Today -- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to Expand

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, one of my favorite small jewel like museums has announced (pdf) a major new expansion, complete with celebrity architect, Renzo Piano.

The museum is a Venetian gothic palace and one of the best buildings in Boston.



Renzo Piano is known for some of the most important museum buildings, such as:

*the Centre Pompidou in Paris (although I think that was with Rogers from London)


*Chicago Institute of Art expansion


*Morgan Library Expansion. The Morgan Library is the most interesting to me because you can really see how he integrates the addition into the existing historic structure.



I don't know if we can get a sense of how he will do it here, but I really hope it will be a sensitive treatment.

The Gardner, by the way, is also well known for the robbery that took place there in 1990:

stole three Rembrandts, including the Dutch artist's only seascape, "Storm on the Sea of Galilee."

It was one of several works the thieves savagely cut to release it from its frame, leaving ragged edges of the canvas behind in otherwise empty frames, which continue to hang in the museum to this day.

Also taken from that room was "The Concert" by Vermeer, as well as a Chinese bronze beaker located near the Rembrandt.

The thieves also apparently tried to steal a fourth Rembrandt but were unsuccessful.

"They tried to pry the wooden frame," explained Prouty during a recent interview in his Boston office.

Nearby, they also made off with "Landscape with an Obelisk," an oil painting by Govaert Flinck that was until recently attributed to Rembrandt, Flinck's mentor.

On the other side of the floor, the thieves went into the Short Gallery and ripped five Degas sketches from the wall. Feet away a bronze eagle that adorned the top of a Napoleonic flag was also pillaged.

A Manet portrait, located in the museum's Blue Room on the first floor, capped off the list of works the thieves stole.

Left off that list above, from the CNN article, was a splendid Rembrandt self portrait.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:04 AM | Comments (1)

September 14, 2004

University Architecture in New York

Andrew Cusack, who has a very interesting web log generally, has a great piece today on New York University's Architecture with lots of great pictures. Taken together with my Cooper Union piece below, it makes for a really great survey. Actually, even all by itself, his piece is a really great survey. Get thee hence and go check it out.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:19 AM | Comments (1)

September 01, 2004

Architecture Obituary: Fay Jones

E. Fay Jones died in Arkansas on Monday. He was a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright and is credited with the creation of the Ozark Syle of architecture, a term he didn't like but which, according to the obituary in the NY Times, was important. The Times acknowledges that he was a regional architect but he was very influential just the same. The reason we are talking about him today is because of the Thorncrown Chapel, in Arkansas. The Times writes about it thusly:

His most famous chapel, Thorncrown in Eureka Springs, Ark., was a reverse play on European Gothic cathedrals. It was inspired especially by the 13th-century Ste.-Chapelle in Paris. The authors of "Architecture in North America Since 1960" described his method there: "At Thorncrown, he reverses the Gothic characteristic of a heavy compressive structure of stone and makes its inverse as a light tensile structure of wood."

In a biography, "Fay Jones,'' Robert Adams Ivy Jr., editor of Architectural Record, writes, "This harmoniously unified masterpiece is arguably among the 20th century's great works of art."

Thorncrown is tall and narrow, built of glass, wood and stone. Mr. Jones used a stabilizing device believed to be new at the time, crossed-wood bracing near the ceiling running most of the length of the building. Each brace is two lengths of two-by-four lumber joined by hollow steel joints that produce "a diamond fretwork of light'' that creates "the illusion of infinity," Mr. Ivy writes.

Ste. Chapelle is, to me, the most wonderous structure ever created by man. It is the embodiment of pure light. To see a splendid photo of it from Ken Rockwell, go here (image removed from site at request of artist after I checked with him).

This is my favorite building in Paris and I go visit it whenever I have the chance. It was built between 1246 and 1248 to hold the Crown of Thorns, as well as a piece of the True Cross and its steeple rises some 75 meters.

Throwncrown is clearly derived from it and here are a couple of photos I found. You can see the interior picture below and note the resemblance yourself:





R.I.P, Mr. Jones.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:34 AM | Comments (5)

August 30, 2004

SC Johnson Company

I was watching the Olympics this weekend and was forced to watch the commercials as the Boy Child has made off with the remote and secreted it somewhere. A commercial came on for some product or other, I wasn't really paying attention, but the closing words caught me: "SC Johnson, a family company".

And that got me to thinking a little bit. Is SC Johnson still privately held? Well, a quick check of its website reveals that it is. Then I saw all of the products they sell: Shout; Windex; Mr. Muscle; Ziploc; Edge; Glade; Brise; Vanish; Raid; OFF!; Kabbikiller; Pledge; Scrubbing Bubbles. Many of us have, at one time or another, used some of these products, I assume. Most of us associate the SC Johnson company with household tasks and chores.

But how many of you associate SJ Johnson and Racine Wisconsin with an icon of modern architecture? With Frank Lloyd Wright? If you dig a little on the SC Johnson website, you will find a page concerning the architecture. I was going to extract from it here but there really is no point. Go take a moment and read the whole thing.

Here is a page with some excellent photographs.

Not every post needs to be an exhaustive treatment of a subject. Sometimes its enough to record the thought and point people in the direction to go and indulge their curiosity.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:30 AM | Comments (2)

July 15, 2004

Architecture -- today in history

Today, in 1573, was born the architect, Inigo Jones. (Please do not confuse him with the other great Inigo, Inigo Montaya, gifted orator). Jones is one of my favorites and I made a strong bid, defeated by my wife in some of the ugliest back room dealing I have ever seen, to name my son, Inigo. Probably for the best, really. Over a fifteen year period from 1625 to 1640, Jones was responsible for the repair and remodeling of St. Paul's Cathedral (more associated with Wren which is why I give no link to it here), and the design of Covent Garden. There is a nice bio of him here, if you are so inclined. You can see what he looked like in his self-portrait.

Why else is he so cool? Look upon his wonders and weep:

* The Banqueting Hall at Whitehall Palace: "When the Banqueting House in London was completed, it bore no resemblance to anything ever built in England before". Cool, right?

* The Queen's House at Greenwich. If you go here, you can take a virtual tour of some of the rooms and grounds which are available for hire for weddings.

Jones was also known as a set designer and party giver (and there is a nice portrait of him there as well).

By the way, it was a good day for the arts all around as, in 1606, Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden, Netherlands.

Such a short post and yet it took so long to put together!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:41 AM | Comments (3)

July 08, 2004

More Architecture

The NY Times this morning ran a gushing tribute to Paul Rudolph today, one of the great modern architects. The article mentions how he was the Dean of the Yale School of Architecture and how he designed the "heroic" and "magisterial Art and Architecture Building at Yale, which has nine floors and some 30 different levels". I already said gushing, right? What does the article fail to mention? Well, how about the fact that the students hated the building so much that they actually tried to burn it down? That strikes me as a fairly pointed piece of criticism. How about how Rudolph placed the sculpture studios at the top of the 30th level with no elevator access to get sculpture materials, like, say, marble, to the studio. Or finally, how about how the building was covered with this rusticated concrete on which Rudolph left the imprints of the wooden molds which held the concrete while it dried, thus leaving the building with this sort of sinister and unfinished looking air. Actually, I kind of like that treatment, but many don't, and in the hands of an untalented hack it is pretty awful. I suppose that these issues would reduce the impact of the article some.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:45 AM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2004

Thoughts about Detroit

My post below, with the great pictures of the Old Penn Station in NY, got me to thinking back to the days when I used to spend weeks at a time in Detroit, MI on depositions. While taking taxi rides to and from airport, I would pass the time looking out the window for snipers. And that's when I saw this building, Detroit's Abandoned Michigan Central Station. It sits all by itself with nothing around it. It is a magnificent looking structure. You should check out the pictures in the link. Here is an old postcard of the building. And here is another excellent site with two fascinating photo essays, one called either Joy Road or Easter and the other the Detroit Train Station. Detroit was a very scary place. We spent very little time outside in the city itself. We'd go from hotel to office and back and eat all of our meals at the hotel. A large part of the time there, we stayed at the Detroit Athletic Club, which was this magnificent palace, as you can see from the link.

There was one day, however, when I had nothing to do and so I took myself off to the Detroit Institute of Art. Remember, if you will, that Detroit had a lot of money at one point and citizens who wanted Detroit to be able to hold its head up high in comparison to Chicago, for instance. Result? The DIA. This was a nice collection, as I recall some almost 10 years later. The real treasure there is Rivera Court , a series of murals painted by Diego Rivera showing the industrial process of the creation of cars. I could not find a link to Rivera Court at the DIE site and have, instead, linked to the museum store. But I did find this cool photo archive of Rivera at the DIE with views of him creating and showing his murals.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

Architecture -- today in history

Today is the anniversary of the murder, in 1906, of architect Stanford White. White, the most prominent architect of his day, was shot in Madison Square Garden, which he designed, by Harry Thaw. Thaw was the playboy / jealous husband of Evelyn Nesbit, a dancer. Let's look back, shall we?

This website has a rather long and detailed account of the murder. White was a notorious womanizer. Thaw was the son of a mining and rail road baron from Pittsburgh and was the heir apparent to that fortune. Thaw was also considered to be mentally unstable for most of his life. The trial that followed the murder was dubbed the "trial of the century" and the court-room was packed. I suppose it was the OJ trial of its day. There were fantastic allegations of drugged champagne, girls swinging on velvet swings, illicit sex (and isn't that the best kind?), and other scandalous and shocking revelations about high society. Thaw got off on insanity grounds. The movie, Ragtime, was based on these events.

One site has eleven of the great Stanford White buildings online, if you are curious.

White's firm designed the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station in New York, pictures of which can be found here. As you can see from the photos, it was magnificent. It was torn down in 1963. The destruction of Penn Station led to the formation of the historical preservation movement in NY and was directly responsible for the creation of the Landmarks Commission.

P.S. While poking around, I came across this link to Lands End, a White house for sale on the Gold Coast of Long Island.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:01 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

More Architecture and More Archeology

This morning's reading was a veritable trove of good stuff today. Ok, two articles may not make a trove, but why quibble on such a beautiful morning?

The famous horde of Bactrian gold has been brought back out of hiding in Afghanistan. In the late 70's, a joint team of Russian and Afghani archaeologists discovered "20,600 pieces of gold jewelry, funeral ornaments and personal belongings from 2,000-year-old burial mounds". Everyone thought that this gold was lost under the Taliban, who had a habit of destroying the Afghani past and heritage. You can see a picture here of how beautiful the workmanship was.

As for architecture, we travel now to Ohio, to see an entire community of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired houses. I'd never heard of this community before, but you should follow the link and check out the pictures. I gather that the Ohio community was an offshoot of the one Utopian Community that FLW himself planned in Pleasantville, NY. Here and here are some other links to information about the Westchester community.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2004

Addition to Favorite Buildings (NYC Edition)

This will probably be the first of many, but, walking down Fifth Avenue last night I realized I had forgotten about the Cartier Store/Plant Townhouse. This is the last surviving example of golden age Fifth Avenue domestic architecture. Yes, at one point, Fifth Avenue in the 50's was residential and very, very expensive. Cartier recently restored the building and it looks pretty great.

Also, a kind reader wrote in about the Cunard Building downtown, which has the most kick ass ceiling. This reminded me of the Customs House at Bowling Green. The NYC harbors were where much of the nation's wealth landed from cross-Atlantic trade. All the duties paid on that trade were paid here. Specifically, the counting room in the rotunda, which you can sort of glimpse in one of the photographs at the link, has the most incredible murals and the original desks where merchants stepped up to pay the duty on their cargo.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2004

Some Favorite Buildings -- NYC Edition

The built environment fascinates me. If you enjoy architectural history, you can never be bored in a city. There is always too much to see, to react to, to think about, to consider, and to enjoy. Here are some of my personal favorite buildings in NYC, in no particular order:

Lever House (Gordon Bunshaft)
The University Club (Standford White) or this link
The Flatiron Building

Grand Central Station
The Chrysler Building (pick a photo)
Citibank Center (couldn't easily find a picture)
New York State Supreme Court (60 Centre Street) (scroll down for picture)
New York Yacht Club
New York Tenement Museum (when my family came to NY, they lived in something that looked very much like this, I'm told)
Seagram Building
Century Association
Woolworth Tower (a cathedral of commerce, said the architect)

Colannade in Greenwich Village

Also check out this resource for pictures.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)