Modern life

THE OBAMA LIBRARY

FDR at the opening of his library in Hyde Park, June 30, 1941.

FDR at the opening of his library in Hyde Park, June 30, 1941.

The announcement of the seven finalists for the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago is puzzling. First of all, why such an announcement at all? It has become common practice for museums and concert halls planning new buildings to draw out the architect selection process to the max. First the announcement of a competition; then revealing a short list; then the unveiling of actual designs; then the finalists; and finally—drum roll here—the winner. This process is calculated to generate the maximum amount of media coverage and publicity to assist in fund raising. This appears unnecessary—not to say unseemly—for a presidential library. Moreover, is a design competition really the best way to chose an architect for such a personal building? Obama should be choosing an architect, not a design. (An architect who understands that a presidential library is about the President, not about the architect.) But exactly what is the President looking for? The bewilderingly heterogeneous list (choose between Renzo Piano and SHoP, or between David Adjaye and Williams & Tsien) offers no answer.

LEARNING FROM MANHATTAN

 

740 Park Avenue, New York Rosario Candela & Arthur Loomis Harmon, arch. 1929

740 Park Avenue, New York
Rosario Candela & Arthur Loomis Harmon, arch. 1929

Monacelli Press has issued a new monograph on the work of Robert A. M. Stern Architects—one of a continuing series. This one is titled City Living, and it describes urban apartment houses, more than thirty of them. RAMSA is an eclectic firm, but the architectural style of these apartment towers is consistent, what New Yorkers call “prewar,” that is, pre-WWII. It appears that everybody wants “New York prewar” for the book describes built work not only in the major American cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, Atlanta—but also in London, Moscow, Toronto, Lima, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Taipei. And why not? The upper-middle-class New York City apartment building of the 1920s remains the acme of civilized high-rise, high-density urban living. It  successfully mediates between the street and the skyline, provides a sense of character that reflects—but does not overwhelm—its communal function, and gives the designer the freedom to lay out interesting unit plans. If you must have pencil-thin towers, and this disturbing building type seems unstoppable, then RAMSA’s 82-story 30 Park Place on Church Street in Lower Manhattan seems better than the alternatives.

ARCHITECTURE AHOY

New Celebrity Solstice Launched On Maiden VoyageArchitects such as Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid have been commissioned to design luxury yachts, but it is cruise ships that beg for an architect’s touch. In fact, these maritime behemoths already resemble buildings—very big buildings. Granted their designs are generally banal, but it is easy to imagine them styled by high-fashion architects. This would solve another pressing problem. Every city seems to want an iconic building designed by a starchitect. Now they could lease a floating icon instead of saddling themselves with a potential permanent eyesore. One can imagine the waterfront of Dubai, or London, or Chicago, as a maritime parking lot with the latest architectural glams. After several years, when the shine begins to fade—literally as well as figuratively—the icon ships could sail off to a lesser urb,  Glasgow, or Riga, or Lagos; even an impoverished city could afford a Nouvel or a Piano for a month or two. Since the current architectural icons are largely placeless, they are perfectly suited to such a nomadic existence. At home everywhere—and nowhere.

DOM

small_RYBCZY_SKI__Dom_-_ok_adka_96_dpiThe Cracow publisher, Karakter, has re-issued a Polish translation of Home. This is the thirteenth foreign edition of the book, which originally appeared in 1986. The Polish translation was the work of my late aunt, Krystyna Husarska.

SKETCHES OF SPAIN

Travel sketches: Spring 1967.

Molino, Formentera

Molino, Formentera

San Francisco, Formentera

San Francisco, Formentera

Salinas, Formentera

Salinas, Formentera

Ibiza

Ibiza

Valencia

Valencia

Valencia-Paris train

Valencia-Paris train