01 October 2018

the villa as building type

I am very fond of the villa as a building type. By this, I generally mean something that is composed rather like the Villa Rotonda of Palladio just outside Vicenza: symmetrical perhaps, fairly compact though extensions are fine but it needs to have a visual core, generally not eccentric, usually a sense of singularity even if it's not a one-family house. James Ackerman, Colin Rowe, Pierre de la Ruffiniere du Prey, and others have written about the villa as building type.

Sometimes, the villa type gets bigger and becomes a tower like these apartment towers by Mario Botta in Sesto San Giovanni outside Milan, part of the Campari complex of offices and residences:

Along the Via Arnaldo Vassallo in the Villaggio dei Giornalisti (Village of the Writers) in Milan, there are Liberty (art nouveau) villas down one side of the street

and rationalist villas from the 1930s on the other side of the street.
I love it when this sort of architectural reflection or resonance happens.

The house at the entrance to the Villaggio dei Giornalisti from Via Ragusa is a lovely Liberty house, not so much a villa of the Rotonda sort. More like A.J. Downing perhaps. I'm not claiming influence here.

When we were in Turin in the spring, I found a good guide to Liberty at the bookshop in the Palazzo Madama. I didn't have a specific guide to art nouveau most of the time I was in Milan, either in April/May or September. I did see one but not until the last day at the Rizzoli bookstore in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. I also was looking at Diane Ghirardo's history of modern architecture in Italy and was amused to see the photo of the Galleria there while I was in the Galleria.

26 September 2018

Villa Savoye and northern Italy

The Villa Savoye is an icon of modern architecture. It was designed by Le Corbusier and built between 1928 and 1931, and is located in the Paris region. It is one of the most famous houses built in the last couple centuries, at least among art and architectural historians. One of my college buddies, Richard Barons, said it was really art nouveau. He was probably pulling my leg but there is something about the proportions that are graceful and perhaps over-studied. No, not over-studied but very carefully determined.
 (photo from Wikipedia page for the villa)

When I was in Italy earlier this month (September 2018), I was able to see two villas of similar style and built at about the same time. And it was thrilling. One was a lucky glance out the window of a city bus on a rainy morning in Genoa.
My airbnb host had a shelf of books on Genoa including an architecture guide. I was able to find the house. It's the Ex-Casa littoria "Nicola Bonservizi" on the Piazza Sturla, designed by Luigi Carlo Daneri and completed in 1938. The guide was Capellini's from 1992.

The other house was also somewhat obscured, this time by greenery. The street it is on is short and unmarked on the map I had of Milan. Yes, I know, I should have done all my research on Google Maps before setting out (but the itinerary changed as the adventure proceeded) or had a device with mapping rather than my printed map (maybe next time). But I did find it!

It's the architect's house by Luigi Figini in Milan, aka Villa Figini, built 1934-1935. The two-story house is totally lifted above the small lot, on thin pilotis. I hate to disturb people who protect themselves with shrubbery but I couldn't help but stand and stare at what I could see. A book in the Triennale library included plans and sections as well as some historical photos of internal spaces.

It was really delightful to see a couple Italian villas of the early 20th century. Neither of the houses were known to me and I'm not sure I'd heard of Daneri though I had heard of Figini (and his partner Pollini).

08 August 2018

Dick Ket

I was cruising about on Flickr and came across a picture of the cover of the Penguin Modern Classics edition of The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet.
The illustration was the same painting that caught my fancy at the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam in 2016. It's a self portrait from 1932 by Dick Ket.

And Emma Raben tried not just once but twice to recreate the portrait.

31 July 2018

walls, windows, archways

"At the Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles,
books literally form walls, windows and archways."
Beth Collier for the New York Times
Travel section, New York Times, July 29, 2018

30 July 2018

washcloths: to eschew or not

Several years ago, at Bill's for Christmas, Barbara insisted that he should give me a stack of washcloths they encountered while out shopping. Bill said that he and I didn't usually exchange Christmas presents but Barbara can't help herself. They weren't a rainbow of colors and I cannot remember for sure if they had a ribbon but they did look rather like this stack of washcloths grabbed from the net. I've always used washcloths so I can use some more.

Now I read in "White people are noticing something new: their own whiteness" by Emily Bazelon in The New York Times Magazine from June 17, 2018: "For a long time, many white people assumed it was our due, as the majority, to encounter various racial others and marvel at the exotic things they ate, built or wore. Now we can go online and find people of color doing the gawking, offering jokes and anthropological scrutiny about white people's underseasoning food, mistreating potato salad or eschewing washcloths." Who knew? I sure didn't.

27 July 2018

Gund Hall & Fondazione Feltrinelli

Today's email news from Docomomo notes that Herzog & de Meuron and Beyer Blinder Belle will be expanding and rearranging Gund Hall which houses the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Gund Hall is a brutalist masterpiece from 1972 by John Andrews. Its distinctive angular top houses The Trays studio space. The pillars and use of raw concrete are both familiar in brutalist buildings.
(Peter Wanderwarker / Harvard Graduate School of Design)

The most recent work of Herzog & de Meuron that I have seen is the Fondazione Feltrinelli in Milan. It also has an angled top. It will be interesting to see what happens at Gund Hall.
These are my pictures of the Fondazione Feltrinelli building as viewed from the nearby streets. I enjoyed seeing its distinctive shape in the city landscape, as I enjoy seeing Gund Hall when I'm walking the streets of Cambridge.

20 June 2018

Pier 54 and the Italian pavilion

When I was in the Whitney this past spring, there was construction happening on the Hudson River waterfront and I was afraid the remnants of the pier building (Pier 54), an arched opening, had been demolished. It has been threatened off and on. Two days ago, when I was walking down the High Line after leaving Bill at his bus stop, I got a lovely view of the arch between buildings and against the New Jersey skyline.
Yesterday, I went to Avery Library to look at a book on Michele Busiri Vici, an Italian rationalist architect. Wikipedia says he's known for his works on the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. The building that caught my attention was the Italian Pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair. There's a model for the building in the Wolfsoniana collection in Nervi (Genoa), Italy.
There were quite a few pictures of the completed pavilion in the book at Avery. I like the model better, the simple classicizing is clear. The finished building looks rather more imposing and, I must admit, a little bit more fascist.

The main moment for rationalist architecture in Italy was the 1920s and 1930s and I really enjoy the classical allusions. You can't really disassociate the architecture of the public buildings from the governments that commissioned the works and then inhabited the buildings. The Casa del Fascio in Como, designed by Giuseppe Terragni, was the party headquarters and is now the headquarters of the provincial Guardia di Finanza police force. I was delighted to visit it some years ago and enjoyed seeing the reflections of the cathedral in its large windows. Architecture must reflect the society that builds it but it makes me a little queasy that the rationalist buildings I like so much might be described as fascist. Busiri Vici's seaside villas are more like Miami modern (or maybe the style went the other way) -- think kidney shaped pools -- and I don't like them nearly as much as the rationalism of the Italian Pavilion or the Casa del Fascio, or the neo-rationalists like Aldo Rossi and O.M. Ungers.

29 April 2018

Pompeo & Sesto San Giovanni

The morning news on NPR included a story about new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo going to Israel and then on to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He was quoted about fighting the Islamic State and finding partners on other "homeland security" issues. I dearly wish that he and his colleagues would do as much on the social and economic justice issues as they do on the terrorism and military side. I have to believe that a more just world would experience less tumult from war and terrorism.

I got my Sunday Times and a few groceries at Wegmans and headed off to Billy Schu's for some pancakes. A few pages into the main section of the paper, I was taken back to Milan. Our first airbnb apartment in Milan was very near the Bande Nere stop of the Metro M1 line. One end of the line is Sesto San Giovanni, a northern suburb. So we'd take the train in the direction of Sesto 1° Maggio if we were going toward the center of Milan. We had a good modern architecture guide and there were quite a few buildings out that way, e.g., Campari headquarters (Mario Botta), the art space Pirelli Hangar Bicocca (Studio April), Pirelli Real Estate headquarters (Vittorio Gregotti), Deutsche Bank headquarters (Studio Valle), and the Bicocca campus of the University of Milan (Gregotti). Bicocca and Sesto are old industrial areas that are seeing new development. So Sesto was on my list for a field trip but we didn't make it out that way on this trip.

Today's paper had an article entitled "Outside Milan, a taste of a right-wing Italy" about the new mayor of Sesto San Giovanni, expulsion of migrants from public housing, and construction being blocked on a mosque. The new mayor, Roberto Di Stefano, said "If it starts with this [mosque], tomorrow they will ask for a Muslim soccer team, a Muslim school, a Muslim swimming pool." This is happening in a neighborhood that has a significant population of second and third generation Muslims. It just seems to me that it's obvious that an "Italy first" policy, just like "America first," leads to rancor between people which is more likely to lead to the sort of disgruntlement that fosters terrorism and/or fascism, especially when exacerbated by the arrival of war refugees. It seems trite to argue that "we should all just try to get along" but I think I'll keep on saying that we should always give peace a chance.
(anti-war banner in Genoa, March 2018)

18 April 2018

I went to Milan and I saw the "future"

I was looking for a lost book in the stacks and saw a few items that were unusual for the collection or were classified for a general collection rather than the special collection of the Scholes Library of Ceramics. One of them was Magic Motorways by Norman Bel Geddes, published in 1940 just after he'd designed the Futurama exhibit for the 1939 New York World's Fair. Scholes serves the art and engineering schools of the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, part of SUNY. The engineering is mostly related to ceramics (not surprising), glass, and other materials. Not so much traffic or civil engineering. The book was a gift in 1951 so it's not that surprising that it crept into the collection, and it actually has circulated a few times in the last twenty years.

The Futurama exhibit envisioned the world twenty or more years into the future. Things like the interstate highway system, super highways on city outskirts and smaller feeder highways out from the city, high towers dispersed around the city, divided pedestrian and car traffic but big streets. Some of this has happened, some of this has happened badly, some of this has been demolished and replaced by a denser fabric or parks over sunken highways (Boston's Big Dig or Dallas's Klyde Warren Park, for example).

I was intrigued by this illustration on page 270:
It rather looks like a meld of some of the Italian rationalist buildings I saw in Italy last month and the Porta Nuova development in Milan. The plaza (Piazza Gae Aulenti) at the Porta Nuova is a lively pedestrian area and the car traffic zips underneath and there's a train station (Garibaldi station) just to the East.
Torre Littoria in Turin, 1933-1934 (originally Reale Mutua building)
Porta Nuova

One of the side treats was seeing the NBG logo on the spine of Magic Motorways:

14 April 2018

Zoe Leonard, Danh Vo, and Adrian Piper

The Zoe Leonard and Danh Vo exhibitions were on my list for the two NYC days I spent after three weeks in Italy. I had seen a good number of the works in the Zoe Leonard show at the Whitney and it was great to see the Fae Richards Photo Archive again. I really like the pieces that combine everyday objects and demographics/popularity. For example, the Niagara Falls postcards were stacked by viewpoint. Some viewpoints were only evident on one postcard, others on many postcards. Niagara Falls cards were also spread out on a gallery wall.
Another work had editions of How to Make Good Pictures arranged in stacks of copies of a particular edition. This was displayed in a gallery with a window wall looking out over the Hudson River. There was construction going on across the West Side Highway, where the piers used to be. I was thinking about the wonderful arch, remnants of a warehouse, that is off-and-on threatened for demolition but it's actually got a website now: http://pier54.com/ -- so maybe the threats are in abeyance.

The Danh Vo show was very interesting too. The Guggenheim was jammed on Friday, April 6th, when I was there. I mean jammed. The fellow in the Aye Simon Reading Room said it had been jammed for about a week. Easter rush? Lots of people speaking other than English. European spring break? Vo's work is complex and occasionally rambunctious. Folks seemed to be there for the Frank Lloyd Wright and were making comments like "Oh, look, a chandelier." Vo's chandeliers are from spaces of historical importance like the hotel conference room where the Paris Peace Accords were signed. It was actually difficult at first to be there but I worked at getting over that and wrapped myself in a visual and auditory bubble. Having just been traveling internationally, I was quite amused by the slices of a fruitwood Saint Joseph in carry-on bags. Christie and I often stopped on the street in Italy when we saw a stationery or pen shop. Another of Vo's works was Esterbrook fountain pen points used for signing the nuclear test ban treaty.

As much as I enjoyed these two shows, it was a late addition -- the Adrian Piper show at MoMA -- that really knocked my socks off. I was fairly familiar with her work but had never seen a comprehensive show. She is just a bit younger than I am. She was doing traditional work in high school and found the conceptual and minimal artists when she came to New York City to study art. I'm not a practicing artist but I similarly evolved in what I wanted to look at at about the same time, the mid-late 1960s and into the 1970s, when Lucy Lippard was writing Six Years and the next generation of artists was succeeding the Abstract Expressionists (to massively overgeneralize). The political overtones are strong here as they are in both Zoe Leonard and Danh Vo.

I did do a bit of other gallery hopping and saw some friends for meals but it was a real rich couple days after three weeks of wonderment in Italy.