Steve Cohen: Louis Kahn and I

Portrait of Louis Kahn by George Krause, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Steve Cohen, Copyright 2020

.

The world knows Louis Kahn as one of the greatest architects of all time, a visionary with extraordinary imagination. I knew him as a friend, and a collaborator. I sat with him and discussed his ideas for the government buildings in Bangladesh and for the Salk Institute in California. But our most interesting conversations were about a more personal creation.

That experience was the direct result of my father’s long friendship with Kahn.

My dad and Lou were the same age, and both worked in center city Philadelphia in professions that previously had been unwelcoming to Jews. My father was an optician who opened his own store at 1624 Spruce Street in 1933, shortly before Kahn opened his architectural studio at 1728 Spruce. Kahn was not religiously observant, and he said that the reason some people discriminated against him was not because of his beliefs but solely because of his ethnic heritage.

Lou had worked at the firm that designed the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1928 and he drew some of the plans for the Rodin Museum that opened in 1930. He had a populist social agenda and modernist aesthetics as he designed projects for Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration and for Jersey Homesteads near Hightstown, New Jersey, where hundreds of Jewish garment workers moved as part of a back-to-the-land movement.

After he reached middle age, Lou became recognized worldwide and was hired by the Jonas Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, by the new nation of Bangladesh, and for other notable projects. Architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times wrote, “Kahn’s mythic stature in American architecture is matched only by that of Frank Lloyd Wright; and even Wright is less likely to be spoken of with such reverence.”

He was an unassuming man, short, muscularly built, with a scarred face which was the result of severe burns when he was three years old.

A showcase for a revitalized Philadelphia was co-designed by Kahn and Edmund Bacon in 1947. A spectacular 30-by-14-foot model of the city center occupied two floors of Gimbel’s department store, attracted thousands of visitors, and won public support for the idea of modernizing the city. Then Bacon became executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and he rejected all of Kahn’s ideas and ridiculed him as an impractical dreamer.

Among other projects, Kahn recommended large parking towers around the edges of the city center to create a pedestrian-friendly downtown. Kahn described expressways as being like rivers, and “Rivers have harbors, and harbors are the municipal parking towers.”

Bacon became the darling of Philadelphia’s social and political elite, while Kahn rarely was hired to design any public or corporate building in his home town. A notable exception was the Richards Medical Research Building at the University of Pennsylvania in 1960.

During the first half of the 20th century, with its quietly-accepted genteel anti-Semitism, my father, Charles Cohen, hid behind a name which he felt would be more acceptable to a broad public — as Charles Sigismund, optician, which is how he was listed in Philadelphia phone books. (Sigismund was his middle name.) Despite dad’s effort to widen his appeal, the majority of my father’s customers were Jewish professionals who lived or worked in center-city Philadelphia and wanted to patronize “one of their own.” In addition, a large number of non-Jewish artists and musicians came to his store.

In the 1920s and ‘30s the Cohen and Kahn families lived near each other in West Philadelphia. Lou and his wife Esther resided at 5243 Chester Avenue. My father lived with his parents at 4533 Larchwood Avenue, then, as a new husband and father, on 46th Street near Chestnut. While Lou and Esther remained in their house for decades, in 1938 my mom and dad moved to a new home constructed at 6507 Lawnton Avenue, in the Oak Lane section of Philly.

Around the time we moved there, Kahn was hired to design a synagogue for Congregation Ahavath Israel in our new neighborhood. The chairman of the synagogue’s building committee, Barnett Lieberman, was a family friend and his daughter Sylvia babysat me and my younger sister. Because of those connections, we became congregants in that unpretentious structure.

My father had no talent for architecture, but was an amateur painter and a collector of prints. My mother was a pianist, and my parents avidly attended theater and concerts. Lou was an excellent pianist and a painter aside from his architectural drawings. So they (and I) frequently talked together about music and art. I got to know Lou’s wife and their daughter, Sue Ann, who is a flutist, six years younger than I.

Eventually, my dad purchased a property at 1835 Chestnut Street (Philly’s main shopping street) and the Kahn’s came there for all their eyeglasses. Lou also brought members of his design staff to Sigismund Opticians. I worked for my father, while also producing and hosting radio programs for WHYY in the evenings. 

When Lou Kahn developed cataracts, in 1972, he underwent surgery and brought his new eyeglass prescription to us. In those days, such surgery necessitated the wearing of thick magnifying lenses, so his next glasses would have to be much more noticeable than his previous. Lou walked in with his sketch of what he’d like his frame to look like.

Kahn’s works are considered as monumental. This particular creation was only seven inches across. My dad asked Lou to sit down with me and discuss how to execute his desires.

Some of Kahn’s architectural colleagues (such as Philip Johnson) chose to wear small, roundish eyeglasses. Lou told me that function was his main concern and he wanted something larger, to give himself a wider field of vision. He and I discussed the fact that larger dimensions would cause the centers of his lenses to become thicker, and he understood that.

We discussed the principle that we could grind his lenses extremely thin at the edges, but the nature of his prescription necessitated an accelerating center thickness as the longitude increased. In other words, small frames would allow his lenses to be thinner. But Lou Kahn didn’t want to copy his colleagues’s minimalistic look.

What we agreed on was a design with softly curved corners, not nearly as large nor rectangular as the fashionable styles of the 1970s, but not as small and round as Philip Johnson’s or John Lennon’s glasses.

An additional alteration was needed. Lou had drawn a bridge that was centered vertically in relation to the lenses. This looked attractively symmetrical but would cause his eyeglasses to sit up too high, with the top rim bumping against his eyebrows and the bottom being too far above his cheeks. I drew my suggested changes on his drawings and he approved them.

Ed Bacon criticized Kahn’s stubbornness and inability to compromise. That’s the opposite of what I experienced in our collaboration.

I carried our drawing to Joe Danieli, who used the name Joe Daniels and whom we frequently employed to custom-make frames for us. At his walk-up studio on Sansom Street, Joe used cellulose acetate plastic, which the public knows as “tortoise shell”, and fabricated the Kahn frame to our specifications. We then made Lou’s lenses and heated the frames to insert the lenses into the grooves.

After Kahn got his glasses, a four-by-six card of its specifications went into our file drawer, along with the original sketch, neatly folded. This was the same year that Kahn was working on the parliament building for Bangladesh; the opening of his Kimbell art museum in Fort Worth, Texas; and the dedication of his library at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

On March 17, 1974, Khan died of a heart attack in Pennsylvania Station in New York City at the age of 73. Stupidly, I did nothing to preserve or copy our drawing. In 1980 my ailing father sold his building on Chestnut Street and sold his business records to Limeburner Opticians, one of our friendly competitors.

A couple of years later I belatedly thought about its importance and went to Limeburner in search of that drawing. Limeburner’s manager told me: “We sent a mailing to everyone in your files and, if they didn’t come in to get new glasses from us, we dumped their records.”

I find it fascinating that Lou showed interest in the refraction of light reaching his eyes, when a unique part of his architectural creativity was his refraction of, and positioning of light inside his buildings. As Wendy Lesser wrote in her biography of Kahn, all of his great buildings reveal his interest in light — “how natural light can come in through windows, skylights, holes in the roof.”

Thomas Schielke called Kahn “a master of light” and Kahn talked about the subject: “All material in nature, the mountains and the streams and the air and we, are made of Light which has been spent, and this crumpled mass called ‘material’ casts a shadow, and the shadow belongs to Light. A plan of a building should be read like a harmony of spaces in light. Even a space intended to be dark should have just enough light from some mysterious opening to tell us how dark it really is.”

In our conversations, Kahn was simple and unpretentious. When speaking with other architects, Kahn often used parables, but not with us. He did not indulge in the poetic aphorisms of a guru — such as this famous one that’s been oft quoted:

“If you think of Brick, you say to Brick, ‘What do you want, Brick?’ And Brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ And if you say to Brick, ‘Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over you. What do you think of that, Brick?’ Brick says, ‘I like an arch.’ And it’s important, you see, that you honor the material that you use.”

And he revealed nothing that would make me suspect that this ordinary-looking “old man” — my father’s age — had extramarital love affairs, and additional children born to two single women who worked with him. He clearly compartmentalized his life; thus my remembrances are specific to one small part of his persona.

Wendy Lesser also wrote, “He was a narrative artist. In his buildings, there’s a plot, with surprises.” Certainly in his personal life there were fantastic surprises.

.

Editor’s Note: This is a repost with permission granted by the author, Steve Cohen. For additional access to Steve Cohen’s writings on art, theater, music, books and travel, click herehttp://theculturalcritic.com

To access additional work by the legendary photographer, George Krause, click herehttps://georgekrause.com

Posted in Affiliates, Architecture, Art, Blog, Documentary, Friends of TWS, History, lifestyle, Philadelphia, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Science, Travel

Picture of the Day: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas 1980

Caesars Palace Las Vegas 1980. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 1980

 

Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

.

When I first started my professional career in 1980 as a staff photographer for the behemoth pharmaceutical company, Smithkline & French I was assigned to photograph executives for the company at a sales meeting held in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I booked a hotel room at the casino in the over the top Liberace suite. For those readers who are unfamiliar with Liberace, he was a flamboyant pianist, singer and actor who performed regularly in Las Vegas and around the world until his death in 1987. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the suite, but I remember there was lots of red, and a giant mirror hanging on the ceiling over the master bed! This was quite the introduction to sin city.

After I got settled in, I loaded my camera with film to take a walk around the premises to take some pictures. As I entered an elevator to head down to the lobby, Roberto Duran was in the elevator. I noticed his large infamous “hands of stone” as he was also staying at the hotel for a fight against another great boxing champion, Sugar Ray Leonard.  This was the type of place where people watching was also a sport, especially by the outdoor pool where guests  enjoyed Pina Coladas while soaking in the blistering desert sun. 

This was the casino that became famous not only for the prize fights that were held there, but it was also where a dare devil on a motorcycle by the name of Evil Knievel staged his dramatic leaps in the air over the outdoor fountains at an unimaginable distance. This picture was taken on a walkway leading guests from a parking lot to the main entrance. 

.

To access additional photos from the early days of my career, click herehttps://tonyward.com/early-work/

 

Posted in Architecture, Blog, Cameras, Contemporary Architecture, Documentary, Engineering, Environment, Film, History, lifestyle, Light Table, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel

Close Ups: 1990’s

Club Kid. Philadelphia, 1997. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

 

 

Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

.

Close Up’s: 1990’s

.

During the early 1990’s, I purchased what would eventually become an indispensable piece of equipment for my portrait photography, the ring flash.  This unique flash lamp that creates shadowless light on a subjects face at close range intrigued me from the first time I saw it being employed by fashion photographers beginning in the 1960’s. My work as an editorial photographer evolved in part because I developed a style of portraiture based on my use of the ring flash that captivated the attention of various picture editors at large circulation magazines including Vibe, New York, George, Cosmopolitan, Penthouse, and Max magazine in Europe.  

.

To access the complete portfolio of this body of work, click herehttps://tonyward.com/early-work/close-ups-1990s/

 

Posted in Art, Blog, Documentary, Film, History, lifestyle, Light Table, Philadelphia, Popular Culture, Student Life

Katie Kerl: Dating Guide 2020

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Katie Kerl, Copyright 2020

.

Dating Guide

.

This is the first time I have really been totally single in a few years.  After much on and off with my last relationship I fully understand the saying, “I do not have to know you to know your energy.” Unfortunately, our lives led us onto completely different paths, and that is more than ok.

I know upon meeting someone what they are going to bring into my life, and I’m very rarely surprised anymore. If your partner is seeking acceptance from others they have yet to discover who they really are, or they would not care about anyone else’s opinion. This also confuses the fuck out of me. You may be nice, sweet, giving, and that is great! On the flip side though; if you spend too much time trying to be a people pleaser your light will be dimmed. I have said that a few times previously but it is IMPORTANT.

As new decade falls upon us; I wanted to feel like me again. I really started thinking about my life, friends, and family. Those who have yet to drop the ball have made me feel so full of life and appreciated. If you are having a hard time relating to people I suggest joining groups you’re interested in, expand your knowledge on human behavior, and take a few basic psychology classes, or simply try every new thing you can. This will give you basic understanding of human nature, and why we make the choices we do. We will never fully understand what the other person is going through, but you absolutely CAN TRY.

  I find that being an Empath in a world of narcissism and materialistic bullshit is basically suicide. You can be caring to a point, but when you care too much people take advantage of that. It totally depletes your efforts of maintaining a healthy relationship and lifestyle. When you see things in someone that other people do not, you end up an enemy every damn time. While relationships have come and gone through my adult life, I am very fortunate to have gained the life experience, and grown from all of them. The good, bad, and the ugly because let’s face it; something went right before it went wrong, and was not able to be communicated and worked out. Some people will never face their demons and that is ok; making peace with that maybe the hardest part. Moving on is never easy but you must keep growing.

Here are a few things I always keep in mind when bringing someone new into my life.

Top 20 for 2020:

  1. Never compromise who you are for someone else.
  2. Be kind
  3. Have shared interests, your own hobbies, and friends.
  4. Have amazing SEX & lots of it!!! After all, that is half the fun of dating.
  5. Do not try to control people they will show you exactly who they are over time; take it or leave it. A little jealousy is cute, being a stalker is scary.
  6. Be HONEST do not promise someone the world when you are not capable of giving it; no matter how good the intention is. Saying I’m sorry is something that should be eliminated, and replaced with changed behavior if you actually care about the person you hurt.
  7. Go on dates!! Stop accepting, “You want to hang out?” if you are looking for love. The person who says do you wanna hang out has 0 plan, is expecting to get laid, and has probably mass sent that text out to whomever they started talking to on a variety of dating apps. Already in a relationship? Never stop dating the person you are with; that is when the spark dies. If you have to use the phrase “we used to do this.” Things have probably gotten a little stale.
  8. Show appreciation and celebrate their accomplishments.
  9. Be present in the situation… I realize we live in a world of technology and convenience, but your partner does not want a phone in their face every time you go out with them.  If one starts off that way you can be sure it is going to end badly.
  10. Communication; IM FINE is no longer an acceptable response when you are clearly bothered by something. Not speaking on what bothers you only leads to a buildup of anxiety and emotional delusion that could have been handled when your partner asked, “WHAT’S WRONG?” to begin with.
  11. Fighting is two people disputing an issue. Understand no one is going to have the same perspective as you. They have not experienced what you have; also they may have very limited understanding of large life issues if they have not had life smack them down to size yet. Do not discount someone’s feelings based on your own. If they say they are upset, that should be enough.
  12. Have FUN and do not take yourself so seriously….. That is BORING.   There is nothing worse than someone with no quick wit, or funny charm.   
  13. Cook together! Making a meal with someone is a very attractive thing. Anyone can swipe their credit card at a restaurant. If you create a beautiful plate while listening to good music; for me there’s nothing better. Except maybe dancing off the calories after. 
  14. If you are on dating sites try to remember something; not everyone is looking for what you are. Be it friends because you just moved, or sex because you just have not the time or energy to date. If you are seeking dating or a relationship say it. The reality is; you cannot order any of these up like ramen on a snowy day.  If you choose to meet someone on line, my suggestion would be having ZERO expectations, and do not commit to a dinner. You will possibly end up awkwardly stuck for two hours with a person you’re not sure can hold a fifteen minute conversation. Start with a drink alcohol or coffee/juice bar, walk in the park, fitness class, cooking demo, art show, or a museum. This gives you a quick out if you need it, and it is different! Lastly, always tell a friend where you are going because STRANGER DANGER!!!
  15. Be understanding and accept constructive criticism, especially if you were the one asking for it. If you value the person you are with why would you not want to accept their opinions? 
  16. Wait until you find out who you are before bringing someone else into your situation. If you have not figured out how to navigate it, how can someone else?
  17. In 2020 we are not ghosting people anymore. You do not like that person, or they were not what you were expecting? Have some fucking balls and say, “I do not think our lives are on the same path.”  When did we get to be such emotional pussies we cannot convey simple interest, or dislike? It has to be all out war, or radio silence? 
  18. Stay healthy!!  Be the best version of yourself; even when life is smacking you. That shows true dignity when you are still standing when it is all going wrong. Your partner is there for support, but if you are not being honest with yourself how can they truly be there?
  19. MAKE THE TIME, give unexpected gifts, and respect that person’s life for what it is, or walk away. Unless they express they want to be different, do not push. Even if they do talk about it. There is a very large difference between talk and action. You can talk till you’re blue in the face, until you make that decision to be different on your own. It is not going to happen.
  20. Above all else; be careful with that person’s heart. You do not want to be the reason they give up on themselves, love, or dating.

There are only a few billion frogs left to kiss out in the world. Get leaping and put yourself out there. Cheers to all, hoping everyone looking for something special finds it!

.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Katie Kerl was raised in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. She is currently living  in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. Katie has a background in Psychology from Drexel University. She is a manager in the commercial/residential design field . Katie can be reached  on Instagram @kerlupwithkate 

For collaboration e-mail: Kate.kerl32@gmail.com

.

To access additional articles by Katie Kerl, click here:https://tonyward.com/katie-kerl-tis-the-season-for-giving/

Posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, commentary, Current Events, Environment, Friends of TWS, lifestyle, Philadelphia, Popular Culture, Student Life, Women

Ed Simmons: Dancing Girls Harvard and Stone

Photography and Text by Ed Simmons, Copyright 2020

.

Dancing Girls Harvard and Stone

.

Chuck E Weiss. Yeah, I knew that guy. The dude from that Rickey Lee Jones tune, “Chuck E’s In Love”. I was hanging around with him back in the early 80’s at Hollywood’s Club Lingeri.  I read in the LA Weekly a few years back, that Chuck E Weiss was playing a late night set at The Piano Bar on Selma Avenue in Hollywood, so I go on down to check it out.

I bet around about now, you may be wondering how in the hell does this tie into “Dancing Girls”.  Austin was the door man at the Piano Bar that night, a Nigerian with one punch biceps, tells me that on Sundays, this spot, The Piano Bar, barbecues out back, and that I should start stopping by on a regular basis with my camera. I do and we become good friends.  As a photographer, the Sunday afternoon crowd at the Piano Bar was so interesting, so friendly and open to me, but like all slices of life in LA, this ends too before long.

Austin also informed he would be working the door at a spot in East Hollywood’s Thai Town, called Harvard and Stone, that I should start showing up there,  bring the camera, Austin, a bit of a ham…likes being photographed Hollywood ya know. This spot is sorta dark, I’ve got a pretty hot camera, I figure I can hang and see what unfolds. The location is built somewhat like a Hollywood set, lots of interesting industrial architectural treatments, a couple of bars, a smoking area in the back, a stage, live music, shoulder to shoulder people,  and very hard to move around this place, no tension though, everybody’s having fun!  

 One night, I’m  hanging by the front bar at Harvard and Stone chatting it up a bit with Yale, she’s cool, mostly says she bartends at the Hollywood Roosevelt, on this nite she was just filling in. The House Band steps onto the stage and start playing this raunchy tune with a filthy beat, then out from nowhere it seems as if dancing girls started to rain down through the rafters. They start dancing across the catwalks and bar, then down on to the stage. I was shocked, well… surprised,  I didn’t have a clue and couldn’t move. This crowd was thick, shoulder to shoulder.  Hell, no one in this mob was willing to give me an inch as I clicked away.

 The show ends, so I search out Austin as the crowd begins to thin out. He sees my look and ask’s well, did you get anything good? I’m like dude, I couldn’t even move but managed to get some great shots!

Two shows go on, Friday and Saturday nights.  I found the house always full, as I worked through a few months of making images at this venue, I found a need to pre plan. Photographing these dancing girls, week to week, nite by nite I had to pick my spot. If you are a photographer in LA its best to be friendly with door men.

.

.

Ed Simmons photographed by Bonnie Schiffman. Copyright 1972

.

Posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, Cameras, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Erotica, Friends of TWS, Glamour, lifestyle, Models, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Student Life, Travel, Women