Category Archives: Contemporary Architecture

Joy Bao: Habitat

Photography by Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

 

Photography and Text by Joy Bao, Copyright 2020

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HABITAT

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noun

  the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism.

  informal: a person’s usual or preferred surroundings.

The dictionary told me these are the definitions of “habitat.”

I found the word surprisingly fitting for the photo shoot, as the location itself is never quite the habitat for anybody. The room is located in my friend’s home, who also modeled for the project. It is not her or the other girl’s habitat, because it is the “animal room;” however, this room is also not a habitat for an animal, as it is man-made and not “natural,” and the shorthair cat is a type of domestic animal.

What we express emotionally, most of the time, largely depends on the environment around us. With a seemingly natural yet slightly off daily-life setting, I hope to achieve a gradation not only of human emotions, but also artificiality in terms of the project itself. Having the two models making relatively obvious and dramatic facial expressions while standing beside a cat tree that is clearly not designed for human use, the upper part of the photos shows the self-awareness of a deliberate art project. But as if the true loving and caring nature inside the model have precipitated, the bottom half shows the model looking at the cat, and the whole setting becomes more “habitat-like” as it cannot be more suitable for the emotion and atmosphere. While the cat tree is the main prop in this project, I still wanted to emphasize the homely and domestic setting by using only natural light coming from the windows. Through a series of contrast and paradoxical settings, I hope to draw attention to our emotional state with material surroundings, and, ultimately, the question of where exactly can be our habitat?

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Portrait of Joy Bao by Huiping Tina Zhong, Copyright 2020

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About The Author: Joy Bao is a senior enrolled at Bryn Mawr College. Class of 2020

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Steve Cohen: Frank Gehry’s Spectacular Architecture

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Text by Steve Cohen, Copyright 2020

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Photo Credits: Frank Gehry Studio and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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When the most flamboyant architect in the world was awarded the job of redesigning the interior —  just the interior —  of the Philadelphia Art Museum, the choice appeared to be puzzling.

Frank Gehry’s fame comes from spectacular curvaceous structures covered with reflective metal, but he will not be able to alter anything on the exterior of this building. Therefore the assignment seemed like a mis-match. Or could it be a brilliant upsetting of expectations?

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“So you want to know why I’d do a project where nothing will show on the outside? Because what’s always been important to me is the inside, the purpose, the function,” Gehry told me in an interview in November of 2007, right after the assignment was announced..

Gehry’s challenge at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was to create new spaces for art and for visitors without disturbing the classic exterior of a building that is a landmark in Philadelphia. He is in charge of excavating under the Museum’s east side on the hill of Fairmount, and will renovate the Museum’s existing interiors. A 60% increase in the museum’s public space is anticipated, with 80,000 additional square feet.

I point out to Gehry that he’s been criticized as a proponent of the DeCon Movement in architecture, the deconstructionist movement that gives more importance to impressive exteriors than to functional necessity.

“That just isn’t true,” he cheerfully argues. “Everything I design is from the inside. All my projects started with the function. Disney (the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) started with the sound of the orchestra, and Bilbao started with the gallery. And my buildings do function. Just ask any of my clients.”

“To say that what I care about most is the exterior look is wrong. Thank you for giving me a chance to rebut what those people say. When I was a kid, people said that I killed Christ, and that wasn’t true either.”

Before the Disney concert hall, Gehry had never been hired for a large, expensive building. “I heard that one of the Disney people said he’d never set foot in the building if it was designed by Gehry, and I remembered the reputation Walt Disney had for being anti-Semitic.”

Despite all his acclaim, Gehry often feels vulnerable and afraid. For example, afraid to wish for things because he fears he won’t get them. “I’m always scared,” he says. Of what? “Scared that I won’t know what to do when I start a job, for instance.” And he’s aware of negative things that are said about him.

These qualities are endearing. Friends describe him as a Columbo, shuffling and self-effacing. He confirms that. “I want to be a nice guy, the aw-shucks type, but inside I’m competitive as hell.”

“Some people say that I repeat myself. That Disney and Bilbao are similar. But they’re not. I’ve been careful not to repeat myself. Disney and Bilbao have different shapes, different functions. Even the metal isn’t the same.” Gehry goes on to observe that sculptors use plaster and painters use canvas but that scarcely indicates that all their work looks alike.

Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, completed in 1997, is such a stunning achievement that it’s what people see in their minds when they hear his name. The architect concedes that maybe some people hire him because they expect another Bilbao, “but I tell them it’s not what I do. What you want from a building is that the public likes it and that it functions.”

Anne d’Harnoncourt, former director of the Philadelphia museum, said: “The decision to hire him was based on the exceptional range of Gehry’s accomplishments, his love of art, admiration for our collections, respect for the neoclassical building, and the firm’s success even in smaller projects, such as the renovations to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena where the hand of the architect is discreet yet wonderfully sensitive to the needs of great works of art.”

Gehry told me that he sought this project because he loves Philadelphia and he respected d’Harnoncourt. “I resonate with its collections, and Anne is one of the best museum directors in the world.” [d’Harnoncourt died unexpectedly at the age of 64 in June of 2008.]

“I always wanted to do something in Philadelphia. It’s an architects’ city. I look up to Bob Venturi; he’s a mentor and I treasure my friendship with Bob and Denise (Venturi’s wife and partner.) I attended lectures by Louis Kahn and we spoke afterwards. I loved his work. Ed Bacon was a hero of mine in the area of city planning.”

This grouping is a bit surprising when you realize how Bacon and Kahn disliked each other and criticized each other’s plans. Gehry’s choices also surprise because Kahn was hailed for emphasizing the pipes, ducts and other inner functions of buildings and Venturi has been complimented for his “modest, self-effacing” architecture while Gehry’s work fits neither of these descriptions.

“Our architecture is different,” says Venturi, “but we are good friends. We — Denise and I — would have liked to have gotten the job but, since we didn’t, I’m glad Frank did. He’s a noble person, kind, intelligent, understanding.” Speaking at his headquarters in Manayunk, the Philadelphia-born Venturi says that he and his wife became friends of Gehry when they all lived in Santa Monica forty years ago. Fifty years ago, Venturi worked in Kahn’s office on Walnut Street in Philly.

There are parallels between the careers of Kahn and Gehry. Both were Jewish immigrants to the USA (Kahn from Estonia, Gehry from Canada.) Both toiled for years before they received sudden acclaim in middle age and went on to international stardom.

“I told Anne that I’d like to do this project many years ago,” says Gehry. “I wanted Philadelphia but I never pursued the subject after that one conversation. I tried to push it from my mind. I’m superstitious. I don’t yearn for things because I know I won’t get them. When you go after something, you get rejected. So don’t ask me what type of projects are on my wish list.”

Still, under gentle pressure from me, he discloses one thing on his wish list. He admits that he always wanted to design a synagogue and has not yet had a chance to do so.

Frank Gehry was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1929. He drew a picture of Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, at his Hebrew school and the rabbi told his mother, in Yiddish, that young Frank had goldene hent, golden hands. When he was 17 his family moved to California where his dad worked as a truck driver. For three years Frank also drove a delivery truck and studied at Los Angeles City College before graduating from the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. When he was 24 and newly married, Frank changed his last name from Goldberg to Gehry to counteract the anti-Semitism that he saw in the architectural establishment.

He and a partner ran a commercial architecture firm that designed homes and small businesses, then began to build stores for the Kay Jewelry chain and large malls for the Rouse company in Maryland. “Shopping centers don’t give much leeway; everything’s proscribed. At my home in Santa Monica I had freedom to be creative and try new ideas.” [Gehry’s design for his own home was radical; some critics said it looked like a pile of junk.]

“The CEO of Rouse, Mathias DeVito, pointed out that what I did at my home was the direction I should take. I took his advice and I resigned the Rouse account. I let 45 people go and reduced my staff to three people.”

His home and the buildings he designed in the 1980s feature rudimentary construction materials, throwaway things like corrugated metal and chain link, and random objects arranged artistically. His use of corrugated steel and chain link was partly inspired by spending Saturday mornings at his grandfather’s hardware store.

He feels that a breakthrough came in 1989 when he designed the thrusting, soaring, Vitra furniture museum in Weil-am-Rhein in southwestern Germany, that juxtaposed curved shapes with rectilinear ones. From there, his work became bigger, broader, wilder.

His buildings look like sculpture. When he was young he liked to make things with his hands but says he never had aspirations to sculpt or paint. “I have sculpture on an emotional pedestal. I revere artists and sculptors; they’re like my Holy Book. But I wouldn’t dare to try it myself. Sure, I create shapes, but the ones I produce are to keep heat in and the water out, to support the walls, to enclose utilities.” Self-effacingly, he concludes: “If it has plumbing it can’t be art, can it?”

Many of Gehry’s buildings are museums and concert halls. He always has loved art and music, and artists who know him since the 1960s say they always saw him at exhibits and at parties. “I have artists and musicians as friends,” he explains, “because they’re outside the politics of my profession. With them I can be an observer instead of a participant. There’s less pressure.”

In the early 1960s Gehry hung out with the rebellious young artists who were known as the Cool School in Los Angeles. Their work often was described as abstract expressionism but there were many individualistic variations. Frank, with long hair, a droopy mustache and a cigar, partied with them and attended their exhibitions. “I grew from here to there (reaching ‘way up) because I spent time with them,” Gehry says.

His artist friends included people like Jasper Johns, Bob Rauschenberg, Ed Kienholz, Claes Oldenburg, Julian Schnabel. “They were working with very inexpensive materials — broken wood and paper, and they were making beauty. They made beauty with junk. That inspired me. I began to explore the processes of raw construction materials to try giving feeling and spirit to form.”

Gehry’s love of music came from his mother, who studied violin and took him to concerts when he was a child. In 1970 he got a contract to redesign the Hollywood Bowl and its director, Ernest Fleischman, introduced him to Zubin Mehta (then the conductor of the LA Philharmonic) and “through Mehta I got to know the Israeli mafia” — Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and Jacqueline DuPre — who performed and socialized with each other.

“Contemporary music interests me most. John Adams. Boulez and his friends. The electronic composers. Metaphorically, they try to answer the same questions I have: How do you react to changing conditions? How do you adapt to a changing world filled with disparity and inequality?”                          .

Before the Disney hall, Gehry designed the Merriweather Post Pavilion of Music in Columbia, Maryland, and the Concord Amphitheatre in northern California. More recently he designed a lovely little concert hall on the campus of Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley.

The music directors of the San Francisco and Los Angeles symphonies are among his pals. Gehry worked closely with Esa Pekka Salonen in the development of the Disney Hall. And Gehry and his first wife used to babysit for Michael Tilson Thomas when Thomas’s parents lived in the San Fernando Valley. Now Gehry is designing a concert hall for MTT’s New World Symphony in Miami.

Because of his lifelong connection with music and his friendships with musicians, Gehry reacted strongly when I brought up the subject of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center: “It’s lazy to design a hall that has movable parts to change the sound of the music. Flexible, movable walls are in vogue but it’s intellectually dishonest because no one has 500 years’ experience playing that instrument. Making musical instruments, however, has that background and that tradition. An architect should design, to the best of his ability, an auditorium that will enhance the sound of an orchestra and then the players and the conductor will make their own adjustments. Musicians adjust to the room.”

The Walt Disney Concert Hall does not have movable panels, flaps, baffles or anything of that sort. “It’s all fixed. Nothing moves. The interior is a box because that reflects sound the best. Then I covered the outside of that rectangle with large curved panels, like sails.”

He is glad that a major part of his Philadelphia Museum redesign will be making a space for the museum’s contemporary collection. Although Gehry will leave no imprint on the outside of the building, look for unusual design and wall treatments inside. “I hate sterilized white cubes and the artists don’t like it either. Everybody has been making galleries with plain white walls and it’s time for things to change.”

One example of Gehry’s design for an art museum is the MARTa museum in Herford, Germany, which has nary a rectangular wall. Interior shapes range from trapezoidal to curved, using the colors of blue, yellow, grey and off-white with contrasting textures ranging from soft to reflective.

Gehry says that his walls are more flattering to the art that hangs on them: “I could show you love letters that I’ve gotten from artists.” Julian Schnabel is one who says: “I feel comfortable in his spaces. I want to stick my stuff in there.”

His work is so popular that Gehry’s firm now employs a staff of 150. Frank travels a good part of the year and when he is at his office in LA he runs between client meetings, contractor meetings, phone calls and design sessions. On the road, he carries tracing paper so he can create new designs on site. When he was in Philadelphia for a week he spent his time exploring the art museum and meeting with its staff, turning down requests for media interviews and photo sessions.

He says he’ll start slowing down now that he’s  80, in 2009. “But I love my work, I love what I’m doing. I don’t ever want to retire. I have friends who retired and I could see their deterioration when they left their profession.”

When asked why he has taken on new, commercial projects such as designing jewelry for Tiffany, he says: “Do you mean, why did I sell out? I didn’t seek it but I went along with it because I can play with my children, so-to-speak. It’s one-on-one between the idea and the craft. I’m designing three-dimensional objects, working directly. Vases, silverware, candlesticks and jewelry have a visceral gratification, and I do all those things for Tiffany, not just jewelry. Architects throughout history have designed jewelry; there’s nothing wrong about it.”

His real-life children are daughters in their fifties and sons in their thirties from Gehry’s second marriage. The older boy is an artist and the younger is interested in architecture.

He says that his buildings are like his children, but with a difference: “After they’re done I’ll see them only three or four more times in my life!”

Among his many buildings, Gehry spoke especially fondly of what he called “my Israeli project,” the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. Gehry said the project had awakened memories of his grandfather who taught him about the Talmud and Zionism. ”If you’re raised a Jewish kid, Israel’s the most important place in the world where there’s some sense of belonging when all else fails.”

But in 2010 Gehry withdrew from the project amid controversy over the fact that the museum was to be built on the site of a former Muslim cemetery. (He had no input on the location.) The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the project had to be radically changed because of what it called “the affront to the honor of the dead as a constitutional right.”

The American architect and critic Michael Sorkin had stirred up opposition when he claimed in Architectural Record that the Gehry design’s use of large, irregular stone blocks ”uncomfortably evokes the deconstruction of Yasir Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah into a pile of rubble by Israeli security forces.”

The end of this project left Gehry feeling unfulfilled and angry.

More recently, in 2014 two significant museums designed by Gehry opened: the Biomuseo in Panama City, Panama, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a modern art museum in the Bois de Boulogne park in Paris. In February 2015 a new building for the University of Technology in Sydney opened, with a facade constructed from more than 320,000 hand-placed bricks and glass slabs.

Gehry said he drew inspiration from folds in the skin and clothing. Some say it resembles a “squashed brown paper bag.” He responded, “Maybe it’s a brown paper bag, but it’s flexible on the inside, so there’s a lot of room for changes or movement.”

Sir Peter Cosgrove, Australia’s Governor-General, described it fondly as “the most beautiful squashed brown paper bag I’ve ever seen. It’s bold, it’s inspiring and the traditional notions of hallowed sandstone quadrangles, spires and large lecture halls as symbols of tertiary education have been reinvented, reinterpreted and reinvigorated by the building.” 

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Steven Cohen

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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 here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/steve-cohen-louis-kahn-and-i/

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To access Mr. Cohen’s web site, click herehttp://theculturalcritic.com

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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

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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. 

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

 

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Mikala Mikrut: Minimilism – A Modern Luxury

Apartment by Tony Ward Studio. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

 

Text by Mikala Mikrut, Copyright 2019

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Minimalism – A Modern Luxury

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Growing up a fan of Vogue and stalking Pinterest for spectacular oddities I could never afford, I’ve come to realize that big fancy mansions aren’t filled with memories and trinkets. They’re filled with artistic, bold pieces to take the spotlight one room at a time. All the big houses, even mansions, I’ve entered felt empty to me. There were clearly furniture and decorations, so why did it feel like something was missing? With this on my mind, I analyzed the homes I was more familiar with. Something in these middle class, well lived, well loved homes was always filled. Whether it be the garage, the attic, a closet, or even a drawer, something was always designated as junk space.

I began to wonder why that is. Grand pictures of impersonal, simplistic decor was somehow more beautiful than the collections people have introduced to me over the years. They could have shared all of the glorious memories attached to them. Still, all I would see was a bunch of vintage spoons I wasn’t allowed to use or dolls that would never break eye contact, teasing me with perfect, dusty curls I wasn’t allowed to brush. These memories that others attach don’t enlighten a sense of appreciation for the inanimate objects. In fact, they have a better chance of making me feel guilty.

In a completely hyperbolized example, I would much rather take John List’s signed Tiffany original skylight than my grandmother’s prized angel figurines. Isn’t that awful? To prefer a mass murderer’s window, for all intents and purposes, over what a loved family member has spent a lifetime to collect? But I would love to walk under dazzling colors from the morning sun, warm mug in my hand, fuzzy blanket as a shawl, making my own memories with the glass. I never met John, so making what was his my own would be cake. I will always have the memory of how much my grandma loved her angels, but taking them on as my own would leave me with the constant reminder of her connections with them. Filling my space with memories that aren’t even mine.

My point is, I believe the majority of us are hanging onto clutter. Whether it’s because we are entirely too sentimental or haven’t carved out the time to purge. For the love of yourself, make your home a safe place for your mind and soul. If something isn’t serving a purpose or bringing you joy, get rid of it! If there’s a big empty wall in your home and a piece from a local artist you can’t get out of your head, buy it! Life is too short to not serve yourself. Why are you hanging on to that ugly knick knack from your mother in law, because it’ll hurt her feelings that she got you something you don’t like? Why won’t you let yourself spend a little extra on the all natural cleaning product that you like the smell of, because you feel you only deserve to spend as little as possible?

Whether it’s because they have the space or lack of unresolved mental trauma, rich people wear minimalism beautifully and I personally drool at the aesthetic of having only what I need and really desperately love. We have this sense to hoard and give things. I propose we shift our mindset to seeking and giving experiences. One of my favorite gifts I’ve ever received were trapeze lessons, my favorite summers were spent on lakes. Memories are my souvenirs, and that’s the best part. If that’s not enough, take pictures! Those store neatly in the cloud, or make your photos the decor of your home. Let’s all avoid becoming the next episode on Hoarders.

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About The Author: Mikala Mikrut is a junior enrolled at Southern Utah University. To access additional articles by Mikala Mikrut, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/mikala-mikrut-red/

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A.H. Scott: Blade of Power

Tony Ward early work composites grass blade

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

Poetry by A.H. Scott, Copyright 2019

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Blade of Power

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Which is stronger?
Grass or is it concrete?
A blade of grass is stronger
Stronger not because of heft
But, because of its’ ability to adapt and transform itself
Survives and thrives in ways that are miraculous
It pushes through that hardened ground and strives towards the sun
Like a magnet it rises up, even when it seems it doesn’t have a chance
Human beings have the choice of form
Cold concrete for some
Transformative blade of grass for others
Never staying down under the weight of the hard times in life
The blade of grass pushes forward with tiny might
Little warrior is that blade of grass
Even when crushing concrete seems to be kicking its’ ass
Blade doesn’t give up
It waits in the cut
Wiggling its’ way through the fissures that cause small cracks
Sun is calling
Blade is answering the bell
Who knew something so small could be like Hercules
Look down at the sidewalk and remember what you see
Among the gray ground, green slivers break on through
We are the blades of grass
Believe you me
For the battle upward through the concrete is our trip to clarity
Be that blade of grass
Not broken by wind or rain
What seems crushed by concrete, is only taking a break to a revival
We are the blade of grass
Concrete may ignore us
But, we must hold fast
Sun’s rays are waving us towards the sky
Tiny miracles come in the blink of an eye
Blade of grass survives all the storms
This is what you and I are
And, for generations to come
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About The Author: A.H. Scott is a poet based in New York City and frequent contributor to Tony Ward Studio. To read additional articles by A. H. Scott, go here: http://tonywarderotica.com/a-h-scott-yes-she-is/
 
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