Category Archives: Science

Bob Shell: Coronavirus and Prison Life

Prison

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Coronavirus and Prison Life

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Right now the prison I’m in is on modified lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means that we’re locked in our cells about 22 hours every day, and the two hours we’re not stuck in our cells, we can go out into the pod, our common area, for recreation and sometimes out on the prison yard for outdoor recreation like basketball, horseshoe tossing, or just walking around. But, due to the virus, only one pod can be on the yard at a time, while normally it’s the whole building. Each building here has three pods, there are four residential buildings, and we have two yards, so it is a logistical juggling act to give everyone some yard time. Pods have around eighty men each, for a total population here of just over a thousand men.

But, even though we’re isolated from other pods, and the pods are cleaned with disinfectant several times a day, there are no restrictions on comings and goings of the staff, who go freely from building to building, pod to pod, and go home at the ends of their shifts and interact with the outside world.

In an article in The New York Times, Amanda Klonsky says that prisons could be viral nightmares.

We have 2.3 million people in prison in this country, a ridiculous number by anyone’s measure. Klonsky says that prisons see a daily influx of staffers, vendors, and visitors who “carry viral conditions at the prisons back to their homes and communities and return the next day packing the germs from back home.” So far, other than putting us on modified lockdown, all Virginia has done is cancel in-person visits.

Klonsky goes on to state the obvious: Prison populations must be reduced. I would add the word drastically. Most of the men I know here in this prison could be released right now and pose no risk to their communities. Many, like me, were never any risk to our communities in the first place. Klonsky says aging inmates should be considered for compassionate release, because we have health issues that are not dealt with in prison and extremely low recidivism rates. We have many inmates here who have serious health issues, are too infirm to be dangerous, and are, in many cases, wheelchair-bound. In my case I get around with a wheeled walker due to long term effects from a stroke I suffered years before my conviction. I’m not a physical threat to anyone, but have been victimized by bullies, had my property stolen, even physically assaulted. Prison is no place for an old man (I’m 73).

Our governors need to act immediately to release prisoners who are at risk and harmless.

Here in Virginia we have no parole (it was abolished in 1996). But we do have “Conditional Early Release” for older prisoners, often called “geriatric parole.” So far since reaching age 65, I’ve been turned down seven times! Typically it is only granted to inmates who are literally at death’s door. Apparently, I’m just not sick enough! I worry about COVID-19 because I am diabetic and have other health issues. According to The New York Times, an authoritative 100 page government report says the pandemic “will last 18 months or longer,” and could result in “widespread shortages that would strain consumers” and the health care system. It also says that “State and local governments, as well as critical infrastructure and communications channels, will be stressed and potentially less reliable.” The time for aggressive action is past, but much could still be done.

I’m hopeful that the current viral crisis will finally get the attention of those in power who can do something to fix this terribly broken system that can steal people’s lives for nothing. Keeping people like me behind bars just makes no sense, no matter what perspective you view it from. I’ve been imprisoned since September 1, 2007, for events that never happened, that existed only in the fevered imaginations of police and prosecutors.

If you want to track the spread of the pandemic, look at: http://coronavirus.jhu.edu . The map is updated in real time.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click herehttps://tonywardstudio.com/blog/marijuana/

 

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Dr. Michael Zapor: Covid-19

Novel Coronavirus Covid 19

Text by Dr. Michael Zapor, Copyright 2020

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COVID-19

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Being an infectious diseases physician, research microbiologist, and former deputy commander of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (which is in the business of identifying, researching, and mitigating infectious disease threats), I thought I’d make a few comments about Coronavirus Disease-2019.
 
Firstly, we’ve known about coronaviruses since the 1960s. Named for the crown-like arrangement of glycoproteins on their capsid, the coronaviruses comprise a family within the order Nidovirales and consist of four genera: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Coronaviruses are common in birds and mammals (with the greatest diversity in bats), and human infections are caused by two alpha- (i.e. HCoV-229E and HCoV-NL63) and several beta- (e.g. HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1) species. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS) are also beta-coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are ubiquitous and along with rhinoviruses, parainfluenza, metapneumovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus, cause most community-acquired upper respiratory tract infections (i.e. the common cold). As with other respiratory viruses, coronaviruses occasionally cause more severe illness. Individuals at the extremes of age (i.e. infants and the elderly), as well as those with comorbid pulmonary disease (e.g. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or immune compromising conditions (e.g. hematopoietic stem cell transplant or HIV infection) are at increased risk. Certain coronavirus species (e.g. HCoV-OC43, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV) also are associated with more severe infection. Except for SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, there has not been much interest in producing coronavirus vaccines. This derives from the fact that most coronaviruses: 1) cause mild, self-limiting illness; 2) are difficult to replicate in tissue culture; 3) display antigenic variation (That is to say that the surface proteins against which protective antibodies would be made change); and 4) Vaccine trials with at least one animal coronavirus demonstrated a worse outcome upon challenge with the virus (a problem similarly posed by dengue virus). Although some medicines, including antivirals and chloroquine, have demonstrated potent in vitro antiviral activity against tested coronaviruses (i.e. SARS-CoV, HCoV-229E, and HCoV-OC43), there are no clinical trials assessing efficacy and treatment is supportive. As with other respiratory viruses (such as rhinoviruses), coronaviruses are transmitted by respiratory aerosol, and the mainstay of prevention is handwashing, respiratory hygiene (i.e. covering the cough or sneeze), and disinfection of fomites (i.e. inanimate objects which can become contaminated).
 
The coronavirus now in the news emerged in late 2019 as a novel variant out of Wuhan, a city in the Hubei Province of China—hence, its earlier designation 2019-NCoV (i.e. 2019 Novel Coronavirus). Since it is no longer novel and is genetically and clinically like SARS, 2019-NCoV was re-designated SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 has subsequently spread to other countries including South Korea, Italy, Iran, and Japan. Most cases have been among people who had either traveled from China or who had been exposed to someone known to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. However, several cases in the United States were recently diagnosed among people with no obvious risk factors, suggesting that community transmission is occurring. The incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 appears to average 3-6 days. Because viral DNA has been isolated from respiratory secretions of exposed asymptomatic individuals, it is believed that not everyone who is exposed will become ill. The extent to which these individuals transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others is not yet known. Epidemiological studies of the Wuhan outbreak suggest that most infected individuals will have mild disease (81%), and only a minority will develop pneumonia (14%) or pneumonia with respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction (5%).The overall estimated case fatality rate (CFR) appears to be ~2.3%, making it less deadly than some influenza strains and far less deadly than MERS. Moreover, the CFR was lower outside of Wuhan (0.7%) and as with other coronaviruses, risk factors for severe or critical disease include extremes of age, comorbid illness, and immune compromising conditions.
SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection is by means of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification, using an assay that is currently only available (in the U.S.) at the Centers for Disease Control and CDC-qualified labs. However, there is a push to make the assay more available (e.g. to state health labs). Currently, the treatment of individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2 is supportive, but antiviral drugs including nucleotide analogues and protease inhibitors are being studied. As with other coronaviruses, the mainstay of prevention is handwashing, respiratory hygiene, and disinfection of fomites. Several labs, both in the U.S. and in Israel, are pursuing a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, buoyed by the stability of at least some of the spike glycoproteins as well as sequence homology with several other human and poultry coronaviruses. It is also possible that as more and more people become exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and develop protective antibodies, transmission between susceptible individuals will decline (the “herd effect”).
 
Although the emergence of a novel pathogen is never a trifling matter, it is important for people to have a realistic understanding of the disease caused by it without succumbing to hysteria. To date, SARS-CoV-2 has shown itself to be a respiratory viral pathogen most commonly causing mild, self-limiting illness, with more severe disease limited to certain susceptible populations (in contrast, say, to the 1918 H1N1 influenza virus which disproportionately killed healthy younger people). Moreover, researchers are making progress in developing vaccines and therapeutics. I certainly don’t mean to trivialize SARS-CoV-2. However, I’ve seen far more lethal viral pathogens such as HIV, rabies, Ebola, and other viral hemorrhagic fever viruses; and unless something changes with the virus, I am only moderately alarmed by SARS-CoV-2.
On a positive note, the anti-vaxxers suddenly seem awfully quiet on social media…
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Dr.Michael Zapor

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About The Author: Dr. Michael Zapor is the Chief of Medical Services at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Virginia.
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Disclaimer:
1) Dr. Zapor did not write this essay in any official capacity.
2) Because the COVID situation is developing rapidly, some things included in the essay (e.g. case fatality rates) are a bit outdated.
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Bob Shell: Marijuana and Mind

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

 

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

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The March/April 2020 issue of Discover magazine has a couple very interesting articles on scientific research into the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), shows great promise in treating ARML (Age Related Memory Loss), dementia, and may even reverse Alzheimer’s. That’s pretty amazing to me, because back in 1969 I was arrested for possession of marijuana, one single joint in the pocket of a man who didn’t live with us, was just visiting. Five people in the apartment, one had marijuana, all five were charged with possession! Not only were the four of us who had no marijuana charged with possession, we were each facing up to thirty years in prison!

And this being Richmond, Virginia, we were all convicted! I got a three year sentence, thankfully suspended, and had to fight to get that conviction expunged so I could vote, own firearms, and exercise constitutional rights that most people take for granted.

My life was totally disrupted, and one of my best friends who’d been living with me in the apartment put a gun in his mouth and killed himself over it. I’ve never completely gotten over that. A young life ended by the evil of misguided government.

Now, fifty-one long years later, we’re finally getting around to doing the research to find out what marijuana actually does when ingested by humans. And we’re finding out that it does some remarkable things, like restoring memory function to aging brains when used in moderate quantities.

Serious research was blocked for generations by stupid regulations that made such research almost impossible.

Actually, the research had unwittingly already been done in the field. There are areas in Kashmir and other high Himalayan regions where people have cooked their food in Red Oil, marijuana oil, for centuries. All we need to do is compare them with others who live in similar localities but use other oils for cooking.

When National Geographic sent a team into the area years ago for a story, the photographers and writers ate what the locals were eating, and found themselves too high to function. It took them weeks to get accustomed to having high levels of THC in their systems and become functional again. But the people who cook with Red Oil aren’t any less healthy than their neighbors who don’t, and show no increased level of mental problems. They live quiet, happy lives.

Is marijuana totally harmless, then? No, (and probably should only be used by adults, as it may be harmful to developing brains), but neither is coffee, chocolate, tea, or countless other plant products. Demonizing marijuana, as the U.S. government did for years, ruined lives and was far more harmful to society than marijuana ever could have been, even if the lies about it had been true.

Here in backwater, backward Virginia, people have even seen the light. Our legislature, the General Assembly, which likes to remind us that it is the oldest elected legislature in America, has finally passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana, and our Governor says he will sign it. But decriminalization is not legalizing, and they’ll still be able to bust you for having it. It will just be a fine instead of jail or prison.

We’ve had a “medical marijuana” law in Virginia for years. It says they can’t charge anyone for possession if they have a valid prescription from a Virginia doctor. But doctors here were not allowed to write such prescriptions! And prescriptions from one of the surrounding states or D.C. weren’t any good.

All laws making marijuana illegal need to just be struck from the books. For that matter, it is my opinion that all drug laws do far more harm than good. We could save a hell of a lot of money and break the backs of the drug cartels by ending unproductive prohibition and disbanding the Drug Enforcement Administration, and have local police stop wasting time and money harassing people for simple possession. All those millions of tax dollars could then be put to productive use.

Almost all of the Democratic presidential hopefuls say they favor legalizing marijuana, as has President Trump. I say, stop talking and do it! Trump could do it with the stroke of a pen with an Executive Order, as could the next president, if it’s not him. Fifty-one years is too long to wait.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonyward.com/bob-shell-finally-something-good-to-report/

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Environment, Friends of TWS, Health Care, History, lifestyle, News, Popular Culture

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

Also posted in Affiliates, Architecture, Art, Blog, commentary, Contemporary Architecture, Engineering, Environment, Friends of TWS, History, Men, Popular Culture, Travel

Steve Cohen: Louis Kahn and I

Portrait of Louis Kahn by George Krause, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Steve Cohen, Copyright 2020

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Louis Kahn and I

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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.

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Portrait: Steve Cohen

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

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