Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Wishing everyone all the best this holiday season. See you again in 2012.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Autumn's Charms

This autumn's been quite a season so far. Several architecture and design community events took up much of my time (thus my long absence), and the hunt for design opportunities continues apace. A broken heart threatens to waylay me yet again, but I've resolved to carry on.

Not to worry: I did have some fun. I've been taking pictures when I can, and a couple of day trips provided healthy and welcome respites.

Storm King Art Center

A couple of friends and I made our way to the Storm King Art Center, in New Windsor, NY, on a day that started out warm and turned humid and hot, an obscenity in October. Sprinkled with large-scale works by some of contemporary art's most prominent artists including Mark Di Suvero and the late, great Donald Judd, the park grounds—located about an hour north of New York City—are extensive and beautiful, no matter the weather. I can't show you any of the artwork—strictly forbidden by the Storm King folks—but the fall images are from in and around the center. If you're looking for a tryptophan-hangover remedy, the outdoor galleries are open through this Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The Glass House
The Glass House and brick-clad Guest House, with the round pool dominating the landscape
My friend J. and I finally completed our pilgrimage to Philip Johnson's iconic Glass House, a must for all design lovers. Located in New Canaan, CT, the house was completed in 1949; Johnson added buildings and structures to the 40+ acre site until the mid-1990s. Johnson, an art historian/curator turned architect, was a great arts patron, supporting artists—many of whom were his friends and stayed as guests or party invitees—right up until his death at age 98 in 2005.

He and historian/curator Henry-Russell Hitchcock coined the term International Style to describe European modernism, which Johnson explored firsthand in the late 1920s and early 1930s. As the Museum of Modern Art's founding curator of its architecture and design department, he mounted the first retrospective of European design and architecture, in 1932. Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and others found haven in the U.S. at the rise of Nazism in the 1930s partly because of MoMA's influential show, and Johnson was a tireless advocate of modernism until the 1960s, when he broke from the confines of steel and glass to explore Pop Art, postmodernism and other schools of design thought.

His New Canaan estate was his laboratory, and the various buildings show his unending curiosity. The brick guest house, less than 100 yards from the main house, echoes the Glass House's measurements (it is in fact a twin in all but materials and interior space plan). A library/studio and Ghost House are visible to the left of the grounds' entrance and driveway. The gallery buildings explore different structural elements, including skylights and rotating interior walls for displaying art both small and large scale. The last building completed, an unused visitors center nicknamed Da Monsta, was completed in 1996 and boasts the Dr. Suessian curves and colors of postmodernism and deconstructivism.
Johnson's library and study, which he used daily until shortly before his death in 2005
The Ghost House was originally built to protect a lily garden from the plentiful deer. It didn't work.
The Glass House itself is relatively small at 1800 square feet. Johnson changed the space little from 1949. the furniture and materials are original to the house. It's hard to understand how anyone could live in such an open to the landscape house until you step inside and look round. The walls are in fact frames for the lush grounds, hilly and tree-filled vistas that Johnson could admire from anywhere in his home. And he did so for more than 50 years.
The kitchen
The living room. The landscape—by French Renaissance painter Nicolas Poussin—was the only work Johnson showed by an artist he didn't know personally. 
The study
The bedroom
The only walls that reached the ceiling housed the well-used fireplace and bathroom. The brick was the same used for the floor, which boast radiant heating, a rarity in the 1950s.
The artwork, this one by Elie Nadelman

The views from the Glass House
The landscape is very New England, with stone walls crossing the grounds and paths leading the way to and from various buildings and follies. The autumn colors were just beginning to glow and a steady drizzle cut through the chill. It was perfect.

The path from the entrance, around the main buildings . . .
. . .  to the Sculpture Gallery . . .
A Frank Stella
A bronze replica of humble but proud driftwood
. . . and the underground Painting Gallery.
Andy Warhol portrait of Johnson
More Stellas adorn the movable walls. The mechanics are partially visible in the gallery's ceiling.
Inside Da Monsta
Visitors center entrance. A steady drizzle kept the air chilly.
A final look down the path. 'Til we meet again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

All Apple Roads Began With Design

I didn't know how to pay tribute to Apple CEO and visionary Steve Jobs, who died at age 56 on October 5. Then I finally figured it out. Here now a personal history of Apple in my life. All photos courtesy, unless otherwise indicated.

Thank you, Mr. Jobs.

The first Macintosh I ever worked on. As a writer and editor, it was a godsend: easy to configure and use.
Next came the LC II, which I loved 'cause it was named for me!

Towers dominated magazine publishing for years. They got progressively sleeker and more powerful.
As a freelance writer, I needed a Mac at home. My choice: the lime. Delicious and fun. A cousin inherited it after I moved to the MacBook. She used it until it wouldn't turn on anymore.
The only thing I didn't like about my beloved Lime Machine was the mouse.
Wanted one of these clamshell MacBooks, but waited too long. . . .
. . . and ended up with the colorless but more powerful update. My brother inherited this one when his HP laptop died after only a year. He killed this one too, but it took a lot longer.
I wanted a faster machine without the tower, so it was back to the iMac, this time a 20" beauty. Five years later, it's still going strong, but Lion is biting at my heels. . . . (courtesy
I had an earlier version of the iPod, but adored my G5 Classic.
The Shuffle remains the perfect workout companion.
Somewhere out there, my G5 iPod is still mourning our separation. But I had a new love: the iPod Touch.
When Verizon finally got its hand on the iPhone, I started counting down, in minutes, to my upgrade. Worth the wait. (courtesy
Still don't like the name, but want it bad just the same: the iPad 2. (courtesy
Yes, Mr. Jobs, you sold me on the MacBook Air. It's my next Apple machine. (courtesy

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To a Great City

Stillspotting NYC, an interdisciplinary project curated by the Guggenheim Museum, explores ways of finding quiet in the cacophony of senses that is urban living, especially in New York. Partnering with architects, artists, designers, composers and philosophers, assistant curator David van der Leer (from the museum's Architecture and Urban Studies program) and project associate Sarah Malaika steer the two-year project through its various incarnations in all of the city's five boroughs.
The sign to the will-call gallery at Castle Clinton, just paces from our first stop.
"To a Great City," the aptly titled second edition of Stillspotting NYC, in time for the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks (the first was in June, with artist Pedro Reyes installing in Brooklyn) features a partnership with architecture firm Snøhetta and the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Five sites, mostly in lower Manhattan and outdoors, were chosen, each featuring recorded works of Pärt's. Snøhetta subtly altered indoor and outdoors spaces, to quote the accompanying literature, "that embody the concept of a central musical tone and extend the perception of sound into the realm of space. . . . The staging . . . gradually transports visitors from the hustle and bustle of the streetscape to an elevated urban experience that makes them newly aware of the sense of hearing." Over the course of two weekends (it ends on September 25), this latest incarnation of the project promised to be moving, but I wasn't prepared for how deeply I would be touched.
Castle Clinton
On a cool, crisp Sunday, a week after the somber 9/11 anniversary, my friend N. and I arrived at Castle Clinton, the restored fort at the southern tip of Manhattan. How could we be transported from the insanity of the city without actually leaving it? We followed the suggested order (the sites can be visited in any order and at any time between 11am and 7pm) and entered Stillspot A.

From the first, tentative steps into Labyrinth at the Battery (just west of Castle Clinton) through a short journey to Governors Island and back to Manhattan and the World Trade Center, emotion ruled. I had traveled to Battery Park by bus from uptown Manhattan to take in the urban morning expecting nothing more than to listen to the music of a composer I'd admired for years. There was so much more.

For New Yorkers (and Washingtonians and Pennsylvanians), the wounds of September 11 remain remarkably fresh, even as the ache of loss dulls. My best friend pointed out recently that the reliving of the attacks by the media and the constant streams of visitors who have turned the World Trade Center into a tourist destination represent a constant "retraumatization" for those of us who witnessed the attacks and carry the knowledge that we knew someone—either directly or indirectly through friends, family and coworkers—who died on that awful day (sometimes New York is an incredibly small town). After hours of making sure that my family was safe (I have a cousin who worked in the North Tower—miraculously, her entire office was uptown for a conference at the moment the first plane hit), I made my way to the magazine where I worked and spend the next 15 hours reading, editing and piecing together an issue that covered that day's events. Even years later, a beautiful sky—a blue, impossibly bright and crystalline clear one that only happens in the fall—can make my heart race, and I reflectively search the sky for the plane that will end it all.
Entering Stillspot A, the Labyrinth at the Battery
"Silentium," from Arvo Pärt's Tabula Rasa, accompanied visitors on the walk.

These weather balloons marked each Stillspot.
All this was in my heart as I entered Stillspot A, the hole left in the sky by the attacks visible from where I stood. And it all dissipated as Pärt's music filled my ears (an iPod shuffle provided the private soundtrack) and the city fell away. Tears threatened almost immediately, but a surprising calm took hold and I finished the walk barely aware of other participants. N. and I talked in quiet tones as we made our way to the Governors Island ferry, then took in the beauty of the man-made world of Manhattan during the five-minute sail. On the island, Stillspot B and C deprived us of the skyline view then restored it, exploring the way we find escape—or don't—in our everyday claustrophobic comings and goings.
Manhattan from the Governors Island ferry
From the haunted magazine chambers of Fort Jay . . .

. . . to the open space at the Southeast Bastion, with the skyline as backdrop
Stillspot D, back in Manhattan at the Woolworth Building (closed since 2001 to all but those who toil inside its neo-Gothic walls), was a study in complements. The landmarked interiors represent an especially robust Beaux Arts period in New York, when ornamentation and decoration were used to celebrate commerce and prosperity. Pärt's choral work, until then minimal, was now rounded out by large orchestra and chorus [In Principio (In the Beginning)], filling the entrance halls, wrapping itself around the grand stairs, miniature gothic arches and exuberantly colored stained glass with an unexpected reverence—not for the naked capitalism of that era, but for the hope and optimism that spurred the striving.
On our way to the Woolworth Building
Photos aren't allowed inside the Woolworth, but I snuck in a couple on my iPhone.
Staircase detail
But the best and most moving Stillspot awaited us, at 7 World Trade Center, the first building completed in the rebuilding of the area. A panoramic view of Manhattan and the city greeted us as we exited the elevator on the 46th floor. I've studied, cursed, admired and loved this skyline my entire life and from the different vantage points—including the Empire State Building, the East River Bridges, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey, from sea and airplane—but nothing prepared me for this. I was across the street from where the Towers stood, and the awe I felt years before during a temp stint on one of the higher floors of the North Tower I felt again as I gazed at my city. But I wasn't in the North Tower. I was instead staring down at the September 11 Memorial Park and the waterfalls that have replaced both towers, and I let the tears finally fall.
The views from the 46th floor of 7 World Trade Center

"Reflecting Absence," Michael Arad's design for the 9/11 Memorial Park