Friday, October 24, 2008


My latest field trip was right out here in Queens.  First stop was the Jackson Diner, which I'd heard was one of the best Indian restaurants in all of New York City.  It really was pretty phenomenal food and I definitely recommend the trip.  It's only a couple blocks from the subway station, so very easy.  We drove, however, and they were having an Indian street fair along 74th Street which made finding a parking spot extremely difficult.  It was crazy, and we were like the only non-Indian people on the entire block.  Indian rap music.  Need I say more?

What I'm posting about today, though, is Flushing Meadows Park.  I had three chief destinations on my mind: the New York State Pavilion, the Unisphere, and the Hall of Science.

Robert Moses just LOVED this park, for some reason, so it has such an illustrious past.  It was one of the last truly beautiful Sunday afternoons of the summer, too, so there were thousands of people there, playing all kinds of sports and so on.

Speaking of which, it was kind of cool to see the old Shea Stadium by Praeger-Kavanaugh-Waterbury:

--Photo courtesy Virtual Bird's Eye.
And right next to it is the new CITIField, still under construction:

--Photo courtesy The Wayward Oriole.
It's by the absolute leaders in stadium architecture, HOK Sport.  I couldn't really care much less about baseball, and I don't really keep up all that much with stadium architecture, but HOK is awesome, and the new building is quite beautiful:

--Image courtesy Curbed.

We arrived on the Eastern edge of the park, right by the big indoor swimming pool, the very recently completed Aquatic Center by Handel Architects:

As you can see, the free-span roof is suspended by cables from giant soaring masts.  It looks vaguely, appropriately nautical, but more interestingly, it's quite clearly a nod to the New Jersey State Pavilion by Collins, Uhl & Hoisington from the 1964 World's Fair, which had tent-like canopies hung from giant masts.  It's very difficult to find photos of it, but you can see it at bottom left here:
At $66.3-million dollars, it was the most expensive public pool ever built in a city park.  A third of the pool has a moveable floor which can change the depth from a couple inches to over seven feet.  Very high-tech.  

--Photo courtesy NYC Parks & Recreation.
If public pools didn't gross me out so much, I might think a membership sounded like a nice idea.  It's not even so much all the gallons of pee, although that's bad enough, really it's the snot.  Snot has actual texture to it.  Okay, I have to stop talking about that now.

We could see the Unisphere from there, but it was obviously about a mile off.  I didn't mind the walk, but the walk back to the car might have been a trek.  So we got back in the car and drove around to it.  We actually first got to Queens Theater-in-the-Park (quite comically abbreviated "Q-TiP").  The Theaterama was originally by Philip Johnson and is very deliciously 1960s Space Age:

--Photo courtesy disneydreamer12.
The towers were added in 1991 and it got a very cool renovation/ expansion by Caples Jefferson Architects in 2008:

--Photo courtesy e-Oculus.

And of course, right next to it is Johnson's magnificent New York State Pavilion:
Now, I'm not going to go on and on about the NYSP because it already has a lot of status as a cult icon, evidenced by the site where many of these images are found, Tent of Tomorrow.  I do love the fact that its floor was a mosaic of New York State, and I love this campy photo from National Geographic:

--Courtesy bobster1985.
I'm sure it didn't go this way, but I love imagining Robert Moses demanding with maniacal delight it be showcased how he was going to make the entire State of New York into one giant highway.  I also LOVE the Andy Warhol story.  Johnson asked a bunch of artists to create works for the building, Rosenquist, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Kelly.  Warhol contributed a silkscreen of the men on the NYC Police Department's most wanted list.  The state thought it would earn lawsuits, so Warhol offered to replace it with twenty-five photos of Moses with a big evil smile on his face.  Awesome!  They decided to just paint over the most wanted guys with silver paint, unfortunately.

I was most interested to really see it up close once and for all, though, because I've gotten to know the New York State Theater so very well:

--Photo by Burdettekevin.
State Theater is currently under a major renovation.  Three main things: making it entirely ADA compliant, replacing all the seat cushions--changed to velour in 1982--with plush Mohair like they were when it was first built, and drastically enlarging the orchestra pit.  It's made possible by a huge donation from David Koch ("coke"), who owns Koch Industries, so in another year or two it will actually be renamed the David H. Koch Theater.  State Theater was originally supposed to be built in Flushing Meadows Park, but Lincoln Center was underway, so they built it there instead, and Lincoln Center became the official "Performing Arts Branch" of the fair.  So I needed a better picture in my mind of how it all fit together.

It really is such a shame what's happened to the Pavilion.

--Courtesy ToT.
I did notice there have been plans to turn it into an Air & Space Museum with a design by Frankie Campione of CREATE, which I think is a totally acceptable transformation, quite appropriate in fact:

In the meantime, I'm sure those steel cables that originally held up the fabric roof are nearly rusted away.  The whole thing is probably a deathtrap.  Nevertheless, "eyesore" is entirely unfair.  This really is one of the most beautiful ruins of our recent architectural past.  It would be so wonderful to be able to walk around inside it, and I seriously doubt I'm alone in thinking so.  But it's completely gated off and locked up.  I really do believe without too much trouble they could get a welder or two to go up and make sure none of the cables are realistically due to break anytime soon, just slap on a bolt or whatever to reinforce any that are, and have somebody take a half hour to sweep up any broken glass off the floor.  Athens doesn't care that the Parthenon has no roof, I don't think this is any different.

Next we walked over to the Unisphere designed by Gilmore D. Clarke:
--Photo by Yavoh.
Of course I'd been to the Unisphere before, and the pool may even have been empty at the time.  But I don't think I ever walked right up to it, under and around it and really studied it before.  I never quite registered that the topology is rendered in three dimensions with layers of steel.  I also noticed this time that the rings orbiting around it are held in place by thin steel cables and nothing else.  You can see if you click the image, it's large; there's no solid steel bars holding them on there.  We were trying to figure out if they actually represent something, like perhaps the orbit of the moon, because I was almost certain they must.  We couldn't quite figure it out, not being astronomers.  Evidently they represent the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin), the first man to orbit the earth (John Glenn), and the first active satellite (Telstar).

The steel for the Unisphere was donated by U.S. Steel, which for many years was headquartered in the iconically triangular U.S. Steel Building in Pittsburgh, designed by Harrison & Abramovitz (I mention them for a reason) in 1970:

--Photo by Derek Jensen.
Now known as the USX Tower, it's the tallest building in Pittsburgh, is one of the city's key landmarks, and it used an innovative system of water-filled steel columns as a fire safety measure.  There was a super fancy restaurant called Top of the Triangle on the 62nd floor where I got to put on my nicest outfit and have a very special dinner for my 10th birthday (or however old I was).  I just discovered that it closed down in 2001, which is kind of sad.

As we walked back from the Unisphere, I remarked that I didn't know a park could be so LOUD.  It was radio controlled cars.  This has seriously got to be the coolest nerdy hobby ever.  Like these guys build their own RC cars from scratch, tweak and modify them, and race them.  They literally go about 30mph or even faster.  They have a table set up where they have all these cars, doing tune-ups and whatever.  
--Photo courtesy Hacked Gadgets.
It's really cool, and I almost wish I were more technically/ electronically inclined to take it up...or had the time to waste on something like that.

Beautifully sited off to the west of the Unisphere is the New York City Building by Aymar Embury:

Conceived so it could later be used as a roller skating or ice rink:
And now houses the Queens Museum of Art:

--All three photos courtesy Bridge and Tunnel Club.
I believe it's the only building still standing from the 1939 World's Fair.  That's sort of unfortunate, because it would be extremely difficult to decide which of the two fairs was the most ridiculously fabulous.  The 1939 was essentially Walt Disney's sole inspiration for EPCOT Center, the General Motors Futurama exhibit by Norman Bel Geddes was an absolutely legendary milestone, and it had work by Wallace Harrison, Edward Durrell Stone, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, William Lescaze, Henry van der Velde, and Salvador Dali.  

Possibly my favorite from the first one, though, is the National Cash Register Building by Ely Jacques Kahn, which would tally the number of visitors to the fair:

--This is actually the one built for the San Francisco exposition that same year.  It may or may not be by Kahn, but it's almost exactly the same structure.  There was another practically identical one built for the Texas Centennial Exposition.  Photo courtesy CSU Fresno.

Evidently, the Queens Museum is getting a big renovation, as well, by Grimshaw Architects:

We then got back into the car.  I knew vaguely where Harrison & Abramovitz' Hall of Science was, because I'd seen the top of it poking up out of some trees.  As OBSESSED as Robert Moses was with the automobile, I will have to say this park is one of the most difficult places to navigate by vehicle that I have ever seen.  The main problem is that the Long Island Expressway chops the park in two, separating the Hall of Science from everything else.  But more than that, the arrangement of the roadways defies any and all common sense or logic.  To eventually get in one direction, you invariably have to turn at an intersection in the complete opposite direction.  Then the roadway will oddly bring you around to where you wanted to be.  But by turning in the direction you want to go, you end up someplace else altogether.  Confused yet?  So were we.  On top of that, we ended up on roadways with no signs or roadblocks to tell us otherwise that ultimately looked very, very much like there was not supposed to be cars on them, and made a lot of U-turns.

Finally we got frustrated and gave up and left the park, coming around at it from the western end.  This is, in fact, where the Hall of Science is.
--Photo courtesy DK Images.
I think it's gorgeous, like a giant piece of paper rolled up, unfurled, and stood on its side.  The walls are lined with chips of blue glass.

--Photo courtesy ArchNewsNow.

This one got a renovation by Polshek Partnership Architects in 2004, and I think they did quite a nice job with it:
--Photo by yl.
It was also intended to stay standing after the fair was over.  It's still running as a science museum.  It's mostly for kids, I'm sure, but I definitely want to go back and see it on the inside.  It was about 5PM when we got there, and the doors were already locked.  It's kind of a shame a similar fate wasn't in store for the IBM Pavilion designed by Eero Saarinen and Charles & Ray Eames (they were all friends):

--Photos courtesy Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo, who were, of course, Saarinen's successors.

Right next to the Hall of Science is this very interesting sculpture called "Forms in Transit" by Theodore Roszak:

--Photo courtesy BaTC.
What's really interesting about it, and I think it may be lost on most people, is that it appears to be corroded.  That is, if you just glance at it quickly, it looks like it's so rusted that it's about to fall apart.  But if you really look at it closely, it becomes obvious first of all that the "corrosion" is of a severity it would take 3000 years to form, never 50.  Secondly, the pattern and location of the texture makes it very unlikely to have been the result of the elements.  In other words, if caused by rain, you expect to see streaks from flowing water in very specific places.  This is different.  The texture of it looks almost like the surface of the moon or some foreign heavenly body.  It was obviously intended to allude to space travel.  It's a very cool piece.

The last thing we saw, which I had seen many times before, but had forgotten about it until I was out there, is the Port Authority Building by A. Gordon Lorimer:

--Photo by Bill Cotter.
It had a heliport on the roof for the wealthy people to arrive at the fair by helicopter and had a sort of restaurant/ cafeteria type of thing below.  It still says "Terrace on the Park" on it.  I have no idea if it's still operating as a catering hall; it appears it is, but it looks a wreck.  The windows are all cracked and broken and boarded up and look like nobody's washed them for about two decades.
--Photo courtesy BaTC.
Also a shame because it's a rather cool, futuristic building.  Either way, the interiors are super tacky:

That is SO Queens.  

1960s hypermodern meets...Newport, Rhode Island on crack?  Whaaaa?  I...don'

All in all I will say it's a very nice park.  It really provides all the kinds of spaces for play and promenade that a park thrives on to be vibrant and active.  Then there are destinations and activities to find, and all these sort of derelict follies to discover like hidden treasures.  I wouldn't mind wandering around there some more.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Saturday, October 18, 2008

News Items

A couple of news items before we move on to my next story.

First of all, those brilliant guys from San Francisco, CITIZEN:Citizen recently put out a crazy press release.  Right in the wake of some of their pieces being bought by the SF MoMA for the permanent collection there, Merrill Lynch deemed their work too controversial and shut down their bank accounts at First Republic Bank.  McDonalds also recently had a cease & desist ordered against them for another of their items.  I told creative director, Philip Wood, that if their work is making people this uncomfortable, then obviously they're doing something right.  But I never doubted for a second that they were.  It's actually quite poignant since their work deals very much with the ways that art and design overlap and conflict with corporate consumerism.

Then there's a new item from Brooklyn's Michael McHale Designs, who I discussed here, and who also made it onto my short list for the ICFF magazine article.  He's released his Two and Four Bulb Chandelier Table Lamps, this is the Four Bulb:
Not unexpectedly, he's taken great care with the hardware, but not only that, he's reinterpreted it for the individual nature of the piece.  The top frame is still industrial metal pipe, but for the stem he's used clear acrylic, so while it's a table lamp, it has the illusion of floating, hanging like a ceiling-mounted chandelier--very smart.  The really fantastic addition, though, is the base:

It's an acrylic base hand painted by Sublime Living to look geological or even extraterrestrial.  
The glossy acrylic reflects the sparkling crystal above it to look like a planet traveling through the heavens.

There's also a couple of new items from Viable London worth mentioning.  I discussed them here, and they also made it onto my short list.  They've delved into some great sustainable designs, like their Spiral Stools:

They're rolls of cork--which is sustainable, of course--felt made from shredded, unwanted clothing, and wrapped up in wool yarn.  They're reportedly quite comfortable, which I don't find hard to believe, the color choices are beautiful, and I thought they'd be perfect for a clothing store or dressing room.  When they reach the end of their life, all the materials can be unraveled and reused.

Last but not least, I'm very excited because two of the greatest minds in the world of architecture, Peter Eisenman and Greg Lynn, are coming together to give a talk at the 92nd Street Y on Thursday the 23rd.  This is a lot of synchronicity for me.  First of all, I'm right in the middle of profiling this great architect named James Merrell, who studied under Eisenman.  Merrell's philosophies in his own work seemed in some ways not too far afield from Eisenman's, leading me to revisit and refresh myself on some of his writings.  Lynn has always had my utmost respect, and I plan to make a bigger post about him eventually.  In the meantime, I'm set to review Lynn's book, Form, which has just been released, exquisitely bound, by Rizzoli.  I'll be sure to report on the event here.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Friday, October 3, 2008


I recently had the great opportunity to talk with the head of the Richard Lippold Foundation, who is restoring the brilliant sculpture in Walter Gropius' Pan Am Building.  I wasn't sure if it was even still there, but he said they would remove it "over his dead body."  It's really an incredible piece, and what occurred to me is that Lippold was really doing Installation Art before there even was such a thing.  Lippold's pieces weren't sculptures created for a certain application, they were fully determined by and designed around the architectural spaces where they would be placed.  No one was doing work like this in the 1950s.

The Pan Am piece is occasionally rumored to have started out titled The World, but this is incorrect.  It was only ever known as Flight, and it's beautiful, but it's gotten extremely dusty over the years.  The golden sphere at its center got fully blackened by patina and environmental circumstances in as little as five years.  They're meticulously cleaning it up to restore it to its glorious original beauty, and hopefully improving the lighting to showcase it to its best advantage.

His The Sun was the first piece by a living artist ever commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1956.
When you look at it in the context of the ancient Middle-Eastern rug designs in the room where it was intended to hang, it appears to be even more brilliant: capturing the same geometric precision and complexity, but in three dimensions.  

In around 1976, it was taken down to the National Air & Space Museum in DC, where I'm fairly certain I may have seen it as a young kid.  I do distinctly remember visiting that museum, but I was probably so overwhelmed in general that I have no specific memory of this piece.  In any case, it's also being completely restored according to Lippold's original drawings and plans, and will eventually be reinstalled at the Met, allegedly.

I'm actually kind of surprised that more people don't talk about Lippold, because his work was really astonishing in a lot of ways, but evidently he rejected the commercialism of the art world in his time and the fame that might accompany it.  That attitude may have contributed to his not being more widely discussed.

I also got to see one of New York's truly hidden treasures.  It's a Lippold piece called Winged Gamma inside the Park Avenue Atrium.  
The building is somewhat bland unfortunately, but got an overhaul by Edward Durrell Stone in 1981, when the piece was installed.  Stone carved a cavernous atrium out of the center of the building, what was originally an air shaft.  In this atrium hangs this sculpture, which is twenty stories high.  It's absolutely astonishing.

I still need to see the Lippold piece hanging over the bar in Philip Johnson's Four Seasons Restaurant in Mies van der Rohe's Seagrams Building, but that's for another post.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Don't Be Scared

One of my very favorite designers from Brooklyn, Joshua Longo, recently got a gallery show at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.  I had included his work in my coverage of BKLYN DESIGNS one year, but he's got some new pieces now that I hadn't seen before.  Longo makes SCARY, SCARY MONSTERS!
There's also a really huge one at the Shelburne show that I guess is the carcass of a monster that met with an unfortunate accident:

It also appears that the Longoland website is up and running.  You should definitely go look around there.  His monsters are awesome.  There's a bunch of pictures of some of his older work that I'd not seen before, like this monster, which totally cracks me up:

I wasn't aware that Machos came in these colors, either:

Inbreeding, maybe.  

And I had seen this monster, Beau, before:
But I wasn't aware that it had such an ENORMOUS anus!

It must eat a lot.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Further Thoughts on a Thesis

I'm currently in the middle of William Labov's Sociolinguistic Patterns.  It occurred to me, especially since I'm talking about differences in architectural idiom from Maine to Florida, that linguistically, what I might be dealing with is akin to accents and dialects.  I'm not convinced that even if it is, that it's a methodological problem, but I had to consider it.  I still do believe that it's more complex than that, honestly.  I believe the expression of a residence is more complex than the equivalent of "I am a house, for such and such a type of person, with such and such a lifestyle."  Every occurrence of residential architecture could be a derivative of that statement.  It does nothing to illuminate the wild diversity of colonial American residential architectural forms.

I thought Labov's study would provide some great methodology for my exploration of differences in colonial American architecture.  What I've realized, though, is that although I adore the contrasts as one travels from north to south along the Atlantic coast, it's just WAY too much information.

Labov concentrates on very isolated groups of speakers: the community of Martha's Vineyard, the culture of New York City department stores.  It's wise.  I think I need to concentrate on one particular colony, one that shows a great diversity from county to county.  Virginia might be an option, but I think Pennsylvania might be more fruitful.  With Pennsylvania we have Federalism near Philadelphia, a strong Dutch population in the center, and Germans and other groups on the western end of the state.  It may provide a very controlled and illustrative collection of different cultures to work with, as their cultures were expressed in residential architecture.  The only thing I'd worry about is the effect of climate, because I'm not convinced the climate differs radically enough from the northern edge to the southern.

I may be able to cover two colonies that together display significantly different climates and sufficiently diverse cultures of settlers to work well in one study.  In any case, I think it might be unwise to look at the entire eastern seaboard.  Another idea may be to look at the very first settlements, regardless of where they appeared, but I suspect they'd be concentrated in very isolated geographic areas and would be unfortunately homogeneous in the origins of the settlers in an unhelpful way.

Does anyone work for a scholarship program?  Because I need to get this moving already, and without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it.

©2008, Ryan Witte