Some visitors to MoMA’s Endless House: Intersections of Art and Architecture exhibition tell me Frederick Kiesler’s designs don’t have enough windows. His Endless House couldn’t have connected the inhabitants with their environment, they say, comparing Kiesler’s model to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, a glass and steel box intended to float among the trees. Read more
Posts tagged ‘Architecture’
As I’ve been going through the architectural models in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archive—in preparation for future display—I’ve seen all kinds of condition problems, from acidified paper, to warped and crushed elements, to losses and detachments. But this is not too surprising. Unlike more traditional museum objects like bronze sculptures or oil paintings, architectural models are utilitarian: they exist to articulate a design. Thus, their materials are more often selected for expediency than for longevity.
The painted wood and paperboard model for St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie Towers represents one of three apartment buildings Wright planned to build around St. Mark’s Church in New York’s East Village. Of the 19 models in the Archive, St. Mark’s Tower is undoubtedly in the worst condition; it has suffered just about every kind of damage I’ve seen among the models. It arrived acidified and embrittled, with approximately 50% of its exterior missing, its floors warped and separating, its wooden base and finial exhibiting large jagged losses, and every surface covered with an accumulation of dirt, cobwebs, and mouse droppings (see images below).
The St. Mark’s Tower model is arguably one of the most important models in the Archive. Had the project been realized in the early 1930s, it would have been Wright’s first skyscraper in New York City, and the first building in that metropolis with an all-glass exterior (beating out the Lever House and United Nations building by 20 years!). Though St. Mark’s Tower was never built, Wright exhibited the model frequently, into the early 1950s. (Price Tower, a later version of this building, the model for which is also included in the Archive, was built 20 years later in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.)
When loss to an object is as severe as it is to this model, conventional restoration techniques are brought into question: to introduce so much 21st-century material to an object from the early 20th century raises issues of originality and authenticity. In consultation with curators, a range of options were considered, from leaving the model incomplete and damaged, to restoring it entirely, to fabricating a whole new model. To strike a balance between restoring Wright’s vision and respecting the history of the object, we decided to restore it partially, leaving a quarter of it in its damaged state. From a specific angle, the model will look completely restored, but the unrestored portion will present primary evidence of the extent of the model’s loss and retain its material history. I will use materials in the restored sections that can be distinguished from the original, making the restorations reversible so that future generations can undo the additions if they so decide.
After extensive vacuuming and surface cleaning, the paperboard elements needed to be consolidated and reformed. For this task, I benefited from the expertise of our paper conservators, who advised me to use a combination of moisture, pressure, wheat-starch paste, and time to manipulate the model’s floors back into plane.
Replacement parts were cut from acid-free matboard. The thicker elements, such as the vertical window casings, were cut by hand. Creating these elements, which are repeated 468 times over the model, made for monotonous but meditative work (not unlike that undertaken in Wright’s studio, some 80 years ago). But I’ve been fortunate to work on this at a moment when it’s possible to also take advantage of new, time-saving technologies, like laser cutting, which was employed to cut the thinner elements such as the window mullions, and ink-jet printing, which I used to replicate repeated, hand-drawn pencil designs found on existing exterior walls.
After painting these parts with acrylic paint, I attached them to the model with a water-resoluble adhesive and a clamping system of cotton string loops.
I then applied the designs, printed on mulberry paper, which become transparent when saturated with adhesive.
This process has taken over 450 hours, 60 of which are condensed in this time-lapse video:
Now nearing completion, the restored model looks less like a ruin and more like an idea. In 2017, it will be exhibited for the first time in over half a century, allowing today’s visitors to gain insight into both Wright’s groundbreaking innovation and his working process. New Yorkers in particular may enjoy imagining how a trio of towering glassy structures would have transformed the landscape of the downtown lowlands.
At the entrance to the current exhibition Endless House: Intersections of Art and Architecture is Frederick Kiesler’s Endless House (1947–60). He envisioned this eclectic, flexible habitat as “a living organism, not just an arrangement of dead material.” He saw the house as a composition of spaces “as elastic as the vital functions.” A selection of drawings features his exhaustive investigation of forms for it, drawings which, through his lively use of ink and superimposition of multiple sketches on transparent overlays, approach animation. Read more
In early May I set out on a four-day journey to Chicago, Illinois. I began the trip wondering how architectural organizations in Chicago, a city so densely packed with renowned buildings and structures, approach the challenge of engaging their viewers with these works. How can architecture be made more accessible? What techniques are used? Curated exhibitions of images, models, and research, or tours and activities that physically involve the structures? What methods have been found to be the most successful? Read more
With its fully furnished interior space fitted-out in overstuffed cowhide, and an exterior clad in poly-carbonate panels Jimenez Lai’s White Elephant (Privately Soft) operates as both a free standing mini-building and as maxi-furniture. Read more
I’m a big fan of buildings, which is to say walking around looking at buildings, taking city architecture tours by bike, or car trips out to a particular site, checking out exteriors, interiors—all of it. But for me, architects’ models and drawings are really where it’s at.
There’s an intimacy to architectural drawings and models that fosters a feeling of a sort of partnership, offering an insider’s invitation to that place where it’s clear that the ideas behind making buildings are about so much more than the plans for access elevators or where to put the closets. Read more
MoMA and Columbia University’s Avery Library recently made an acquisition sure to excite even the most casual architecture fans: the Frank Lloyd Wright Archive. In addition to many thousands of drawings, photographs, and ephemera, this collection includes over 60 models and building fragments. One of the largest and most expansive models is that of Broadacre City—Frank Lloyd Wright’s utopian reimagining of the city as open space and landscape rather than skyscraper and skyline. Read more
Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, the third iteration in MoMA’s Issues in Contemporary Architecture series, has just launched with a lively public conversation in MoMA PS1’s VW Dome. Read more
MoMA’s celebration of the landmark year 1913 continues with the 18th installment in our series of videos highlighting important works from 1913 in the Museum’s collection. Read more
I find there is something wonderfully sublime about architectural drawings, and lucky for me, as the preparator for the Department of Architecture and Design, I get to see a lot of them, particularly when the curators prepare a new exhibition of works from the collection like the current installation Cut ‘n’ Paste: From Architectural Assemblage to Collage City. Read more