Wednesday, 24 June 2009

WCCA Website - Blog interconnectivity

We have recently (23rd June 2009) updated the WCCA static web-site so that inter-connectivity between the two web presences of the Architects Livery Company is made easier.
Now a single click takes one from one location to the other in either direction.

On the blog site, in the right hand column:
click on directconnections  / the WCCA static web-site

On the web site, at the foot of the left hand of each page:
click on WCCA BLOG

For more details of how to participate in the blog, make comments, get notified about new posts etc.:
click on direct connections / how to use this blog
or on direct connections/ how to be notified of a new post

please try making a comment on any of the posts, even this one!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Rather a lot of Richard Neutra

26 April - A full day spent in the company of the excellent and knowledgeable architectural historian Barbara Lamprecht looking at the works of Richard 'how many square feet does it take to lead the good life' Neutra and his disciples and students. First up the two Kun Houses. No 1 was undergoing extensive restoration and No 2 (1949) had recently been through the process. A few liberties had been taken but the house was stunning. Jaki Howes was probably fortunate that the Clerk has managed to mislay the photo of her lying on the back doorstep trying to photograph the kitchen through the cat flap. At least that what we think she was doing!

The 1961 Taylor Residence was neat and tidy and we did our best to keep it that way by removing our shoes for the visit. Very much a collectors piece thoughtfully arranged with separate visitors' quarters.

At the 1955 Taylor House (below left) we finally encountered a house in which children were numbered among the residents.

A U shaped plan with one leg at a higher level than the others. The neighouring houses in most directions seemed to have been designed by Neutra who may well have been the joint developer.

(above right) the 1933 VDL Research House (named in honour of his patron - the Dutch philanthropist CH Van Der Leeuw who gave Neutra an intrest free loan to fund the project). Tis was considered a radical glass house with rooftop and balcony gardens. It was heavily remodelled in 1963 by Neutra Pere et Fils following a disasterous fire. Now in the care of an academic establishment it is interesting rather than uplifting needing, as it does, quite a lot of money spending on it. Might well be difficult to live in these days.

We were walked past the 1953 Perkins Residence which looked decided stylish and a house by RN disciples Harwell Hamilton Harris (1053) before finishing the day at the Wirick Residence by Buff Straub and Hensman for its current owners. The practice was responsible for two of the Case Study Houses (Nos 20 and 28) and this was a typical example of their post and beam construction technique. The gracious hostess kindly arranged refreshments for the group and had the original drawings on display for our inspection. A delightful and comfortable house and a pleasure to visit.

Monday, 15 June 2009

A Day in Pasadena

25 April

Our day should have started with a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's 1923 Millard Residence - La Miniatura. Sadly the owner could not be there to let us in so the pleasures of the garden were explored and windows peered into. Blockwork not wearing well on a heavily wooded and damp site.
(Illustrated below left)

On then to the much lauded Gamble House - Greene and Greene's masterpiece. (above right) The visit was preceded by a walk round viewing several - possibly dozens - of their houses. If you like Swiss chalets,these are for you. Beautifully set in leafly suburb; clever use of clinker brick in garden and garage walls.

The Gamble House was, frankly, a bit much. Very precious - touching, photographing and possibly even breathing not permitted inside. The visible joinery was very clever and, in the best arts and crafts tradition, inventive to a fault. By the end of the tour one felt that the balance between art and craft had gone wrong. I am grateful to Mervyn Miller for putting things in perspective with a quote from Reyner Banham's 'Los Angeles':

'But tangled through this play of wide domestic spaces, uniting and differentiating them, is Greene's obsession with wooden construction and with visible craftsmanship. This obsession neatly footnotes Gebhard's observation of the way that European art movements (here, Arts and Crafts) lose their moral content and become forms of styling when they arrive on American soil. If the Gamble House is one of the ultimate gems of the Craftsman Movement in California it is also - in part - a paste jewel. Look into the roof spaces and you will find that the construction of what isn't seen , far from being carefully and loveingly wrought, tends to be the usual old US carpenter's crudwork, trued up with odds and ends of lumber and spiked together with cock-eyed six inch nails'

Says it all really. Not a house to live in.
Another Greene and Greene house is shown below right.

The afternoon visit to the Rose Bowl (above left) was a pleasure. Seating nearly 100,000 in an elegant bowl all of whom enjoy great views - pity anyone sitting other than in the covered boxes during a daytime game (if such happen) as there's no shade anywhere.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Another Day in LA

Friday 24 April was meant to the the day off but shopping opportunities, visits to the beach etc were turned down in favour of a walking tour led by a local guide round the downtown district. The Biltmore Hotel, the charming art deco Oviatt Building - all art glass and Lalique (below left), George Wyman's 1893 Bradbury building (below right) and the Fine Arts Building were among the stars.

On then to the Los Angeles County Museum distinguished by an installation comprising several hundred lamp posts and a new building by Renzo Piano (shown right) with another in the pipeline and an excellent Japanese Pavilion and collection.

The final stop of the day was at the seminal Rudolph Schindler House of 1921 -22. Viewed outside the context in which it was designed - for sharing between his own and another family- it was of interest but did not excite - slightly sad to have illusions shattered! It seems that the occupants were very short as was cash!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Continuing American Travels

22 April – A day given over to the works of John Lautner (1911-94). When the trip was in the planning stages it appeared likely that our visit would coincide with an exhibition on Lautner in LA. Delays ruled this out. It is perhaps ironic that, while we were in LA, the exhibition was in the UKEdinburgh.

Lautner spent 6 years with the Taliesan Fellowship in the 30’s culminating with responsibility for project managing the Wingspread house. In his own practice he designed many notable houses despite going through a lean spell in the 50’s and 60’s – probably as a result of the adverse criticism of his design for Googie’s Coffee Shop. His work was little know to the group – no longer so. His work combined progressive engineering with humane design and space age flair. We were fortunate to be able to visit a number of the houses.

The Sheats / Goldstien Residence (1963 / 89 and ongoing) was an extraordinary introduction to his work and has been featured in a number of movies. The current owner has restored the house and extended it both with Lautner and subsequently as he would have wished. It contains an eclectic collection of art and artifacts. A recent addition to the complex is an installation by light artist James Turrell in a concrete box down the hill from the main house.

The Tyler Residence (1953) has a distinctly triangular theme and was, by comparison to other houses, relatively restrained. Some interesting Wrightian detailing.

The Harpel House of 1956 (above and above right) is another based on a triangular planning grid. It as been recently restored by an owner who boasts a collection of ‘trophy’ houses, it was a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch while looking at both the hose and a spectacular view.

We then drove by the 1962 Garcia House and the famous Chemosphere House of 1960 before visiting

the Harvey House of 1950 (above and right) now proudly owned by actress Kelly Lynch (of Charlie’s Angels fame) and her film producer husband. Along with most Lautner owners our gracious hostess is determined to restore the house to its former glory undoing much damage caused by earlier owners.

We also got access to the 1960 Reiner House – a wonderfully sited and well maintained house whose owners are finding it increasingly difficult to source spare parts for the electrically opened glass picture wall which gives extensive views over LA.

The house which Lautner built for himself and his family in 1939 was, in comparison to others, distinctly restrained.

23 April – Back to the Master – Hollyhock House – built by FLW in 1919-22 for Ailine Barnsdorf. 9above left) Hollyhocks were, it seemed, Aline’s favourite flowers). Here we were greeted by our 9.30 Docent (guide) Nina from New York – an elderly and charming extrovert with a real passion for the house and its one time occupants (above right). She was a delight as was the house with stunning Living, Music and Dining Rooms. Some wonderful detailing. Sadly, many elements which once contributed to the complex have long since disappeared.

What promised to be a fascinating visit to the Malibu home and studio of Eric Lloyd Wright – grandson of the great man – was not what might have been expected. His small staff engaged in working on a selection of sensitive and ecologically sound projects operated out of a collection of trailer homes linked by roof structures which were more utilitarian than things of beauty. The site was spectacular giving views out over the coast a couple of miles away. His dream house remains in embryo – just that. A concrete shell with a roof set into the hill and landscaped awaiting cash to finish the job. We had a slightly chilly picnic and chatted to ELW – a nice and modest man with tales to tell.

Then to a very different experience a guided tour of Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA which was completed in 2003. The highlight for Mervyn Miller was unknowingly meeting and shaking hands with the building’s designer. One wonders if the hand has been washed since! Details are much better resolved that at the Guggenheim in Bilbao and I was more impressed that I had expected to be. We were told by those who attended a concert that evening that the acoustics were good. A very showbiz building.

From the secular to the religious – Raleal Moneo’s 2002 Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Just down the road and costing some $185M the building did not inspire externally – it seems monumental and slightly clumsy. The interior Cathedral space was something else again; the various side chapels were gathered around the perimeter along with a with display dealing with the production of the tapestries which give colour and life to the Cathedral. This space can accommodate 3000 worshippers and is (apart from what we were told were temporary and intrusive lght fittings) dignified and elegant. It has, it seems, a public / civic role and, as such, is refreshingly ecumenical. Given our background as a ‘group of building specialists from the UK’ we were given access into the undercroft to inspect the quite extraordinary measures that have been taken to accommodate both lateral and vertical earthquake movement. The huge rubber mountings were, it seemed, manufactured in the UK.

The views from the enclosed garden space were sadly compromised by the newly built High School No 9 for the Visual and Performing Arts by Coop Himmelbau. This seems like an elaborate stage or screen set for heaven knows what type of production. Mr Coop or Mr Himmelbau has much to answer for.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A Master of Wine abroad

A brief view of Futurism and the Museum of Modern Art in Rovereto

by Patricia Stefanowicz MW

We (members of the Academy of Wine Experts) were treated to a short morning at the MART (Museum of Modern Art) in Rovereto.

The museum and its partner museum in Trento were facilitated by legacies from Fortunato Depero, a native of Rovereto, himself an artist and Italian Futurist.

The museum, brilliant on a warm, sunny day, was restored and enlarged under the direction of renowned Italian architect Renato Rizzi and the Rovereto local Council. The building is quite impressive with a beautifully constructed steel-and-glass dome over the main courtyard and impeccably-set Carrara travertine stone on the external walls. The interior was sleek, modern Italian design: light oak, stainless steel and glass. Easy to negotiate, too, because the main staircase dominates the atrium, allowing a visitor to orientate himself.


Futurism was an avant-garde artistic movement precipitated by Italian Filippo Tommaso Marinetti on 20th February 1909 when he, a writer and artist, published his ‘Manifesto of Futurism’ in the Paris daily, Le Figaro. As was the case with many of his artistic generation, his group included other writers, musicians and artists: fellow Italians Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini, for example.

The Futurism idea was to celebrate the ‘machine age’ of technology and industry, whilst following on from the earlier work of Neo-Impressionists and Cubists, such as Cezanne, Braque and Picasso. The movement inspired Constructivism in Russia (Popova and Rodchenko) and the works of numerous artists in other countries, including Joseph Stella in the USA and George Grosz in Germany. Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings were influenced by the Futurists when his early pictorial works evolved to the ‘abstract’ paintings for which he is best known. Paul Klee, the German-Swiss, and Kandinsky both alluded to the importance of poetry and music in their paintings and sculptures.

The Exhibition

The current exhibition, Futurismo 100, celebrates the centenary of the publication of Manetti’s manifesto. The curator, Ester Coen, completed a magnificent project by setting Futurism in context, then showing developments that reacted to the movement.

The works selected were an excellent representation of the first proponents and their successors. There were words and works by the instigators: Marinetti and his friend Depero. Particular highlights amoung the paintings included three of Kandinsky’s Improvisations, mid-period works by Marc Chagall, Kasimir Malevich (before his ‘White-on-White’ and ‘Black-on-Black’ periods) and the rest of Russian group: Popova, Rodchenko, Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, and the Russian-born Polish painter, Pawel Filonow.

Sculptures in the exhibition, too, were a revelation. There were a few examples of wood or metal, mainly filigree-like. A rather interesting example of a twisted bicycle was perhaps an inspiration for Marcel Duchamp, the Dada-Surrealist working in the 1920s and beyond.

The rest of the collections

A very quick visit around the rest of the museum demonstrated how serious MART is about Modern Art. The Post-1945 Art and Design exposition showed some of the tensions between the West (Europe and the States) and the ‘Soviet bloc.’ On view was a plethora of propaganda from both sides of the world, including Robert Rauschenberg paintings, snippets of Stanley Kubrick films and the posters of Russian Peter Ghyczy.

The permanent collection exudes Depero’s Futurist vision. There is his re-created art studio and examples of furniture, textiles and industrial art products of the exponents. An early version of Vespa’s popular scooter made me giggle.

In this brief tour of a really rather delectable museum, it’s fairly easy to remind oneself of the continuity in artistic expression and how much fine art is both inspired by, and modified by, its predecessors and the other arts: writing, music, cinema and theatre. For art aficionados, the Rovereto Museum of Modern Art is definitely worth a detour.

Subsequently at the de Chirico retrospective, Musee de l’Art Moderne in Paris, I noticed that three of the de Chirico’s on show are in MART Rovereto’s permanent collection. Linkages.

© Patricia Stefanowicz 2009

The continuing thirst for knowledge

Thursday 4 June and another event already. Members of the Company together with colleagues and friends from the Constructors' Company and the Master of the Guild of Arts Scholars, Dealers and Professionals joined a number of representatives of the Swiss banking community at the Swiss Embassy for a tasting of Swiss wines and Gruyere cheeses. It is possible that more attended the event than visited my local polling station during the day for the elections to the European parliament. The attendance levels were driven by a genuine interest in getting to know a group of wines little known or appreciated in the UK. There was the additional lure of the the cheese puffs cooked for us by Armin Loetscher - the Executive Chef at the San Moritz Restaurant in Wardour Street.

This was an interesting collection of wines ranging from a very quaffable white Merlot from Ticino through a couple of unusual, classy (and pricey) varietals a Humagne Rouge 2003 and a Cornalin 2003) both from the Valais region to a blended red of some considerable character from the same region.

The tasting was finished off (along, possibly with some of those present) by a curious strawberry dessert wine of impressive strength which was liked by some and regarded by others as a 'waste of good strawberries'! Not one for the feint hearted.

The wines, a cheese platter and the cheese puffs made for an enjoyable evening. The Master Constructor - Roger Adcock ruled his table with considerable authority. Jackets were kept on and decorum observed. This was, he noted, in comparison to the occupants of the neighbouring table (the occupants of which contained the current and four Past Master Chartered Architects) who got quickly down to shirt sleeves for the serious work at hand.
It seems that the Master Constructor's cause for comment was that the riotous shirt and bow tie worn by his opposite number was of a colour (or selection of colours) which was affecting his judgement of the subtle hues of the wines. His comment to this effect was not appreciated by the Master Architect's lady whose Christmas present the shirt had been!

Thanks are due to the Swiss Ambassador for the use of the premises, to Douglas Harrison of Harrison Vintners for providing the wines,to Maurice Johnson of Interprofession du Gruyere for the cheeses and to Armin Loetscher for doing interesting things with some of them.

pictured below - a group of Past Masters adding thier valued opinions to the debate in company with the Master's Lady and Paul Weston

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Further Travels

19 April – Another day another couple of Frank LW’s. Local architect Frank Henry took us around the quite magnificent 1954 Harold Price House (currently known less prosaically as the U-Haul House for its current owners). Frank had worked with Wright on the concrete block building which was both elegant and eminently liveable. Careful detailing designed to cope with an unforgiving climate and the central canopy roof which seemed to float over the space it protected from the elements, gave the house a unique character.

Then to the First Christian Church which was started in 1950 but completed after his death in 1970. Something of a curate’s egg this one – it suffered perhaps for having been originally designed as part of a campus for a religious community and being adapted for more contemporary worship by a very different type of congregation. Wright was never one to waste a good design if the first client didn’t want it! Iconic Tower.

On then to something very much more modern – the Phoenix Art Museum and, in particular, the recent extension by Tod Williams Billie Tsein Associates (mid 90’s). A good collection of contemporary art well displayed in a series of comfortably interlocking spaces.

The day was rounded off by an enjoyable gathering in the Scottsdale home of (Past Master) Richard and Ann Saxon

20 April – As a prelude to the departure for San Diego and Los Angeles A visit was made to architect Eddie Jones’s Phoenix home (shown above). Arizona’s frequently unforgiving climate and the terrain are the ideal setting for his unique work. Built in 1998 out of rammed earth with walls two feet thick the house was breath-taking and the balustrade-less glass floored walkways and stair were exciting and challenging. Where Jones built, others have followed and he now finds himself surrounded by largely mediocre developments. It was great to hear Eddie talk about construction techniques and design influences.

San Diego’s main claim to architectural glory is the Salk Institute designed by Louis Khan in the 1960’s. 25 years later it was still considered good enough to win the AIA’s coveted ‘long service award’.

Thought by many to be well up among the great modern buildings in the United States it was greatly admired by the group. We were fortunate to gain access (thanks to the family connections of two members of the group) to the laboratory areas and to see at first hand how Khan worked his concept of ‘servant and service spaces’. Beautifully set, imaginatively designed and built with meticulous attention to detail both the original and the (much criticized) extension lived up to expectations.

21 April –On then to Tinsel Town. Los Angeles was to prove a revelation though, it must be said, that we managed to avoid the seedier parts. Sunset Boulevarde was tacky just on a drive through.

First stop the seminal Eames House by Charles and Ray Eames. This was No 8 of a series of 25 homes in the Case Study House Programme dating from the mid 40’s until the early 60’s. The aim of the project was to produce ‘architect designed homes to be built and furnished using techniques and materials derived from the experience of WW2’. The use of prefabricated and off the shelf parts and coloured external panels produced a dwelling in which they lived for many years.

It had a profound influence on a generation of architectural student - particularly those from countries not constrained by tight inner city sites. Despite the establishment of the Eames trust, the house is showing its age. The setting is truly magnificent.

The nearby Stuart Bailey Residence (1946) at Pacific Pallisades by Richard Neutra has been lovingly restored to its simple glory. Sadly, we were unable to gain entry.

LA architect Ray Kappe kindly allowed us to roam all over his 1969 home and studio built on a steep, heavily wooded and watered hillside lot. Six concrete towers provide the earthquake stability for a glass and timber house. Fascinating interconnecting internal spaces and natural materials in strong geometric forms are features of his subsequent houses.

Nothing could be more different than the next site visited – Richard Meier’s Getty Centre (1997). Its 600 acre mountain top setting in the Santa Monica Mountains called for something special and this is what they got. The buildings are in concrete in steel with largely travertine cladding - as near to Meier’s trademark white buildings as he was allowed to get. Acres of glass.

There are five interconnected buildings all using the same palate but with varying geometric forms. While each was interesting, the overall effect was, to this tourist, slightly sterile and overbearing: perhaps rather too theatrical. The highlight was the major landscaping cascading down the hill designed by Robert Irwin – very dramatic and bringing a touch of humanity to the centre as a whole.

Some good art but not, I suspect, a great collection.

More to follow.

ahoy shipmates

Wednesday 3 June - the Master was pleased to welcome a bumper crew on board SB Ardwina in St Catherine's Dock today to hear Deputy Christine Cohen OBE talk about 'The Landscaping of Public Open Spaces in the City'. Christine Cohen speaks with a great deal of authority on the subject as she is not only the current Master of the Gardeners' Company but also is the Chairman of the Planning and Transporation Committee in the City of London Corporation. She gave an overview of the steps that have been taken by the Corporation to humanize the Square Mile by making it more of an area that workers will enjoy working in. She talked of 'pocket parks'. of incorporating sculpture and mautre planting and of ensuring publically accessible spaces in the current and coming larger buildings.

Her talk was preceded by a glass of bubbly al fresco on deck before the group descended into the cabin for a fish and chip lunch organized by David Penning. This was washed down by a glass or two of wine procured by Master of Wine Patricia Stefanowicz.

above left - Past Master Peter Luscombe. Deputy Christine Cohen and David Penning

above right: Catering Officer and barmaid

left: an unlikely crew!

The Company holds this function every year with the purpose of raising a modest level of funding for the RNLI
- that we are able to do so is due to the generosity of the Directors of Rolfe Judd Ltd who own the Ardwina, of those who have donated the wine and the hard work of the organizers - Michael Wilkey and David Penning

Patricia Stefanowicz adds:

'I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the 'get stuck in and muck in ability of the Master's Lady - she was brilliant; she managed to organize the itinerant barmaid and others to get the washing up done in half the time and get the glasses and beakers returned to their correct places without a single breakage. Thios was a very impressive performance and deserving of my undying gratitude.'