Thursday, September 26, 2013

Unleash Your Inner Child

Hello Everyone:

Isamu Noguchi Playscape Atlanta, Georgia
As the days start to get progressively shorter, the amount of out door play time shrinks.  The kids go back to school and homework.  The local playgrounds, populated with laughing children stand empty.  so today, I thought it would be nice to look at a historic playground by the late architect Isamu Noguchi.  The Isamu Noguchi Playscape in Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Georgia is an artful, wondrous place to play and have fun even if you're not a kid.  So go ahead, play with the art.

Noguchi swing set
At the Playscape, the swings, jungle gym, slides are re-imagined as bright and colorful sculptural elements.  Similarly,the sculptural elements are rethought as having a communal function, blurring the lines between public art, landscape architecture, and just plain old fun.  According to Robert Witherspoon, of the city of Atlanta's Public Art Program, "The sculptural playground is an learning environment that children can enjoy and explore."  The concept behind the Playscape is simple, rather dictate what and how children should play, it encourages a more organic, unstructured play conducive to creative interactions.  Children can climb up roll around, and swing on the spiral slide tower.  They can play with the cubes and modernist structures integrated into the equipment.

Isamu Noguchi
It challenges children of all ages and art lovers to come up with more creative play.  Can you imagine some blue-haired old lady museum docent sliding down, head first into the sand?  Go granny go. Since, the experience is not programmed, it allows for improvisational play.  The Playscape was created by Japanese-American architect, designer, and sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-88) and completed in 1976.  The playground or, if you prefer the work of art, was commissioned by High Museum of Art then-director Gudmund Vigtel.  The earliest drawing for the sculptural playground date to1933 and originally envisioned as a block of play structures in New York City.  Unfortunately, the Play Mountain concept was rejected and the architect tried again between1960-66 in Riverside Park, New York, working with Louis I. Kahn.  Again, it was rejected.  In 1975 the late Mr. Vigtel brought the late Mr. Noguchi to Atlanta and under, the latter gentle men's commission, the Playscape was realized.  Oh well, New York City's loss is Atlanta's gain. Isamu Noguchi's playground was passed down and enjoyed by the children of the city. Presently, these funky playgrounds exist in
Gudmund Vigtel
cities across the United States, each unique in their own right. While the late Mr. Noguchi has other public sculptures, the Piedmont Park installation was his only playground project built during his lifetime.
Go granny go!  The slide tower

Ismau Noguchi Playscape
In June 2009, the Atlanta Department of Parks and Cultural Affairs unveiled the current restoration of the Playscape.  Robert Witherspoon explained, "The conservation team had to undo previous repairs and maker the ferrous metal components were stabilized, aesthetically true to the original design, and structurally sound...We worked with engineers and the Noguchi Foundation to maker sure the conservation work was true to the original intent of Noguchi's vision."  The Playscape is definitely a unique and a cultural asset to the city according to Mr. Witherspoon.  "It's culturally engaging and the high design hybrid is coming back in vogue for play environments."  So, if you should happen to be in Atlanta, Georgia, or live there, and want want to let your inner child out, Piedmont Park is the place for you.  The park is open daily from 6a.m. to 11p.m.  For more on Isamu Noguchi you can visit the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Long Island, New York ( or the Isamu Noguchi Garden Japan in Kagawa, Shikoku (  GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY.

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Ten Historic Urban Planners

Hello Everyone:

Happy Labor (or Labour if you're Canadian) Day.  I hope your day was enjoyable.  Even though, Labor Day is supposed to be the last hurrah of summer, it's still summer until September 21, so have some fun.  Speaking of fun, today, I'm going to take a break from blogging on Detroit, skyscrapers, and other serious topics.  Instead, I'm going to present ten historical planners.  This comes to us from Franki Rendon of Creative Signals (  The source is the University of Florida.  There isn't any mention of contemporary planners or for that matter living ones.  I'm out in public right now so I'll publish the post and add pictures another time.  In the meantime, I've included a link to the infographic that this post is based on.  Enjoy.

Hippodamus of Miletus (498-408 BCE)
Piraeus, Athens, Greece
Known as the first Greek city planner.  So what happened? Allegedly Hippodamus pioneered urban planning by creating the gridiron street layout know today as the Hippodamian plan for urban street plans. Hippodamus was said to have originated the concept of the "ideal city," which contained 50,000 residents and divided into: the scared, the private, and the public.
Miletus Plan

Sir Christopher Wren,uk
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723)
London, England UK
Best-know for St. Paul's Cathedral and the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 (make all the 666 jokes you want).  After the Great Fire destroyed 13,600 buildings, Sir Wren devised a completely new plan for London, which was ultimately rejected in favor of quick rebuilding. Sir Wren oversaw the rebuilding of some of London's most iconic buildings including: St. Paul's Cathedral, Kensington Palace, and The Old Royal Naval College (Greenwich Hospital).  It should be noted that the fire came on heels of the Great Bubonic Plague Epidemic.  Just thought I would throw in this factoid.
Map of Wren Plan for London

Aerial of St. Paul's Cathedral

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II (1688-1743)
Jaipur, India
Famous for creating the planned capital city of Jaipur.  As the ruler of the former kingdom of Amber, the maharaja designed Jaipur as a modern commercial hub in accordance with Vedic architectural principles.  This sounds interesting.  The Maharaja was also an astronomer who built a number of observatories, Jantar Mantar in Jaipur in Jaipur and Delhi.
Jaipur showing the Amber Fort

Pierre Charles L'Enfant

Pierre Charles L'Enfant (1754-1825)
Washington D.C.
Those of you readers in the United States who do not know who Pierre Charles L'Enfant was, you need to go back to your American history class tout suite.  Pierre L'Enfant's claim to fame was conceptualizing Washington D.C.  He envisioned a grand European-like capital designed along egalitarian principles for the infant nation.  This didn't go over too well with urban officials.  The original plan was actually based on Versailles' layout. Although the full plan was never implemented, Pierre Charles L'Enfant's legacy lives on in the such landmarks as the United States Capitol Building.
L'Enfant/McMillian Plan

United States Capitol Building

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957)
Various cities
Not to be confused with his father, Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. with Calvin Vaux,  Frederick Law Olmsted fil founded the first school of urban planned at Harvard in 1898 and created the National Parks Service.  he built on his father's legacy of landscape architecture, championing landscape architecture and urban planning education.  Law Olmsted, Jr. was also  instrumental in establishing the Annual National Planning Conference.  The father is considered to be one of the premier urban designers of the second half of the nineteenth century, he also  designed a number of new communities that paved the way for sanitation and integrated design.  The father is also best-known for his concept of urban open spaces.Frederick Law Olmsted also oversaw park development in a number of American cities and wrote the key legislation establishing the National Parks Service, "America's best idea," in 1916.

Daniel H. Burnham c.1910
Daniel Burnham (1846-1912)
Various cities.
Those of you who read Erik Larson's well researched book The Devil in White City, if you haven't pick it up, will be familiar with the man who planned the 1893 Columbine Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.  Daniel Burnham didn't simply rest on his laurels after the 1893 Exposition, he went on to built some of the world's first skyscrapers.  You can thank him for starting the "how tall is tall" craze.  Mr. Burham also layout city plans for Chicago (check out the watercolor by Jules Guerin), Washington D.C., Cleveland, and San Francisco.  He is even credited with inventing urban planning.  For a more in depth discussion of Daniel Burnham's plan for Chicago, pick up Plan For Chicago by Daniel Hudson.  It's a short, not too technical paperback that really does a good job of detailing Daniel Burnham's vision for the Windy City.  Daniel Burham is credited with the saying, "Make no little plans, they no magic to stir men's blood..."
The main concourse from the 1893 Columbine Exposition

Jules Guerin illustration for the Burnham Plan for Chicago

Sir Ebenezer Howard
Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928)
Letchworh Garden City and Welwyn Garden City United Kingdom
The man Jane Jacobs does not like.  Sir Howard's claim to fame was the establishment of the "Garden City" movement.  His book Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902) was influential in future residential neighborhood design.  the concept for the Garden City was places, residences, shops, and parks all within close proximity.
Garden City Plan

Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann
Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann (1809-1892)
Paris, France
What discussion of historic urban planners would be complete without mentioning Baron Haussmann.  Love him or hate him, was appointed by Napoleon III to oversee the reconstruction of Paris in the nineteenth century.  The Paris that we're familiar with today, with the wide boulevards, is due to Baron Haussmann's urban planning.  some of Baron Haussmann's reforms included new city parks and an updated water supply and sewer system.
Avenue de l'Opera, Camille Pissarro, 1898

Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier (Charles Eduoard Jeanneret 1887-1965)
Chandigarh, India
Le Corbusier was not only known for his great works of modernist architecture but also for reconsidering urban housing principles.  His modernist principles not only influenced urban residential decades  but also addressed the issues of inadequate urban housing in the early twentieth century.  The Swiss-french architect's concept of "City Beautiful" was manifested in Chandigarh, India.  Le Corbusier was the one who came up with the concept of "towers in the garden," high-rise apartment buildings set into landscape.  His architectural principles included rooftop gardens, raised structures, and open floor plans.  On a personal note, both his an Sir Howard's planning concepts are the basis for Park La Brea, thanks, I think. 
Le Corbusier Plan for Chandigarh, India

Park La Brea

Harland Bartholomew

Harland Bartholemew (1889-1989)
Newark, New Jersey and St. Louis, Missouri
Harland Bartholemew was best-known as the first American full-time planner.  As the first American full-time planner, Mr. Bartholemew was first commissioned by the city of Newark in 1914 and later by the city of St. Louis in 1916.  He also contributed to major urban planning legislation including th Fair Housing Act of 1949.  Harland Bartholomew's firm, Harland Bartholomew and Associates, created plans for almost five hundred American cities.

By 2030, the projected growth of cities is sixty percent.  So, the challenge is how to design cities that can smartly accommodate growth.  Ask a historic preservationist.

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I"m in and out for a few days and we hit 2500, 2578 to be exact.  Wow, I can't freakin' believe it.  This totally amazing.  I'm so grateful and humbled.  From some of the feedback I've gotten, I know people have seen it and who knows what'll come out of it?  In the meantime, is 3000 page views doable?  Why not.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What Historic Preservation Can Do


Hello Everyone:

I'm back.  I took a few days to get over my bad allergies and get some rest.  Now I'm back in action.  When I get asked what I do, my usual response is blogging about architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design.  I tell them that I have training as a Historic Preservationist.  The latter usually elicits a eyeroll followed by all sorts of negative comments about being anti-development or how we just want to take people's homes away from them etcetera.  At one point, it got so bad that I was telling people I was a flight attendant or a supermodel.  There is a lot of misconceptions about historic preservation and what people involved with do.  About two and half years ago, Johanna Hoffman wrote a wonderful piece for Next City, "Misunderstanding Historic Preservation," in which she explains not only what preservationists do but also how preservationists can be partners in development.  It sounds better than being labelled as someone who throws themself in front of a bulldozer or a blue-haired old lady in a big hat.

It so painful being misunderstood.  You feel so isolated, like the whole world is against you.  Hey it's tough being a historic preservationist.  Let's face it, to the rest of the world, we're just a bunch of radical, Not-In-My-Backyard anti-development crazies.  The rest of the world just doesn't realize that some us, including your truly, actually went to school for this and don't exactly feel the burning urge to landmark everything.  Randal Mason, the Chair of PennDesign historic preservation program unequivocally states, "I hate that 'preservationist' label...because it suggest you're an ideologue, that   a preservationist is always going to say 'don't tear it down.'"  See what I mean.  The best definition of Historic Preservation I heard came from my esteemed thesis advisor and former professor Jay Platt, who probably got it from another source.  On the very first night of class he said "historic preservation is about managing change."

What does this mean?  As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, change comes in the form rising populations, depleting natural resources, and tenuous energy resources.  All of this requires a plan for wise economic development called, smart growth.  Care to guess who is smart growth's best partner?  According  to Donovan Rypkema, a nationally known consultant on historic preservation economics, it's people like me, the preservationist.  Mr. Rypkema has a lot of reasons, chiefly, preservation is good for examining and valuing our assets.  Why start from scratch when all the building infrastructure you need is already in place?  Makes sense doesn't it?  An older building can be especially great for helping to reduce our dependence on uncertain energy supplies because many of these buildings were put up before the widespread use of the automobile, thus the building is more pedestrian access.  Therefore, a good place to start.

As a revenue generating source, an older building can be a cost-effective enterprise.  According to Donovan Rypkema, good growth requires sufficient funding and a rehabilitated building generates tax assets.  In typical new construction, the cost break down averages about 50% materials and 50% labor.  The rehabbing process averages about 60-70% in labor costs.  The amount of dust and particulants that result from new construction is minimized, thus reducing the building and environmental cost.  See, "the greenest building is the one already built."

Johanna Hoffman asserts that people like historic places.  Historic settings have a certain charm and elicit an emotional, if not, physical connection.  In terms of urban planning, as more people move to the cities, the demand for space in historic districts has jumped.  According to Helaine Kaplan Prentice, an author and former preservation planner for the city of Oakland, California, "Architecture is a cultural expression."  Further, "...because it's designed for use, it's responsible for shaping the experience within the culture.  Preserving buildings is not simply about the appearance of a city.  It is about protecting the buildings that give daily life more meaning."  The emotional connection.  People relate to the stories within a building not the bricks and mortar.  This what connects people to a building's past and future

When Randal Mason speaks to non-professionals about preservation, he tries to convey his message by personalizing the issue.  He asks his audience if they have something of value that was given to you by a family member or ancestor.  My answer, the watch I wear, jewelry, and a pair of candlesticks.  the point here is that each artifact that a person owns acts a binder from one generation to the next.  Buildings serve the same purpose.  An older building holds acts as a cultural tie within a community.  Thus, preservation becomes a social function.  Consider, if you will, the older buildings in your community that are being taken down and replaced by new construction.  When an older building is allowed to fall into decay and eventually taken down, another connection between the past and future is severed irrevocably.  The difficulty is in what to maintain.  One example is the High Line in New York City.  The success of that project proved that with the right amount of care, attention, and funding, a once neglected space can be brought back to life as an economic generator.  Realistically and logically, because of the scarcity of resources, not everything can be saved.  What to save is a matter of policy.  This creates the impression of "strong hand" and the question "who are we to decide what to save?"  The older buildings have value.

It's not easy being in a misunderstood profession.  I hope I've shed some light on what preservation can be.  I find it to be a multi-faceted line of work.  I'm especially intrigued by the way it overlaps urban planning and design.  It's a tough job but someone's got to do it.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sick leave

Hello Everyone:

Your truly is feeling under the weather and needs to take sick leave.  Not sure if it's allergies or something else but I just feel like crap.  I can't think or type straight.  Hopefully, I'll be back tomorrow or over the weekend.  Also, the big Jewish holidays and dire need of a new laptop charger are messing up my schedule.  Keep reading and I'll talk to you soon. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Let's Consider an Alternative to the "Black Flower.",01609488.print.story

Los Angeles County Art Museum Entrance
Hello Everyone:

Today we're going back to the subject of the proposed redesign of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, only this time we're taking a different approach.  Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight proposed using the factory model for the new LACMA instead of using Peter Zumthor's proposed "Black Flower" design.  In Mr. Knight's article, "Zumthor's LACMA design has potential, but think of the factory model," published on September 7, 2013, Mr. Knight suggests that instead of spending $650-million on an architecturally ambitious design Michael Govan, the museum director and his board should try the one of the following:

Proposed redesign for LACMA

1) Hire an able engineering firm to build a big and strong factory or warehouse.

2) Engage a talented architect to retrofit an existing factory or warehouse to accommodate the specific needs of an art museum.

3) Open it to critical acclaim and public enthusiasm.

This isn't really rocket science when stop and think about it.  What it really is simply adaptive reuse.  It's not novel and has had success both here in Los Angeles and in Europe.  According to Mr. Knight it's a relatively quick and inexpensive way to put up an aesthetically pleasing art museum.  Let's look at some examples, shall we.

Geffen Contemporary (Temporary Contemporary)

Our first example is the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, originally called the Temporary Contemporary.  Designed by local architect Frank O. Gehry, the space opened in 1983 in Little Tokyo, original intended by the newly organizing Museum of Contemporary Art to be a temporary exhibition space.  Well, thirty years later, it's become a permanent museum for contemporary art.  The Geffen Contemporary was the former home of the 1947 Union Hardware buildings that were minimally renovated by Mr. Gehry.  The warehouse proved such a hit with the art museum going public that they wouldn't hear of closing down the space in favor of an architecturally less ambitious, albeit new, MOCA building on Grand Avenue.

Hallen für Neue Kunst
Soon after, the success of a rehabilitated warehouse-turned-art museum happened in Europe.  The Hallen für Neue Kunst (Hall for New Art) in Schauffhausen, Switzerland.  The rehabilitated textile factory made its debut as a museum for a private collection.  This was eventually followed by Mass MOcA (1999), a refurbished textile and electronics factory and the Tate Modern (2000), which has become one of London's most visited museums, took over the defunct Bankside Power Station on the Thames.  Michael Govan's own former employer, Dia:Beacon, opened in 2003, is housed in a former box-printing facility in upstate New York.  The real question is how does rehabilitating an old factory or warehouse make for a successful and viable art museum?  How do they function as hospitable places to view art?

Christopher Knight readily admits that some factory and warehouse spaces are not suitable spaces for viewing art.  However, Mr. Knight does point out that most these spaces are more than adequate for art museums.  What was the lesson that Mr. Knight learned?  Again, he readily admits that since art is produced in industrial spaces, it would stand to reason that they would look great in similar environments?  After all, MOCA, Mass MOcA, Hallen fur Neue Kunst, the Tate Modern, and so forth are dedicated to modern and contemporary art (there is a difference) so why wouldn't an ancient Graeco-Roman statue or an Old Dutch Masters painting look good in a warehouse?  Mr. Knight guesses that they would probably look fantastic in an industrial space.  Yours truly could definitely imagine the Venus de Milo or a Pre-Raphaelite painting in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles.  It would make them seem a little rarefied.  Yours truly does agree with Christopher Knight's assessment that great art works in any great space.  All that's required is good lighting and a bench to sit down every now and then.

Instead of fretting about the architecture of a museum or other cultural space, the emphasis should be on the content. Here's a point that we both agree on.  Adaptive reuse is not something that's come about recently and only suited for loft/condominium conversions and cultural spaces.  It's been applied towards schools and offices spaces in places around the world.  Industrial spaces are the most flexible and functional type of spaces.  Like Mr. Knight, yours truly believes that the merits of an industrial space-turned-art museum are based on the content then on similarity of building type.  Industrial spaces speak the language of the everyday-the vernacular.  Art does not.  Yet, the contrast between the vernacular and the rarefied speaks, as architect Robert Venturi so succinctly put it, "the complexity and contradiction" of architecture.

If you want another example of this type of contrast, look only towards Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggeheim Museum, in Bilbao, Spain.  Mr. Gehry's, historically, has made use of industrial material such as chain link fencing, galvanized steel, and corrugated metal for some genuinely amazing work.  The Bilbao Guggenheim uses galvanized metal to create the undulating curves that echo Frank Lloyd Wright's original design.  However, according to Mr. Knight, what makes this particular art museum a success from an architectural point of view, is Frank Gehry's sensitivity to the commonness of the material.  That's been the hallmark of Mr. Gehry's success.  This not to imply that Peter Zumthor's proposed design is not without it's good points.

Peter Zumthor's proposed design, still in the preliminary stages, references the La Brea Tar Pits in a post-modern way.  The design calls for a raised single story building with undulating wall that avoid the funky curves of the Guggenheim in New York or the doughnut-shaped Hirschhorn Museum in Washington D.C.  Orthogonal rooms are placed within the curvy perimeter, which functions as a glassed in promenade with city and park views.  While Mr. Knight likens the aerial view to the map of Los Angeles, yours truly thinks it refers to the primordial ooze that was the tar.  According to Mr. Knight, the proposed plan builds on the 2001 proposal by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus.  This design proposed tearing down all the buildings and replacing it with a single pavilion, raised off the ground, covered with a canopy.  Yours truly saw the model and in a word, really?  Like Mr. Koolhaus, Mr. Zumthor recognizes there' no need, other than nostalgia, to keep buildings that function poorly, have been radically altered, and now, require expensive renovations.  Such is the case with the 1965 William Pereira building or 1986 kind of Egyptian gallery designed by Norman Pfeiffer of Hardy, Holzer, Pfeiffer Associates. I always thought the latter was too darkly lit for art and former was not well organized in terms of exhibit space.  So maybe starting over isn't such a bad idea.

Re-designing the Los Angeles County Art Museum also requires creating a lot of smaller interior gallery spaces, something Mr. Zumthor has limited experience in-Kunsthaus Bregenz (1997) in Austria and Kolumba Gallery in Cologne (2007).  While modest in size, they present evidence of the care taken by the architect in the way he approaches his designs.  The currently proposal is a work in progress.  One example cited by Mr. Knight is a vast room that appears to be made of concrete with a floating translucent ceiling that diffuses the light.  The model, at scale, presents a ceiling height of forty feet.  This is very tall for a museum or gallery space, even for large works.  While it's great to get totally absorbed in great art, you don't have to make it a crushing experience.  Mr. Knight speculates that the very tall space could heighten the emotional experience of looking at art or gazing out onto the surrounding landscape.  Personally, it sounds like it might be a slight case of over doing the experience.  Perhaps, again according to Mr. Knight, the most unexpected design element is the color, black.  Yours truly agrees that the color choice does run counterintuitive to beige travertine, granite, marble or the light grey marble.  The precedent for this is the Serpentine Gallery (2011) in Kensington Gardens.  Finally, Mr. Zumthor states that powerful architecture is about atmosphere, not form.  This true for a rehabbed industrial space or any great museum.  The proof is in their success.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Memorium

Hello Everyone:

In commemoration of that horrible day twelve years ago, I want to dedicate this post to the fallen and the heroes.  Instead of rambling on about something or another, I would like to just present some of the billions of images from the black moment.  As  you reflect on them, take a moment to think about what you were doing when this happened.  Twelve years on, the memory is still fresh.  Let's pray for a day when we can look up to the sun and envision a more peaceful world.  To the fallen, may their memory be a blessing to us all.

"Let's Roll" 

World Trade Center Cross

The Victims

Raising the Flag

Rebuilding the Pentagon

The Pentagon after the crash

Aerial view of the crash site in Shanksville, Pa

The Twin Towers on fire

Flight 93 flag

Pentagon Memorial

Pentagon Response

Remembering 9/11

9/11 anniversary

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Controversy at E. 1027

E. 1027
Hello Everyone:

Today we're going to talk about one of the greats of modern architecture, Le Corbusier. Specifically, we're going to talk about the Swiss-French architect's role in the controversy in Eileen Gray's E. 1027 House. Who was Eileen Gray?  Eileen Gray (188-1976) was a mostly neglected, now highly regarded furniture designer and architect.  The late Ms. Gray, who met Le Corbusier in Paris, France, was influenced by the Swiss architects rectilinear style of modernism and would later go on to develop her distinctive method of combining architecture and furniture design but in a softer manner.  This was brought to full fruition in a house she designed on the Mediterranean coast in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin she dubbed E. 1027.  An article in the Wall Street Journal, titled "Le Corbusier's Role in the Controversy Over Eileen Gray's E. 1027, published on August 19, 2013, explains how this historic home with murals by Le Corbusier was nearly destroyed.

Plan for E. 1027
Eileen Gray famously wrote, "A house is not a machine to live in," in response to Le Corbusier's oft-quoted aphorism.  The late Ms. Gray believed that a house was a person's emotional release, spiritual manifestation, a person's shell.  It was this philosophy that guided her design work and construction on the house between 1926 and 1929.  Along with her lover at the time, Romanian-born architect and magazine editor Jean Badovici, the couple based the concept for house on her love for the sea and sun, evident in the floor-to-ceiling windows and sunken solarium with its iridescent tiles.  A skylight staircase climbed from the center of the house referencing a nautilus shell made from glass and metal.  Eileen Gray opted to give the house a numerological name instead of an oceanic reference.  The name of the house E. 1027 comes from "E" for Eileen, the "10" and "2" come from Jean Badovici's initials and their place in the alphabet, the "7" is for the letter "G" as in Gray.

Eileen Gray

Despite its auspicious beginning as an example of one of the most important examples of domestic architecture in the twentieth century, the house is wrapped in an enigma that one associates with fog shrouded castles not sunny villas in the south of France.  I believe it was W. Somerset Maugham that once said, "Monte Carlo was a sunny place for shady people."  Maybe it's the history of the house that gives it a dubious reputation.  During World War II German soldiers used for target practice.  Peter Kägi, a morphine addled gynecologist ( I'd hate to go to this guy for an exam) who bought the house in 1974, was murdered there in 1996.  How about the homeless drug addicts who squatted in the abandoned house, covering the walls with cult-like graffiti.  Could it be the fact that the coastal railway cuts too close to the property line or Ms. Gray's break up with her lover.  A house with mystery and intrigue, I love it.

Eileen Gray with Jean Badovici (r) and Le Corbusier (l)
Perhaps the worst stab Eileen Gray administered to Jeam Badovici's heart was inviting Le Corbusier to move in with her after Mr. Badovici moved out.  Jean Badovici was an admirer of Le Corbusier, inviting him to stay at the house on several occasions.  Le Corbusier had praised Ms. Gray for her subtle design work.  The architect went as far as to paint eight Cubist large interior and exterior murals between 1938 and 1939, some with sexually provocative images.  Eileen Gray's supporters feel that the murals should be removed and the house restored to its 1929 condition.  The crux in this matter is that Le Corbusier is considered more well-known than Eileen Gray and the murals have been deemed a work of art, even national treasure,
Mural by Le Corbusier
thus should be preserved and restored.  One suggestion was to put up scrims to cover the murals when Gray scholars were on site and pulled back for Corbusier scholars were present.  This almost sounds like that ugly vase your mother-in-law gives you for Christmas.  You take it out only when she comes for a visit.  In the meantime, the house is not available to the public and mired in bureaucracy.  All this while the house falls into a state of disrepair.

The irony of the situation, is that after years of obscurity,  Eileen Gray is more famous than she was in life.  The price for her furniture at auction has reached stratospheric heights.  The Centre Pompidou recently mounted a well received retrospective of her work, featuring a partial reproduction of the E. 1027's living room.  If that wasn't enough, there's even a movie in the works on her life.  I'm wondering who the producers would get to play Jean Badovici and Le Corbusier?  Regardless of this late blooming fame, the house still remains in limbo.

Le Corbusier
By the time Le Corbusier started painting his murals, Eileen Gray was already living in Tempe à Pailla, another house she designed in Castellar, north of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. When she got word of the mural, she was furious at what she perceived as a desecration of her original vision.  Her friends regarded it as graffiti by a jealous competitor (or a spurned lover?).  Friend and official biographer Peter Adam called it "rape."  Disrespect for another person's work or enhancement, you decide.  Le Corbusier tried several times to buy the property, settling for an adjacent lot, where in 1951 he built a cabin and studio that sit on hill directly behind E. 1027.

Even restoration of the house has be fraught with twists and turns, behooving the house's history.  The restoration process has been painfully dragging out for decades.  French architect Renaurd Barrés, who supervised previous restoration efforts, referred to the agonizingly slow process, "This is a real scandel, but no one dares talk about it."  Mr. Barrés, calls the current campaign a "massacre."  Pierre-Antoine Gatier, the official architect in charge of historic buildings for the Alpes-Martimes region, took charge of the project in 2003.  No wonder, the restoration process has been dragging on so slowly, look at all the layers of French bureaucracy a person has to go through.  Mr. Gatier's restoration efforts on the house went horribly wrong.  The housing for the distinctive skylights was improperly replicated, according to Mr. Barrés, who along with architectural historian Burkhardt Rukschcio, assembled a twenty-two page report outlining the problem of the Gatier restoration.  Some of the problems include: original 1920s electric switches were replaced with modern day switches; new mass-produced glass where original mottled glass was still intact; the porch railings, a key element in the overall design, were not reproduced to original size.  This highlights the difficulty in finding contractors and workers who specialize in historic preservation work.  The problems outlined here, are not unique to this house but representative of the problems facing historic building rehabilitation and restoration the world over.

Rendering of E. 1027
Retired businessman Michael Likierman in nearby Menton has been actively fund raising for the house's restoration and says the situation is "worse than a hornet's nest.  All of these people, all of these different agencies have their fingers in the pie, and that's why nothing gets done, and so much money has been wasted."  Yeah, well that's no big revelation.  Mr. Likierman concurs that Mr. Gatier might not be the right architect for the job.  However, Mr. Likierman sees aesthetics as the bigger issue.  When he offered to buy the villa and convert it into a visitors center, his offer was rebuffed by officials who said it had no added value.  In his defense, Mr. Gatier states, "Restoration is a complex and cultural act.  Choices may b challenged, but they deserve a debate.  The villa E. 1027 is a legendary and fragile work and I want to treat it with the greatest respect."  That's all well and fine but from the tone of the criticism of his work, it doesn't seem the Mr. Gatier bothered to put too much care into finding skilled contractors and workers.

New York University Institute of Fine Arts and Twentieth European modernism professor Jean-Louis Cohen observes the situation with a certain amount detachment, referring to the multiple restoration phases of  Le Corbusier's landmark house Villa Savoye in Poissy.  According to Professor Cohen, "the current state of E. 1027 bothers me, but mistakes can be fixed...There is nothing easier than replacing an electric fixture..The process is stuck but the solution is very clear."  This may be true but finding the right fixture and the right person to do the job is another matter.  In the meantime the battle for E. 1027 rages on, bound up in the battle for Eileen Gray's legacy, overshadowed by Le Corbusier.  Eileen Gray outlived Le Corbusier by eleven years.  Le Corbusier met an ignoble end, death by drowning, a possible suicide.  A mystery wrapped in an enigma.

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