Living in the apartment where the Eames prototyped their first designs in the 1940s, I've always been fascinated by the subtle changes iconic pieces undergo as they are first put into production and later revived. Herman Miller, which began as a traditional Michigan furniture maker, was introduced to modernism by Gilbert Rhode in the 1930s, and again by George Nelson, who was their director of design, 1945-1972, a tenure no-one is ever likely to match. He designed an entire range of basic furniture himself in a year, and then brought in his friends, Charles and Ray Eames, who have been the company's household gods ever since. Over the years, as Herman Miller put a greater emphasis on the contract market, some of the Eames's designs went out of production. A few were pirated, European rights went to Vitra, but most of the drop-outs have been brought back in sparkling new editions.
Johnston Marklee have won plaudits for their houses and they have now triumphed over several larger firms for a coveted commission: the Menil Drawing Institute (MDI) in Houston. The late Dominique de Menil had refined taste and great wealth—a rare combination—and she patiently sought very best in art and architecture. The main museum, which opened in 1987, is still Renzo Piano's best—for its springy grace and luminous interiors. She established a leafy campus around that building, preserved a row of old houses to accommodate visiting artists, and created several satellite galleries, including Piano's understated shrine to Cy Twombly. For its future growth, the board commissioned a master plan from David Chipperfield, which will replace three massive apartment blocks with new housing and the MDI.
At a time when many architects are using and abusing parametrics to create look-at-me buildings, Frederick Fisher stays true to his principles. For the past 30 years he has been crafting spaces for the creation and display of art and they are often so understated as to go unremarked. Artists and gallerists know that he will make them look good, and his range of accomplishment is unmatched—from PS 1 in New York and the Colby Museum extension in Maine, to the Huntington in Pasadena and an art space for the Otis Institute. He transformed a decrepit tram depot into Bergamot Station, and designed several of its gallery interiors, in addition to a dozen more he has done across LA.
The late Detlef Mertins distilled a lifetime of scholarship and research on Mies van der Rohe into this massive and authoritative survey of the master’s work and thought. Seven hundred drawings and photos illustrate the entire arc of a career that took Mies from Peter Behrens’ office in Berlin to a global practice in Chicago as the primary exponent of international modernism. “Less is more” and “God is in the details,” have become part of the everyday language of architecture. To some he was a god-like figure; others dismissed his buildings—even the best of them—as unlivable, dysfunctional, and authoritarian. It’s time for a reappraisal.
The New York Architecture and Design Film Festival was SRO last October, and it’s being reprised in LA, March 12-16, at the downtown Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 South Spring Street. Highlights include Tadao Ando: from Emptiness to Infinity, documentaries on visionary architects Paolo Soleri and Eugene Tssui, and a community building program in the poorest county of North Carolina. I’ll be moderating a panel on the restoration of classic modern houses with Kelly Lynch, Michael Boyd, and Frank Escher on the afternoon of Sunday 16th and that will be followed by The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat, a portrait of the little gem in Lone Pine, CA, that Kelly Lynch and Mitch Glazer lovingly restored. Featured designers include Massimo and Lella Vignelli, and the British maverick Paul Smith. The scandal of Chavez Ravine and the misguided reinvention of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia will be explored, along with a dozen other projects, large and small. It’s must-attend event, and you should buy your tickets asap at adfilmfest.com.