On May 21, the Getty Conservation Institute will present a day-long symposium “Minding the Gap: the Role of Contemporary Architecture in the Historic Environment.” It promises to be a lively debate among five architects who have taken radically different approaches: Thomas Beeby, Juergen Mayer, Rafael Moneo, Richard Rogers and Denise Scott Brown.
By Michael Webb
The Museum of Modern Art in New York was the first to embrace architecture as an art, and the exhibition Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light, is the latest in an 80-year succession of landmark exhibitions. It’s the first solo show in the US to celebrate the genius of a 19th-century French architect who created two extraordinary libraries in Paris: the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1838-50) and the reading room of the Bibliothèque Nationale. Their soaring, light-filled volumes, daring structure and rich ornament, were a major influence on several generations of architects, and they still inspire awe—notably in a memorable scene from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. That clip is shown in 3D, alongside the exquisite drawings that Labrouste created during his years at the French Academy in Rome and his long practice. They alone are reason to fly to New York: Masterpieces of draftsmanship that chart a decisive shift from classicism to modernism. The lightness of the roof vault and the slender cast-iron columns belong to a different word than the stone monuments of Greece and Rome. Strip the surface ornament and these reading rooms are models of functional engineering along with the great train sheds and the Eiffel Tower, Oddly, Labrouste (1801-75) seems to have realized no other buildings of note, but these two ensure his immortality.
By Michael Webb
Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, compresses half a century of the city’s growth and architectural expression into a few small galleries at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The sheer volume of information and exhibits could have made this show as congested and frustrating as traffic on the 405, at the bottom of the hill. Instead, it’s a joyful celebration of urban exuberance, an opportunity to make discoveries and be reminded of the rich diversity of this sprawling metropolis. Curators Wim de Wit and Christopher Alexander have made inspired choices, and they have grouped images, models, artworks, and videos within five thematic sections. The Getty’s design department collaborated with students at the Art Center College of Design to create a dynamic installation with plenty of open space for circulation.
No country balances past and present as deftly as Japan. You can take one of the world’s fastest trains from the megalopolis of Tokyo and stay in a ryokan in Kyoto, eating and sleeping, participating in a tea ceremony and trying to stay awake through a Noh play, as you would have four centuries ago. Both eras coexist in a stunning exhibition at the Getty Museum, which has drawn on its own collection and secured loans to present photographs by Hiroshi Hamaya (1915-1999) and Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1917).
By Michael Webb
“Dearest Daddy,” wrote Phyllis Lambert to her father, Samuel Bronfman, CEO of the Seagram Distillery Company. It was 1954, she was working as an artist in Paris, and he had sent her a rendering of the tower he planned to build on Park Avenue as his New York headquarters. In eight closely-typed pages she ridiculed the design by Pereira and Luckman, and pleaded for architecture of the highest quality. “You have a great responsibility,” she told him, “your building is not only for the people of your companies, it is much more for all people, in New York and the rest of the world.” He was persuaded, put her in charge of the project, and she selected Mies van der Rohe, partnered with Philip Johnson, to create the greatest corporate tower in America.