Thank You Paul Goldberger!

Being a tour guide at Trinity Church has its many perks. However, becoming one is a grueling and arduous, but intellectually rewarding journey.  Trinity’s docent undergo a 10 week training course during which one is expected to master the art and architectural history of one of America’s most beloved buildings. Surrounded by H.H. Richardson’s massive Romanesque interior, John Lafarge’s awe inspiring murals, and some of the country’s finest stained glass windows, one of my life long dreams came true on Wednesday November 18, 2009.

Pulitzer Prize winning critic Paul Goldberger, former architectural critic for The New York Times and author of several books including On the Rise: Architecture and Design in a Post-Modern Age and the latest Why Architecture Matters elated (at least I was ecstatic) an audience over 100 people with a lecture titled Architecture, Spirituality and the Challenge of Modernism. Goldberger spoke of the sacred and how it relates to modern architecture and relied on Trinity Church several times  as an example of a building that is “fresh and vibrant [which] transcends our normal sense of time.”

According to Goldberger, architecture must express what is not material, that is, the idea of God. This must be achieved by using the physical to express the transcending. At Trinity Church, Richardson was able to create a work of art by inventing new ways for buildings to inspire and move us. It is a space where time loses its fleeting momentum and grounds each and every one of us who experience its seductive and sumptuous interior.  What architecture has done is to establish a connection between everyday life and the sacred.  Who are we to say that Saarinen’s 1954 Kresge Chapel at MIT, or Safdie’s Class of 1959 Chapel at Harvard Business School or Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp are not sacred places? In the end, what makes a space sacred depends on who is feeling the experience. The same way we all experience a building, we can also be moved by it in different ways.

As to the challenges of modernism? Aesthetics have become indistinguishable from the sacred and as an example; Goldberger spoke of Kahn’s Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas as a model of how art institutions have become the emblems of cultural aspirations. These institutions have chosen to attract the beautiful rather than the divine (to illustrate this point, Goldberger questioned whether the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is considered a sacred place, to Mrs. Gardner it may have been, to others, it may just be another museum).

As a student and a professional, I have been delighted to meet and take classes with well respected scholars in the field of art and architectural history. Having attended this inspiring lecture by Paul Goldberger was not only a dream come true, but it gave me a reason to continue writing, learning and being a critic. Thank you Paul!

The Silent City on a Hill: The Beauty of Mount Auburn Cemetery

mount auburn 4In its most primitive and pristine condition, nature has  influenced the course of art and architecture throughout history. The ancient Egyptians looked to nature and incorporated papyrus leaves as decorative elements in columns. William Morris, leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement, paid homage to nature through his use of vegetal motifs in wallpaper, book covers, furniture and even stained glass.

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Fall at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Could you picture yourself going to a cemetery for a walk just like you take a walk in the park in search of inspiration? Although some of my friends find it bizarre that I would go to a cemetery to relax, one can learn many lessons in art, architecture, history and horticulture. Mount Auburn Cemetery, founded in 1831 became the first designed “garden” cemetery in the United States. Designated a National Historic Landmark for possessing significant historical and cultural value for all Americans, Mount Auburn became the “picturesque” role model for other 19th century cemeteries across the country. These cemeteries became thriving institutions for the cultivation of the arts, especially sculpture. Before there were museums, people would go to a cemetery to look at the sculpture and learn about the arts.

Internationally renowned for its outstanding examples of sculpture and architecture, some of the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th centuries including Martin Milmore, Augustus Saint Gaudens, Sarah Wyman Whitman and others, have all left their impression on Mount Auburn Cemetery.

mount auburn 3Mount Auburn is beautiful throughout the year and with all the programming that takes place, there is always an excuse to visit this inspiring place.  Whenever I need to stimulate my senses, I take a walk through the silent paths of Mount Auburn Cemetery, often stopping to sketch, meditate or simply listen to the many birds that make of the cemetery their home. To learn more about Mount Auburn Cemetery, you can take a self guided tour any day of the year or read Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery by Blanche M. G. Linden.

To Build a House

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The Gropius House

Last week I had an opportunity to tour the house Walter Gropius designed for himself in Lincoln, Massachusetts.  Fleeting from Nazi Germany, Gropius immigrated along with much of his personal belongings to Boston, a circumstance that eventually led him to become Professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and established the architectural firm The Architects Collaborative (TAC), which forever changed the story of Modern architecture in Boston.

Gropius became the founder and first director of the Bauhaus, one of the world’s most important and influential design schools established in 1919 in Weimar, Germany. The school takes its name from Bau meaning “to build” or “building” and haus meaning “house.” Having attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for a short period of time, I realized how much of an influence the Bauhaus had on other design schools in the world.

The curriculum at RISD and the Bauhaus share many similarities, including the “six month trial period” whereas those who were not “destined” to become true artists were weeded out of their respective program. Although I made it past the six month weeding out period and continued on to the winter session to take classes in film studies, I left RISD for personal reasons, but enough about me, and let’s learn more about the Bauhaus and the Gropius House in Lincoln.

Teachers at the Bauhaus consisted of masters like Wassily Kandinsky, Joseph Albers, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Marianne Brandt and Marcel Breuer among others. Its principles were drawn from the Arts and Crafts Movement, but whereas William Morris and his circle rejected the machine, the Bauhaus embraced it in order to provide everyone in society with access to art and good, affordable design. There is no such thing as a “Bauhaus style,” each and every one of the masters at the school encouraged the experimentation in all the arts.

The influence of the Bauhaus still resonates with us today. The furniture we see for sale in stores like Target, Walmart, Ikea and others have all been influenced by the school. The Gropiuses owned an important collection of furniture designed by Marcel Breuer, Saarinen, Aalto, Marianne Brandt and others. Some of the artwork was created by artists like Spanish Surrealist Joan Miro, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy (whom I’ve fallen in love with), Henry Moore and Ati Gropius Johansen; Walter’s daughter.

 This semester in my seminar on Boston Architecture, I have been learning that Massachusetts was a hot bed for Modernism. This was somewhat surprising to me because when I think of Modernism I think of New York City, California or the Midwest.  The Gropius House speaks to the eloquent vocabulary of modernism created in the New England region.  Lincoln is home to a few outstanding examples of Modernist houses as are the surrounding towns of Lexington, Arlington, Belmont and Cambridge. Sadly, these modernist treasures are threatened by demolition on a daily basis and as recent as last year, we lost an excellent modern house by Eleanor Raymond, one of Boston’s leading modern architects.

The house is owned by Historic New England  and is open to the public for tours.

A Modernist Walking Tour of the MIT Campus

The Campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rich in Modern architecture. Some of the most innovative and respected Modernist architects left their mark on this prestigious campus. The following is a walking tour of MIT’s Modernist buildings adapted from Robert Bell Rettig’s Guide to Cambridge Architecture: 10 Walking Tours.
Eastgate, 1965, Eduardo Catalano

Eastgate, 1965, Eduardo Catalano

100 Memorial Drive, 1949, Brown, De Mars, Kennedy, Koch, Rapson – Groundbreaking designed which takes advantage of the riverfront site.

100 Memorial Drive, 1949, Brown, De Mars, Kennedy, Koch, Rapson – Groundbreaking designed which takes advantage of the riverfront site.

Hayden Library, 1949, Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith; Anderson & Beckwith

Hayden Library, 1949, Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith; Anderson & Beckwith

Baker House, 1947, Alvar Aalto, Perry, Shaw & Hepburn – one of Massachusetts’ most famous buildings designed by Finnish architect Aalto, along with Perry, Shaw and Hepburn most famous for the restoration of Colonial Williamsburgh. The interior of this building feels incredibly amazing, very sensitive to the needs of those who occupy it.

Baker House, 1947, Alvar Aalto, Perry, Shaw & Hepburn – one of Massachusetts’ most famous buildings designed by Finnish architect Aalto, along with Perry, Shaw and Hepburn most famous for the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. The interior of this building feels incredibly amazing, very sensitive to the needs of those who occupy it.

Baker House
Baker House
Kresge Auditorium, 1953, Eero Saarinen – a shell roof supported on three points. Truly spectacular.
Kresge Auditorium, 1953, Eero Saarinen – a shell roof supported on three points. Truly spectacular.

 

M.I.T Chapel, 1954, Eero Saarinen – a brick cylinder set in a moat. So private and intimate that one undergoes a religious experience once inside the building. Bell tower by Theodore Roszak, bronze screen in the interior by Harry Bertoia. This building represents the unity of all the arts!
M.I.T Chapel, 1954, Eero Saarinen – a brick cylinder set in a moat. So private and intimate that one undergoes a religious experience once inside the building. Bell tower by Theodore Roszak, bronze screen in the interior by Harry Bertoia. This building represents the unity of all the arts!

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Julia Adams Stratton Building, 1963, Eduardo Catalano – “hovering planes of concrete”

Julia Adams Stratton Building, 1963, Eduardo Catalano – “hovering planes of concrete”

Metals Processing Laboratory, 1950, Perry, Shaw, Hepburn & Dean – brick, what Rettig calls “dignified, if unexciting structure.”

Metals Processing Laboratory, 1950, Perry, Shaw, Hepburn & Dean – brick, what Rettig calls “dignified, if unexciting structure.”

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Rockwell Cage, 1947, Anderson & Beckwith – Glass walled, clear span stylish building by the “pioneers of Modern architecture at MIT.” This building recalls Peter Behrens A.E.G. High Tension Factory in Berlin, Germany from 1910.

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West Garage, 1963, Marvin E. Goody; Carlton N. Goff

West Garage, 1963, Marvin E. Goody; Carlton N. Goff

Karl T. Compton Laboratories, 1955, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (New York)

Karl T. Compton Laboratories, 1955, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (New York)

East Garage, 1960, Marvin E. Goody; Carleton N. Goff – helical ramp. There are a few outstanding garages by Goody and Goff remaining around Boston. Look for them.

East Garage, 1960, Marvin E. Goody; Carleton N. Goff – helical ramp. There are a few outstanding garages by Goody and Goff remaining around Boston. Look for them.

Green Building, 1964, I.M. Pei, MIT’s first high rise structure with a sculpture by Alexander Calder.
Green Building, 1964, I.M. Pei, MIT’s first high rise structure with a sculpture by Alexander Calder.