Kaufmann

Fallingwater

I'm currently reading Fallingwater Rising by Franklin Toker, the 'biography' of the infamous house, and it set me to wonder whether there was there ever a more important private client in the history of modern architecture than Edgar Kaufmann and his wife Liliane?

A successful businessman, owner of a famous Pittsburgh Department Store, EJ Kaufman commissioned some of the best known works of modern architecture, including most famously, Fallingwater, in Bear Run, Pennslyvania, by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Toker book is excellent and detailed in describing how the Kaufmann's and FLW created Fallingwater, but for those short of time, this superb article in the NY Times by Kevin Gray summarises it brilliantly. The history of the Kaufmanns and the drama played out around Fallingwater would make a brilliant film or TV series, as Gray calls it, a Modern Gothic.

The story of how FLW designed Fallingwater is one that never fails to grow in the telling. In one version we see Wright as a blur of activity as assistants rush around feeding him pencils and paper so as not to break the creative fever that gripped him. Our collective love of creation myths (which explains why Hollywood keeps 'rebooting' superhero films), gives the creation of Fallingwater its elevated status. Perhaps it is the idea of creativity ex nihilo, of the form plucked from the ether, or the strive to understand that moment of inspiration, the divine madness of creativity, that draws us to these stories.

The legend grew that Fallingwater was drawn in 2 hours, and that Wright had not committed any ideas to paper before the most famous act of architectural prestidigitation, on September 22, 1935.

Fallingwater

Fallingwater

The design of Fallingwater had to cope with unusual living arrangements, as Liliane and Edgar had separate bedrooms and led largely separate lives. As first cousins, their marriage was essentially one of convenience rather than love, with EJ's numerous indiscretions paid a heavy toll on Liliane. While at first Fallingwater was a party house where the Kaufmanns made a great show of entertaining the good and the great, Liliane came to find it oppressive, and frequently retreated to the guest house " where she could lounge in solitude and swim in the hillside pool."

After selling the department store in 1946, EJ had little need to stay in PA with its cold dark winters, and instead became spending more time on the west coast. FLW bristled with anger and frustration when EJ Kaufmann commissioned former Wright pupil Richard Neutra to build them a house in Palm Springs, but later, when Liliane, estranged from Edgar, contacted FLW about building a retreat for herself, he never replied. ''He knew who buttered his bread." says Toker.

Things didn't end well at Fallingwater when Liliane Kaufmann died there in 1952 on a rare weekend when both her and EJ stayed there. Was it an accident, and overdose on the sleeping pills she took, or something more sinister? Her ghost is said to still haunt the master bedroom.

Fallingwater

The relationship between EJ Kaufmann and Frank Lloyd Wright is a compelling one - they argued furiously over the details of Fallingwater, but each had too much invested in the other to back away. FLW designed over 20 other buildings for Kaufmann, none of which were realised in Kaufmann's lifetime. Frank Lloyd Wright's unbuilt legacy looms large - there are over 500 unrealised designs, almost as much as the built oeuvre. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation seeks to preserver the legacy and oversees any attempts to build any unrealised designs, with 16 projects so far completed with an official "designed by Frank Lloyd Wright" seal of approval.

The Massaro House

One of the many buildings that FLW designed was for a little island on a lake in upstate New York, for a man called Ahmed Chahroudi, in 1950. Chahroudi had boasted to Kaufmann that "When I finish the house on the island, it will surpass your Fallingwater." But he could never afford it, nor a second design FLW produced, an eventually sold the island. A local man, Joe Massaro bought the island in the late 1997 and set about building the house FLW had designed.

Massaro house

Massaro house

This move was not without opposition. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, official custodians of Wright's legacy, refused to give any assistance to help Massaro realise the plans, and argued that they owned the copyright on the plans. But a court ruled that there was no copyright, Massaro owned the island, and with it came the drawings. Eventually the argument was settled that Massaro could only describe the house as "inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright".

Eventually Wright found an architect, Thomas Heinz, willing to help him realise the project, and make it as faithful as possible to the original design. Construction began in 2000, and was near completion in 2006, when the architectural press became aware of it.

Massaro house

Massaro house

It has come in for much criticism as an ersatz Wrightian confection, with Heinz having to interpret Wright's design which consisted of just 5 drawings, a plan, a perspective and 3 elevations. Several modern features were added, such as domed skylights, superseding Wright's details that were considered outdated. Perhaps the most obvious deviation from Wright's style are the rubblestone walls, often referred to as 'desert masonry' which in Wright's designs the stones are closely pack and relatively flush. At the Massaro house the stones are widely spaced and jut out of the concrete, giving the walls a nougat-like appearance. Massaro defends this because of the need to add insulation into the walls, and thinks that Wright would have done the same to meet current building codes. But this is what happens when you build a building out of its time.

Massaro house

Massaro house

While inevitably it lacks the purity of vision that genuine Wright houses possess, it does have the essence of a late period Wright house, with huge cantilevered balconies, the strong horizontal elements countered by the massive vertical walls, the synthesis of the house with its location.

Massaro has put the island up for sale. Even in 2010, only 4 years after completion, Massaro seemed to have turned away from the house. In an echo of Kaufmann's move away to the west coast, Massaro stated "I put my heart and soul into this, but I’m spending more time in Florida now. I’m thinking of building a Frank Lloyd Wright house that he designed for the ocean."

In 2012, the house was advertised widely on the types of website that those looking for private islands would be likely to visit, with one even offering an online shopping cart where you can buy it with a single click for a cool £17 million.

Blueprints

In another interesting development, some blueprints from the original Fallingwater were made available by auction. Bidding ended in September 2012, with a top bid of £22,824. From the auction website, the description is that "the blueprints, which were discovered in Long Island, are accompanied by a letter from architect Arthur Hennighausen which reads: "The shop drawings of the 'Falling Water' steel sash were given to me as a professional courtesy at my architectural office in Waukegan Illinois by J. D. Graff who at that time was sales representative for Hope Windows, Inc. This was in the spring of 1938. No record was kept to further identify the time or place."

While an interesting piece of memorabilia, blueprints of a window detail are not in themselves useful for anyone looking to build their own version of Fallingwater. But this, and the Massaro house, raises a question about ownership and authenticity in architecture. Can a building be copyrighted? And if you own the blueprints to a house, do you own the rights to build that house?

Inevitably in this era of context-free image porn on sites like Dezeen, unscrupulous developers can plunder the archives for more than just inspiration. Zaha Hadid has recently discovered in China that imitation is the highest form of flattery, with her project for Wanging SOHO in Beijing pirated for a development in Chongqing, a 'megacity near the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau'. Thus Hadid finds herself in the position of racing to complete the original project before the copy is finished. It's the sort of thing that would have had Baudrillard in stitches.

The simulation has overtaken the real.

Manhattan-ization

Manhattan grid

"How do I get to Broadway? ...I want to get to the center of things"
"Walk east a block and turn down Broadway and you'll find the center of things if you walk far enough."

Jon Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer

The continuity of the gridiron gave rise to an open urban frontier that, by definition, extended infinitely. Before 1950, the urban gridiron flowed seamlessly into the continental grid, creating a continuum for which there was no interior and exterior.

Albert Pope, Zone Research, (via http://blog.nickaxel.net/)

In Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas describes the origins of the strict gridiron street pattern of Manhattan, as commissioned in 1807 by Simeon de Witt, Gouverner Morris and John Rutherford. Even though the island was barely inhabited, the grid inscribed upon the island created thousands of city blocks, the future of the city defined and delimited.

"The Grid is, above all, a conceptual speculation. In spite of its apparent neutrality, it implies an intellectual program for the island: in its indifference to topography, to what exists, it claims the superiority of mental construction over reality.

The plotting of its streets and blocks announces that the subjugation, if not obliteration, of nature is its true ambition.

All blocks are the same; their equivalence invalidates, all at once, all the systems of articulation and differentiation that have guided the design of traditional cities. The Grid makes the history of architecture and all lessons of urbanism irrelevant. It forces Manhattan's builders to develop a new system of formal values, to invent strategies for the distinction of one block from another.

The Grid's two-dimensional discipline also creates undreamt of freedom for three-dimensional anarchy. The grid defines a balance between control and de-control in which the city can be at the same time ordered and fluid, a metropolis of rigid chaos."

Koolhaas describes Manhattanization as a process, an irresistible force of artifice conquering nature.

Manhattan Transfer Manhattan Extended

Manhattan Extended

In 1922, long after the grid had been filled, the famed engineer T Kennard Thomson proposed extending Manhattan island to the south, with a land reclamation project that would add 'Six square miles of New Land' and '12 Lineal Miles for New Wharves. Kennard's proposal was a cut down version of his earlier 1916 plan for a Really Greater New York which planned over 50 square miles of additional land. The plan included filling in the existing East River and building a New East River channel to cut through Long Island.

Extend NY

The conceptual project ExtendNY by Harold Cooper goes even further, extending the Manhattan street grid around the world.

Extend NY

Mapping a rectilinear grid onto a sphere is not a straightforward exercise, but the result is a Google Maps overlay that allows you to see on what NY 'street' you live. (I live on the corner of 63, 696 Street and East 10794 Avenue)

Like Bud Korpenning's futile search for the heartbeat of a city in Manhattan Transfer, the city becomes ever more unknowable, less well defined, fuzzier, it extends everywhere. Everywhere is simultaneously center and periphery.

We are all New Yorkers now.

Long Thin Yellow Legs of Architecture

Coop Himmelblau - Long Thin Yellow Legs of Architecture

Continuing on the theme of Constructivist sculpture in Rotterdam, there is this remarkable piece by Coop Himmelblau, first built in 1988 and still present today. Called the Long Thin Yellow Legs of Architecture, it was made as part of the Sculpture in the City project of 1987.

Coop Himmelblau - Long Thin Yellow Legs of Architecture

As the Sculpture International Rotterdam site describes it:

"A series of sculptures was planned to link the Central Station with the Veerhaven, as part of the event entitled The City as a Stage. Various internationally renowned artists and architects were invited to contribute with a temporary or permanent work. Coop Himmelb(l)au’s sculpture is one of the few works in the Sculpture in the City project that was to acquire a permanent location in Rotterdam. It was originally intended to be located at Oud’s café De Unie (The Union, with its façade in De Stijl architecture) at the Westersingel. However, the sculpture was so big that a different spot had to be found – that was to be on the corner of Vasteland and Scheepstimmermanlaan."

Coop Himmelblau - Long Thin Yellow Legs of Architecture

Coop Himmelblau - Long Thin Yellow Legs of Architecture

A sculpture was also designed by Zaha Hadid, sadly no longer in situ, and while I remember seeing it, there is absolutely no information available on it online. It is almost as if it has been erased from her oeuvre. Does anyone have any images of it?


Previously:

Boompjes 2

Boompjes observation tower, OMA, 1980

Following on from the previous post about OMA's Boompjes project from 1980, here is the amazing image of the observation tower that formed part of the scheme. The tower is a pure Constructivist monument, a homage to Leonidov and El Lissitzky. Compare it to Lenin Tribune design of El Lissitzky from 1924.

Lenin Tribune, El Lissitzky

As this article on the fantastic Russian Utopia site puts it:

The tribune designed by El Lissitzky became an icon of the Modernist movement. Leninism became a dogma. When both were subjected to revision, it became clear that invigoration socialism was more difficult than updating Modernism.

If you don't find this worms-eye axonometric view of a Constructivist tower in Rotterdam totally awesome, then you're probably reading the wrong blog.


Previously:

Boompjes

My favourite architectural image is on display at the moment. Seeing something 'in the flesh' that you've looked for so long in a book was one of those knee-wobble experiences, a pure hyperkulturemia moment.

It's this:

Boompjes housing OMA

It's on display as part of the OMA/Progress exhibition currently on at the Barbican. Overall I found the exhibition to be rather disappointing. I am a huge fan of the work of OMA/ Rem Koolhaas but this exhibition seemed to try too hard to downplay the heroic imagery and signature form-making and instead be wilfully as scrappy as possible. In an attempt to counteract the 'starchitect' syndrome and demonstrate the amount of research and the full design process it becomes rather impenetrable. There's much to explore but not much eye candy. Which is why the image of the Boompjes housing project really stands out. It's beautiful.

This has been just about my favourite architectural representation ever since I first saw it in the catalogue of the Deconstructivism exhibition at the MoMA in 1988, curated by Mark Wrigley and Philip Johnson.

It's a triptych created by OMA as a design research project for a housing on the Boompjes in Rotterdam in 1980.

Here's what OMA say about this project on their own website:

At the end of 1980 OMA was asked by the city of Rotterdam to conduct a study of high rise building in the city, and to illustrate the investigations with a planning proposal for a site in the centre. In consultation with the Town Planning Department, a site was selected on the Maasboulevard along near the Maasbridges. We see the angle between the river and the lower side of the grid as a 'hinge' between the city and the river. Here the river is closest to the centre. The shifting of the centre through the injection of gigantic buildings in the second reconstruction makes this point most suitable to take over the role of the 'window' in the disclosing of the riverfront. The site is peculiar. On one hand it is embedded in a network of traffic lanes, like the new suspension bridge across the Maas whose approach makes its way into the city through two inexplicable twists. On the other hand there lies a unique opportunity to connect the river with the city. The city is visible, but hardly accessible; any structure will be noted in passing, at bewilderingly different speeds and angles.

The building and the bridge are designed as an undetachable whole. Built as a composition of towers inserted in a slab, the project carries on the experiments in slaboid mutations and new building types that were done after the war in the bombed areas. It forms a transparent screen along the riverfront. On the riverside the screen acts as a row of stone towers against a glass horizon, introducing a skyline in the Rotterdam skyline, and on the city side it acts as a stone slab with glass towers and slits, that portray pieces of the river. Due to their different angles, the glass surfaces on the city side reflect the light in different directions and mostly they only reflect air and water, not buildings. The building is designed toward the kinetic experience, caused by the passing of the site with different speeds across the bridges and the boulevard: The towers all have a different angle to the slab: some fall backwards, others are contained, others twist away and the steel tower has altogether escaped.

The average height of the building in 72 meters. For a tower this is not so high, for a slab it is (according to Dutch standards). The composition of these elements in this project claims a fair height to be effective in the skyline of the Rotterdam harbour, where the juxtaposition of extremely high constructions with lower city districts is a frequently appearing image.

Now that the city nears completion, the riverfront – more precisely, the so-called Maasboulevard, a curved dike that protects the rest of the city – remains under-exploited and is one of the last frontiers for further development. The two structures for Rotterdam are located exactly at this point; they form a ‘cornerstone’ of the old ‘modern’ centre, and face, across the fault, the multitude of anti-modernist revisions.

This project had a triple purpose: to activate the riverfront; to propose a ‘solution’ for the bridgehead of the old bridge that will become redundant after the inauguration of the new one; and to suggest an apartment building for a site against the old bridge. The site is peculiar: one side is quayside, the other is formed by a riverside highway, one the side of a bridge. It is visible, but hardly accessible; any structure on it will be noted in passing, at bewilderingly different speeds and angles.

There's so much to enjoy in this image - more than you can make out in this small version above, and like all great art rewards patient engagement. It is not a painting, nor is it a traditional architectural drawing, even if it can be read alternately as either. The image mixes and collapses several modes of representation onto one composition, which might be a fairly common concept today but wasn't back in 1980, and owes more to Suprematism than traditional architectural renderings. It is not an image that can be 'read' easily, it does not illustrate the Boompjes proposal but is an exploration, part of the design process. It collapse a huge number of influences and themes onto the space of the drawing. In my opinion it does not represent the project - it is the project.

The central part of the composition in the middle panel is an isometric representation of the site and OMA's proposal, which consists of a slab block articulated by with a number of projecting and slanting towers ("experiments in slaboid mutations"), a Constructivist viewing platform/ tower, and a number of other urban interventions. Extending beyond this is the urban context, with certain landmark elements, such as the Maas river and the two bridges the Willemsbrug and the Spoorbrug. There is also the White House, a Rotterdam landmark as a prototype skyscraper and one of the few buildings left standing after the Nazi bombardment in the Second World War, delineated but not filled in, as our several other nearby tall buildings, shown to provide context. There is also a small drawing of the building plan.

Boompjes housing OMA

The isometric view of the main building with its five glass tower elements are reflected below, each given its own colour. Viewing this in 1988 I read these as the structure's virtual reflection, its presence in a Gibsonian cyberspace. Thus the drawing shows the proposed building but also its own mediation. The tower element is a pure Constructivist composition inspired directly by El Lissitzky's platform for Lenin. In the right hand panel is a tiny city map, a larger scale plan, and some other unknown elements. Similarly, the left hand panel contains a series of shapes, which I think relate to the programmatic use of each of the four tower, plus some attempts I think to explore the 'kinetic' view of the project from different viewpoints and speeds, again a homage to Suprematism and a similar concept to that of the early work of Zaha Hadid.

![Boompjes housing OMA] (http://www.kosmograd.com/newsfeed/images/boompjes/boompjes_03.jpg)

In the book Rem Koolhaas /OMA by Robert Gargiani, he examines this project as an example of Koolhaas' Contextualist period:

'The concept of Contextualism was critically examined in the project for the complex of the Boompjes in Rotterdam, prepared by Koolhaas in 1980-82 and commissioned by the City Government. The lot is outside the historical centre, on the banks of the Meuse along Maasboulevard, near the Spoorbrug and the Willemsbrug. This area was emblematically chosen by OMA, without any indication from the city, for its character as a residual zone in a content that was even more chaotic and varied than that of the Binnenhof, at the converging point of different sectors of the city that had been razed by bombing during World War II. The area belongs to the category of the Terrains Vagues of Constant, and therefore particularly relevant for the expression of Contextualism without any precise character. The fact that the government was interested in testing "the impact of the high-rise building on the city-scape", also following the success of Delirious New York, allowed Koolhaas to invent a volumetric situation based on that of the skyscrapers of New York, like the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and Rockefeller Center, specifying a functional program on the models of the New York hotel and the Soviet workers' club. The complex. 72 meters in height and composed of the assemblage of multiple volumes, is configured according to the criteria of Malevich and Ferriss as an abstract edified bulk, "designed from the outside in", as Koolhaas put it.

Boompjes housing OMA

The other drawings OMA created for this project do not really interest me (apart from a fantastic worms-eye axon of the Constructivist tower, of which more later). They are about building form, concrete proposal. Whereas the isometric triptych, called the Rotterdam Summation in the MoMA catalogue, is about urban appearances, the self-image of the city.

It's clear to see the development of themes in this project with subsequent OMA projects, but the influence of this image upon the realm of architectural representation should also not be underestimated. I shall be going back to see it again at least once before the exhibition ends on 19th Feb 2012.