Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

A Redux for Marguerita Mergentime

Marguerita Mergentime coasters, for sale at the Cooper Hewitt Shop.

In 2000, Virginia Bayer went to an exhibition of 20th-century American women designers at the Bard Graduate Center in New York. She knew her grandmother Marguerita Mergentime (1894-1941) had designed curtains and carpets for Radio City Music Hall, had items exhibited at the Metropolitan and Brooklyn Museums, and sold her graphic table linens at stores like Lord & Taylor, B. Altman and Macy’s. But her work was nowhere to be found.

In 2017 Ms. Bayer and two collaborators published “Marguerita Mergentime: American Textiles, Modern Ideas” (West Madison Press), ensuring her grandmother wouldn’t be forgotten again.

Continues: New York Times

Overlooked No More: Julia Morgan, Pioneering Female Architect

Morgan in 1926 with William Randolph Hearst. Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives.

Through fire and shock, the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 destroyed more than 80 percent of the city’s buildings. The grand Fairmont Hotel, only days from opening, was gutted by flames, leaving only a shell.

The hotel’s owners, determined to rebuild, turned to a young architect, Julia Morgan. Only three years earlier she had built a bell tower on the campus of Mills College, and it had withstood the earthquake unscathed — proof that Morgan was as experienced in reinforced concrete as she was in European design.

But word that a woman had been hired to renovate the luxurious hotel was met with astonishment. Was the building really in the charge of a woman?, Jane Armstrong, a reporter for The San Francisco Call, asked the project’s foreman in 1907 on a visit to the hotel’s ballroom after Morgan had restored it to its original splendor.

Yes, the foreman answered, it was in the charge of “a real architect, and her name happens to be Julia Morgan, but it might as well be John Morgan.’ ”

Continues: New York Times

Arata Isozaki won the 2019 Pritzker Prize

Arata Isozaki’s Team Disney building in Orlando. Photo by Xinai Liang.

Here’s what I told Curbed:

Selecting Arata Isozaki for the 2019 Pritzker Prize is a bit of a head-scratcher. While Japanese architecture has been ascendant worldwide, and Isozaki began his career working for 1987 Pritzker laureate Kenzo Tange, he and his work have not been part of the conversation in recent decades. That’s largely because his heyday, and the peak of his international reputation, was in the 1980s. In other words, peak postmodernism.

Barrel vaults, rooflines like pointy hats, walls that look like gridded paper, all of these are part of his repertoire. If Americans know one of his buildings it is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1986), a collection of all of those design elements. I would love to see his award as a sign that the Pritzker jury has read the cultural tea leaves, and sees that postmodernism has re-entered the wider cultural conversation, both as a style that needs preservation, and as a style whose playfulness feels generative. But “postmodern flair” is only mentioned once, in the context of his Disney Team Building (1991) in Orlando, where flair kind of goes without saying.

His first U.S. project was the Palladium nightclub (1985), about which Paul Goldberger wrote approvingly, in the New York Times, that owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were beating MOCA to the architectural punch: “It could almost be dismissed as a cynical exploitation of architecture’s current trendiness—if the results were not so truly excellent.”

The Pritzker citation underlines Isozaki’s movement between East and West, both in terms of inspiration and clientele, as well as his support for younger Japanese architects—some of them now better known—who have come since.

That’s a nice story too, but it seems imposed rather than organic. The Pritzker has been swinging wildly in tone with its choices in recent years, picking legends (Balkrishna Doshi, Frei Otto) and social innovators (Alejandro Aravena, Shigeru Ban), and causing a fair amount of confusion (RCR Arquitectes). I would put Isozaki in the archival category, but is he legendary? It will take an honest reassessment of his work—and the Postmodernism project overall—to tell.

Continues: Curbed

2019 Steven Heller Prize for Cultural Commentary

I’m delighted to announce that I have been awarded a 2019 Steven Heller Prize for Cultural Commentary by AIGA, the professional association for designers, along with Ellen McGirt, a senior editor and columnist for Fortune. I’ll be officially receiving the prize on April 6 at the organization’s annual conference in Pasadena.

There are three reasons this prize is especially sweet.

One, my mother and grandfather are and were graphic designers, so AIGA is their professional organization.

Two, previous winners include friends, fellow critics, and fellow A-names Allison Arieff and Anne Quito.

Three, one of this year’s AIGA Medals will be awarded posthumously to Alexander Girard, a designer about whom I have written often, and whose work provides an rich source of cultural commentary.

All Knit Up in Sweater Instagram

Babaà cardigan. Photograph by Thomas Slack.

The first sweater that I fell in love with on Instagram was worn by a member of the tribe that I refer to as “organic moms.” Their food is organic, their clothes are organic, their toys are wooden, their children are homeschooled or Waldorf or world travellers. The sweater was a sort of marled gray, as though the wool had quite recently been removed from an unwashed sheep, and it made the wearer’s torso look like an egg. It went over dresses, and over pants, and over other sweaters, because its relationship to the body was notional. It was a sweater that could stand up on its own.

I began to see the sweater on other organic moms on Instagram, and finally I clicked on the tag: #Babaa, a Spanish company founded by Marta Bahillo, in 2012. It was their cardigan woman no19 mist (their punctuation) that I wanted, and it could be mine for two hundred and thirty euros. This seemed like a lot of money for a sweater, so I did not buy it that year.

The next winter, the organic moms got out their Babaà sweaters again and they thanked Babaà on Instagram and they still looked great. Some of them even had miniature versions for their children. It seemed like the most useful piece of clothing in the world. It seemed warm. It seemed unbothered by the winds of fashion. Every sweater that I had purchased in the previous few years had pilled or gotten a hole or turned out not to be a hundred per cent wool, even though the word “wool” was in the name of the sweater, and hence droopy or thin or just not warm. (What is the point of a not-warm sweater?) I had nostalgia for the Shetland-wool sweaters that used to be available in abundance at the Gap in the nineteen-eighties in soft jewel-tone piles. Why had I ever given mine away?

Continues: New Yorker

Why U.S. cities should stop whining and embrace winter

Warming huts, 2017. Courtesy of The Forks.

Architect Peter Hargraves would like to level with you: We are not getting rid of winter.

“I personally love winter; when the Quebec carnival happens, it can be negative 30 and they don’t even seem to think about the cold,” he says. “Back in Winnipeg, everyone is bitching about winter. I thought, ‘There are 800,000 people here. Winter isn’t going away. Why don’t we do something to engage the place we are at?’”

In 2009, Hargraves and his firm Sputnik Architecture proposed a design competition for warming huts on the frozen Red and Assiniboine rivers. Every year since, a range of architects and students have answered the call, using a variety of materials from wood to snow and ice; this year’s winners will be unveiled on Friday, January 25. The new huts will join 25 of their predecessors on the ice, creating a miles-long skate trail that gives people a destination for exercise, sociability, and aesthetic contemplation.

To get people energized to leave those houses in the first place, you need something more than a hut-shaped hut: You need an ice palace, you need a cave, you need the spirit of carnival. You need to make art of winter.

Continues: Curbed