Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Portfolio | Architecture at the Met



Top to bottom: Temple of Dendur from the Japanese galleries; Astor Court (2); Nakashima furniture in the Japanese galleries; John Vanderlyn’s Versailles panorama in the American Wing; ‘Sprite,’ Frank Lloyd Wright, salvaged from Midway Gardens; abstract Tiffany glass; details, Greek and Roman galleries (3).

After the cubicle

“We are now at an all-time low in square footage allotted per worker, and that’s because of the disappearance of paper and files into computers, and the appearance of headphones. In fact, I think of headphones as an invisible cubicle because they are the only things that make work possible in such close quarters.”

English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

Rainbowed

Noticed: A revival of a trend that I associate with the 1980s, rainbows! In decor, in architecture, in fashion, and a perpetual interest of children’s book authors. I rounded up a few of the most stylish examples on a Pinterest board, and will keep adding as I see more. Something I can’t find, but someone who does screenprinting should make, is a simple navy sweatshirt with a ROYGBIV arc on the front. There’s a market.

“Was it too much to hope for first a woman and then a partnership?”

Denise Scott Brown, photographed by Robert Venturi.

When I read that Moshe Safdie had been awarded the 2015 Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects, I groaned online. AIA members, I think you need to ask yourselves: “Does the AIA represent me?” Why? Because after tiptoeing toward the future, American architecture’s professional organisation seemed to have reverted to an old playbook. At a moment when some pundits are arguing that architects are bad listeners, while others question the limits of their ethics, and critics and curators find themselves focusing, more and more, on things built that aren’t buildings, choosing Safdie, and releasing the inane #ilookup video, neither rallies the troops nor sells architecture to the wider public. What would? I don’t know, but I think leadership begins by looking within.

2014 was the first year that the AIA Gold Medal could be awarded to two individuals, after a rapid 2013 campaign to amend the rules following the uproar over Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James’s petition to award Denise Scott Brown the Pritzker Prize – 22 years after partner and husband Robert Venturi won it alone.

The 2014 Gold Medal went to Julia Morgan – the first-ever to a woman, albeit one who had been dead for 56 years (previous posthumous medals, for Samuel Mockbee and Eero Saarinen, were given closer to those architects’ deaths). Morgan is certainly deserving, but then as now, I thought it was an easy choice, avoiding the politics of choosing a living, breathing woman architect before her male peers.

Continues: Dezeen

Portfolio | New Museum

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to the New Museum, and I wanted to catch the Chris Ofili exhibit before it closed on February 1. I took only a few photographs of the exhibit because it left me underwhelmed. The new paintings seemed thin and derivative — if you create a dark room with dark paintings, they had better have the power of the Rothko Chapel — and the figural shapes reminded me of German Expressionism, but without the added richness and layering of Ofili’s earlier work with sequins, collage, and elephant dung. I did like some of the drawings, one photographed here, that were transformed into films for the big windows on the museum’s first floor. Their aqueous shapes made a nice commentary on the museum’s metal carapace. In general I thought the architecture was looking a little sad. Dirty whites, paint-crusted metal edges, the incessant dinging and scraping of the elevator in that supposedly contemplative gallery. I’ve always liked the SANAA building conceptually, but its simplicity needs upkeep.


Free Ada Louise

My husband is an architect, which means he spends long hours at his computer with his headphones on listening to things. Mostly WNYC. Earlier this year, during a series of late nights in which he did not like their shows, he listened to all 66 hours and 11 minutes of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker. He found Caro’s book inspiring, and began poking around Audible.com for other architecture classics known but not read. He discovered On Architecture, the last collection of Ada Louise Huxtable’s columns, but couldn’t make it past the first few essays. The reader, T. David Rutherford, seemed never to have prepped on architect’s names, and hearing him mispronounce Mies was like nails on a chalkboard.

In the interest of calling attention to the need for a new recording of Ada Louise by someone versed in architect’s names (and, may I suggest, a woman? A critic, of all writers, should be heard in something you can imagine as her own voice) I decided to record an essay myself. I picked the dully titled “A Look at the Kennedy Center,” published in the New York Times on September 7, 1971, for its many famous witticisms. I’m no professional, but you do want to listen to the end.

After you’ve listened, please share with your version of this message: In 2015, Ada Louise deserves better audio. Maybe you also want to record your own?