Autonomous cars? Who needs ’em. If you want to improve your city then design it so that children have more autonomy. In this episode we hit the playground with architecture critic Alexandra Lange, the author of “The Design of Childhood.” To grow up into healthy, functional adults, kids need opportunities to experience freedom and independence. Alexandra argues that car-dominated streets make that more difficult. A city designed for cars is a city that’s lousy for families — and pretty much everyone else. Plus: The surprising history of playgrounds.
The exuberant career of the Brazilian designer Roberto Burle Marx brings the oft-overlooked field of landscape architecture to the foreground
The polymathic Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx is having a moment.
Following shows at the Jewish Museum in 2016 and the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2017, “Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx”—the largest exhibition ever put on at the New York Botanical Garden, and the first to display an entire outdoor garden—opened June 8. The NYBG, which is located in the Bronx, is easily accessible via the Botanical Garden station on the Metro-North’s Harlem line, or a short walk from several subways. In December, its Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a grand Victorian structure, hosts an annual train show with New York City landmarks rendered in bark. This summer, it has traveled south rather than to the North Pole.
“Brazilian Modern” completely takes over a stretch of lawn in front of the wedding cake-like conservatory, replacing that high-maintenance surface with a little slice of the tropics, 1950s style. Burle Marx died in 1994, so Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles was called in to create a Burle Marx remix, combining plants, patterns, and architectural fragments into a lush and dramatic pastiche.
In the first installment of our summer series Overdue Books, Curbed’s architecture critic re-reads A Field Guide to American Houses
If you visit the Architectural History best-seller list on Amazon, you will notice Virginia Savage McAlester’s A Field Guide to American Houses is almost always near the top. Displaced briefly by a Bauhaus anniversary or a famous architect’s death, it always bobs up again. I’ve owned the book for years, first in its original 1984 edition, then the chunky 2015 paperback revision, but I haven’t dipped into it too often. But seeing the book beat my own sales and those of my friends week after week made me curious, not to mention jealous: Why so popular?
It only took me two chapters to figure it out. Virginia McAlester tells you exactly what you need to know about your neighborhood.
If you had the arm strength to carry the Field Guide everywhere (or bought the e-book), you could walk down any street in America and identify the style, age, and component parts of each and every home you pass. Her most enthusiastic readers are preservationists, or wannabe preservationists, trying to quantify just what it is that makes a place so different, so special. Her wider audience comprises people who simply want to know what’s going on out there, starting at their doorstep. It was slightly startling to realize how rarely I’ve considered that view in my writing—though I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about the transformation of the inside of the American home.
The designer Giorgia Lupi was born in 1981 and believes that she is part of a special bridge generation. “I was raised in a completely analog environment,” she says. “I was a teen-ager when all of the awkward connection and human connection needed to be made in real life. But, at the same time, because I started to use technology as a teen-ager, I’m fluent in both worlds.” This week, Lupi joins the graphic-design firm Pentagram as the only partner who has a focus on information design. Her work, consistent with her upbringing, brings a tactile feel to computer code, and her appointment is an occasion to assess information design—a field located between graphic design and data science—and the possibilities it holds.
Sitting in Pentagram’s crisp quarters, on Park Avenue South, Lupi cuts an extremely organized figure: petite and black-clad, with a looping black necklace and round black glasses, accented by a cap of red hair. Born in Modena, Italy, and trained as an architect, Lupi had her first brush with information design while in college via an exercise in urban mapping, inspired by the planner Kevin Lynch. In his landmark book, “The Image of the City,” published in 1961, Lynch asked people to draw their city for a visitor, paying attention to their own everyday paths and major landmarks, without reference to geography. Of course, each person’s map, both in Lynch’s book and Lupi’s exercise, was different—but that did not mean that one map was more accurate than another. Rather, each person was telling a different story through cartography.
Walter Gropius has always seemed like the grayest man of the Bauhaus. Mies van der Rohe had his whiskey-colored skyscraper and book-matched marble. Marcel Breuer had his winking butterfly roofs and the cantilevered cane chairs at every architect’s dining table. Gropius’s design signifiers are much drier — flat roofs, glass corners — and have now been thoroughly absorbed into the general collection of modernist imagery. Even his one completed attempt at a signature skyscraper — Manhattan’s Pan Am tower, that prismatic doorstop straddling Park Avenue — is hard to love.
Fiona MacCarthy, the author of previous books on Lord Byron, Eric Gill and William Morris, acknowledges his image problem in her preface to “Gropius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus.” “Not the least of the myths I have had to contend with in writing his life is the idea that Gropius was doctrinaire and boring,” she writes, laying blame for this characterization at the feet of Tom Wolfe, in “From Bauhaus to Our House,” and Alma Mahler, Gropius’s first wife, in her memoirs. MacCarthy perceives Gropius a bit differently — as one might hope for a biographer. “I see him as in many ways heroic, a romantic and optimist, a great survivor,” she writes. What’s more, “Sexually Gropius was far from negligible.”
The subtitle has a double meaning. Gropius, who was born in Berlin in 1883, built both the flat-roofed, glass-cornered building that housed the Bauhaus school in Dessau and the faculty and curriculum for a modern school of design.
In January 2017 I wrote an article for Curbed about Japanese American designers and the internment camps. I had admired and written about the work of Isamu Noguchi, Ruth Asawa, George Nakashima for years, but I had never heard about their World War II incarceration, or thought about how that experience changed the trajectory of their lives. After the article was published, I felt there was more to the story. I pitched it to the producers of KCET series Artbound as the subject of a one-hour documentary, part of their ongoing exploration of California and the arts. They said yes, and recruited a directing team from the Japanese American National Museum.
Last night that episode aired on KCET, and is now available to stream online as “Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience.” I was a co-producer for the episode, and I am hoping there will be a New York City screening in the near future.
From the iconic typeface of “The Godfather” book cover to Herman Miller’s Noguchi table, the influence of Japanese American artists and designers in postwar American art and design is unparalleled. While this second generation of Japanese American artists have been celebrated in various publications and exhibitions with their iconic work, less-discussed is how the World War II incarceration — a period of intense discrimination and hardship — has also had a powerful effect on the lives of artists such as Ruth Asawa, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, S. Neil Fujita and Gyo Obata.