Category Archives: architecture

After storm.

IMG_20200804_191645 (2)

Tagged , ,

Roadway restaurants, addendum

A few more I happened to see last evening. First is actually an action view of one I showed, empty, yesterday, the Longshoreman bar just a block from my house, on Columbia Street. Kind of a horse-country vibe with the white cross-gate fences and the potted plants.IMG_20200702_174105

Then a few from Court Street, heading south. You can see that the Frankies folks have colonized a long stretch of the block with an aggressively rough-hewn look, right opposite the smaller red-framed and -topped space.

IMG_20200702_175833And more along Court. This first one has country-house detailing, for those of us taking our summer vacation on asphalt. The benches let them use the sidewalk too.

Tagged , ,

Roadway restaurants.

I’m interested in the ad hoc, quickly installed enclosures local restaurants have made to set up tables and chairs in the road, while indoor dining is still forbidden and presumably while and when it is restricted. The program, called Open Restaurants, allows a restaurant to claim space on the sidewalk, if it’s wide enough, or in the public road. (The program is run by the NYC Department of Transportation; the description is here. Restaurants do have to submit an application, but they’re allowed to certify themselves without inspection.) I am sure that within a few months these will be professionalized; I hear that the Upper East Side ones are already fancy. I saw these on a walk through Carroll Gardens, along Smith Street to Atlantic, west on Atlantic and back home—nothing scientific, just a slightly extended neighborhood stroll.

Tagged , ,

From the Archives, 7: Critique

Photo on 2014-12-08 at 13.11

Jeff’s generous letter. “There’s something uneven about the paper.”

Photo on 2014-12-08 at 13.11 #3

Dwarf Postilion from Hell, Inigo Jones.

April 1989. I sent my big paper on theatrical perspective to my former professor, Jeff Merrick, an early-modern historian who was then at Barnard but moved the next year to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.  (It’s disconcerting but not surprising to read that he’s now professor emeritus.) Jeff was good enough to read and respond to the paper.

Oh, I was all about perspective in those days, I loved writing this paper and still think about the ideas I came across then.  Just the other day in this odd little theater at the Queens Museum, where the projection “booth” takes up the whole center spine of the auditorium, so there are no central seats at all, I recalled the story of James I’s rejection of a new style of seating putting the King’s box down in the front of the hall, cited in the paper from Orgel and Strong’s book on Inigo Jones.

I used to email Jeff once a year or so, often with a mention of Baroque opera. Back in my day he headed a short-lived interdisciplinary program called History, the Arts, and Letters, and it was for the class he led on “The Baroque and the Enlightenment” that we came to New York for Handel’s Giulio Cesare at the City Opera.  That production was antiquated by the time we saw it, which I guess was just at the edge of the contemporary explosion in Baroque opera production, and we enjoyed it but laughed at the attempts at Baroque gesture.  Jeff drove us in his little red car, Robespierre.  I should drop him a note now.


OUTLINE 4/23/92
the meanings of mass moca (hmmm)

Per notes
Return to idea: that a facility like this is necessary because these works claim [important word?] large amounts of space.  R Krauss talks about her sense that the museum space itself has become the art [CHECK], with works of Flavin and Turrell; A. Chave points out the aggressive nature of many Minist works and the language artists used.  Control; artworks that dominate space they’re not in.  They are pervasive. Classic parallel to industrial production?
. . . .
(Basically these guys were half-baked as thinkers, though all there as artists)

Aggressive, anti-“art” honesty of Judd; passive, illusional Turrell.  Hmmm. What was I getting at? Some fudgy idea about industrial production, etc.  Spoon-fed ideology.  Think harder.

So this is an outline I was working on (there’s a later version too) in hopes of turning my Metropolis article on Mass MOCA, which had started out as my master’s thesis, back into a thesis. As an article, it focused on the then-embryonic, or at most fetal, project in the crux between preservation and economic development; more and different would be required for an academic thesis. In June I wrote to my advisors:

Dear Herbert and Jane:

I want to try finishing my thesis.  After all, I have put a lot of work into it.  Herbert hinted that you are willing, if not longing, to help, and I think we can keep your time and effort commitment pretty small — two to three meetings and four readings (two of outline only).

Then there’s a couple of pages of outline.  Section IV:

Mass Moca proposes to re-site the homeless postmodern subject within the fixed, knowable, perspectival space of the factory.  At the same time, it adopts the technological, information-network methods of postmodernism.  It indeed regards Minimalism nostalgically as the parent (father, evidently) of the contemporary fragmented self, a parent who now appears, even despite itself, more confident, whole, and present than does the present.  This nostalgia becomes clear when the hundred-year-old factory complex starts to seem like a vast work of Minimalist art itself.

You know, I’d have liked to have read that paper, never mind written it.  I didn’t do either, as it happens, and it was several years later that I completed my degree with a totally different paper.  I haven’t even been back to see the museum.


The very first thing I picked out to read, on the subway on the way home from Mom’s, as a little light reading, was Chapter 9 from John Summerson’s 1946 classic Georgian London, headed “Fall ’87 History I PN703A Gardner.”  Just back from my winter in London and classes at the Architectural Association in beautiful Bedford Square, I think I was especially interested in this book.  In fact, had I perhaps read it while in London? I can’t recall.  (See why I need evidence, documentation?) Here’s a passage from this chapter, in which Summerson discusses the results of the 1774 Building Act’s categorization and rulemaking on the housing types of Georgian London.

“[T]he real importance of this system was not so much that it facilitated the enforcement of a structural code but that it confirmed a degree of standardization in speculative building.  This was inevitable; for the limitation of size and value set out in the rating tended to create optimum types from which there was no escape and within which very little variation was possible.  Especially did the second, third, and fourth rates of houses tend to become stereotyped.  This was, in many ways, an excellent thing: it gave some degree of order and dignity to the later suburbs and incidentally laid down minimum standards for working-class urban housing which would have been decent if they had been accompanied by legislation against overcrowding.

“On the other hand, the Act contributed largely to what the later Georgians and early Victorians conceived to be the inexpressible monotony of the typical London street, a monotony which certainly must, at one time, have been overpowering and which can still be felt in the lonelier tracts of Islington and, to a really distressing degree, in a more or less intact Georgian capital like Dublin.

“For not only did the Act tend to create standard types of houses, it saw to it that the London house should not adorn itself with any but the most exiguous and reticent kinds of ornament.  All woodwork (the cheapest and most tractable material was banished, except in so far as it was necessary for shop-fronts and door-cases.”

It’s so good, this book, so intelligently and rhythmically written.  “Any but the most exiguous and reticent kinds of ornament” — and he’s not showing off, these are exactly the right words.  Also, in reading about the orderly monotony of the Georgian street I must (I suppose) have thought, too, of all those later London terraces among which I had lived, and perhaps also of Wharton’s famous phrase in The Age of Innocence on the row houses of early 19C Manhattan, “the brownstone of which the uniform hue coated New York like a cold chocolate sauce.”  The packet also contained more chapters, which I’ve now read with equal or greater pleasure.  But this particular stapled section, when I turned over the last page, revealed something else, something in red pen, in my handwriting.

“Quiet, quiet. Don’t say a word. Don’t even twitch. Silence.
Inviolate. Shut up. Distressed. Don’t even mumble, Absolute silence.
Bland, blank silence.  Never even open your mouth, just breathe.
Button your lip. Be quiet, Shut your mouth.  Not a squeak
Blessed silence, Not possible to have a discussion, You won’t hear
anything else from me. Not a twig shall crack.  Why should I reform
these people’s stupidity if they can’t debate? No, I’m being, mean, I’m
the one who can’t or won’t debate.  I’m sulky because I’m badnatured
& have made a fool of myself.

“‘Think of good Lord Nelson & avoid self-abuse.'”

Photo on 2014-12-03 at 14.03
Which scares me a little; does it scare you?  Of course I have no memory of the event; what happened in that seminar, how angry and how lowered I felt.  I have certainly written similar things, if more briefly, since then — on the back of some of my Streetsingers’ music, for one thing. (The Lord Nelson thing is from a naughtily prurient ballad parody by Lawrence Durrell.  Yes, of course he had in mind a different kind of self-abuse. My father liked this poem; make of that what you will.)

Because the smart city movement has been apolitical in its declarations, we also have to ask about the politics behind the improvements on offer. A new trinity is at work: traditional European values of liberty, equality, and fraternity have been replaced in the 21st century by comfort, security, and sustainability. They are now the dominant values of our culture, a revolution that has barely been registered.

— Rem Koolhaas, from this European Commission series article.

Koolhaas on “smart city” values.

Music in perspective

Little joke there. I’m really looking forward to Thursday’s concert at the Lincoln Center Library of music associated with the great sixteenth-century architect, Andrea Palladio — for his beautifully balanced villas on the Brenta canal and his revolutionary perspectival theater in Vicenza.

In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Palladio, the early music and theater company Bottom’s Dream presents selections suitable for the fabled entertainments of a Palladian villa, including madrigals and canzonets by composers such as Lassus, Williaert, Zarlino, Cipriano da Rore, and poetry by Dante, Petrarch, Guarini, and Tasso. The program will also include music composed by Andrea Gabrieli for the inaugural performance at Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza in 1585.

That’s Thursday, December 4, at 6:00 at the Bruno Walter Auditorium.

Coming Attractions updated.

Commentary — GEMS concert Sept. 27, evening: NY Polyphony, Grenser Trio, Ex Umbris

Three rousing sets! I’m so glad I got myself into midtown on this foggy, surprisingly warm evening. I could so easily have missed a super concert.

After a year in business the Times Center still strikes me as oddly designed. It’s meant to serve for any kind of event, I guess, not specifically for concerts, and the architecture doesn’t provide any helpful acoustics, so they are supplied by electronics – Grant said there are a hundred microphones in the ceiling. However, the techs have gotten better at controlling the sound, and it sounded round, specific, and generally natural to me; only once or twice, for a second, did I have the distracting sense that the music was coming from someplace other than the performers on stage. The front wall, behind the shallow stage, is also now completely glass, and you look across a courtyard with birch trees through another glass wall, all the way to the Eighth Avenue entrance to the building. (I’m sure I’d have remembered that from last year, perhaps it was still covered for construction.) It was a little strange to see the occasional late worker coming in and out, and the lights of traffic on the avenue; a friend who had been to the afternoon show (which I heard was great, especially East of the River’s set) commented that from where she’d been sitting, the action in the shop visible on the south side of the courtyard had been rather distracting. I still don’t get why, with all the space devoted to flights of stairs in the hall’s entrance, no proper box office was built, and folding tables have to be brought in, giving an amateur and provisional air to an otherwise slick interior.

The concert opened Continue reading