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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Oct202009

In Which A Great Artist Is A Douchebag In Real Life

louis-kahn.jpg

Not Our Architect

by Alex Carnevale

Awesome article by Michael J. Lewis, the noted professor of art history at Williams College, about the biography of Louis Kahn by Carter Wiseman.

Kahn also led a disordered personal life, fathering three children by three women, only one of whom was his wife. The three families were dimly aware of one another; but not until the death of his long-suffering wife were they able to meet. This is what gave My Architect its bittersweet poignancy, as Nathaniel Kahn found in the company of this ad-hoc family and of his father’s friends a surrogate for the attention he never received as a child. Were its subject not so famous (or its maker so forgiving), it might have been titled, Lou Kahn, Deadbeat Dad.

Kahn went to Penn, but lied about his origins quite often.

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He was indeed born in 1901, the son of a Jewish paymaster in the czarist army—but not on the Baltic island of Saaremaa as he claimed but in the somewhat less romantic venue of the Latvian mainland. Nor was he born Louis Kahn, but rather Leiser-Itze Schmuilowsky, an evidently embarrassing name, unknown until recently, that was changed in 1915, a decade after the family’s emigration to Philadelphia.Wiseman is also lamentably incurious about the politics of his subject in the highly politicized decade of the Popular Front. Nothing that in 1933 Kahn designed a monument for Vladimir Lenin, which would have loomed over the harbor in Leningrad, he does not observe how assiduously the architect later effaced that item from his resume. (It was unknown to scholars until discussed by me in 1992.)

Lewis is the master of the sweet putdown. He actually likes Kahn's architecture. I sort of do, too, it reminds me of a bathroom I'd really like to deuce in.

We do not see, for example, the great effect of celebrity on Kahn, especially after the appearance of a 1962 monograph on his work by the architectural historian Vincent Scully. Prior to its appearance, he had been careless with his drawings; afterward, he lovingly and self-consciously signed and dated even the most hurried sketch. His prose, already famously tortuous, now reached heights of metaphysical pretense, as when he pronounced to a 1967 audience in Boston that “I sense Light as the giver of all presences, and material as spent Light.”

Exeter library

Lewis' insta-classic survey:

American Art and Architecture.

With others, on the travel sketches of Louis Kahn.

From all evidence, Kahn was a bastard.

By the start of the 1960s, Kahn’s architectural language was fully realized, at which point Beyond Time and Style loses its dramatic momentum. As the works of Kahn’s late maturity follow in train, Wiseman does justice to the convoluted design history of each but the story is much the same: a laborious gestation period as Kahn subjects his designs to revision after revision—a process that continues even after construction has begun, with dire financial consequences. Invariably, and often after the project has already grown disastrously over budget, Kahn’s exasperated clients would assign a manager to rein him in.

Not that Kahn himself made money. To the contrary, he perpetually teetered on the brink of insolvency, and when he died in 1974—in a men’s room at New York’s Pennsylvania Station—his office was for all intents and purposes bankrupt.

Kahn and his son.

This is a familiar meme - douchebag who creates great art. I know Molly doesn't like Death of a Salesman, but I see it as the male Vagina Monologues. After reading Molly's post, I don't ever want to see it staged again. Bob Creeley was a dick for much of his life. Diane Williams is awesome, we can pretty much assume she's killed someone. Raymond Carver was an alcoholic and could be unpleasant.

Architecture is also impossibly male. Putting these buildings up everywhere is the equivalent of a phallus-measuring contest. Can we please tear down some first? I don't like the Ernst & Young building, let's start there.

Why do I feel like I am now going to be on a CIA watchlist? Sigh.

Alex Carnevale is probably the editor of This Recording. He lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

"I'll Be Seeing You" - Martha Wainwright (mp3)

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MORE LOUIS KAHN BUILDINGS THAT WILL DO UNTIL THEY ARE DESTROYED AND SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT IS BUILT IN THEIR STEAD

Bangladesh

"Far Away" - Martha Wainwright (mp3)

La Jolla

Erdman Hall at Bryn Mawr

Yale

MORE BY OUR HOMEBOY MICHAEL J. LEWIS

Michael writes over at Contentions, which takes its name, as I found out by reading Midge Decter's autobiography, An Old Wife's Tale, from her newsletter of the same name.

More on Kahn from MJL.

Lewis on the Washington D.C. mall.

Lewis on Philip Johnson's glass house.

Lewis on Thomas Eakins.

What was American about American art?

MJL on Louis Sullivan.

Lewis on the friendship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Lewis Mumford.

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Explore the world of cinema:
Stardust

Hannah Takes The Stairs

The Man In The White Suit

my_architect_louis_khan_documentary.jpg

Tuesday
May192009

In Which It's All About Location

A Domestic Travelogue

by MOLLY LAMBERT

A is for an A-Frame

B is for Bungalow

C is for Cottage

D is for Detached Home

E is for Earth Sheltering

F is for Farmhouse

G is for Geodesic Dome

H is for Houseboat

I is for Indian Vernacular

J is for a Jerk Chicken Shack

K is for Konak

L is for Log Cabin

M is for Mews

N is for Nipa Hut

O is for Octagon House

P is for Patio Homes

Q is for Quinzhee

R is for Ranch Style

S is for a Southern Shotgun

T is for Triple Deckers

U is for Underground Catacomb Ossuaries

V is for Victorian

W is for Wigwam

X is for Xanadu Houses

Y is for Yurt

Z is for Zulu Beehive House

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording.

"Close To You" - The Avalanches (mp3)

"Flight Tonight" - The Avalanches (mp3)

"Diners Only" - The Avalanches (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Will Hubbard's Alphabet

Robert Creeley On Franz Kline

J.M.W. Turner At The Met

Sunday
Mar082009

In Which We Are Given The Use Of Our Father's Lincoln Logs

Minor Changes to a Formula

by Will Hubbard

Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling
The Museum of Modern Art, sixth floor
West lot, exterior, first floor

The children build them first. Shaved pine, notched and sanded, "interesting playthings typifying the Spirit of America." On my grandmother's rug, amid incessant sneezing, I was given the use of my father's Lincoln Logs.

Cabins were boring, a castle or highway was more to the point; but only so much can be done with right angles, and after all, "the more logs a child has, the more things can be built." If the pieces don't fit together, they must be balanced upon one another. Imagination leads to instability, danger, and eventually a pile of rubble and a smile.

Older and richer, we turn toward customizability. The offer is familiar, communes of gently curving asphalt, white trim and light-hued siding. In being each one slightly different from the next, they achieve a paradoxically heightened, gross uniformity. Shallow matches of form and function parade as taste, suggesting that minor changes to a formula might satisfy the entire range of human needs.

Ipods were all exactly the same, no two iPhones will ever be. Which experience is more pleasurable?

And what if your house really did come in a box? I imagine long-stay travel, emergency housing, ephemeral communities in fields of hip-high, autumn-gold grass. How much variation could be found in the box, and could there be peace-of-mind—or better yet, release-of-mind—in your adult set of Lincoln Logs?

I wonder, too, if we are educating a citizenry that actually possesses the intuition, motivation, and time to discern what they could actually need in a dwelling? Doesn't part of our joy in buying anything derive from the very notion that it's just like the object other strangers are putting into their homes, into their mouths and heads? A remote though strangely intimate bond is created by the marketing of identical objects and ideas.

Frank Lloyd Wright got it right, of course. His American System-Built Houses were pre-cut in the factory; construction was assembly, pure and simple. And yet four drawings of these structures reveal little aesthetic uniformity—each has its particular elegance, and seems fitted to its site rather than to the drowsy whims of its financiers.

The poet and builder Robert Kocik once said something very interesting to me about his trade: that if it was very difficult to construct a dwelling, it would be very difficult to live there.

Sadly, it's raining when I walk out to tour the Saran Wrap house. I am allowed to seek a moment's calm shelter among its aluminum stilts, and the drops make no sound as they kiss the plastic windows above. I ask the guards, as though they're real-estate agents, if I can take a quick look inside. They laugh to each other; they say "no way". They say it is because of what might be tracked in on the soles of my feet.

Will Hubbard is the contributing editor to This Recording. This is his tumblr.

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"Queen of the World" - Ida Marie (mp3)

"See Me Through" - Ida Marie (mp3)

"Oh My God" - Ida Marie (mp3)

"I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" - Ida Marie (mp3)

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PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Did you read Tyler's piece?

It made our whole deployment!

Evil jellyfish attack.

Monday
Aug112008

In Which We'd Like to Use 'MONOHEX' in a Sentence

Buckminster Fuller at the Whitney

by Molly Young

at the Whitney through Sept. 21

Imagine life as a sequence of epiphanies that morph into schemes and end up as Building Plans. This is every kid's dream. It is also the way that Buckminster Fuller happened to arrange his life.

Accordingly, the current exhibit at the Whitney is full of little boys. I see one of them lean close to an architectural diagram and make a farting noise. "Three times three is nine-thousand," he says to himself. He has been staring at the picture much longer than I am willing to stare.

new yorker account of fuller

A collection of Buckminster Fuller paraphernalia is set up as though the galleries were pre-school classrooms, with different stations of activity arranged in every zone. There are models, magazines, video screens, projections and a giant cardboard structure. There are lots of colors and shapes - things that a baby would play with if you put mini-versions in front of him. It is a nicely installed show and suited to the Whitney, which feels a bit like a laboratory anyway.

Everything Fuller produced (no matter how polished its final presentation) carried a sense of the innocent noodling that inspired it. Perhaps this explains the interest of the little boys. At any rate, this fact is one of two things that contribute to the charm of the works on display. The other is Fuller’s sense of the Future as an exciting beacon towards which to march. His inventions are cute in the way that all futuristic conceptions of past eras become cute (monorails, household apes, silver v-suits) over time.

As you’d expect, there are many diagrams of geodesic structures. These have a technical loveliness which exists in the fact that they are impossible for the layperson to understand. They radiate, also, the pleasure of seeing a 3D object rendered in two dimensions. It's the same effect we aimed for when we doodled cubes or barns in our science notebooks.

A like joy is inspired by the spectacle of giant things rendered very teensily: a mini-dome, a number of dioramas, maps of all kinds. The young boys roaming the exhibit tended to cluster around these displays. "Dad, wouldn't the floating city be moving? Oh my god, Dad, what happens when waves come? Dad, what is a time-space principle?"

Fuller's mode of experimentation seems to have dribbled down two floors of the museum to an exhibit titled PROGRESS, which displays items from the permanent collection of the Whitney. "This presentation," a placard says, "examines the topic of progress, which has captured the human imagination for centuries." Hehe! It is time to build a baking-soda volcano and make some oobleck out of cornstarch.

Molly Young is the contributing editor to This Recording. She lives in Manhattan. Her tumblr is here. Her website is here.

"Next Train" - Miracle Fortress (mp3)

"Poetaster" - Miracle Fortress (mp3)

dymaxion car

"Blasphemy" - Miracle Fortress (mp3)

"Hold Your Secrets To Your Heart" - Miracle Fortress (mp3)

"Maybe Lately" - Miracle Fortress (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Nick brought the ruckus for his Fall TV Preview.

Becca took the 3:10 To Yuma, and Jackie reviewed I’m Not There.

We are reminded of all the sexy Jewish Girls out there.

Thursday
May292008

In Which Skylines Feel The Brunt of This Recession

Our Penises Point to the Sky

by Alex Carnevale

When men are tired of reading articles about how women enjoy pornography (this will not be soon) they like to regal each other with tales of long-away lands. You may not know this, they will tell you, but in a past life my penis was a skyscraper.

Calgary's new green skyscraper:

"Imperials" - Ratatat (mp3)

After a penis perishes, it may also be resurrected as a shopping mall, or what they're calling "green" skyscrapers.

Basically they're saying, we're going to build a big ugly thing that you have to look at all day, and we'll tell you it's good for you.

san fran...what a pointy phallus. also, new green skyscraper in Philly

In New York, where I live, another skyscraper is who cares. The taller the better, whatever. But in Calgary? That city's already full of Canadians. A penis doesn't actually improve things, it just attunes you more closely to what you're missing.

dan murray's moneymaker in a past life

Buildings should serve their real purpose, me and Mark Cuban. Of course, you have to get there in style. My ride is Project Genesis:

Project Genesis reminds me a lot of this fake town Disney built in Florida, Celebration. I don't know why this town fascinated my dad, but we made two separate trips there. Did my dad harbor a secret desire of becoming a periodontist in a commune-like community where there was only need for one?

I remember asking a professor of mine about planned communities. He referred me to Walden Two, where violent conditioning makes people happier. Such a scintillating entree in libertarianism for a young AC!

Royal Caribbean's Project Genesis

glass panel falls from up high

the new skyscraper in all its guises

Mujica:

more at sm

"Hundred Story City in the Neo-American Style" is the creation of Francisco Mujica, a Peruvian-born architect, artist, historian, and archeology professor who proposed a historical link between the distinctive ìsetbackî shape of American skyscrapers and the pre-Columbian pyramids of Central America. Visiting New York in 1926, he became fascinated by the parallels in the ancient and modern forms, and he spent the next three years traveling the United States, researching skyscraper history and meeting with prominent architects. In 1929, he published the impressive and rare folio History of the Skyscraper, on view in the exhibition, which is both a history and a thorough survey of recent high-rise buildings. In it, he included many of his own archeological drawings and he wrote: "the structural form the skyscraper has come to adopt is next of kin to our Indian pyramids."

"Shiller" - Ratatat (mp3)

"Dura" - Ratatat (mp3)

from bldg blog

Sometimes, to get away from it all, you need a John Galt type situation. I always thought it would be sweet to live in an empty Penn Station, especially with three different Subway locations and a full service K-Mart, but the above is cool, too.

desert retreat for world leaders

deep water city states

supercities

one hundred years of high rises

the tallest towers

Since it doesn't appear that another round of spirited babymaking will be occurring anytime soon, a vertical society is a future we have cannily avoided through birth control and rampant homosexuality. The only possible threat to our space concerns would be if skyscrapers started reproducing. Apparently the French may be able to make this happen:

leave it to the french to build a penis with a vagina inside it

remaking Boston

Manhattanhenge

dreaming of more vertical cities in asia

another skyscraper in Warsaw

remaking Tokyo - playa!!!

nesting in skyscrapers:

crazy building in Louisville:

Hopefully the future includes having three penises at once. Then all your penises can be reborn as skyscrapers. And then when the skyscraper dies, it can live inside your pants forever.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

BONUS ARCHITECTURAL COVERAGE YOU GET FOR FREE

This is the new Rays stadium. The Rays improbably have the best record in baseball, and I love this stadium. I would go to every game. Right on the water like that is delightful, and it's open to the surrounding area in a very peaceful way. I love that it looks like a spaceship from the above angle.

also, the new Dallas Cowboys stadium

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Snakes love to eat, especially on YouTube.

Vince Vaughn made some bad decisions.

Soap operas are awesome.

price