In Memoriam

César Pelli, 1926-2019

César Pelli, 1926-2019. Image courtesy of Wikipedia; photo from the   Presidencia de la N. Argentina

César Pelli, 1926-2019. Image courtesy of Wikipedia; photo from the
Presidencia de la N. Argentina

2019 has been a year that’s encompassed the passing of too many distinguished architects—creative talents of a very high caliber: Stanley Tigerman, I. M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Alessandro Mendini—and, if we’re broadening the list to a wider scope of design, we’d include Florence Knoll and Karl Lagerfeld.
Thus it is with great sadness that we note the passing of a towering figure in the profession:

César Pelli, 1926-2019.

Across a half-century career, Pelli’s work ranged from housing to corporate headquarters, from educational to performing arts facilities, and from shopping spaces to civic buildings—and these works were spread worldwide, from Oklahoma to Japan. He could shock us into awareness of new possibilities for design—his Pacific Design Center, opening in 1975, was an eye-opening example—or work at the limits of structural daring. But he is is probably most well-known for his towers, many of which achieved a sculptural elegance and formal subtlety which is not often found in such titanic constructions. Moreover, he sustained that striving for architectonic grace to the end of his prolific career—his Salesforce Tower in San Francisco (which just opened last year) being a late example of his achievement.

We don’t know to what extent Pelli and Rudolph interacted. They both ended-up settling in New York, and—this being, at least professionally, a “small town”—no doubt encountered each other from time-to-time. They were both selected to be members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and they both participated in the famous (or infamous) 1982 architecture conference at the University of Virginia—the one memorialized in the book “The Charlottesville Tapes”.

The cover of the book, The Charlottesville Tapes, which reported on the 1982 conference of architects—-a meeting in which both Pelli and Rudolph participated. Pelli can be seen at the far-left end of the front row, and we think that’s Rudolph at the rear-center.

The cover of the book, The Charlottesville Tapes, which reported on the 1982 conference of architects—-a meeting in which both Pelli and Rudolph participated. Pelli can be seen at the far-left end of the front row, and we think that’s Rudolph at the rear-center.

There are further intruding connections: Pelli was dean of Yale’s School of Architecture, arriving a dozen years after Rudolph’s departure from the school’s chairmanship (and serving from 1977 to 1984).

A “clipping” from Yale’s newsletter, in which there was an announcement of Sid R. Bass’s donation to renovate Paul Rudolph’s Yale Art & Architecture Building. As an illustration of recent work on a space within the building, they showed an image of a restored gallery space—n which was an exhibit on the work of César Pelli.

A “clipping” from Yale’s newsletter, in which there was an announcement of Sid R. Bass’s donation to renovate Paul Rudolph’s Yale Art & Architecture Building. As an illustration of recent work on a space within the building, they showed an image of a restored gallery space—n which was an exhibit on the work of César Pelli.

We take this moment, in a year of other profound losses, to mark the life and achievements of this fine designer, César Pelli.

CELEBRATING A MASTER[MIND]: WALTER GROPIUS passed 50 years ago, today—and we raise a toast

Walter Gropius standing in front of the rendering of his and Adolf Meyer’s entry in the 1922    Chicago Tribune tower design competition   —an event which brought forth hundreds of submissions from architects all over the world. The design which Gropius and Meyer offered was formally aligned with what later came to be known as the International Style. Photo courtesy of The Charnel-House. Their in-depth article on the competition—and Gropius’ and Meyer’s entry in particular—can be found    here   .

Walter Gropius standing in front of the rendering of his and Adolf Meyer’s entry in the 1922 Chicago Tribune tower design competition—an event which brought forth hundreds of submissions from architects all over the world. The design which Gropius and Meyer offered was formally aligned with what later came to be known as the International Style. Photo courtesy of The Charnel-House. Their in-depth article on the competition—and Gropius’ and Meyer’s entry in particular—can be found here.

HIS INFLUENCE IS EVERYWHERE…

It’s no exaggeration: every day, in every building, over the entire planet, when architects and designers put pen-to-paper (or mouse-to-pad), his effect is felt and seen. Walter Gropius (1883-1969)—whether you like the results-or-not (and they are controversial)—did change the world. A particular approach to design problem-solving and form—one which Aaron Betsky concisely calls “analytic reduction”—has shaped everything: from titanic buildings to teapots, from side-chairs to the “Simple Living” movement, from city plans to chess sets. Many of the alphabets you read and write with today wouldn’t exist without it—and neither, possibly, would Ikea or Pottery Barn (at least in their present forms). Even designers who reject that whole approach are still reacting to what was wrought by Gropius and his associates.

Gropius would probably identify himself as an architect—and he is credited (often with partners) for some intriguing and significant designs.

The Monument to the March Dead (Denkmal für die Märzgefallenen), in Weimar, Germany, designed by Walter Gropius. Conceived and constructed at the beginning of the 1920’s, it is an example of Gropius’ early Expressionist phase—a mode he’d abandon as a more austere style, associated with later years of the Bauhaus, emerged.

The Monument to the March Dead (Denkmal für die Märzgefallenen), in Weimar, Germany, designed by Walter Gropius. Conceived and constructed at the beginning of the 1920’s, it is an example of Gropius’ early Expressionist phase—a mode he’d abandon as a more austere style, associated with later years of the Bauhaus, emerged.

But when we say “mastermind”, we’re mainly speaking of Gropius’ work shaping and leading the Bauhaus—the design school which he led from 1919 -to- 1928—and whose 100th birthday is being celebrated this year.

The Bauhaus in Dessau Germany: the second home of the school which Gropius led. The building complex was also his most famous work of architecture (though it is possible that Gropius worked on the project with others—as he was manifestly devoted to collaboration and had a history of design partners.) Photo: Detlef Mewes

The Bauhaus in Dessau Germany: the second home of the school which Gropius led. The building complex was also his most famous work of architecture (though it is possible that Gropius worked on the project with others—as he was manifestly devoted to collaboration and had a history of design partners.) Photo: Detlef Mewes

The strange thing about the Bauhaus is that while we readily recognize a “Bauhaus style”—or think we do—the school’s faculty was composed of the widest range of teachers: a diverse group who came (and went!) over the school’s 14 year history. Their names are a Who’s Who of Modern design, and each of the teachers was a strong, distinctive personality, with their own aesthetics, philosophies, and approaches to teaching. So perhaps Gropius’ greatest contribution was gathering and managing this disparate and talented set—and keeping the school going during that tumultuous era between the World Wars. Asked about the great—and sometimes conflicting—diversity of the faculty, Gropius quaintly explained:

“There are many branches on the Bauhaus tree, and on them sit many different kinds of birds.”

THE GROPIUS - RUDOLPH CONNECTION

Paul Rudolph first studied architecture at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University), and then went for his Masters at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design—where Walter Gropius was in-charge of the architecture program. There, Rudolph became one of Gropius’ favored students. Although Rudolph’s initial work, after Harvard, could be characterized as well within the Bauhausian tradition, his later architecture looks to many like a decisive repudiation of Gropius. Yet Rudolph never belittled his old teacher, and would later say that studying with Gropius had given “a good basis” for architectural work.

After Rudolph’s U.S. Navy service in World War II (and after he had graduated from Harvard), Rudolph was in the US Navy Reserve. He achieved the rank of lieutenant, and in 1951 was ordered to report for duty. This was an especially prolific and fruitful moment in the Florida phase of Rudolph’s career, with numerous projects commencing or under-construction—and Rudolph asked for a deferment. Reaching out to his former professor, Rudolph obtained this letter-of-support from Walter Gropius:

Written in 1951, on the letterhead of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Gropius gives his reasons for supporting Paul Rudolph’s request for a deferment from Naval service. From the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Written in 1951, on the letterhead of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Gropius gives his reasons for supporting Paul Rudolph’s request for a deferment from Naval service. From the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

A TOAST!

We’ve learned that there’s a new way to celebrate Walter Gropius: Gropius House Cider (complete with Bauhaus-inspired graphics). As it is described—

Proceeds from the cider will benefit Historic New England’s efforts to restore the apple orchard that originally surrounded the house. Help us plant new trees with root stock identical to the original Baldwin apple trees . . . Gropius House Cider celebrates simple ingredients — Vermont cider, aged in gin barrels, sweetened with just a touch of honey — and a refined result. This crisp and refreshing cider draws its inspiration from the teachings of Bauhaus, and from the intimate dinner parties and gatherings the Gropiuses often hosted at their Lincoln home.

So, on this half-century anniversary of his passing, join us in a toast to Meister Gropius—influential teacher, and ultimately a world-maker—perhaps with a glass of this namesake cider.

The new Gropius House Cider, sales of which will help restore the orchard at Gropius’ own home in Lincoln, MA. Photograph by    Tony Luong   , from the    Historic New England    page   devoted to Gropius House Cider.

The new Gropius House Cider, sales of which will help restore the orchard at Gropius’ own home in Lincoln, MA. Photograph by Tony Luong, from the Historic New England page devoted to Gropius House Cider.

 

Stanley Tigerman (1930-2019)

Vincent Scully and Paul Rudolph (with arms crossed), observing Yale student Stanley Tigerman present his design project. Photograph from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

Vincent Scully and Paul Rudolph (with arms crossed), observing Yale student Stanley Tigerman present his design project. Photograph from the archives of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

In his recent memoir, Designing Bridges to Burn, Stanley Tigerman recounts that he was already a practicing architect when he applied to Yale’s architecture program in 1958. Paul Rudolph, department chair, sent an application with a note: “I’m sure I’ll live to regret this.” After two years—thrilling for the quality of education he received directly from Rudolph, grueling for the long hours, shortage of funds, tension, and loss of sleep (plus, in addition to his academic load, working part-time in Rudolph’s New Haven office)—Tigerman graduated. He went on to a colorful and prolific career: designing, building, teaching, curating, writing, and highly articulate (and graphic) hell-raising about all aspects of architecture and urbanism [often in association with his professional and life partner, Margaret McCurry.]

In many ways, Tigerman was a model of how effective (and interesting!) an architect’s life could be: outreaching to every facet of practice, theory, history, and activism. He was one of the most energetic and colorful (and creative) figures of architecture’s last half-century—and could always be counted on to weigh-in with an outspoken (if rarely diplomatic) insight on any issue. [Time did not diminish that fire, as can be shown in his recent comments on the future of a controversial building in his own hometown.]

That candidness of opinion extended to his old teacher-employer-friend, Paul Rudolph—something for which we, at the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, are particularly grateful. In a tribute to his mentor, written on the occasion of a 1997 memorial exhibit at the Architectural League of New York, Tigerman praised outlined his experience with Rudolph and praised his many virtues—and pointedly offered:

Paul Rudolph is an example of a man whose peers never satisfactorily recognized his capacious career; e.g., he never won the Pritzker Prize, the AIA Gold Medal or the Topaz Award, yet others of equal (or questionable) stature somehow accomplished those very ends. No one who knew Paul Rudolph would debate his well known apolitical inclinations to suffer fools gladly, which in turn may have limited his potential for recognition. No matter: that only brings into question reward systems generally . . . There is a theory that it is far better to be appreciated after death, such that, that one's innocence is left intact during life. If the way in which adherents of this discipline exercised selective amnesia related to Paul Rudolph's accomplishments is an example of that theory, leave me out.

[You can read the full text of Tigerman’s memorial remarks at the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation’s Articles & Writings page, here.]

We mourn the loss of this colleague—an architectural volcano whose stature, like Rudolph’s, will only increase with time and openhearted attention.

Sincerely,

the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Stanley Tigerman 1930-2019. Photograph by Lee Bay, via Wikipedia

Stanley Tigerman 1930-2019. Photograph by Lee Bay, via Wikipedia