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Does anyone remember the Outrage/Delight sections of The Architectural Review? We should bring that back.

In case you missed it, the New York MOMA is planning on tearing down a 12 year old building. The building in question, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, housed the American Folk Art Museum. After going bankrupt, MOMA bought the Williams/Tsien property which was adjacent.

I have a lot of feelings on this decision and none of them are positive.

From a strictly reason perspective, this seems like a waste. This building isn’t even a teenager, and now, in a time in which we lament the economy, we’ve decided that it should be torn down. It is expensive to design and build something. There are hundreds of jobs, thousands of hours and millions of dollars that go into a project of this magnitude.

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Hercule Poirot and Modernism

So who says you can’t learn something from TV?

I have been continuing my marathon of “Poirot” episodes and movies. I can’t seem to resist the weird Belgian detective of Agatha Christie fame. But, in my defense, it was raining this weekend. (If you missed my last post on Poirot, you should check it out now)

One of the best things about the series, which I did not touch on in my last post, is the great locations where the episodes are shot.  I don’t often look to television for architectural inspiration but Poirot’s apartment alone is a gem: a great deco, mid-rise with a bathroom you could have sworn was built in 2002 and not 1922.

The houses in the series are always owned by the wealthy English families. And we’re talking about a time in which homes are the ultimate emblems of success and heritage. Yet, we find something so refreshing about the modern architecture. It’s a statement! You don’t need to be an earl and live in Downton Abbey!

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The phenomena of signature buildings without a signature.

New Year, same blog and more complaining!

Maybe when you get old, you just get cranky and think everything is worse than before and it isn’t! Maybe one day I will look back at this rant and realize I was wrong!

The issue is that  I find myself looking at a lot of architecture, all over the world, and I can’t say I am impressed. The irony of the urge to rant using phrases like “in my day” is not lost on me.

I’ve talked before about signatures (whether it be in jeans, in food, in fashion) – greatness comes from an appreciation of the rules and then an ability to break them. The same, of course, goes for architecture.  It was only a few months ago that I was complaining about the dwell light phenomena!

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Me and Liberty: A Story of My Naturalization

13 years after voting in my first election in France, I was naturalized during the second term of Mitterand and Reagan.

I would be remiss not to remind my daughter (and, sometimes, my friends) that I earned my right to vote and that resonates with me. But don’t worry. I’m not here to urge you to vote. I’m not even here to discuss the process of getting naturalized (which we all know is fickle, bureaucratic, painful and so on). I just wanted to add some levity:

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You can’t find us in binders, Mitt, but don’t worry – we’ll find you.

 If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard. - First Lady Hilary Clinton at the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing (1995)

Last week, I participated in a panel at the AIA San Francisco conference called The Missing 32%.The panel sought, through discussion, to better understand and improve the fate of women architects. The 32% refers to the women who disappear from the profession after graduating from an architecture program.

I want to mention that, initially, I was not one of the invited speakers. And when I first found out about the event, I mentally noted that they had no speakers that were women, sole owners of their architectural firms. But I led it slide off my back–I was not going to broach the subject with the AIA.

I don’t know why I let it go at first. I have always been extremely outspoken, some might even say vociferous, about the need for equality and diversity in architecture and have never hesitated to try and shake things up. I grew up a feminist. I have never doubted for a minute that I was as good as the guys and as deserving.

I started my own firm more than 25 years back. I have a successful design business and I am old enough to feel that I have nothing more to prove. I know that I have spent the last few decades proving that a woman can run her own practice.

But fate intervened. I received an email from the AIA California Committee asking for suggestions on where to find new members of a committee I was on.  The list of prospective broke down to 8 men and 3 women (28% women).  It was so normal for women to be the minority.

 The fact that this AIA official does not even think that diversity on a prominent AIA committee is a priority, if not an obligation, is typical. After all, we only make up 18% of licensed architects but that number becomes even smaller, even less significant, in smaller firms, on committees, within bureaucracy.

I knew then that the women’s panel was too important to pass-up.

But I had to make the calls (well, the emails) and contact the powers that be. This is the reality of being a woman in architecture, day by day, event by event, I trek through this life looking for ways to show that women are as good as men and deserve the same opportunities, the same design awards, the same committee positions.

If you want to have more power in your firm, if you want more opportunities in the work place, than you must ask for it. Sometimes you can ask quietly, sometimes a little more forcefully, and sometimes you will have to shout. Sometimes, you might even have to grab the opportunities yourself, like I did with the panel.

If you want to see more women rise in the rank of leadership in architecture and in the AIA, you need willpower and perseverance. And you can never forget that is a daily battle and a daily decision to make the world a better place for women tomorrow.

And if you’re feeling hesitant, step 1 is easy: voting for anyone but Mitt Romney.

On dwelling

I had a sculpture professor during my undergraduate who said that “the strange thing about the infinite choices offered by democracy is that infinite choices do not produce infinite objects. And, after a while things start to all look alike.”

He would point out that cars were a perfect example, “they started by looking different and now, 70 years later, they all look alike.” Who can tell apart the generic black compacts or the luxurious silver sedans?

Jeans are another example of sameness. My daughter once wrote a piece on it for her college’s fashion magazine:

Hi-rise, mid-rise, low-rise (hip huggers), loose fit, carpenter, boyfriend, phat pants, relaxed, baggy, boot-cut, flare, wide leg, straight leg, and the immensely popular skinny leg, dark wash, light wash, the 80s classic acid wash, stonewashed, distressed. These denim demigods are still constantly reinvented with a myriad of varieties. There is a pair of jeans for everyone. Every major company and designer makes them. This is America and we are the jean culture.

Jeans have become our uniform.

The tyranny of consumerism, of infinite choices, is that eventually we all want the same thing. Capitalism is supposed to free us by choice, by allowing us choice: we can express our individuality. But choice is exhausting! And, the worst is that the irony of the situation seems lost on us.

Design and architecture are not exempt here. After a renaissance of modern design, we now find ourselves under the grips of what I call “Dwell light”–representing a house as thought it was made with a kit.

Dwell, as you may know, is a design/shelter magazine that was started about decade ago in the Bay Area. The magazine has done a lot to put modern architecture back in the forefront of residential design.

Unfortunately Dwell now represents only one kind of modernism (of course there is more than one kind– there’s always choice in architecture!).

And you know the kind: right degree angles, flat roofs, Ipe siding, large overhangs, boxy bay windows, big sliding doors with open corners, wood floors—bamboo (you end up rolling your eyes at how green it is)—these elements have become the predominant language of Dwell residential architecture.  And do not forget the silver sedan in the garage.

After serving on many architecture juries through out the USA, I can tell you the Dwell Light disease has spread across the country. DL has rendered homes indistinguishable from one and another. Lost is the individual creative voice of the designer, it has been replaced here as with cars and jeans by the desire for the mean, the unintentional uniform. And that’s never a good place for design to be.

This is a call to action. Join me! Just Say No to “Dwell Light!”

A Classic

What Mr. Gehry is saying, then, is that there can be beauty in such harsh elements when they are carefully wrought and precisely put together, that they can create a new kind of order which can yield as much physical ease and comfort as a conventional house. – Paul Goldberger

I just got back from LA where I went to the Gehry House for the first time in almost fifteen years. If you don’t know, the existing house was bought in Los Angeles the 1970s and then remodeled by Gehry. It is iconic modernism and deconstructivism. It has won the 25-year AIA 2012 Building award.

Frank Gehry’s architecture comes with a slew of descriptors: innovative, sensuous, modern. But the Gehry House in Los Angeles is a classic. And I know it’s hard to believe that one could ever call a Frank Gehry house a classic. But there is something so bold and yet so right about this remodel. Nothing fussy, nothing dated, even 25 years later.

I like it even better now than I did when I was a young architect because now I can actually understand just what real courage and vision it took to complete a project like this.

When Gehry purchased the property, the original house was not torn down. Instead, he skillfully wove his architecture around and against the original building. The old and new are now in a dialogue with each other, loudly but also joyfully and whimsically. Gehry had the brains, balls and restraint (an undervalued trait in architecture) to make something this good.

What a relief to see no fake historicism! No egomaniac modernism! And not even a hint of Dwell modernism (you know the kind: flat roof with extended overhangs and lots of Ipe siding! Gehry looked to innovate, to create, and not to replicate.

And despite what you may think, money was an object for Gehry. The chain-link fence or corrugated metal were inelegant, inexpensive materials for an elegant design. Cheap doesn’t always mean bad and besides, Frank Gehry still lives in the house. The project has clearly served his family well.

I will not bore you with anymore “archibabble,” considering the fact that many architectural critics have written much more insightful articles than I could about this project.

I just want you all to remember the next time you go to LA go check it out;  it will knock your socks—or flip flops (it is LA after all)–off.

For more information and quotes, keep reading after the jump.

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Guest post: The Children of Architecture

This guest post was written by my daughter, who really needed a good use of all her post-college free time.

I used the title to make this blog post seem deceivingly deep, as if I’m ruminating on the status of architecture in the twenty-first century or if the progeny masters programs produce are really up to snuff.

No, no. I’m talking about the children of architects. Really, I’m talking about myself and the ways which my mother’s career choice has made my life unpleasant.

1. Dinner conversations are boring

Look, yes, architects have friends who aren’t also architects. My mother’s social circles include interior designers, landscapers, furniture designers, contractors, engineers and artists! But architects like to hang out with each other and when you get architects together, all they can ever do is talk about architecture. Sometimes, I just want to interrupt conversations with  “WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON ISRAEL”  so I can stop hearing the word “urbanization.”

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Failed First

I learned the hard way that buildings, especially the ones you don’t like, don’t go away.

The good news is, you can bury the incriminating evidence. Before starting my firm in 1986, I worked for and with other architects. And while my name and signature are somewhere on those drawings, drafts and contracts, I’ve been assured that they are deeply hidden in a storage area of pre-electronic files.

One of my very first moonlight projects was with my good friend Kent Macdonald and it was as a remodel. The project included a revamped façade.  I’d like to think that the project’s final appearance was a result of naiveté (I was paralyzed by excitement and fear) and some stubborn clients.

It has an unfortunate composition that includes two different materials that step, something we would never do today. A clumsy balcony hovers overhead. It has been repainted in the ugliest cold color that emphasize the clumsy composition.

Luckily, for a period of time, the evidence was located on a sleepy San Francisco street. Unfortunately, a popular store opened half a block away and now my abomination is passed by thousands. Worse yet, by the time I opened my own firm five years later, I was living within walking distance to the project.

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How to spend less than $75,000 and completely change your home.

I promise this is no infomercial!

Last summer, I purchased a property with my partner, Mark English, that straddled Sonoma and Napa. The inside and outside were the product of a 1970s over zealous homeowner with a tighter budget than he wanted to admit. Parts were completed, others not and most of the style choices were an abomination in my strict modernist handbook.

These were my rules (or guidelines or trips) for how to spend under $75,000 and still get a fab new interior.

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