Study Tour Fellow Reports

Study Tour Fellowships are provided by the Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars and fund the participation of a student or emerging scholar on an SAH Study Tour. Read about the tours from the perspective of the fellowship recipients below. 

SAH Study Day - Miami and Miami Beach

  • SAH Miami Study Day Report

    Mar 07, 2014

    By Marsha J. McDonald

    Miami is a cross-section of multiple cultures and environmental factors, which has a profound impact on the built landscape. As such, there have been unique opportunities of urban interventions created by the juxtaposition of place, people and the production of culture.  The 2014 Miami Study Tour engages two of the most notable installations on the Miami cultural landscape. Designed by the same architect, Herzog & de Meuron, they act as commentaries on architecture in Miami and Miami Beach. The 11 11 Lincoln Road building has shifted the cultural thinking of the aesthetic of a parking garage and the recently completed Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is a negotiation of cultural, social and urban space in Miami.


    Figure 1  Folly on Lincoln Road (Architect: Morris Lapidus)

    The day began with a stroll along the pedestrian mall called Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach, which stretches across several blocks from Washington Avenue to Alton Road. Once considered the Fifth Ave Avenue of the South, it is reminiscent of Miami’s Art Deco architectural style, preserved in buildings such as the Colony Theatre and detailed in façades of the shops of Lincoln Road. With vivid descriptions of Art Deco, to the architectural follies designed by architect, Morris Lapidus, our tour guide, David Rifkind, led us through the architectural narrative of Miami Beach. As we travelled along Lincoln Road, he illustrated the cultural transformation until we arrived to the newly developed movie theatre and the 11 11 parking garage on Alton Road.

    Figure 2- 11 11 Lincoln Road (Architect: Herzog & de Meuron)

    Jeff Weinstein, our guide to 11 11 Lincoln Road, introduced us to the vision of the building and gave us detailed aspects of the building’s program, materiality and architect’s commentary of retail space’s interaction with urban space. 11 11 Lincoln Road is a seven layered car park for 300 cars combined with unique retail space, luxury housing and sandwiched parking space. Each level can be transformed into gallery space, event space and a viewing platform to Lincoln Road and Miami Beach. 

    Figure 3- Art Installation by Monica Sosnowska under stairs at 11 11 Lincoln Road

    Figure 3- Art Installation by Monica Sosnowska under stairs at 11 11 Lincoln Road

    This was the Swiss architect’s, Herzog & de Meuron, first architectural introduction to Miami, who used the car park as a discourse, an architectural commentary on Miami, which they later continued in the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). It was an anti-Miami Beach statement located on one of the more famous streets with its starkness and smooth concrete finish standing tall against the detailed stucco of the walls of Art Deco era. It was also a comment on permeability and accessibility, giving both visual and physical access to the views of the city and its tropical environment which was lacking in the air-conditioned retail and hotel spaces. Even though the main program of the project was to service to the neighboring building, it provided more than simply parking. 

    A typical parking garage is a monotone of planes erected as cheaply and as quickly as possible, however the 11 11 building, defied that notion. Herzog & de Meuron framed a new space not just in Miami Beach but also in architecture by subverting the architectural typology of the parking garage. Architectural details from varying floor heights, the inconsistent floor planes to inlaid visible piping and atypical programs are interwoven within the building’s function. The sculptural element of the angled columns, thin planes of the floors angled at the edges, customized lighting and signage highlight the luxury of space and experience. With visual shifting planes and façades, each level has varying heights with integrated retail space primarily on the ground floor and an exclusive location on the fifth floor. The ground floor has black and white paving, reminiscent of the follies of Morris Lapidus, and an angled façade canopied by the second floor large providing Lincoln Road’s most luxurious treat, shade. 

    Figure 4 - Ground Floor of the 11 11 Lincoln Road

    After lunch on Lincoln Road, we headed to the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) located in the city of Miami. Completed in 2013, PAMM is reminiscent of the southern great houses of old with its wide elevated porch or veranda encompassing the main building and above the garage underneath. It has a vantage point to the port of Miami and serves a beacon within the cultural landscape of Miami, with its unique vertical gardens combining with the breeze to fragrance the air. 

    Figure 5- View from the highway, Perez Art Museum Miami. Architect: Herzog & de Meuron

    Terry Riley, our guide to PAMM, said “to the modernist the building is modern, to the classicist, the building is classical and to the regionalist, the building is regional”. Framed views of the city of Miami is seen either through full length windows or transparent walls and physically accessed via the porches at varied levels. As you explore the artwork in the galleries located on the main and second floor, you walk around the multi-stored void which houses the central auditorium. The auditorium also acts as a transitional space as you ascend and descend the beautifully inlaid wooden stairs which are integrated with the room’s seating and are the main connector between the floors.

    Figure 6 - SAH tour group touring PAMM in front of window with view to Bayfront Park and the Port of Miami

    By inviting light and unique views to the city, Herzog & de Meuron continue this discourse on architecture in Miami. They centered on the notion of permeability and accessibility, both visual access and physical access, to the city and its environment. The building is a distinct blurring of the solid and void, of inside and outside and constant negotiation of wanting to experience the artwork hung in the gallery or enjoy the new vistas framed by the architectural details and the vantage points as you move through the building. There are three types of gallery space; the anchor gallery, focus gallery and the overview gallery which currently houses collections of art, sculpture, installations and a socially charged commentary by notable artists such as Ai Weiwei. 

    7- “For Those in Peril on the Sea”, Hew Locke, 79 boats suspended in an anchor gallery in PAMM on main floor with windowed walls and views to Miami

    The material language of the three-storied building is reinforced concrete, wood, metal and lush greenery combined with art. It is not just visual art but the art of life and the art of being Miami. The exterior of the building is a layered experience enveloped by the huge canopy of the building creating a transition between outdoor space and indoor space. The porch which wrapped around the building, acts as an open room with access to shading, and a unique vertical garden by Patrick Blanc. The roof is a filtering system made of wood arrange in a network to create a permeable canopy form which the vertical planters are hung.  The generosity of the porch echoed an invitation to the city to sit and enjoy its tropical climate, a truly priceless luxury.

    Figure 8- Facade of PAMM facing the Port of Miami with stairs and seating covering the parking underneath the elevated building

    The place specificity of PAMM, also responses to its location on the waterfront by being elevated above ground so that the water, wind and sky are invited to interact. The regional aspect of the building is layered in the formalist notion of cubes, space and linear elements. However the details of materials, connections, finishes and new building technologies are additives to define and refine the architecture, as the building negotiates with the city. PAMM reflects the differing notions of the cultural identity of the city in its multicultural state, by translated into architecture as an example of what the urban space in Miami could be.

    Figure 9-View of American Airlines Arena and the Freedom Tower from PAA with a vertical garden in the foreground

    (All Images Source: Marsha McDonald taken on Feb 6, 2014) 

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  • SAH Study Day Columbus Report

    Oct 30, 2013

    By Joss Kiely

    The SAH Study Day to Columbus, Indiana, led by Henry Kuehn, aimed to showcase a large cross section of modern and postmodern projects, all clustered in a small town an hour south of Indianapolis. Amid farm fields and silos, Columbus, a small town of 44,000 people, is home to as many important modern and contemporary architectural projects as a city one hundred times its size. The daylong tour was intensive and enlightening, and included a range of projects from the late 19th century to additions currently under construction. On entering the town, one thing that is immediately apparent is the attention to detail and to composition throughout, from fire stations, to residential neighborhoods, to major institutional buildings. The widespread focus on design makes it appear as if a world apart from the bucolic Midwest in which it is located.

    Our small group of seven, a mix of historians and architects, gathered at the visitors center for a brief introduction and short video explaining the reason behind Columbus’ unusual industrial prowess and impressive collection of architecture. The town was initially settled in the early 19th century, but began to flourish as a center for manufacturing in the 20th century with the rise of Cummins Engine, now a Fortune 500 company. The company and its owner were closely tied to the development of the city’s architecture program, which remains in place today.

    First Christian Church

    We began with a walking tour through a nearby neighborhood, peeking into the Irwin House and Gardens (1884), a mansion replete with verdant landscaping reminiscent of Italy. The first major visit of the day was I. M. Pei’s Bartholomew County Public Library (1969), sited with a significant relationship to Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church (1942) across the street. Both buildings were impressive in their own right; Pei’s library interior was warm and welcoming, and Saarinen’s church commanded a crisp, formal presence. As the first modern building commissioned by the town, the First Christian Church set the tone for the architectural agenda that continued thenceforth. I was particularly struck by the interior of the main sanctuary: the blend of materials and muted tones was soothing, and I found the use of natural lighting and a curvilinear brick wall to be particularly compelling. Yet another small detail not to go unnoticed was Eero Saarinen’s light fixtures that hung from the ceiling. These had an almost aerodynamic feel to them, which only added to the overall spatial composition and presence.

    Miller House Garden in Columbus 

    Other morning highlights included a pair of Gunnar Birkerts buildings: Lincoln Elementary (1967) and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church (1988).

    At the conclusion of the morning walking tour, we headed back to the visitors center for another short video, this time introducing Eero Saarinen’s Miller House, recently opened to the public. When we arrived at the site, our bus pulled up into the landscaped parking area, and we disembarked, already amazed at the attention to detail right down to the terrazzo carport, which occupied most of a central bay. The Miller House, designed for J. Irwin and Xenia Miller, was completed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen in collaboration with interior designer Alexander Girard and landscape architect Dan Kiley. The plan, a nine-square grid, is focused around a central living area with a fireplace at the very center and features a sunken “conversation pit” situated near expansive glass windows that overlook Kiley’s carefully articulated landscape. One thing I noticed immediately was that despite the dark and gloomy day, the house glowed brightly, due to the expansive system of sky lighting; the entire nine-square grid is, in fact, a more or less continuous skylight. Throughout the house there was furniture designed by Girard and Saarinen, and of course, the requisite Tulip Table, which was initially designed with a fountain at its center. The exterior spaces of the house and landscape were carefully integrated, as Kiley’s allés continued the formal order of the interior outside. The flow of spaces between interior and exterior was evident, and the transitions seamless, almost as if there were no boundary. Throughout the house, one got the sense of a very Finnish touch; the children’s bedrooms were small and organized around a larger play area—much like the house itself. That the focus was rendered less on the individual and more on the collective also made the house an excellent one for entertaining, one of its core purposes for the Miller family.

    Millyer House conversation pit Columbus

    After a lively lunch discussing the morning’s events, we continued with a full afternoon walking tour around the east and west portions of the downtown area. For me, the highlight was by far the low-slung Irwin Union Bank (1972), also designed by Eero Saarinen and now in use as a conference center for Cummins Engine. Although formally the building was a departure from the downtown streetscape, its scale was deferential to its surroundings, and the landscaping, again by Dan Kiley, added to its overall presence. Once inside, the space was quite open and light, and a touch reminiscent of Mies’ Crown Hall. Our group then continued for a full tour of the current Cummins world headquarters, including the original Cerealine Building (1880s) and their adjacent facility, designed in 1984 by Kevin Roche. Other afternoon stops included projects by Fred Koetter, Michael Van Valkenburgh, and Edward Charles Bassett, and concluded at J. Irwin Miller’s office, housed in the former dry goods store, built in 1881 for Joseph Irwin. The compact interior cleverly used sliding partitions to maximize space while maintaining privacy, and the modern office interior was designed by Alexander Girard, complete with custom produced Herman Miller furniture.

    Irwin Union Bank in Columbus

    Although this was the official conclusion of the tour, a number of us decided to rendezvous on the edge of town to visit Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church. As fortune would have it, the building was open and we were able to experience the vestibule and sanctuary firsthand. The asymmetrical plan placed a focus on both the altar as well as the oculus above it, lending a sense of place and a suggestion of more ethereal realms. To be sure, the most striking element of Saarinen’s design is the spire, which rises high above the flat Indiana landscape; any higher, in fact, would have required a flashing light to warn aircraft in the vicinity of its presence.

    The Study Day to Columbus, Indiana, was of particular interest to me for its focus on the work of Eero Saarinen, an architect who has become one of the core elements of my unfolding dissertation proposal and project. Thanks to the firsthand site visits, it seems increasingly likely that The North Christian Church and Miller House will be included in the project. Furthermore, I’m happy to report that I’ve already used photos from the day in the classroom during a recent lecture I gave to master of architecture students at the University of Michigan. As I move forward in my career as a scholar and teacher, this experience will continue to add to my growing repertoire of architectural experiences and knowledge.

    Joss Kiely is a Ph.D. candidate in architectural history and theory at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He received a B.A. in French and architectural studies from Connecticut College, as well as a Master of Architecture and an M.Sc. in architectural history and theory at the University of Michigan with a thesis entitled, Alternative Architectures of Italian Futurism: War, Lust, Flight, and Dance, 1909-39. His current research focuses on defining a latent "aerialism" that developed during the jet age of air travel in the 1950s and 1960s, specifically focusing on a handful of thin shell concrete structures designed by Minoru Yamasaki, Eero Saarinen, and Felix Candela.

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  • Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light and Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes

    Sep 25, 2013

    By Emily Morash

    For a brief period this spring, an unprecedented amount of temporary exhibition space at the Museum of Modern Art was simultaneously devoted to two seminal figures of modern architecture, Henri Labrouste and Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret). As a recipient of the Society’s Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars Study Tour Fellowship, I had the exceptional experience of touring the exhibits with their curators and a group of architectural historians and enthusiasts. Each exhibition presented a wealth of architectural drawings, models, photographs, and related ephemeral materials, including Labrouste’s silk laurel wreath from the École des Beaux-Arts and Le Corbusier’s glass bottles used in his Purist paintings. While our tour leaders presented the participants with great insights and historical background to many of the individual objects in the exhibitions, this report will focus on observations regarding the broader questions of exhibit conception, organization, and design, rather than individual objects or building projects.

    Our day began in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art, where we met Barry Bergdoll, Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design. After traversing the so-called “Bauhaus staircase” we arrived at the entrance to the Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light exhibition, curated by Prof. Bergdoll in association with Corinne Bélier and Marc Le Cœur. We toured the three sections of the exhibition and concluded with a brief tour of the Architecture and Design galleries. 

    Prof. Bergdoll began our tour with an answer to the seemingly fundamental question about the genesis of the exhibit: “Why Labrouste at MoMA?” While he presented many reasons for the exhibition including the importance placed on Labrouste by the early critics and historians of modern architecture and the desire to expose students and the general public to his work, Prof. Bergdoll also shared with us that a Labrouste exhibition was proposed in the early years of the department’s history – the Museum of Modern Art was long due for an exhibit devoted to this important nineteenth-century architect.

    We explored the three sections of the exhibition, beginning with the first gallery devoted to Labrouste’s development as a young architect and student at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and his time in Rome as the recipient of the Grand Prix de Rome. Proceeding to the middle section of the exhibition, devoted to Labrouste’s two major library projects, one noticed the novel ways in which the exhibition presented architectural drawings and other materials. Specifically, exhibition designers created tables in the style of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève to display drawings of the building itself. An opening containing models of the two projects joined the two galleries and ingeniously drew a physical connection between the pair of Parisian libraries. The final gallery of the exhibit looked beyond Labrouste to his contemporaries, his later influences, and the historiography of his work including the landmark The Architecture of the École des Beaux-Arts exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1975.

    After a break for lunch, we began our tour of Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes with Jean-Louis Cohen, guest curator of the exhibit in association with Prof. Bergdoll and Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. I was particularly interested in this tour as I am teaching two concurrent advanced undergraduate seminars on the architecture, art, and writings of Le Corbusier at Connecticut College. 

    Our tour began with a discussion of the genesis of this exhibit—the first full retrospective of Le Corbusier’s work at the Museum of Modern Art—and the challenges that came with this exhibition. With so many exhibits devoted to his work, Prof. Cohen explained his desire to focus on Le Corbusier’s relationship with landscape. While this element of landscape is certainly a clear thread that runs throughout the exhibition—from Le Corbusier’s arrangement of objects in his paintings to the line drawings the exhibit designers employed in the windows of full-scale interior spaces to give the visitor a sense of the space beyond—the exhibition is also clearly a retrospective. This is in part due to the exceptional quality and quantity of objects displayed from the collection of the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris.    

    Prof. Cohen additionally discussed his vision for the exhibit, his choice to feature both well known and unfamiliar objects, and his goal to create something that would be compelling for both scholars and the general public alike. He also explained that there was a concerted effort to let Le Corbusier’s work speak for itself. Notably no digital reconstructions are included in the exhibition and almost all the architectural models displayed were produced by Le Corbusier and his atelier.

    One design consideration discussed during both tours was the use of color. For the Labrouste exhibition, Prof. Bergdoll noted the use of a gray stonelike color for the walls in the first two sections and white for the final section. The color choice was intended to highlight both Labrouste’s drawings and to mark a differentiation between the sections focused on his work and the final section, which looked to contemporary and comparative examples. While color in the Labrouste exhibit was subtle, in the Le Corbusier exhibition, it plays a major role in the visitor’s interaction with the gallery spaces and ultimately with the objects themselves. The curators drew directly from Le Corbusier’s so-called “color keyboard” to select a variety of subtle as well as vibrant colors to visually mark the development of Le Corbusier’s work from Purism to the postwar.

    The tour of both exhibits was an incredible experience. Rarely, if ever, have two architectural exhibitions of this importance been mounted simultaneously in the same city, let alone at the same institution. These exhibitions present a trove of exceptional objects that tell a compelling history of two the most important architects of the modern era.  The insights shared by Profs. Bergdoll and Cohen not only provided greater knowledge about these extraordinary artifacts, but also gave a deeper appreciation for the choices made in the process of curation. Learning this information about the Le Corbusier exhibition was especially valuable for me as it will directly shape the development and refinement of my fall undergraduate seminar.  While this course will only look at the postwar architecture of the Franco-Swiss architect, the exhibit has already transformed my understanding of his architectural production. I look forward to sharing much of this new insight with my students this fall both in the classroom and at the exhibition, which we will visit in September.  

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  • SAH Study Day Los Angeles Report

    Aug 02, 2013


    On July 19th a group of 10 SAH members spent the day exploring two museum exhibitions on postwar architecture in Los Angeles, guided by the curators. The exhibitions were among a series of events this spring and summer associated with Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., an initiative of the Getty Foundation. The morning was spent at the Getty, where Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, a survey of the period, was on display. The tour was co-led by the curators, Wim de Wit, head of architecture and contemporary art, the Getty Research Institute and Christopher Alexander, assistant curator of architecture and contemporary art, the Getty Research Institute. The afternoon was spent at the Hammer Museum exhibit A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living, curated by Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, head of department and associate curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, with the tour by Ellen Donnelly, curatorial fellow. The event was coordinated by SAH board member Kenneth Breisch.


    Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., an initiative of the Getty Foundation, was a series of exhibitions and events in the spring and summer of 2013 at institutions throughout Southern California. Following up on 2012's Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980, a spectacular project with over 60 institutions participating, this year's was more narrowly focused on architecture and design and on a more modest scale, with eleven exhibitions at nine institutions. If last year's PST made clear the significance of Los Angeles in this period, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, architecture was somewhat underrepresented, with just one major show at LACMA and a few smaller exhibits on specialized topics. This year's PST remedies that with a variety of approaches to this productive period of architecture in Los Angeles.


    The Getty Museum's Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, a survey of this period in Los Angeles architecture, served as a useful orientation for the initiative as a whole. The SAH study day tour was led by curators Wim de Wit and Christopher James Alexander (and incidentally, the Getty equipped us with wireless headset gizmos which allowed wandering without missing any of their comments).

    The show was organized thematically rather than chronologically, the themes a mix of the urbanistic and the typological. The exhibition opened with
    Car Culture on the urbanism of the "strip" and the pop-modern architecture associated with it, and Urban Networks on the infastructures of the city -- including freeways of course, but also the now-lost streetcar system, the channelized L.A. river, and the airport. The remainder of the show focused more on buildings: Engines of Innovation, a bit of a catch-all for the high-growth industries of the postwar era: entertainment, aerospace, international trade, higher education; Community Magnets on cultural complexes, shopping centers, and churches, with a section dedicated to the 1984 Olympics; and Residential Fabric a survey-within-a-survey of housing in all its forms.

    The materials on view were mostly archival and from the Getty's own collection, including renderings, period photographs, and models, with some working drawings but an emphasis on accessible material. An unexpected highlight was the inclusion of a number of beautiful ink presentation renderings by Carlos Diniz, an independent artist who worked with many prominent architects in the 1960s in L.A., and later nationwide. Indeed it seemed to me one unstated theme of the show was the recognition of figures like Diniz, prolific and practice-oriented, who seldom appear in conventional surveys. The postwar "second generation" of Southern California like Gregory Ain and Pierre Koenig were here as well, but I thought it refreshing to see less familiar names alongside. While often considered derivative or second-tier, such designers were hugely influential in shaping the built environment -- precisely on account of their being mainstream and practical, and productive. Arguably they are as important historically as more prominent and stylistically-influential architects, just in a different way. The show was also inclusive in stylistic terms: beyond the familiar California modernism of glassy openness and indoor-outdoor living, we saw other trends of the day, the experiments in decorative ornament and historical reference that were still distinctly modern.

    Most of the period covered at the Getty was one of rapid economic growth, a period in which there was simply a lot of work for good architects (and bad ones too). During this boom Southern California led the way in producing the new American forms of automobile-based urbanism. Today the region is probably the best archive of how cities were built in this period, for better or worse. Not that L.A. was a blank slate, a point the show illustrated well in its presentation of infrastructure -- for example in highlighting the enormous scale of the streetcar system that was dismantled after WWII, yet had established urban patterns that remain today. Still, in the 1950s and even 60s, large swaths of undeveloped land remained, and this was a key condition of what L.A. became.

    The exhibition ventured into the later 1970s and 80s in some areas, notably the material on the Olympics and some houses of the 1980s "LA school." Considering the scale of the show, large but by no means sprawling, it succeeded remarkably well in presenting the trajectory from early postwar to postmodernism. But to cover the period up to 1990 was perhaps too ambitious, in that the final decade or so of that period saw the emergence of dramatically different conditions on many fronts: culturally, politically, in attitudes toward the city and toward growth, within the discipline of architecture and society in general.

    The most distinctive historical dimension that emerged from the material on display was the normative nature of modernism in the 50s and 60s, spanning the worlds of "high" architecture and fashion and the mass market. The curators were admirably inclusive: presenting googie coffee shops and tracts of single-family homes built by developers, even vernacular urbanisms of working class communities -- alongside the "high" architecture of downtown's music center and a section on "visionary houses." To my mind this approach was quite successful, and implied a redefinition of modernism in more expansive terms -- and in a manner true to the specific historical reality of Los Angeles rather than appealing to artificially-abstract universal "modernism."

    This is an important point given the non-specialist audience for a museum show like this, and the rather distressing distance between architectural discourses and popular ideas of architectural history. Architectural modernism is a case in point: cartoonish simplifications are common, whether the images are negative (prison-like housing projects) or positive (Mad Men glam). Closer to home, I was reminded of last year's LACMA show, California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way, which was disappointingly uncritical and, in the end, blandly affirmative in the manner of a sales pitch for reproductions of "classic" modern furniture. This year the Getty presented a more complex picture. It touched on darker aspects of modern planning: the casual destruction of the Chavez Ravine community in order to build Dodgers Stadium, the transformation of the river into a concrete drainage channel. It illustrated political and social ideals of the period, the individualized every person's dream of a suburban home, but also the achievement of a racially-integrated community in the Aliso Village housing project. While the focus of the show remained on architecture, it resisted isolating design from the realities it is implicated in. I see no reason a general audience cannot engage with these questions; in fact I would argue the other way around, that the presentation of architecture as purely aesthetic and buildings as isolated objects is an approach that insults everyone's intelligence.


    The tour at the Hammer Museum of A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living was led by Ellen Donnelly, Curatorial Fellow, in lieu of the curator, Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher. A very different sort of exhibition than that at the Getty, this was a survey of one architect's career, a format which tends naturally toward a biographical narrative and an exploration of individual authorship, rather than sweeping historical conceptualizations. Interestingly I found the two shows touched on some of the same issues, and that the material at the Hammer added a provocative depth in its specificity and detail, especially in my thinking about periodization -- how we might define the postwar or "late modern" era.

    A. Quincy Jones (1913-1979) had a career that spanned the same decades covered in the Getty show, with his most vital work done in the 1950s and 60s. While best known for houses in a stylish postwar modern mode, his production was actually quite diverse, and included office buildings, churches, academic facilities, libraries. One can discern the typical career path of a successful practice, with more large-scale projects in later years, but Jones never abandoned the smaller scale, he continued designing houses. He also had a special interest in urban planning, and how that interest informed his residential designs is one of the most interesting aspects of his work.

    One highlight of the exhibit was the model and renderings of Case Study house #24 of 1961, produced in partnership with Frederick E. Emmons, as was much of his work. Meant as a prototype for a large suburban development, the house was half buried underground with a strip of clerestory windows and number of outdoor terraces, both open and covered, acting as light wells. A rather unusual design, but in fct a pragmatic solution to the environmental challenges of the hotter, more inland parts of Southern California, as well as to the provision of privacy in middle-class suburbs where lots were typically not all that spacious. The project was never realized, in part due to regulators' resistance to the proposed unconventional ownership structure, with large common areas -- a situation which highlights several important issues, about Jones as an architect, and about the discipline of architecture at this time in America.

    The project was unusual in another sense, in being a prototype for middle-class housing to be produced in series. In that it followed the original intent of the Arts & Architecture case study house program, which by this time had shifted toward luxurious one-off houses, and toward an aesthetic enabled by the use of expensive steel-frame construction. The resulting split personality of the program lends it a potent historical resonance, even if that complexity is lost in the popular view, dominated as it is by the familiar glamorous visuals of the later houses. The Jones exhibit brought this tension into focus in a particularly effective way.

    In the early postwar period, 1946 to 1950, Jones was a key figure in the collaborative Mutual Housing Association project, a housing cooperative in the hills on the west side of Los Angeles. While only partially realized, this was a milestone in translating the architectural ideas of modernism into an American context. The project was conceived in a spirit of idealism, in the provision of expansive common areas and shared facilities, and in the intent to be multi-racial, without restrictive covenants that were common at the time. This explicit leftist politics was in continuity with inter-war European modernism, while the planning engaged with the Southern California landscape, and the houses projected a vision of modern life that was distinctly American. If this was not mass housing, but more middle-class housing for a clientèle with an artistic bent, the project perhaps pointed toward the mass middle-class society that was emerging -- toward what that society might be. Later, Jones and Emmons would contribute more directly to this social imaginary with their prototype designs for Eichler housing developments in Northern and Southern California, today considered exemplars of quality design on a budget.

    This was only part of the material on display at the Hammer; Jones was a busy practitioner with a variety of clients, and projects that ran the gamut of programs, although generally not large in scale, and no really tall buildings. Some of his houses were large, notably the sprawling Annenberg estate, "Sunnylands." The exhibition presented such projects in their own gallery, "Living Large," which struck me as the right move, treating these as a different sort of architectural problem than Jones's more modest residential designs.

    Jones was a professional and pretty much everything on display was quality work, but for me his most compelling historical significance lies in how he sought to cultivate community and re-imagine residential norms, not only norms of formal design but even norms of property ownership. His path seems characteristic of the postwar trajectory of American modernism: truly engaged with a social mission for architecture, but in real projects rather than visionary plans (and in Jones's case even real prototypes not theoretical ones). In those terms his later work is somewhat ambiguous, but the explanation for that may be less biographical than disciplinary -- how his career spanned a period when the role of the architect in society changed, as did the economic conditions of architectural production.

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  • SAH Study Day: "The Woolworth Building @ 100"

    Apr 18, 2013

    Our day began at the Skyscraper Museum, with about two dozen historians, architects, and passionate amateurs clustered in the museum’s bookstore. The only graduate student in the crowd, I was the fortunate recipient of the Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars Fellowship, which allowed me to participate in this SAH Study Day. Though my primary dissertation research does not directly concern tall buildings, I am teaching a one-week intensive high school course this summer at Brown on the history of skyscrapers. I am hoping to take my students on a walking tour of downtown Providence as part of this class, so the SAH Study Day presented an excellent opportunity to observe how skyscraper scholars use physical buildings and material artifacts as teaching tools. 

    Although I’d visited the Skyscraper Museum before, founder Carol Willis’ introduction shed a whole new light on this unique institution. Processing up the ramp into the main space of the museum, Carol, Gail Fenske, Andrew Scott Dolkart, and consultant Susan Tunick of the Friends of Terra Cotta organization led us on a tour of the current exhibition “The Woolworth Building @ 100.” Featuring many of the original architectural drawings of the building through its various stages of development, the exhibition paints a nuanced and human portrait of collaborators F.W. Woolworth and Cass Gilbert. The exhibit also yields a very visceral understanding of the buildings’ structure and ornamentation, using photographs from the construction, close-ups of the terra cotta panels, and even a block of terra cotta meant to be touched by museum audiences.


    The next portion of our tour took us out into Lower Manhattan’s financial district to examine some essential precedents by Cass Gilbert and his contemporaries. As the winds whipped through Battery Park and temperatures plummeted, we were grateful for a lunchtime in respite of Gilbert’s United States Customs House (1902-1907; now the National Museum of the American Indian). The lush nautical iconography of both interior and exterior recall another age in the history of American commerce, and confirm Gilbert’s impressive command of the classical architectural language. We were particularly lucky to enjoy our lunch in the Collector’s Office, which continues of themes of maritime trade in richly carved wood rather than stone. 

    Ready to brave the cold again, we ventured up Broadway to explore such turn-of-the-century behemoths as the Standard Oil, the International Mercantile Marine Company Building, the Equitable Building, and the U.S. Realty and Trinity Buildings. I have taught many of these buildings in architecture courses before, but did not really have a sense of how the masses of Standard Oil stack together or how the Equitable Building hunkers so imposingly on its plot. 

    After a stop at Cass Gilbert’s West Street Building (the structure that initially caught the attention of Woolworth), we continued on to examine other contemporary structures such as the Liberty Tower and the AT&T Building. Eventually we found our way to the Woolworth Building, where Gail Fenske explained Gilbert’s subtle and evocative use of coloration in the intricate terra cotta cladding. The Woolworth’s massing is undoubtedly more elegant and well-proportioned than many of its predecessors. The turreted facade with its medieval detailing demonstrates that Gilbert was quite at home working in a Gothic idiom as well as a classical one. The proverbial and literal pinnacle of the day was the climb to the Woolworth’s observation tower, soon to be off-limits due to new construction in the upper floors. 15 flights up and 30 back down to reach the service elevator, this was not an ascent for the faint of heart. By some divine providence, the clouds lifted as we emerged onto the deck, revealing radiant views of Midtown. The Lower Manhattan buildings we had just seen from the ground were now visible from above, dwarfed by the (still) impressive height of the Woolworth. Dazzled by the view and still a bit dizzy from the spiral stairs, I ended the day with a glass of wine enjoyed in the resplendent barrel-vaulted lobby with its glittering mosaics and medieval iconography.

    Having worked primarily on the 1920s and 1930s as background research for my work on the New Deal, the turn-of-the-century buildings we toured were somewhat of a revelation to me. Carol, Gail, Andrew, and Susan did a marvelous job of not only conveying the development of skyscraper design in the early twentieth-century but also of evoking the socio-cultural context of the time with its burgeoning monopolies and cut-throat speculative development. One of the other highlights of the day was just seeing how proud Manhattanites are of these buildings. Besides the occasional security guard who objected to twenty-some historians loitering in a historical lobby, most locals we encountered were more than happy to show off the buildings they live and work in. In the lobby of Standard Oil, an attorney stopped to impart some information about the building in the age of the Rockefellers. After this rewarding opportunity to interact with both Lower Manhattan and its people, I feel much more prepared to craft a similar experience on a smaller scale for my high school class this summer.

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  • Cuba: Day 0 - Miami

    Feb 06, 2013

    Throughout the day we trickled in to Miami from various places in the United States and Canada in anticipation for our charter flight to Havana the following day. The trip to Cuba is usually a multi-day process in order to accommodate the particularities of taking a charter flight from Miami. You may wonder where I fit into this trip. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in this study tour as the Student Fellowship Recipient. This generous fellowship allowed me, a Ph.D. candidate in art history at the University of Illinois – Chicago, to take part in what proved to be an incomparably enriching experience. This trip is of particular relevance to me as my scholarship focuses on architecture and urban design in Cuba and Puerto Rico. More specifically, my work investigates how the architecture of tourism played an important role in shaping national identity and international relationships, and was tied to the spheres of culture, economics, and diplomacy. This SAH Study Tour was going to take me to see sites and architecture in Cuba that I had never experienced before.

    In the evening, we all convened for an orientation meeting to help prepare us for the days ahead in Cuba. After we covered the logistical details of our upcoming travels, our knowledgeable and charming study tour leader and organizer, Monty Freeman (Belmont Freeman Architects), treated us to a fascinating overview of Cuban history and architecture. Monty, an American of Cuban descent, has been traveling to Cuba for many years, and has also been researching, speaking, and publishing on Cuban architecture for some time.

    Monty’s lecture provided us with a wonderful context for the buildings and sites we were going to experience in the next thirteen days. He painted a broad picture of the history of Cuba while also pointing out details related to the financial and political history that played an important role in shaping the built environment of Cuba. Equipped with newly acquired knowledge related to the Spanish explorers, the coffee and sugar industry, the age of U.S. influence, and the hopes and realities of the country after the Revolution in1959, we drifted back to our rooms at the hotel. We were all eagerly anticipating what tomorrow would bring when we took the short flight (less than an hour) to Cuba—an island so physically close to the United States, yet worlds away in many respects. 

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  • Cuba: Day 1 - Havana

    Feb 05, 2013

    No sooner had the plane finished its short ascent that it started to descend, swooping in along the northern coast of Cuba and a little bit to the west of Havana for our landing at José Martí International Airport in the afternoon. We exited the airport and were greeted by Osmin Rivero Soto, our ever-smiling Cuban guide from a state tourism agency who was to accompany us throughout the trip. We boarded the bus and immediately started our adventure and Osmin gave us some important information as we drove into the city, not to our hotel, but to Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro.  Commonly referred to simply as el Morro, this military fortification, started in the 16th century, is located on the opposite side of the bay from the main city center. There we took in views of Havana extending from Old Havana out west as far as the neighborhood of Miramar, on the far side of the Almendares River.

    We piled back in the bus, which was to be navigated throughout the trip by our chofer Roberto, and made our way to check-in to what would be our home base in Havana, the Hotel Nacional. Designed by McKim, Mead and White, the Nacional has been one of Havana’s grandest tourist hotels since it opened in 1930. After a quick check-in we reconvened to enjoy a group dinner at one of the near by paladares—private, family-run restaurants that have been allowed in Cuba since the onset of the economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union, referred to as the Special Period. 

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  • Cuba: Day 2 - Old Havana

    Feb 04, 2013

    Though our camera batteries were dead and our feet were tired by the end of the day, none of us could complain about our day Old Havana. Monty led us on an enlightening day-long walking tour that opened our eyes to the many sides of Havana, the good and the bad, the hopeful and the sad. We considered not just historical buildings, but the role they play within the larger context of Old Havana’s standing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the restoration and preservation efforts of the Office of the City Historian of Havana, the state branch charged with these duties.

    We started our tour in Plaza de Armas (Arms/Weaponry Square), a square that dates back to the 16th century and is layered with buildings and landscaping that reveal the genesis of the city. One of the highlights of the square is the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (Palace of the General Captains), which now houses the Museum of the City. Built between 1776-1791, this building is considered one of the fines examples of Cuban Baroque architecture, second only to Havana’a cathedral. As the seat of the Spanish governors in Cuba, the palace’s location in this square, which was used as a military parade ground, helped establish the square as the military and administrative center during the colonial period. The palace was one of the first projects to be restored by the Office of the City Historian and they maintained the exposure of the raw stone, which was how the building had appeared since a restoration in the 1930s, though the building was originally plastered and painted.

    Our next stop was the Plaza de Catedral (Cathedral Square), a plaza that, despite its current name, originally developed as the main square to collect water as this was where the aqueduct terminated. Because Plaza de Armas developed as the administrative center, it was decided that the parish church that stood there should be demolished and rebuilt in what is now Plaza de Catedral. Conveniently, there was already a church project that was started in this square (begun by the Jesuits but abandoned when the Jesuits were expelled from Spanish colonies) and the church was completed and consecrated as the cathedral in 1787. The rest of the square is composed of colonial villas that were privately owned but have now been dedicated to various state enterprises: a restaurant, a museum, and the offices of a branch of the Office of the City Historian.

    In Old Havana, four historically and architecturally important squares have received the attention of the Office of the City Historian (Plaza de Armas, Plaza de Catedral, Plaza Vieja, and Plaza de San Francisco de Assis). The four plazas often form the core of walking tours of the historic city center and ours was no exception. We stopped in
    Plaza Vieja (Old Square), which developed during the colonial period as a residential square. A tour around this plaza is a lesson in the work of the Office of the City Historian, almost all the edifices are adorned with “before and after” photos that chronicle the massive restoration efforts necessary for the salvation of these buildings. Our tour was punctuated by lunch in the courtyard of a colonial building in this square. 

    While our tour did stop at the four main plazas of Old Havana in a manner similar to other walking tours, our tour was anything but average. Monty led us down the streets that could serve as postcard for the efforts of the Office of the City Historian and he led us down streets untouched and seemingly forgotten by the government. We saw buildings in sad states of neglect, disrepair, and decay, some of which were in the middle of a slow process of collapse. We saw buildings held up by pieces of timber and other types of scaffolding and at times it was hard to tell what were the personal interventions of inhabitants and the efforts of a preservation office that has too many buildings to save and not enough available materials on hand. 

    Our walking tour ended with us cruising through the streets that gave Havana the nickname “the Wall Street of the Caribbean.” We saw a large number of banks built in the 19th and 20th century, both local and foreign and ended with the Banco Pedroso (1952-1954), the last significant bank to be built in Old Havana.

    Our day did not end here! After a few hours to rest at the hotel we were back in Old Havana again, this time in order to enjoy the New Year festivities taking place in Plaza de Catedral. Here we were treated to party favors, a full dinner, drinks, and amazing Cuban music and dancing. Perhaps the highlight of all of this was on-stage salsa dancing by Monty and Carla Yanni!

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  • Cuba: Day 3 - Centro Havana and Vedado

    Feb 03, 2013

    After a day in the Old Havana, what was originally contained within the city walls, we continued our exploration of Havana by moving outwards to the area the was developed where the city walls used to stand. We started near the beginning of the Malecón, the 8-kilometer oceanfront walk that was started at the turn of the twentieth century. We first visited the Presidential Palace (1920) designed by Paul Belau and Carlos Maruri. Outside the front of the building were some remains of the original city walls. We only got to poke our head in the front door, as the building now houses the Museum of the Revolution.

    Our walking tour continued up Paseo del Prado, an impressive boulevard with large sculptures of lions capping the landscaped, central walkway at the foot of the street and where Paseo meets Neptuno Street. Even before the walls came down this was a chic carriageway to see and be seen. Originally the walls stood on the east side of the street, which has since been developed. Some of the buildings on this side of the street are the Cine-Teatro Fausto (1938), a sleek Art Deco edifice and the Hotel Sevilla (1908/1923), whose original Moorish-inspired façade is on Trocadero Street.

    During this walk we also saw two other structures that reminded me of how cosmopolitan and modern Havana was. The first is the 1930 Edificio Bacardí (Bacardí Building). Originally designed in an Italian Renaissance revival style, the design changed after architect Esteban Rodriguez visited the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925. The rich exterior and interior of the building, fashioned from materials from around the world, proudly proclaimed the international success of the Bacardi rum company. The second is the Manzana de Gomez (1894-1917). Seeing the magnificence of this building takes a little more imagination as it has fallen into a state of disrepair. However, this building, which is the size of an entire city block (manzana means block), was the first building of its size dedicated to commercial purposes. It is a European-style shopping arcade with two diagonal passageways that cross in the center. Though plants are sprouting from the architecture in various places within the arcade, one can imagine that in its glory it rivaled the great shopping arcades of Paris and Milan. We learned that there is hope for this structure as there are plans to restore the building as a hotel.

    As we continued up Paseo del Prado we passed the Capitolio Nacional (1929). The similarities to another well-known capitol building are unmistakable. The huge expenditure and graft associated with the construction of this building made it a symbol of the corruption of the Machado government, which was overthrown soon after the completion of the Capitolio.

    On our way back to the hotel for lunch we passed by the Solimar Building (1944) by Manuel Copado. As Monty commented in the tour notes, “it is a startling presence in the more traditional fabric of Centro Habana,” and I couldn’t have agreed more. Startling yes, and completely captivating!

    After lunch we continued our walking tour, but this time in the neighborhood of Vedado. Vedado, which means forbidden, got its name from old laws that prohibited the felling of trees in this area. The neighborhood was actively developed in the early twentieth century, and its gridded organization with ample sidewalks and lots of green areas reveals the influence of City Beautiful and Garden City philosophies. We first walked by the Edificio FOCSA (1954-1956). Designed by Ernesto Gómez Sampera and Martin Dominguez, it was the largest reinforced concrete structure in Latin America when it was completed. I can also add the views from the bar at the top are amazing!

    Our walk continued throughout the neighborhood, stopping to admire the exteriors of many early-twentieth century villas that now serve as houses of culture or state. We also saw an amazing Art Deco apartment building, the Edificio Lopez Serrano (1932). The similarities to New York skyscrapers are apparent, and many Cubans jokingly point it out as their Empire State building.

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  • Cuba: Day 4 - Habana del Este, Matanzas and Varadero

    Feb 02, 2013

    Today took east out of Havana to the towns of Matanzas and Varadero. To leave the city we passed through the Tunnel, completed in the 1950s under the Batista government. As we made our way along the Via Blanca (White Road) we soon came to Habana del Este (East Havana), a huge social housing project built in the early years of the Revolution. The Batista government had been developing the area of land for luxury apartments, and SOM had drawn up designs for these. However, after the new Revolutionary government took over in 1959, this project was reconceived to meet the demands for housing for the average person. Designed and built in under three years (1959-1961), the master plan by Hugo D’Acosta divides the housing into seven sectors, each with its own facilities and outdoor areas. These sectors share one centrally located town square that includes schools, a clinic, and commercial and administrative areas. Habana del Este is anything but a boring social housing project, in fact, as one of the three “Proyectos Grandes” (grand projects) of the early years of the Revolution, it displays an attention to thoughtfully employing modernism on a grand scale for housing. The housing structures range in height and design, as they were conceived by ten different architects, though their variety does not prevent them from existing harmoniously next to one another.

    As we traveled east towards Matanzas the landscape changed. We crossed over hills with steep ravines and the vegetation was lush and green.

    Matanzas, a port city, became an especially important urban area in the nineteenth century, when a large portion of the island’s sugar was going in and out of this city.

    We moved on the Plaza de la Libertad, which was once the Plaza de Armas. After another rousing exegesis of the Laws of the Indies by SAH Board Representative Ken Breisch (we never did find a plaza that adhered to all of the points in the Laws), we visited La Botica Francesa, which now houses the Museo Farmaceutico (Pharmacy Museum). Purpose-built by a French pharmacist named Triolet, the structure houses a wonderful collection of items related to pharmacies and medicine, including ampoules full of strangely colored medicines and beautifully painted ceramic jars for storing and displaying herbs and medicines. The pharmacy stayed in the Triolet family until the son of the original owner turned it over to the government in 1964 to be run as a museum, which he was in charge of until his death in 1979.

    After Matanzas we drove on to Varadero, a beach resort town on a spit of land that boomed in the post-World War II period. We visited the Dupont Mansion, where we enjoyed a lunch overlooking the ocean. The Dupont Mansion was commissioned by Irenée Dupont, who had bought a large amount of land in Varadero, which he subdivided to sell to other wealthy Americans. Completed in 1926, the house is beautifully constructed, including a top floor mirador, or lookout, that has a wonderful colonial-style wooden ceiling. It is now a hotel (though with very few rooms) with a restaurant.

    The icon of the postwar boom in Varadero is the Hotel Varadero Internacional (1949-1950). Designed by Havana-based firm Mira and Rosich (architects of the Edificio Lopez Serrano), the Internacional is a sleek example of International Style modernism with accents of Streamline Moderne that hugs the sandy beaches. Unfortunately the hotel, which currently functions as an all-inclusive resort, is slated for demolition in 2015.

    Adjacent to the Hotel Varadero Internacional is a community of little beach villas referred to as the Cabañas del Sol (Sun Cabins) designed by Nicolás Quintana. We would soon learn that this architect is often referred to as “Quintana el Bueno” (Quintana the Good) as opposed to another architect named Antonio Quintana, though many of us on the trip admired the architecture of both. These tiny villas came in a variety of forms, containing anywhere from one to three bedrooms. While we were wandering through this area some members of the group struck up a conversation with a woman who stilled lived in one the cabins. She was kind enough to invite us all in so we could see the interior of one of these buildings, which she have lovingly kept in great condition. Like the hotel, these cabins are slated for demolition as well, and the area that contains the Hotel Varadero Internacional and the Cabañas del Sol will be re-developed into a large-scale resort.

    Our final stop in Varadero impressed upon me the strong ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union and the hopes that were bound in the earlier years of space travel. We visited the Casa de los Cosmonautos (House of the Cosmonauts), a small hotel built on the beach in 1975 that was meant to serve as a place where Russian cosmonauts could come and relax after their missions in space. Although developed for a very small segment of the Russian population, this hotel did make me think about Russian-Cuban relations, and how they compared to previous U.S.-Cuban relations. Was the notion of Cuba as a playground for Americans, a reputation that Castro fought to squash with the Revolution, simply replaced with a similar a relationship in which Russians viewed Cuba as their tropical paradise to enjoy as they saw fit? While certainly these complex international relationships can’t be reduced to solely the issue of beaches, it does raise questions about Cuba’s long struggle with foreign interest and influence.

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  • Cuba: Day 5 - Havana Modernism

    Feb 01, 2013

    Today we were treated to a day of Havana Modernism led by Cuban architect and historian Eduardo Luis Rodriguez. The author of numerous books on 20th century Cuban architecture, Eduardo Luis also curated Architecture and Revolution in Cuba, 1959-1969 at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York in 2004. We met up with Eduardo at the Colegio de Arquitectos (Institute of Architects, 1944-1947) at the corner of Humboldt and Infanta streets. Infanta is the broad street that delineates Centro Havana from Vedado. Eduardo Luis sees this building as one of the turning points toward modernism in Cuba. The current building replaced a neoclassical structure that used to stand on the same spot. To the left of the building is a later addition, the College of Architects’ Rental Office Building (1953-1956). This Miesian-inspired building is evidence of the Cuban architecture community’s participation in practices of international modernism, though the architects unfortunately did not consider the climate when incorporating a large façade of unshaded glazing in the design. Likewise, Eduardo Luis pointed out an apartment complex across the street done by the same architect who did the Bacardí building. Gone is the Art Deco emphasis on decoration in favor of a more streamlined design focused on rationalism.

    From this point we made our way up La Rampa (The Ramp), the nickname for an area of 23rd Street from its origin point at the Malecón up a number of blocks toward the center of Vedado. This section of the city is testament to the city’s commitment to modernism after World War II. We stopped first at the Seguro Médico (Medical Insurance) building (1956-1958), which now houses offices of the Ministry of Health. Designed by the firm Quintana, Rubio y Pérez Beato, the building won a Gold Medal from the Institute of Architects. We were lucky to be granted access to the two entry lobbies of the building, one that leads to the tower of apartments above, and the other that leads to the base area composed of offices. The architectural composition of the building, a tower-on-podium parti, is similar to SOM’s Lever House in New York. In the lobby to the apartments we saw Boomerang by Mariano Rodriguez, a mosaic mural that references the coming and going of the building’s inhabitants. The other lobby contains a mosaic mural by Wifredo Lam.

    We traveled up along La Rampa, enjoying a view of Juan Campos’s Pabellon Cuba (Cuba Pavilion), which was built in 1963 to house an international congress of architects, as well as terrazzo decorations incorporated in the sidewalk that were designed by a number of Cuban artists for the same congress. A number of us followed Eduardo Luis up a staircase at the Hotel Habana Libre (formerly Havana Hilton, 1958 by Welton Becket and Associates with Nicolás Arroyo and Gabriela Menéndez), we found ourselves on a sidewalk in the sky. An interesting proposition of urban design, mirrored on the other side of the street, this section of La Rampa has a street level sidewalk and an elevated sidewalk, creating twice the walking space and twice the retail opportunities.

    We moved on, passing through the block that contains Coppelia (1966), an amazing example of Revolutionary architecture for the people. The Revolutionary government inherited a cleared city block here, and they took this valuable space and devoted it to an ice cream parlor that can seat more than 1000 people. In more prosperous times Coppelia offered more than 30 different flavors, and although the selection is much smaller now, Cubans can still enjoy a trip to Coppelia for only a few pesos.

    After boarding the bus, we headed to Plaza de la Revolución, where we had a few minutes to walk the giant paved central plaza to take photos. The plaza was conceived in the Republican period under J.C.N. Forestier in 1925 as a civic square to be landscaped and filled with vegetation and benches in the center area and surrounded by government buildings. The project faced many difficulties and it wasn’t until the 1950s that the famous Monument to José Martí was built, the design of which is a hybrid of two designs submitted in competitions for the monument. In 1959 the Revolutionary government started using the square as a gathering place, one of the reasons why it was never landscaped.

    One of the many buildings surrounding the square is the Office of the Comptroller, designed by Aquiles Capabianca and built in 1953. The same year the building was awarded a Gold Medal by the Institute of Architects. The building is now perhaps more famous for the Che Guevara portrait added in 1962 than for the architecture underneath, an impressive example of modernism designed with attention to the climate.

    The afternoon was filled with a number of visits to mid-century houses, some of which we could only view from the bus. One of the houses we visited was the Residence of Isabel and Olga Pérez Farfante. Any early work by Frank Martinez, Eduardo Luis told us how Martinez used to drive through Cerro, a neighborhood full of neoclassical buildings, as he worked to develop his personal style. Thus, the center area that connects the two apartments can be seen as a reinterpretation of the interior courtyard of Cuban colonial houses.

    A highlight for many was the House of Alfred Schulthess (1956), designed by Richard Neutra with associated architects Raúl Alvarez and Enrique Gutiérez. Built for a Swiss banker, it is now the home of the Swiss Ambassador to Cuba. We passed under the spider-leg covered walkway (originally rendered in wood to complement the wood elements of the façade), and enjoyed an interior visit. We had time to walk through the gardens, which were designed by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

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  • Cuba: Day 6 - Post-Revolution Architecture in Havana

    Jan 31, 2013

    We had already seen one of the three “Proyectos Grandes” of the early years of the Revolution when we saw Habana del Este. Today we were going to see the other two: CUJAE (Ciudad Universitária José Antonio Echeverria (1959-1965) and the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte (1959-1964). That the three “Proyectos Grandes” were a social housing project and two universities reinforces the Revolutionary governments emphasis on housing and education. We first visited CUJAE, where Dr. Jorge Peña Diaz, professor in the architecture department, gave an introductory presentation on the architecture of the university and the current work of the university. Looking at the architecture it was apparent how the architects embraced the creative possibilities of using modular building systems. The campus really is like a city, with covered walkways (to protect against rain) connecting buildings and creating sheltered areas for students to gather and interact.

    Before lunch we made a quick stop at the Reparto Abel Santamaria, an area of a neighborhood composed of circular houses and a circular market. We had the opportunity to enter the market building, where Osmin explained to us how Cubans by food with their ration cards.

    For many of us, we had been looking forward to our visit to the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte (Nacional Schools of Art) before the trip started and the lived experience did not disappoint. The visit was all the more memorable thanks to Universo Garcia, the architect in charge of restoring the schools who accompanied us throughout the campus. This campus was quite a contrast to CUJAE. While the architecture of CUJAE is cohesive and based on a modular system, at the National Schools of Art the different schools are spread out across the land and rendered in highly individual and expressive styles often reliant on traditional building techniques. We first visited the School of Plastic Arts, designed by Ricardo Porro, who also designed the School of Modern Dance and was the lead designer of the project. Universo described how Porro’s design for the School of Plastic Arts was an homage to Cuban roots, and he looked to African villages and the Santería goddess of fertility. The school has been beautifully restored, and Universo described the various interventions made in the restoration and his hope for future maintenance.

    We then moved on the School of Music, designed by Vittorio Garratti, an Italian architect that Porro had befriended while at Carlos Villanuevas’s office in Caracas, Venezuela. A visit to the School of Music allowed us to see how much had been done with the restoration of the School of Plastic Arts. The beautiful Catalan roof vaults there were a sharp contrast to the School of Music, where we saw the roofs crumbling because of the tile delamination.

    We then visited Garratti’s other contribution, the School of Ballet, which was near completion when Alicia Alonso, head of the National Ballet, declared that the school was unfit and the company would not move there. Visiting this school was an adventure, as we had to cross a half-collapsed bridge to get to the school. This school was the most haunting to me, with large cavernous openings for practice areas, and curving hallways punctuated by openings in the ceiling that let in disorienting strips of light.

    Our final visit was to the School of Modern Dance, also designed by Porro (we were unable to visit the fifth school, the School of Dramatic Arts). This school also reminded me of an African village, though I’m not sure if this was Porro’s intention. Like the School of Plastic Arts, this school is still being used, and we could here music coming from some of the classrooms, and students were presumably training inside.

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  • Cuba: Day 7 - Las Terrazas and Soroa

    Jan 30, 2013

    Today we headed west out of Havana about an hour and a half to the province of Pinar del Rio. We stopped first at Soroa, an interesting example of the Revolutionary government’s new approach to tourism—“Cuba for Cubans.” The emphasis was on creating affordable vacation spots, largely focused on nature, for everyday Cubans, rather than catering to foreigners. The Soroa Tourist Complex (1960) was one such effort. A modest workers’ vacation village, Soroa is composed of small, connected cabins with steeply pitched roofs. In the center is a ranchon, an open, thatched structure that functions as a social space where people can have drinks and listen to music and dance. 

    For me, the highlight of the day was visiting the built community of Las Terrazas. The Sierra del Rosario was an area that had been devastated by subsistence farming and deforestation for lumber and charcoal. In the early 1960s the government initiated a program to restore the environment and attract tourism. To house the community members working in this area the government sponsored the construction of a settlement using the Novoa prefabrication system. The system is composed of pieces small enough to be carried by two or four men, allowing it to be a community built by its inhabitants.

    Adjacent to the residential area of the community is Hotel Moka, built to accommodate ecotourism. The hotel was designed to accommodate a giant tree that grows up through various floors of the hotel.

    We enjoyed lunch at
    Cafetal Buena Vista (1801), the main building of a coffee plantation that has been restored and now functions as a restaurant. It was established by a French family who fled Haiti during the Revolution and was a working plantation until the 1940s. We visited areas that have been recently cleared to reveal the coffee bean drying platforms and slave barracks. 

    We hurried back to Havana with the hopes of getting to visit a few places that we couldn’t fit in our itinerary in previous days. First we stopped at the House of José Gomez Mena (1927), which has housed the Museum of Decorative Arts since it opened in the 1960s. Yosvanis Fornaris, who works at the museum and is also pursuing a graduate degree in Art History at the University of Havana, gave us a tour of the collection. The collection underscored how committed the Cuban elite were to collecting fine things from around the work.

    We finished the day at the House of Juan Pedro Baró (1927), where we were impressed by the Lalique interiors we found when we passed beyond the Italian Renaissance style exterior designed by Govantes y Cabarrocas. The house is complemented by gardens designed by J.C.N. Forestier.   

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  • Cuba: Day 8 - Last Day in Havana

    Jan 29, 2013

    Today we toured Cemeterio de Colon (Colon Cemetery) in Vedado. Built between 1871-1886, the cemetery followed the plan devised by Spaniard Calixto de Loire. Designed with two main streets on a central axis, the cemetery is a gridded mini-city of the dead.

    We saw some familiar names, such as the Baró-Lasa Mausoleum. Besides hiring Lalique to do the interiors of his house he also commissioned the atelier to design a mausoleum for his wife, Catalina Lasa, who was reportedly the most beautiful women in Cuba. Theirs was a scandalous relationship—they had an adulterous relationship before they divorced their respective spouses.

    We then moved on the Tropicana cabaret in the neighborhood of Marianao. Owner Martín Fox decided that he needed an indoor stage, so he wouldn’t have to cancel the show every time it rained. He commissioned architect Max Borges Jr., who designed what came to be known as the Arcos de Cristal (Crystal Arches). Awarded a Gold Medal by the Institute of Architects after its completion in 1951 the structure is evidence of Borges’s fascination with concrete vaults (he was influenced by time spent with Felix Candela). The series of vaults decrease in size as they approach the stage and are all slightly offset from one another. These gaps were glazed and at night outdoor lights illuminated the palms and other vegetation for visitors to see from the inside. In addition, the vaults were painted black, with tiny pinpoint lights that created the illusion that perhaps the audience was seated outdoors. Fox also commissioned Borges to create an outdoor sage, Bajo las Estrellas (Under the Stars), the following year, and a casino a few years later. Unfortunately, we were prohibited from taking photography inside the cabaret.

    Fountain of the Muses, by Italian artist Aldo Gamba, was originally located outside of the Casino Nacional. When it closed in 1952, Martín Fox bought the fountain and had it installed outside of the Tropicana. 

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  • Cuba: Day 9 - Cienfuegos

    Jan 28, 2013

    This morning we bid farewell to our headquarters in Havana, the Hotel Nacional, and embarked on the segment of the trip that would take us more than 500 miles through the eastern part of the island to Santiago de Cuba. We headed southeast on the National Highway, passing through predominantly non-urban areas. Along the way we were able to see various types of housing. As we moved further from the city we saw less apartment buildings and more single-family dwellings. Most of these were basic designs, though always suited to the climate. Almost all houses had some or many aspects that would maximize shade and ventilation in order the keep the interiors cool.

    We were headed first to Cienfuegos, the third largest port in Cuba, and of these the only one located on the Caribbean side of the island. Because of its location it has always been an important port, which helped promote the development of the city. Access to the national railroad system in the mid-nineteenth century only encouraged its growth. The present city is a grid design and we entered the city via a main avenue. Like Havana, this avenue was lined with structures with porticoes, creating shaded walkways for city inhabitants.

    First we stopped at Parque Martí (Martí Park), the main square in the city. Though the park now exhibits an early Republican design, the importance of this spot dates much further back as it is the spot where the first settlement was pronounced and used to be the Plaza de Armas. After awhile I have come to find a sort of harmonious relationship between the colonial architecture and the prolific amount of political propaganda throughout the country.

    We first visited the Teatro Tomás Terry (Tomás Terry Theater), built in 1895. Inside we encountered an amazing performance space, and were fortuitous enough to arrive in time to hear the end of a group of students practicing. The design ingeniously incorporated a moving auditorium floor, which can be raised to the same level of the stage to transform the theater into an expansive ballroom. It’s easy to see the relationship between Terry, the namesake of the theater, and the history of Cienfuegos. Terry made his fortune off of the goods coming into this port city—the slave trade in his case. He then imported steam engines into the country (he was one of the first to do this) in order to power his mills on his sugar estates. In addition, he also worked to develop the region via the implementation of a railroad.

    On the adjacent side of the square we visited the Palacio Ferrer (c. 1900), though we only had a quick peak inside as the building is undergoing renovations. This structure, now a cultural center, was originally built as the mansion of José Ferrer Sirés, a powerful sugar magnate. Note the spiral staircase leading to the top of the cupola, which provides a panoramic view of the city and which we unfortunately could not climb.

    We then traveled on to the area known as Punta Gorda (Fat Point), a district developed by the wealthy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One such building was where we had lunch, Palacio del Valle (1912), which now functions as a restaurant. As Monty pointed out, the house is actually more Mughal than Moorish, despite the owner’s wishes for an Islamic-style mansion, with Venetian, Gothic, and French Baroque details incorporated as well. The design is truly visually over-stimulating, everywhere you look there is some sort of decoration, perhaps two incongruous designs juxtaposed. Though very eccentric, and surely not to everyone’s taste, none could complain about the view from the terrace on the top of the palace.

    After lunch we took a leisurely walk through part of the Punta Gorda district. Though the sun was hot, it was worth it to see some of the summer homes built by Cienfuegos’ wealthy that still line the coast. Many were built predominantly of wood and were painted in a wide array of colors. These houses made me think of the inter-Caribbean architectural dialogue that must have existed. Various details of these houses reminded me of what I have also seen in other Caribbean islands, such as Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, and I’m sure connections could be made to other islands I have not yet visited.

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  • Cuba: Day 10 - Trinidad, Valle de los Ingenios, Sancti Spiritus

    Jan 27, 2013

    We woke up this morning in Playa Ancon (Ancon Beach), located a short ride to the center of Trinidad. One of the seven settlements established by Diego Velázquez, the town initially thrived off of gold and although this quickly dried up, Trinidad enjoyed a prosperous past as a port city. Like many other cities in Cuba, Trinidad enjoyed a surge in prosperity with the development of sugar cultivation in the surrounding area.

    On our morning walking tour of the city we first passed through a landscaped square. You could feel the city waking up as people bustled through the square to work, or met up with friends to converse. 

    In the early 20th century nobody thought much of Trinidad and since the port had silted up in the mid-19th century poverty had ensured that the urban landscape did not change. With the neo-colonial movement in the 1930s people started paying attention to Trinidad as an architecturally important site and its preservation history is as old and robust as that of Old Havana. In fact, Trinidad is celebrated as Cuba’s most fully preserved early colonial town.

    Houses in Trinidad have two common characteristics: tall windows protected by wooden rejas, or grills, and decoratively carved roof rafters that appear on the outside of the structure under the eaves.

    We made our way to the Plaza Mayor, which used to be the Plaza de Armas but now boasts 20th century landscaping. There we viewed the exterior of many buildings, including the 1894 Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad (Church of the Holy Trinity). Built on the site of an earlier church that was destroyed in a storm, the current church has a rather austere façade.

    On an adjacent side of the square is Casa Sánchez Iznaga (House of Sánche Iznaga), which was home to families of the same name who were sugar barons in the area. The Sánchez Iznaga family owned the nearby Manaca Iznaga sugar estates. Built in 1710, but with additions made as late as the 19th century, the structure now houses the Museum of Architecture, which is part a museum of detailed explanation of architectural history in Cuba and part house museum. The central room one enters into in the house shows how the house may have appeared in the 19th century. It contains a chandelier from France, flooring and a center table made from Italian marble, and Meissen porcelain, but the ceiling is undeniably Cuban. Beautifully carved roof trusses such as these are a characteristic of colonial architecture throughout the island, some of which were painted. Other parts of the house contained the modern amenities the family enjoyed in the 19th century, such as a gas lighting system, flush toilet, and shower.

    After lunch in Trinidad we set off for Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills). This was one of the first in Cuba to be cultivated for sugar in the late 17th century, partly due to the very rich soil and easy access to slaves because of Trinidad’s trade connections to Jamaica. Sugar production was later industrialized and the Valley is now scattered with the remains of sugar plantations, some in better shape than others. We first tried to visit Hacienda Buena Vista, which Monty had visited in the past. It has suffered so much deterioration that we had a hard time even locating it, and then could not visit due to an impossible road for our bus. However, Monty shared good news that this site is slated for restoration. We did visit Manaca Iznaga, the sugar plantation run by the same family who owned the home that now houses the Museum of Architecture. One of the most architecturally interesting features of this estate was the large tower that was used to oversee the activities on the estate. In this way, overseers could keep track of slaves and their labor and better coordinate the movement of cut cane, and movement of goods to and from the railroad. 

    In the afternoon we made a quick stop in Sancti Spiritus, another of the seven settlements of Diego Velázquez. On the way in to the town we passed fields of garlic and onions, and Osmin informed us that Sancti Spiritus is famous throughout the island for its onions of incomparable flavor. We admired Parroquial Mayor del Espiritu Santo (High Church of the Holy Spirit), a 17th century church, and then moved on to Plaza Central (Central Square), though the aspect of our visit to Sancti Spiritus that left the strongest impression on me was our walk up the main commercial street. Although the vegetable market was closed (we all wanted to see one), it was great experience to move through the streets with all of the locals who were out shopping, conducting business, or hanging out with friends.

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  • Cuba: Day 11 - Camagüey, Bayamo and Santiago de Cuba

    Jan 26, 2013

    Many people have asked me what cities I found to be the highlights of the trip. Although I enjoyed every one of them, it was not hard for me to come up with a “Top 3” list. Without a doubt, Havana is at the top of this list for me and Camagüey also holds another spot. I think I loved Camagëy so much for a number of reasons. The first is the friendliness of everyone I met there. I had read that Camagüey is considered by many to be “the most Cuban of Cuban cities.” Not quite sure what this meant, I asked the driver of a bicycle taxi and after thinking for a moment he confirmed my observations, that perhaps it is because camagueyanos are friendlier and enjoy life more than people in any other city. The second reason is that we just came from Trinidad, a city that, while beautifully preserved, is now very touristy and lots of inhabitants work their hardest to make some money off of the tourists that pass through. In Camagüey it was easy to just enjoy the city, and a very clean city at that! And finally, and this has little to do with the city itself, my experience of the city was enhanced by how we saw it, by taking a bicycle taxi tour of the city! A horde of bicycle taxis gathered around the corner of our hotel, and two by two we mounted our transportation. We whizzed through the streets, the drivers joking and laughing with one another and jockeying for position in a playful manner, even when they were battling an incline.

    Our taxis took us to many stops, one of which was the Parque Agramonte (named after a local hero of the wars of independence) where we entered the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Candelaria Santa Iglesia (Cathedral of Our Lady of Holy Candelmas). Older church structures existed in this space and over time parts have been added and subtracted to result in the church that stands today. Its current form is heavily indebted to an enlargement in 1864. The interior of the church was breathtaking, with ceilings painted in a beautiful Art Nouveau pattern.

    Like Trinidad, many of the colonial houses in Camagüey have tall windows with grills and decoratively carved roof rafters.

    After we left Trinidad we made a short stop in Bayamo, yet another of the seven settlements of Diego Velázquez. Our visit was focused on the main town square and the next square over, which contains the Catedral del Santisima Salvador (Cathedral of the Holy Savior). Constructed in 1869, this church also contains a chapel from 1630. One of the most interesting features of the church is its painted decoration. The church contains a series of paintings that show the importance of the church in the wars of independence. One depicts a historical scene of the father of the church blessing the first Cuban flag during the wars of independence.

    Our last stop of the day was quite an adventure, and surely no other group except an SAH Study Tour puts this on their itinerary! We drove slowly through small towns and climbed higher into the mountains. The looks from the people on the street confirmed that we were definitely off of the normal tourist path. Our destination was the Forestry Research Station, designed by Walter Betancourt and built 1969-1971. Monty talked about Betancourt before we arrived and told us how this Cuban-born architect studied in the U.S. and turned down a position at Taliesin West to return to Cuba to build for the Revolution. We were prepared for some Frank Lloyd Wright influence, but I think were all surprised by the extent of it when we reached the site. 

    After this we traveled on to Santiago de Cuba, arriving under the cover of darkness and wondering what sort of city would be reveled to us in daylight.

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  • Cuba: Day 12 - Santiago de Cuba

    Jan 25, 2013

    They say there is a big rivalry between Santiago and Havana, and habaneros would most likely dismiss Santiago as the second city, the second to Havana in population, and second in everything else, including baseball! It didn’t take long for me determine that Santiago was one of the three in my “Top 3” list, and I wouldn’t say that Santiago is second to anything. A vibrant, beautiful city, Santiago is often characterized as the most Caribbean of Cuba’s cities, partly due to its size and location, which over time have attracted immigrants from other Caribbean islands. We had now visited all of seven settlements of Diego Velázquez!

    We started our day at the Office of the City Conservator where the City Conservator, Omar López Rodríguez, gave us an introductory presentation of the history of Santiago and current efforts of the Conservator’s Office. With the new knowledge we were well equipped to head out and experience the city.

    Our first stop was Parque Céspedes (Céspedes Park), formerly the Plaza de Armas. This has to be one of the most intriguing squares I have ever visited in my life. Within the four sides of the square one can find architecture from all periods and in various styles. Likewise, the square is interesting in that it is the seat of religious power and civil power in the city as it houses the main church and city hall. We first visited the Casa de Don Diego de Velázquez, which makes the claim of being the oldest house in Cuba and now functions as a museum of living. Though the house has surely undergone many renovations and additions, colonial characteristics of the structure still predominate, from 16th century details to the 19th century mediopuntos (stained glass arched windows found above windows or doors). Here Omar expounded upon some of the traditional building techniques used in Santiago to deal with the seismic activity as the city is located on the same tectonic plates as Haiti (though this system of building is not used exclusively throughout the Velázquez house). A system of woven sticks of various sizes, packed with hay, rocks, clay, and other material, is then plastered, which creates strong walls that are flexible enough to give with seismic activity, rather than collapse. 

    Within the square we also admired el Ayuntamiento (City Hall), which despite its appearance, dates to the 1950s. Its older appearance is due to the fact that though built in the 20th century, the designs for this building date to the 18th century.

    The City Hall is an interesting counterpoint to the Banco Nacional de Cuba (National Bank), as the two were built contemporaneously. Designed by Enrique Luis Varela, this bank represents Santiago’s position as Cuba’s second major financial center.

    As we walked up one of the streets that leads out of the square we stopped for a moment in an 18th century building that now serves as headquarters for Santiago’s branch of the Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas Cubanos (National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists). We rested for a moment in the courtyard while Omar explained traditional systems of water collection in Santiago. Unlike other cities, like Camagüey, where water is collected and stored in large tinajones, or jugs, it was more common in Santiago for water to be collected from the roof and run through a series of pipes to el aljibe, the cistern. This house had a large cistern, the size of the patio in fact, that was 8 meters deep. Because most of the yearly rain comes all at once in Santiago, large containers are needed to hold the water that must last throughout the year.

    We hopped on the bus to another part of town to see the Moncada Barracks. Built in the 1930s there is an Art Deco feel to this structure, though this structure is more famous for the attack upon it made by Fidel Castro and 72 rebels on July 26, 1953. The bullet holes are still apparent, maintained in this state so that all can remember the first actions of the revolution.

    Equally interesting are the surrounding structures, officers’ housing made out of wood, which Monty states were reportedly prefabricated in Mississippi and exported to Santiago. Though we often noted similarities between Cuban architecture and that of the Gulf States, particularly New Orleans, it was often in reference to pre-20th century structures. This was an interesting example of how this relationship continued into the 20th century.

    Our day continued in the neighborhood of Vista Alegre, a neighborhood developed for the well-to-do of Santiago. The architect of this urban planning created 15 by 45 meter plots, though many families bought all of the lots within one block to have more space. The original owner of the first house we visited, Casa de Don Pepe Bosch, was an immigrant from Catalan who worked with an engineer to create the company that was responsible for electrifying the neighborhood and for laying the tracks for the trolley in the city.

    We then visited the University of Oriente Rectorate (1956) by Eduardo Cañas and Nujim Nepomeche. This huge structure is split into two sections of room by an impressive winding staircase that has beautiful terrazzo floors on the ground level. The left side of the stairwell supports more public functions, and contains the cafeteria and theater. The right side of the stairwell in composed of offices.

    One of our last visits of the day was to the José Martí Housing Complex (1964-1967). The Soviet Union donated a factory, located in Santiago, to produce prefabricated building components to Cuba in 1964. The factory produced pieces for the “Gran Panel” system, which has been used throughout the country, though the Martí Housing Complex is an impressive example and considered to be one of the more successful examples of the “Gran Panel” system. Omar explained how the components were brought to the site, and how they have grooves that are used to fit the pieces together. Many of the types of component pieces are very transparent, essentially walls that are decorative screens. It was particularly interesting to see how the inhabitants have transformed these screens over time, many filling in the openings for more privacy and security, but probably at the price of letting in cooling breezes. 

    I should also note that during out visit to Santiago we became very aware of the devastating effects Hurricane Sandy had on the city. Already faced with many challenges in restoring and preserving a city full of so many historical buildings, the Office of the City Conservator is now presented with even more projects in the wake of the storm. Omar provided us with some numbers to give us an idea of what the city had to recover from: more than 15,000 structural collapses and more that 30% of the city’s trees were lost. We witnessed this as we traveled throughout the city as well as seeing many positive images of the cleanup and rebuilding efforts that are already in action.

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  • Cuba: Day 13 - Birán and Holguín

    Jan 24, 2013

    Today was our departure day, and we left Santiago for the airport in Holguín. We first stopped at a cemetery in town to see the Mausolem of José Martí. This visit could not have been planned better as we coincidentally arrived at the moment when the changing of the guard was taking place.

    Along the way we stopped at Finca Manacas, the birthplace of Fidel Castro, which is located just outside of Birán. The house, a bit startling with its bright yellow paint and blue accents, has a layout typical of many Caribbean manors. Large double doors open wide into a central hall that runs to the back of the building, which also opens up, allowing for maximum cross ventilation. Two rooms are located off of each side of the central room. Like other Caribbean and Southern U.S. dwellings, the main living quarters are raised above the ground.

    Out near the front of the complex are bohíos, traditional Cuban thatched huts. The walls are made of supports with strips woven through and the structure is capped with a pitched roof made of thatch from the royal palm. This is where the workers of the farm, who were often immigrants, lived. 

    Sadly, our next stop was the airport in Holguín. Though we had said our thanks and made some toasts at the farewell dinner the night before, some things deserve to be repeated in this blog. All of us on the trip are indebted to Monty for organizing this trip and sharing his knowledge with us. He took us places that no other trip would ever go, evidence of his longstanding love for discovering the architectural treasures of this island. Likewise, we are thankful to SAH for sponsoring this trip. We were told that this trip sold out in only 6 or 7 minutes and there were no problems filling the second trip as well. All of us who were lucky enough to secure a spot on the trip and experience this adventure now see that the demand for this trip was well deserved. On a personal note, I am very grateful to have had the honor of participating on this trip as the student fellowship participant. I met intelligent, wonderful people on the trip with whom I had the privilege of sharing these experiences and exchanging thoughts about what we encountered. I visited sites and buildings that I would not be able to gain access to were I traveling on my own, and the cost of a trip of this scope is something a graduate student like myself could only dream of undertaking sometime in the distant future. As I look forward to finishing my degree in the near future I know that this trip—the experiences, the new friends, the knowledge gained—will be a highlight of my graduate student experience and will help me define myself in as I look toward my personal and professional future.

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  • Delhi: Day 11

    Jan 08, 2012
    by Gretta Tritch Roman on January 8, 2012

    Our last morning in Delhi was free, and I took the opportunity to visit some of the older sites in the city. Beginning at the Claridges Hotel, I walked to Safdar Jung’s Tomb, the resting place of a Lucknow nawab who moved to Delhi in his later years. The model of Humayun’s Tomb was certainly evident in the complex, but the more interesting factors were definitely the Lucknow ornamental touches. The site, not attracting the numbers of people that many of the Mughal sites attract, was a nice reprieve from masses of people we had seen at Qutb Minar or even Humayun’s Tomb in the late evening.

    Safdar Jung's Tomb

    I next walked just down the road to the Lodhi Gardens, a complex of tombs, mosques, and gardens that proved to be more popular with early morning walkers. I wandered through much of complex, seeing the major monuments and noticing what Anubha had described to us the day before. The British colonials had cleared all of the fabric around the monuments so that they sat in these gardens, something like follies in an English garden.

    Lodhi Gardens

    From here, what I thought would be a short walk to Purana Qila turned out to be quite a long distance. Nevertheless, I made it to the site and found it and the adjacent zoo packed with people.

    Purana Qila

    Sher Mandal, Purana Qila

    In the afternoon, our group rejoined to go to the Delhi Haat, a designed bazaar that provides a wonderful venue for various craftsmen and craftswomen to sell their products. The variety and quality of crafts was amazing, and I noticed that people had traveled from quite a distance (even Tamil Nadu in the south of India) to sell items here.

    Delhi Haat

    We returned to the hotel for a farewell dinner. The conversations and speeches were full of reminiscences of the past two weeks: we had shared in such incredible adventures, had survived a mini-”plague,” had endured hours on various transportation vehicles, had seen and been inside buildings many of us never thought we would see. And through it all, as Adnan pointed out in his toast, the group remained cheerful and easy-going. It was an experience that I wouldn’t dare condense in just a few short adjectives. I met some of the most incredible people on this trip who shared their thoughts and observations of the things we saw and were graciously interested in mine, too. I felt extraordinarily fortunate every minute of the trip to be with so many thoughtful intellectuals and to share in the experiences and sights. Many toasts were made this evening, all deserving. Two, in particular, deserve to be repeated here. Cheers and many, many thanks to Adnan and Anubha for organizing the trip, for spending such generous amounts of their time, expertise, and efforts in planning, and for their patience and enthusiasm in guiding us through the tight streets and expansive complexes. And, an incomparable thank you to SAH and those who have contributed to the Scott Opler Foundation for making this tour possible for a graduate student and providing an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had for many more years if ever, I am sure.

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Marsha J. McDonald, Florida International University

Marsha is currently completing her post-professional architectural studies at Florida International University. She is investigating the translation of culture and cultural identity in the built environment, particularly in the regions of the Caribbean and Latin America.  Marsha also completed her professional architectural education which resulted in a Master’s of Architecture degree, from Florida International University.

As a critical voice in the areas of Cultural Architecture and Spatial Design, her research investigates how an individual’s sense of identity affect their interiors and on a macro scale, how newly formed nations of the Caribbean and Latin America shape their cultural landscapes, in the early to mid-twentieth century. Her investigations focuses on how these Caribbean and Latin American nations go through the process of decolonization, as a part of nation-building, by either maintaining or rejecting their relationship with the past. This process is the basis of the emergence of new meanings and a modern narrative which facilitates new spatial representations in their cultural landscapes.  She is recently presented a paper on “Decolonized Spaces: New Spatial Representation in the Post-Colonial British Caribbean” at a local conference. 

SAH Study Day - Columbus, Indiana

Joss Kiely, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Michigan

Joss Kiely is a Ph.D. candidate in architectural history and theory at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He received a B.A. in French and architectural studies from Connecticut College, as well as a Master of Architecture and an M.Sc. in architectural history and theory at the University of Michigan with a thesis entitled, Alternative Architectures of Italian Futurism: War, Lust, Flight, and Dance, 1909-39. His current research focuses on defining a latent "aerialism" that developed during the jet age of air travel in the 1950s and 1960s, specifically focusing on a handful of thin shell concrete structures designed by Minoru Yamasaki, Eero Saarinen, and Felix Candela.

SAH Study Day - MoMA

Emily Morash, Visiting Instructor, Connecticut College; Ph.D. Candidate, Brown University

Emily Morash is a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University in the History of Art and Architecture as well as a visiting instructor in architectural studies at Connecticut College. She received a B.A. in art history and Italian from Smith College and a master’s degree in architectural history from the University of Virginia. She is currently completing a dissertation, Reconstructing Italian Domestic Architecture: Gio Ponti and Lo Stile, 1941-1947, that examines the development of domestic architecture and reconstruction solutions in Milan during and immediately following World War II.

SAH Study Day - Los Angeles

Alex Tulinsky, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Washington

Alex Tulinsky is a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington in the Ph.D. in the Built Environment, history-theory-representation track. He earned his M.S. in Architecture (history/theory) from the University of Pennsylvania and has a B.A. in political theory from Michigan State University. His dissertation examines residential architecture in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, specifically the small urban house as designed and theorized by three architects: Azuma Takamitsu, Miyawaki Mayumi, and Suzuki Makoto. Recently he has been living in Los Angeles.

SAH Study Day - Skyscraper Museum's "The Woolworth Building @ 100"

Sarah Rovang, Ph.D. Candidate, Brown University

Sarah is a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University in the History of Art and Architecture. She received her BA in architectural history from the University of Virginia in 2010. Her prospective dissertation examines the intersection of modernism and rural electrification efforts (particularly those of the Rural Electrification Administration) during the New Deal. She will be taking a break from her predominantly rural topic this summer to teach a high school course at Brown on the history of skyscrapers. 

SAH Study Tour to Cuba - 1

Erica Morawski, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois - Chicago

Erica N. Morawski is a Ph.D. candidate in art History at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She received a BA in art history at Tulane University and MA in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba.” This work investigates the role of hotels in shaping understandings of national identity, which in turn shaped international relationships, through an approach that systematically ties object and image analysis with social, political, and economic histories. Her work argues that these hotels functioned, and continue to function, like diplomatic cultural attachés—their design shaped politics on the islands, and played a decisive role in shaping past and current international relations.

Three Capitals Tour: New Delhi, Chandigarh, and Dhaka

Gretta Tritch Roman, Ph.D. Candidate, Penn State University

Gretta Tritch Roman is a Ph.D. candidate in art and architectural history at the Pennsylvania State University. She earned a Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Arkansas and her Master’s degree in art and architectural history at the Pennsylvania State University where she completed a thesis titled, “La mise en scène icarienne:  The Construal of Utopian Space in Nauvoo, Illinois, 1849-58.” Recently her research has focused on strategies of eclectic designs and the ways in which varying audiences respond to such buildings, opening discussions that have ranged from Lucknow, India, to Chicago, Illinois. Currently she is working on her dissertation under the working title, “Rivalry, Revivalism, and Ritual: Building the Grain Exchanges of the American Midwest, 1875-1930.”

Maison de Verre (Saturday)

Robert Wiesenberger, Columbia University

Robert is a rising second-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. His focus is on the history and theory of 20th century architecture and design, primarily in pre-war Germany. Visiting the Maison de Verre was especially exciting for him given his recent interest in 20th century architectural exchanges between Germany and France, and on the glass architecture of the avant-garde. Robert’s masters thesis examined Herbert Bayer’s exhibition design practice, and in particular his collaboration with László Moholy-Nagy on the 1931 Building Workers Union exhibition in Berlin. Robert holds a B.A. in History and Germanic Studies from the University of Chicago. He has worked at the design firms MetaDesign and Ammunition in San Francisco, and as an intern in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA. He is the recipient of a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education.

Mexico City Modernism

Amanda Delorey, Courtauld Institute of Art

Amanda Delorey is currently working on her PhD dissertation “The People v the State: Housing Architecture in Mexico City from Modernism to Contemporary Practices” at the Courtauld Institute of Art, funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation. She received her Master’s degree in Cultural Studies and Critical theory from McMaster University and a BFA in Criticism and Curatorial Studies from the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity

Nathaniel Walker, Brown University

Nathaniel R. Walker is a graduate student in the History of Art & Architecture Department at Brown University. He received his BA in History from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and his MA in Architectural History from the Savannah College of Art and Design, where his Master’s Thesis, entitled “Savannah’s Lost Squares: The Fight Over Savannah’s Town Plan and the Ascendance of Automobility,” received the Outstanding Graduate Thesis Document Award in 2007. Between his time in Savannah and his enrollment at Brown, Nathaniel worked very happily at Mitchell/Matthews Architects & Planners in Charlottesville, Virginia. With his Ph.D. studies, Nathaniel is working to build upon and broaden the scope of a number of the questions he raised while exploring competing conceptions of “Modernity” in 1920s Savannah. Specifically, he is interested in Utopian design and planning in the age of self-conscious “progress” and technological exhibitionism in art, literature, politics, and architecture. 

Civil Rights Memorial Tour

Martin Holland and additional fellowship awardees Grace Dubinson and Carey Shellman

Louis I. Kahn Tour

Amber Wiley and Jennifer Tobias on the Louis Kahn tour

Amber is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the George Washington University specializing in architectural history, urban history, and African-American cultural studies. She is the recipient of the 2010 AERA Minority Fellowship in Education Research and the 2008 SRI Foundation Research Fellow Scholarship for her dissertation “Concrete Solutions: Architecture of Public High Schools During the ‘Urban Crisis’” (Richard Longstreth, committee chair). She received her BA in Architecture from Yale University and her Master’s in Architectural History and Certificate in Historic Preservation from the University of Virginia. Amber sits on the board of directors of the Latrobe Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians and the Yale Black Alumni Association.