27 December 2007

Isamu Noguchi & Isamu Kenmochi

Round rattan chair designed by Isamu Kenmochi (left). A woven bamboo chair designed by Noguchi and Kenmochi working collaboratively (center). Kenmochi's Kashiwado Chair (right) was inspired by the stance of a sumo wrestler.
Uploaded by Andrew Raimist.

Noguchi and Kenmochi first met in Kenzo Tange's Tokyo University office in 1950. They worked together on a series of furniture projects of unusual design, materials, and craftsmanship. Although they collaborated for less than two years, the output of their work together is impressive. Kenmochi was technical officer of the Industrial Arts Research Institute (IARI) in Tokyo. An exhibition highlighting their work is presently on display at The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City (through 25 May 2008).

As described in the exhibition notice on the museum's website:
The two Isamus shared a similar mission: to create and design a universally exceptional object, something with an intrinsic beauty of simplicity that is grounded in the knowledge of natural materials but also combined with a vision and embrace of experimental techniques and materials. Based in Japanese traditions of design, they both understood that this shared mission needed to go beyond the mere exotic.
Other important works by Noguchi from this time period are included in the exhibition. In particular, the furnishings he created for the Shin Banraisha, or “New Welcoming Space,” (1951-52) at Keio University. Noguchi designed these spaces in honor of his estranged father Yonejiro Noguchi, a professor at the University. Unfortunately a few years ago, Keio University demolished the building that included this work, a classic design of Noguchi's encompassing architecture, sculpture, and furniture set in coordinated interior and exterior spaces.

“Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi” is on view through 25 May 2008 at The Noguchi Museum, 32-37 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, Queens; telephone: (718) 204-7088.

Noguchi & Yamaguchi, 1952-53

This image of Isamu Noguchi and Yoshiko Yamaguchi in Chuo Koron Gallery, Japan, 1952-53 is part of an exhibition entitled Design: Isamu Noguchi and Isamu Kenmochi.

Noguchi and Yamaguchi were married from 1952 to 1957. A prolific actress (also known in English as "Shirley Yamaguchi"), she was dubbed "The Gudy Garland of Japan". Unfortunately, they were both in demand in their respective fields resulting in substantial periods of time living separately. Yamaguchi was denied a visa to enter the United States resulting in more personal and professional difficulties. Although she was eventually permitted to enter the U.S., their relationship had been strained. Each artist made their work their highest priority making it difficult for them to resolve their temporal and geographic displacement from one another.

This photograph is part of an exhibit presently on display at The Noguchi Museum. The marble coffee table is on display along with other Noguchi furniture designs of the 1950s. His collaborations with Isamu Kenmochi form the nexus of the exhibit featuring rare, classic examples of their work from this period, some recreated especially for this presentation.

Archival image courtesy of The Noguchi Museum (photographer unknown).

11 November 2007

Noguchi -- Lunar Landscape, 1944

sculpture: Lunar Landscape.
sculptor: Isamu Noguchi.
materials: magnesite, cement, cork, fishing line, electric lights and acetate on wood mount.
dimensions: 34.5" high x 24.75" wide x 7.9" deep.
date: 1944.

Lunar Landscape is elaboration and development of his earlier model for a work of land art entitled This Tortured Earth. The implicit suggestion of the earth's surface serving as a metaphor for a body's flesh in that work becomes more specifically and graphically anthropomorphic here. In Lunar Landscape identifiable elements of human anatomy including such gendered attributes such as a woman's breasts, a pregnant belly, and a male phallus.

Colored light emanates from a series of slits in the surface of the work: a long thin slit across its top (perhaps suggesting a vaginal opening) as well as two diagonal slits across the protruding belly. Noguchi employed colored acetate to achieve the effects of colored light (red, yellow and blue) from these cuts into the surface of the work giving the impression that the colors emanate from within the body of the land itself.

The horizontal phallic element across the bottom of the work projects a clear white light back onto the surface. This element reappears in several of Noguchi's lunars. In each case the form projects outward from the surface and shines light back onto the surface creating a intensely back lit form silhouetted against strongly reflected light. It seems that a key aspect of Noguchi's concept of self-illuminated works of sculpture as "lunars" involves the reflection of light from a hidden source (just as the nighttime illumination of the moon glows with the light of the unseen sun).

Noguchi's suggestion that the surface of the work is comparable to the surface of the moon (or the earth) is supported by the small elongated divot on the left side that seems to have been caused by the impact of a ball-shaped object (such as an asteroid). The suspended cork spheres suggests such satellites, moons, planets or other such bodies in motion.

These spheres hang down from points of support projecting from the work's surface. They simultaneously suggest orbiting heavenly bodies while hanging distinctly downward reacting to the pull of gravity since the work is mounted vertically to a wall. This piece would not work properly mounted any other orientation. It certainly would lose its effectiveness if positioned horizontally as a kind of "table landscape" as some of his other landscape works of the period where after being cast in bronze (i.e., Contoured Playground of 1941 and This Tortured Earth of 1943).

While the connection between Noguchi's personal life experiences and his motivations for producing works of art may not correspond in a direct, explicit manner, it is difficult not to interpret his work in the context of his life's experiences. Some critics have argued strongly against such a reading of the critical themes of an artist's life in their artworks, however, Noguchi sometimes explains his work in exactly those terms, at least as part of the implicit context of and basis for interpreting his work.

Works such as My Arizona and This Tortured Earth are both explicit reactions to his experiences during World War II. The former work relates to his time as an internee at the War Relocation Center in Poston, Arizona in 1942. The latter work was specifically prompted by a photograph of the destructive impact on the earth of aerial bombardment in North Africa.

Lunar Landscape of 1944 seems to be a development of the forms and ideas begun in those two works of 1943. All were made from magnesite cement and offer an abstract interpretation of the earth in sculptural terms.

With regard to his confinement in Poston, Noguchi commented:
The memory of Arizona (Internment Camp, 1942) was like that of the moon, a moonscape of the mind . . . . Not given the actual space of freedom, one makes its equivalent -- an illusion within the confines of a room or a box -- where the imagination may roam to the further limits of possibilities, to the moon and beyond.
-- -- Isamu Noguchi, A Sculptor's World, 1968.
His thoughts suggest that his exploration of a sculpture of the moon's surface was a part of his
mental protection from the harsh realities of racism and militarism as he found in all of it's raw feelings of pain and sorrow. He enjoyed imagining of worlds beyond the earth (often directed toward the lunar surface) a place without the difficulties and horrors of the real world.

Archival image.

16 October 2007

Top 100 Architecture Blogs

We've been accorded the honor of being one of the top 100 architecture blogs in the category Musings. I'm not sure what criteria or on who's authority this decision has been made. Regardless, we'll celebrate the compliment.

10 September 2007

Memorial to the Dead of Hiroshima ("corrected")

Model for Memorial to the Atomic Dead, Hiroshima (unrealized proposal), 1952.

This image above is a composite of two photographs.

In this version of the montage have modified the top and bottom photographs to align with one another, particularly the lines of the two massive supports below ground with the legs of the arch above ground. In addition, the horizon line has been straightened to be level rather than sloping toward the left.

While these modifications of the montage are really quite subtle and don't change the essential idea being communicated, I've discovered several things about this memorial design that were otherwise obscure and unclear.

You can view an image of the overall site design here. This image of the site model reveals what appears to be a trapezoidal shaped slot in the ground plane. I have struggled to reconcile the slot admitting light to the underground chamber with this presentation of the design and have struggled to understand the relationship between the arch, the slot, and the memorial block located in the crypt.

Unable to resolve the seeming conflicting spatial arrangement suggested by the composite above and below ground image with the site model, I was only able to gain more insight into the design by breaking the two photographs apart. This approach to viewing the memorial design suggested itself to me when I recently discovered a Japanese publication of 1953 representing the work that Noguchi had assembled for exhibit there following his arrival there in June 1951.

Note: My research into the design of Noguchi’s Hiroshima memorial was stimulated and enriched by the following seminal article:
Winther, Bert. "The Rejection of Isamu Noguchi's Hiroshima Cenotaph: A Japanese American Artist in Occupied Japan". Art Journal, Vol. 53, No. 4, 'Sculpture in Postwar Europe and America, 1945-59' (Winter, 1994), pp. 23-27.

Archival image from Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space by Ana Maria Torres (New York: Monacelli Press, 2000).

Noguchi -- model for "Memorial to the Atomic Dead, Hiroshima" (above ground)

model for Hiroshima Memorial (unrealized proposal), 1952.

This photograph depicts the above ground portion of Noguchi's proposed memorial. You can view an image of the overall site design here.

This model represents the arch as one massive piece of carved granite. Realizing that such an arch was impossible to create on the site, Noguchi subsequently worked out in detail the construction, erection, and fabrication required for creating this monument as visible here.

I've found this image of the memorial to be compelling and powerful. While it seems to draw upon the parabolic arch shape of Eero Saarinen's design for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the Saint Louis riverfront, it clearly expresses an archaic, heavy weight of darkness. This character is a complete reversal of Saarinen's design emphasizing modern construction, materials, aerodynamics, and lightness.

The aspect of this photograph that has continually puzzled me is the juxtaposition of the massive arch with what I believed was a bowl-shaped funerary urn below it. Viewed in this manner, it seems to be a complete composition in itself. When the underground crypt is added it seems to replicate the honorary memorial of the urn.

I suspect I continued to view the shape below the arch as a freestanding urn based upon seeing the montaged image of the above and below ground sections simultaneously as well as the general blackness of the arch and the urn shape below it.

After examining these photographs more closely and comparing them to the other available images of the site model, I've come to realize that dark shape is not an urn at all! It is actually a trapezoidal (or rectangular) opening in the ground. Understanding the slot in the pavement in this manner begins to make more sense of the below ground view. That slot in the ground is the "skylight" focusing light upon the granite block below. Since the same slot is viewed from above and below in the montaged image and the two photographs aren't entirely aligned, it suggests two rather different objects.

Archival image from Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space by Ana Maria Torres (New York: Monacelli Press, 2000).

Noguchi -- model for Memorial to the Atomic Dead, Hiroshima" (below ground)

sculpture: model for Memorial to the Atomic Dead, Hiroshima (unrealized proposal), 1952.

This photograph depicts the below ground portion of the memorial. Two massive supports surround a central granite block inscribed with the names of the dead. The calligraphic symbol inscribed is for "Isamu" meaning "courage". Noguchi apparently added this inscription to the model after the design was rejected by the City of Hiroshima.

The stated reason for the memorial's rejection was that the design was too abstract for common people to understand as a place to pray. The actual reason the project was rejected was the fact of Noguchi's American citizenship. It was felt inappropriate to have an American design a monument for an act of horrific destruction perpetrated by Americans.

This photograph is almost always shown with an image of the above ground portion of the memorial design. There are several distortions and contradictions that are evident when the two images are viewed as if taken of a sectional view of a model depicting the above and below ground portions of a singular model.

One problem I've noticed is that in the typical montage shown, the massive concrete supports below ground are somewhat misaligned with respect to the memorial arch above. In correcting and adjusting the two images to fit together, I came to realize several things about the design.

I was always mystified by the trapeziodal opening admitting light to the below ground chamber containing the names of the dead. In Noguchi's design, the names were to have been inscribed on a massive granite block. The means of support for this block is vague at best. I could only assume it must be positioned up against a wall and supported in that manner, giving the illusion of a floating mass of black granite.

However, the trapezoidal skylight seemed positioned in a very particular manner to admit light from above to create a special aura. I couldn't imagine that Noguchi's design hadn't accounted for the position of the sun, shadows, times of day, and the seasons of the year.

I just couldn't reconcile the below ground image with the arch above. Investigating further offered more information, but additional complications.

Archival image from Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space by Ana Maria Torres (New York: Monacelli Press, 2000).

23 August 2007

Kirkwood Moderne For Sale

This Streamline Moderne home on South Geyer Road is presently for sale. While it has many characteristics of homes by Harris Armstrong, it was apparently not one of his designs.

The website with the real estate listing includes interior and exterior photographs. I encourage anyone interested in the house to visit and take a look for themselves.

In years past, the condition of the house (particularly the exterior white painted brick) was deteriorating, stained, and flaking. It has more recently been tuckpointed and repainted. The landscaping has been updated and it seems the overall condition of the house improved.

Photograph by Andrew Raimist, 2006.

11 August 2007

Shanley Building -- perspective

Uploaded by Andrew Raimist.

Armstrong's rendering of the Shanley Building is taken from a somewhat unusual point of view. The geometry of the construction puts the viewer just below the top of the wall. This is evident by the alignment of the horizon line (at the left and right sides of the background trees) and the three ventilation grilles located above the long horizontal strip of glass blocks leading from the planter on Maryland Avenue back to the cantilevered canopy over the inside corner entrance.

The position of the viewer horizontally is also far from coincidental as it aligns with the face of the floating garden wall. This view allow Armstrong to reveal both sides of this long narrow space leading from the sidewalk directly southward toward the entry. On your left as you enter the garden gate is a largely blank white stucco wall relieved by a long horizontal strip of glass blocks set flush with its surface. This line of glass gives the wall a sense of dematerialization by denying any visual suggestion of structural support for the portion of the wall above.

The three ventilation grilles punctuate this wall with a rhythm echoing the visual structural supports creating the illusion of a floating garden wall. The vents allow for fresh air between the interior ceiling and the shallowly sloped roof (hidden behind the flat parapet).

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

07 July 2007

Noguchi -- This Tortured Earth, 1943

sculpture: model for This Tortured Earth.
sculptor: Isamu Noguchi.
materials: bronze casting (of plaster or magnestite original)
dimensions: 28" x 28" x 4".
date: 1943.

Noguchi apparently said he'd conceived the piece after seeing an aerial photograph of a North African desert riddled with bombs. I can understand the literal destruction and idea for representing it, but I suspect there's much more angst in this work that addresses human interaction, behavior, hatred, violence, racism, and other forms of discrimination. I see this work as a abstract reconceptualization of his earlier, more literal image of a contoured, twisted human figure in Death (Lynched Figure) of 1934.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Sunday 7 December 1941), people of Japanese descent in the Western part of the United States were interred in relocation camps. Noguchi voluntarily left New York to work with the Japanese-American community. He made plans for crafts, parks, playgrounds, etc. for the settlement in Arizona where he was placed (Poston I). The government managers (Bureau of Indian Affairs because the settlement was located on Native American reservation) encouraged him to develop these plans for improving the life of the Nisei (people of Japanese descent born in the U.S.). Unfortunately, they had no intention of providing him with any assistance. It seems that Nisei viewed him with suspicion because of his cooperation with the government.

After enduring terrible living conditions, heat of 130 degrees F., people being made to construct their own dwellings, stuff their own mattresses, etc., he eventually decided to leave. At that point, his case came to the attention of Washington bureaucrats who opened an FBI file on him. He was refused permission to leave.

He eventually obtained a temporary pass to leave and returned to NYC. It is at that point that he began to develop works such as:
-- Monument to Heroes
-- My Arizona
-- Red Lunar Fist
-- I am a Foxhole

A more recent color photograph depicts this piece at a downward angle where it is positioned like a table.

Archival photograph by Kevin Noble.

Noguchi -- This Tortured Earth, 1943

sculpture: model for This Tortured Earth.
sculptor: Isamu Noguchi.
materials: bronze casting (from original in plaster or magnesite)
dimensions: 28" x 28" x 4".
date: 1942.

"The idea of sculpting the earth followed me through the years, with mostly playground models as metaphor, but then there were others. This Tortured Earth was my concept for a large area to memorialize the tragedy of war. There is injury to the earth itself. The war machine, I thought, would be excellent equipment for sculpture, to bomb it into existence."
-- Isamu Noguchi.

It's unclear whether Noguchi considered this model for a large scale earthwork sculpture to be considered metaphorically or as an actual proposal. The story is that he'd seen an aerial photograph of a bombed area in North Africa and was struck by the incredible malleability of the earth as a medium for three dimensional sculptural exploration. From the title and his comment regarding the "tragedy of war, it seems clear he saw this approach as an opportunity to make a statement about the destructiveness of war.

His rendering of the earth as a tortured surface suggests a living being that's been torn, damaged, and deformed as a human body might be following torture. It seems to draw upon the analogy common to many world cultures of the idea of the earth as a mother, as a source of life and regeneration. Noguchi explored these themes throughout his career in representational, symbolic, and abstract works.

Here is a link to an alternative view of this work looking directly downward on the model.

Archival photograph from The Noguchi Foundation, Inc..

05 July 2007

Noguchi -- My Arizona, 1943

Isamu Noguchi produced this abstract piece following his return from confinement at the Japanese-American internment camp in Poston, Arizona (from May through November 1942). It seems that he's attempting to use "pure abstraction" to express some very real, powerful emotions and perhaps to purge some of the harsh memories of his time there.

Although Noguchi initially volunteered to join other Nisei (American born Japanese Americans) at the camp in an effort to improve their living conditions, help set up programs for cultural awareness & development, and develop plans for community's future expansion and development. He pursued these objectives at the urging of some U.S. government officials. Ultimately, he realized the government had no intention in investing in the community or improving their living conditions. Instead he saw it for what it was: a concentration camp surrounded by high fences, barbed wire, security towers, and machine guns.

Once Noguchi put in a request to leave the camp, he then realized that even he was being confined against his will. It took many months for him to secure a temporary pass to leave the camp. On leaving the camp, he headed directly for New York, essentially having escaped imprisonment by the U.S. government.

Although Noguchi had done some explicitly social and political art in the past (such as the sculptural mural in a market in Mexico and his piece Death (Lynched Figure), he turned away from realism toward abstraction. At the same time, he turned from making works with explicit social or political content.

On his arrival in New York, he secured a secluded studio in Greenwich Village and set to work on new sculptural work. My Arizona is one of the early examples of his new commitment to abstraction and formal investigations.

Although the components of this four-square design seem on the surface "pure forms", they also appear to suggest strong emotive significance for Noguchi. One way to read this work is by examining and comparing it with a seemingly abandoned piece that may have been a predecessor for the base of this wall-hung work. Both pieces are visible in a photograph of Noguchi's studio by Andre Kertesz from the mid 1940s. The apparently earlier version has a similar overall structure (four square organization, but somewhat different details. Comparing the details and forms of each may be instructive toward understanding Noguchi's ideas for this work.

The addition of red plexiglas elements (one that is a square with a central circular opening and the other an element (perhaps symbolizing a heart?) at the apex of a hemispherical mound. A cone with an open top and a four-sided pyramid occupy the other two squares.

The two square corners and two rounded corners suggest a locus with a multiplicity of formal pressures. I read this compression of ideas and forms as an encapsulation of the confined landscape of the Poston internment camp as well as a symbolic representation of Noguchi's own experience in the form of a "psychological landscape".

I'll explore these themes further in additional posts.

Archival photograph by Michio Noguchi.

21 June 2007

You're invited to see my photographs . . .

Thank you to everyone who attended the opening of my exhibit of architectural photography at the Ethical Society. You are invited to visit it while it remains on display through August.

If you're able to see it, please let me know what you think. I'm most interested to hear people's reactions.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- skylight

View looking directly upward toward the ceiling in the main space of the Ethical Society. The dark circle in the center in the suspended light. The radiating lines are the structural glulam roof supports that join at the peak of the roof where a skylight admits daylight.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, November 2005.

Let the sun shine!

You are invited a talk on Harris Armstrong and an exhibit of architectural photography I'm having at the Ethical Society.

Summer Solstice talk

As Platform Speaker at the Ethical Society, Andrew Raimist will be speaking on "The Architecture of the Sun" on Sunday 24 June 2007 at 11am. The audio-visual presentation will address climate, sustainability, and solar issues in the architectural designs of Saint Louis' pioneer modern architect Harris Armstrong. In addition, music, refreshments, food, and other outdoor activities will follow the talk. The public is welcome to attend and enjoy an exhibit of architectural photographs by the speaker.

Architectural Photography exhibit

An on-going exhibition will have its opening following the talk. Featuring architectural photography in color and black & white by Andrew Raimist, the exhibit will present interpretations of the work of Harris Armstrong, other modernist architects, and selected examples of architectural excellence from the Midwest. A limited selection of framed, matted images will be available for purchase. The exhibit will be on display through 15 August.

I hope to see you there! Please feel free to forward this invitation to interested friends or post to your newsletter or blog.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, 2007.

Ethical Society -- south facade, 2005

A view of the main entries on the south face of the Ethical Society. In the center, between the two projecting glazed vestibules are a pair of concrete columns that also contain a fireplace. The chimney protrudes from the roof on axis with the roof peak.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- design model, 1961

A working model for Armstrong's Ethical Society. The design as built generally corresponds to the model, but with some slight differences.

The canopy at left, beyond the two glazed vestibules, was never constructed. The rounding of the educational wing at the top and bottom of the end walls is not present as built. The configuration of the reflecting pool isn't quite the same as built. The trellis elements aren't show around the main copper roof (they may have been omitted intentionally). Additionally, the overhangs around the main entry hall appear to be solid planes rather than a trellis. In the built version, the trellis wraps around the front (south) side and the rear (north) side, but stops where it intersects with the roof of each wing.

There seems to be an additional pair of columns at the main entry hall projecting the volume farther toward the south; this additional pair was eliminated in the constructed version. The separation between the main copper roof with its cantilevered brackets clearly wraps around the east, west, and south side continuously. In the way the roof was constructed, the juncture between the roof of the wings at each side isn't nearly as clear and distinct as indicated in the model.

The low fenced in area at the east end of the education wing was set aside as a children's play area. The design of the fence depicted here was not constructed. Rather, the wall system used continues the material and geometry of the rectangular education wing itself.

Model by Armstrong's office, circa 1961 (location unknown).

Photograph of model courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- brochure with model

This image is taken from the fund-raising brochure publishing at the time. The building model is shown photographed in it's location on the site and the main level floor and lower level floor plans are illustrated.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- early floor plan, 1961

An early version of the Upper Level Plan for the Ethical Society. This drawing was published in a fundraising brochure distributed by the Ethical Society.

The plan is fairly accurate with respect to the final configuration. The portions of the plan that were alterred in the final version include the shape of the stage, the elimination of stairs at each side of the Reception Area, the elimination of the canopy at the main entry, and the modification in the size and configuration of the spray pond.

This plan corresponds to the design illustrated in the design model.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- main entry vestibules

View looking directly south toward the two entry vestibules that frame the fireplace between them. The fireplace itself is constructed in the space between two concrete columns. The fireplace is located on the central axis of the main facade of the building aligning with the tall steeple form of the roof above.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, October 2005.

Ethical Society -- pre-preliminary south elevation, c. 1961

A very early sketch of Armstrong's for the South Facade (main entry facing Clayton Road) of the Ethical Society. This drawing is circa 1961

The three sets of doors at the main entry feature mirrored pairs of his signature "H. A." door design. A large section of the area surrounding the entry appears to be glass. Planting is indicated symmetrically at each wide of the raised entry.

The reflecting pools of the final design are absent. The concept for a central peaked roof is indicate with a cone resting above an elliptical drum. The form recalls Etruscan tumuli from the pre-Roman era. That the height of the roof was a critical factor in the design is suggested by the revisions to the building height. The apparent symmetry of the exterior seems absolute.

The reason that this design was set aside in favor of a square shaped plan with a taller spire is not clear. There may have been concerns regarding cost, symbolism, and practicality.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- pre-preliminary east elevation, c. 1961

A very early sketch of Armstrong's for the East Facade of the Ethical Society. This drawing is circa 1961.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

A Summer Solstice Celebration!

Uploaded by Andrew Raimist.

Music, lunch, activities, talk, exhibit, . . .

You (yes, you) are invited to attend my talk on Sunday 24 June at 11am at the Ethical Society. Following my talk, there will be fun, activities, music, lunch, and the exhibition opening of my architectural photographs.

Ethical Society -- south exterior, 2005

View of the Southeast exterior of looking from the main entry toward the East. The difference in the character of the main pavilion (skeletal structure, fully glazed walls, and overhanging trellises supported on cantilevered brackets) versus the wings to the East and the West (non-structural surfaces, horizontal strip glazing, and no three-dimensional articulation of the facade) couldn't be more pronounced.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- south reflection, 2005

Reflection of the South facade of the East educational wing. The wings to the East and the West have flat roofs. The reflecting pool tends to give it a floating feeling. The effect of the pools is quite different when the fountain jets are turned on.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- north elevation, 2005

The north elevation of the Ethical Society has an entirely different character and function compared to the south elevation. The great majority of the parking is located on the north side of the building, so this is the view most visitors see when walking into the building.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- view of north facade, 2005

The ground level view of the north elevation gives quite a different impression than the primary front (south) elevation does. Similarly, an overall view of the north elevation varies in feeling and impact from a closer, raking view at the ground floor level. The glazing and concrete here differ from the rest of the building, either around the primary central pavilion or anywhere on the north and south wings.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, October 2005.

20 June 2007

Ethical Society -- entry hall, c. 1960s

A view of the entry hall from about 1962. Architecturally, virtually nothing has changed. The film used when this was taken and the subsequent fading of the color print is likely the reason for the variation in color. Its seems much more muted and subdued compared to recent photographs.

I'm assuming the glass panes are still the original ones.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- entry hall east

A more recent photograph of the main entry hall looking toward the east. The effect of the colored glass is powerful and almost overwhelming. Certainly when comparing color photographs to black and white, the colored light tends to almost obscure the physical architecture, making spatial relationships more ambiguous, reducing the perception of structure & materiality, and abstracting the concept of windows and stained glass. Rather than the more typical experience of looking at a stained glass window, the experience is more like being contained within a stained glass space.

Ethical Society -- entry hall

The paired concrete columns take on a massive and heavy form when initially entering the building. The surrounding pools of water tend to lighten and fracture the sense of solidity, giving the building a kind of floating atmosphere. The colored glass walls surrounding the main entry hall reinforce the feeling of lightness and wonder.

The tartan grid of concrete beams, however, is everything that the glass walls and reflecting pools are not: massive, heavy, and permanent. A feeling of tremendous weight above and sense of enclosure are a primary impressions upon entering. These characteristics tend to contrast sharply with the lightness of the exterior and the soaring nature of the auditorium.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- entry & fireplace

The close proximity of the massive concrete fireplace positioned between the two entry vestibule creates a sense of fundamental elements being employed in a modern way. The use of fire and water are clearly used for symbolic as well as emotive expression.

The density, solidity, and relatively high quality of finish relate the concrete structural elements to the stone masonry construction developed over millenia. Concrete was often referred to as being the modern adaptation of the heavy massive walls and structure of monumental buildings of the past. Rather than brutalist in its expression (as many concrete structural expressions by other architects of the time), it has a refined quality, giving the impression of almost having been solid stone carved into the forms presented.

The fireplace has an almost surreal character. The two joined heavy pillars which constitute its flue are unique in the building. Yet the concrete box to contain the fire (and wood below) hardly seem capable of carrying the kind of weght involved. With a fire burning, this ellision of an emphemeral flame and a permanent, massive central column creates an intense flickering of matter along a vertical axis. The presence of a fire (and the upward movement of the resulting smoke) combined with the the massiveness of the structure (and the gradually widening columns) provides an intensely ambivalent image. In joining the sense of impermance and chaotic form (from the fire) with the massive, symmetrical, formal supporting structure, Armstrong focuses a great deal of attention on this central column.

By dividing the facade in this way and creating two entries of relatively humble scale and construction, the building suggests that the nature of structure is intended to relate directly to the human (and often imperfect) condition. In blocking the central axis in this manner, feelings of grandeur and transcendence seem to be severely reduced, if not eliminated altogether. This condition (creating a solid rather than a void at the center) deters any tendency for hierarchical, ceremonial displays. Historically, churches, cathedrals, temples, and other religious structures will often keep the central axis open and focus a great deal of attention on it formally, architecturally, and symbolically. Sometimes such an axis presents itself as a kind of sacred path from the imperfect outside world to the protected transcendence of the sanctuary within. These kinds of central axes can also facilitate displays of power, authority, and judgment upon those unable to follow such an honored route.

Armstrong's design seems to intentionally contradict that kind of hierarchical, monotheistic symbolism. Rather, the expression appears to focus attention on an individual's personal experiences and values as opposed to a pre-defined structure given by higher authorities. The design seems to emphasize the physicality of the human form, requiring the passage over a sort of bridge (over a symbolic moat) and entry through a blaze of light and color (in the shimmering glass facade). The visitor is given a choice to enter on one side of the central axis or the other without judgment; no one can choose to occupy the central path.

These concepts seem to relate in an appropriate way to the ideals of the Ethical Society itself. The relationship between the design of the building, its control of circulation, admission of light, and expression of structure (among other features) can be evaluated for the degree to which they seem to support the philosophy of the organization. I want to explore this idea in greater detail for this building and others designed by Armstrong that seem to merit such an interpretation and approach. In particular, I will be examining, comparing, and contrasting his designs for religious structures (built and unbuilt). Where appropriate, this analytic method will also be applied to civic structures and other buildings consciously expressive of shared cultural values, such as his entry to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Competition (which resulted in the construction of Saarinen's Gateway Arch), his American Embassy in Iraq, and other projects that seem to suggest symbolic meanings greater than that of an individual.

The issue of monumentality in modern architecture was a subject of great debate at the time following the conclusion of World War II. I would like to investigate Armstrong's explicit and implicit ideas in this regard.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

19 June 2007

Ethical Society -- Armstrong giving tour

Harris Armstrong giving a tour of the Ethical Society in the mid 1960s. Armstrong is at the far right gazing upward. In his later years particularly, Armstrong served as a mentor and guide to students and the public in general with the goal of improving the understanding and appreciation of architecture.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

17 June 2007

Ethical Society -- reception area

View looking toward the southeast corner of the reception hall.

The paired concrete columns are kept on the exterior of the colored glass walls, except at the fireplace/chimney located between the two entry vestibules. Heavy paired concrete beams form a tartan grid at the ceiling.

Vertical strips of colored glass make this south-facing space a wonderful visual experience on any sunny day.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, October 2005.

12 June 2007

Harris Armstrong -- introduction

This photograph of Saint Louis modern architect Harris Armstrong, FAIA (1899-1973) in the guise of a Hollywood movie star reveals two things. First, he saw himself in the spotlight playing the part of a hero, overtaking the retrograde aspect of Midwest culture to build anew Saint Louis as a brave new world. Second, he considered himself to be a bit of a dandy, rather charismatic, and quite the lady's man.

I became interested in Armstrong's architectural work as a graduate student in architecture at Washington University in Saint Louis (1986-1990). In the lowest level of Givens Hall, an archive of his works was installed, but appeared to get little attention. The installation included a light table which i took occasion to use when preparing slides for presentations and lectures. I began to wonder about this fellow with the De Stijl inspired logo pressed in porcelain enamel, but didn't do much at the time except imagine and dream what sort of work he might have done.

After graduating and working for several local architects during my internship period, I began searching for appropriate material with which to explore the particular difficulties in preserving, restoring, and renovating modernist works of the twentieth century. After speaking with various architects and several professors, I met with Professor Emeritus Leslie Laskey. His daunting demeanor always impressed me, especially considering that he'd studied art with some of the original Bauhaus faculty (after relocating to the U.S.).

Laskey suggested a few buildings, but zeroed in on one in particular. Harris Armstrong's Magic Chef Building of which I was only vaguely aware. It had been a stunning example of a modernist high-rise structure in Saint Louis and had recently been demeaned by being transformed into a self-storage facility. He talked of Isamu Noguchi's sculptural ceiling which was then still partly visible near the cashier's desk where boxes and packing tape were for sale. I told him of my idea to write an article about the difficulties in achieving an appropriate renovation of such modernist buildings when new uses create needs.

At the time, I somewhat naively felt that architecture created at least in part on functionalist grounds would be able to be modified more easily (at least intellectually) than updating historic nineteenth century heavy masonry construction. The special blend of function, economy, form, and modern construction materials gives such structures a unique character in the realm of historic preservation. Clearly, historic modernist structures like Wright's Taliesin, Mies' Farnsworth House, or Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye merit treatment as museum pieces. But what about the many outstanding buildings designed by other architects of this period. How does one respect the original architect's intentions without either blatantly, facilely mimicking it or, at the other extreme, creating an 'intervention' which challenges the basic concept of authorship?

Professor Laskey's recommendation was, "Forget about the article. What you need to do is save the Magic Chef Building. Its being destroyed right now, so go save it!"

I left him feeling a bit bewildered and confused. How could an unlicensed, architect-in-training, save a significant architectural work? I hardly felt sufficiently experienced to take on such a task. So, after visiting, photographing, and thinking about this structure, I began to consider how I could possibly convince someone to invest the money, time, and energy involved in bringing such a building back to its original state. Gradually, I realized that only by writing about the design and its architect, could I hope to influence others to even begin to envision the potential for rejuvenating the Magic Chef Building.

[ . . more to follow . . ]

03 May 2007

FOR SALE: Armstrong Residence I, 1926

Harris Armstrong's first built work, a house for himself and his new wife Louise, is located at 117 Baker Avenue in Webster Groves, Missouri. Built in 1926, following the couple's elopement on the first of January of that year, it was Armstrong's first opportunity to apply his architectural ideas in a context under his direct control.

This view looking from the living room into the dining room is virtually unchanged (save the dining room chandelier) from it's original construction. The unusual archway is the most striking and unusual aspect of the house.

The house is presently for sale. You can view the listing here.

You can view a series of recent photographs (2007) as well as historical photographs (c. 1927) here.

Photograph by Andrew Raimist, May 2007.

FOR SALE: Armstrong Residence I, 1926

A great deal of the original plasterwork remains intact in the living room and dining room. The dining room ceiling features hand-worked, randomly wriggling textures apparently done by Armstrong himself. The built-in cabinetry in the dining room is original.

The house is presently for sale. You can view the listing here.

You can view a series of recent photographs (2007) as well as historical photographs (c. 1927) here.

Photography by Andrew Raimist, April 2007.

FOR SALE: Armstrong Residence I, 1926

Armstrong executed a number of bas-reliefs throughout the living and dining rooms on the walls and ceilings. Most of them feature animal or floral motifs. There is also a fleur-de-lis on one wall and a sort of "coat of arms" located over the stone fireplace.

The house is presently for sale. You can view the listing here.

You can view a series of recent photographs (2007) as well as historical photographs (c. 1927) here.

Photograph by Andrew Raimist, April 2007.

19 April 2007

Missouri Solar House -- north

Armstrong's design for a passive solar house for the Missouri climate and culture became the foundation for his continuing development of residential designs. Armstrong's decision to orient the house with its main entry facing toward the north allowed for a relatively modest, understated formal expression toward the public view. By locating the primary yard and view toward the south, Armstrong was able to feature full height glazing along the entire south wall of the house.

The motivations for providing such extensive glazing were multifarious. In part there was a desire for visual openness and connecting the interior space to the exterior landscape. Glass helped to reduce the perception of solid walls as physical and psychological boundaries holding the benefits of nature at a distance.

The use of double pane glass in passive solar design was based upon the so-called "greenhouse effect" where light falling upon glass would heat the interior space with the glazing trapping the heat inside. The thermal benefit of south-facing glazing was certainly of value in the midwest where winters can be bitterly cold. The idea of warmth and comfort in the midst of winter was particularly appealing and was a focus of Libbey-Owen-Ford's advertising of this product. The benefits were primarily physical and psychological, though the reduced cost of heating a home in wintertime was also touted. However, at the time the demand for new housing outstripped the relative availability of heating fuels. Consumers chose from the traditional, but dirty coal or oil burning furnace or the newer, cleaner natural gas. Electric heating wasn't far behind with the advent of the "all electric home."

While the thermal benefits of a passive solar home were tangible and measurable in financial terms, the relatively low cost of heating fuel made this issue moot in the eyes of the general public. The arguments for extensive glazing were more convincing when based on its perceived aesthetic, health, and cultural benefits.

In promoting the concept of the passive solar home, Libbey-Owens-Ford was particularly careful to separate arguments for any particular architectural style although glass walls were clearly advocated by the modernists.

In the immediate post-WWII years, there was competition between the various forces promoting the best approach to providing mass housing for the great number of people starting families at the time.

Missouri Solar House -- south

Armstrong's design for a Missouri passive solar house was commissioned and published by the manufacturer of Thermopane glazing, Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company. The book, entitled Your Solar House, featured forty-nine solar house designs from architects from the continental United States as well as the District of Columbia.

While the book was clearly motivated by marketing considerations, it presented ideas relating to passive solar house design to the general public.

The company had originally developed double-pane glazing in the late 1930s and brought it to market around 1938. The product caught the interest of architects in various parts of the country who wished to use more extensive glazing, but were concerned with excessive heat gain in the summer and cold drafts during wintertime. Double pane glazing helped to combat these problematic aspects of the extensive use of glass. Additionally, the use of glass was associated with the ideas and philosophy of modern architecture, promoting natural light, open space, and uniting inside and outside.

At some point around 1940, Libbey-Owens-Ford decided to remove double pane glazing from the market due to failure of the seal between the two panes of glass. When the seals failed, the trapped air space between the panes would absorb the humidity of the ambient environment. With the rise and fall of temperatures during the course of a day and over the course of the seasons, moisture would begin to condense on the interior surfaces of the two glass panes. Once the units became fogged, it became impossible to clean and clear them, so the company had to replace those units since they no longer provided a clear view to the exterior.

The apparent problem was the material used for the perimeter seal. Their design relied on an organic material as the sealant. With repeated temperature fluctuations and the resulting expansion and contraction of the separate glass panes. The differential movement was due in part to the success of the technology in the sense that the units would keep the two panes of glass at different temperatures. The higher the temperature, the greater the expansion of the glass pane, even though the actual dimensional difference was visually negligible. The repeating differential pressure on the seal and associated cycling temperatures caused the organic seals to detach prematurely from the glass panes.

Libbey-Owens-Ford needed to overcome a pre-existing skepticism created by the earlier promotion and subsequent withdrawal of the product from the market. They realized they needed to reassure the public of the product's benefits in addition to convincing the architects who would be specifying the material and putting their reputation behind this new technology.

The book was designed to provide a strong argument for the use of thermal pane glazing and in the particular the application of passive solar design concepts to homes located throughout the United States.

13 February 2007

Bee Hat Building, 1899

Bee Hat Building
Originally uploaded by Andrew Raimist.

I selected the Bee Hat Building as one of my favorite eleven buildings in the Saint Louis area as published in an article in St. Louis At Home magazine.

This beautiful seven-story loft building was once an important part of Saint Louis's garment district. Washington Avenue became a particularly desirable location following the opening of the Eads Bridge in 1874. Many similar warehouse type structures where erected on either side of the street in the years that followed.

The structure was originally erected in 1899 by another hat company before the Bee Hat Company moved into the building in 1926 when they began operating their warehousing and distribution from this location. The company presently operates from 2839 Olive Street, but remained headquartered on Washington Avenue through the year 2000.

The building has been declared a City Landmark and is Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It is presently undergoing renovations for residential lofts and ground floor commercial space.

The ground floor is surmounted by eleven lions' heads which were originally connected to the building's rooftop drainage gutter system. The downspouts have been directed elsewhere and steam lines have been hooked up to them. The owner of the building intends to have the lions roar on a regular basis.

building: Bee Hat Company Building
location: 1021 Washington Avenue, Saint Louis, Missouri
architect: Isaac S. Taylor
date: 1899

You can find the list of all eleven buildings on the Saint Louis At Home magazine's blog.

You can find more of my photographs of the Bee Hat Building on my Flickr photostream.

Photograph by Andrew Raimist, December 2006.

08 February 2007

Harris Armstrong Lecture Announcement

Andrew Raimist will be giving a slide talk on Harris Armstrong on Friday 16 February 2007 at 11:45am at Webster University.

Seating is limited. To RSVP and obtain directions, please send an email to: Raimist@RaimistArchitecture.com.

You can find blog entries specifically addressing the Magic Chef Building here.

Photograph by Hedrich-Blessing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

533 Woodleaf Court

This home at 533 Woodleaf Court in Kirkwood is part of a subdivision designed entirely by Harris Armstrong working with the developer and builder Marshall Berry. Armstrong had collaborated with Berry on at least one other development (a cul-de-sac in Creve Coeur). He also designed Berry's Ladue home which is no longer extant.

The ten houses share a general typology, but each has individual characteristics to differentiate it from the other nine homes on the street. Each home is a split-level ranch featuring high ceilings and exposed heavy timber framing.

You can find additional photographs and a detailed description of the house at the blog M.O.R.E.

Photograph by Andrew Raimist, July 2006.

03 February 2007

Noguchi & Stone -- Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Competition Entry

designers: Isamu Noguchi and Edward Durrell Stone.
materials: plaster and wood.
date: 1947.
status: unrealized.

Architect Stone and sculptor Noguchi worked together on this entry to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Competition for the riverfront area located between downtown Saint Louis and the Mississippi River. The competition was ultimately won by Eero Saarinen with his proposal for the Gateway Arch.

It appears from the design that Noguchi was a primary influence on the site development and landscape forms while Stone was perhaps more responsible for the architectural and infrastructure elements (like the bridges, buildings, and monumental vertical pylon). Clearly, the design works as one cohesive design concept where each element works together with the entire composition, holistically blending sculpted land forms, berms, fountains, riverside inlet, water courses, and low-lying unobtrusive modernist, buildings. The landscape, sculptural, and architectural elements all feature a coherent biomorphic aesthetic. The tall, thin central pylon acts as the symbolic focal point for the composition near the Old Cathedral up away from the river's edge.

Archival image by Ezra Stoller.

22 January 2007

Isamu Noguchi -- To Be Viewed From Mars, 1947

Unrealized proposal for a massive earthwork sculpture where the length of the nose would be one mile. This project draws upon his earlier proposal of 1933, Monument to the Plough, that featured a triangular pyramid of earth.

The message of this proposal seems more ominous and apocalyptic, suggesting that in a hypothetical future aliens from elsewhere in the solar system would have this visible feature on the earth's surface to indicate that at one time the planet was inhabited by humans.

The triangular pyramid for the nose and cones for the eyes are relatively self-explanatory if rigid and mechanical. The flattened oval above the eyes and nose is rather odd, perhaps suggesting the developed, but limited thinking mind or brain. The oval of the mouth with an opening suggesting parted lips suggests that this marker is attempting to speak or communicate.

The two oval forms are clearly related and of the same geometrical origin. This association between the mind and the mouth connects them and possibly indicates that thought and expressions of thought through language were an important characteristic of this ancient, extinct race.

For various personal reasons, Noguchi felt himself to be an alien from his own world. Following the devastation, inhumanity, and destruction brought about by mankind's advances in technology, Noguchi seems to wish to bring attention a viewpoint outside our world to bring attention to the potential apocalypse we had brought upon ourselves.

Perhaps if this work had been realized it could stand as a monumental reminder for humans to consider an earth devoid of life, barren and empty.

Archival image.

08 January 2007

Isamu Noguchi -- Musical Weather Vane, 1933

Over the course of Noguchi's career, he made many models. In different ways, these models "stand in" for sculptures he was never able to realize. It is unclear how much effort he expended in attempting to realize them, although it seems they were all sincerely intended to be materialized, even those that seem the most theoretical and hypothetical such as his proposed To be Seen from Mars of 1947.

In his proposal for a Musical Weather Vane, Noguchi combines natural forces and phenomena (wind, sound, light, movement) with a mechanical man-made device created with the object of capturing something with certain qualities of living, breathing beings. In his almost desperate desire to realize such an animate sculpture, he gives the primary visual and functional element a distinctly organic shape. It suggests a lung, kidney, gills, ear, or some other body part. The rod and sphere to which it is connected and directly reliant are obviously abstract, non-living material meant to support the action, motion, shine, and sound of this hypothetical Musical Weather Vane.

Later in life when he put down his thoughts in his memoirs, he described his motivation to create this piece thus:

"I wanted other means of communication -- to find a way of sculpture that was humanly meaningful without being realistic, at once abstract and socially relevant. I was not conscious of the terms 'applied design' or 'industrial design'. My thoughts were born in despair, seeking stars in the night.

"In this frame of mind I designed Musical Weather Vane. This was to be made of metal, with fluting that would make sounds like those of an aeolian harp. It was to be wired so as to be luminous at night. The idea may have come from China, where small flutes made of gourds were attached to pigeons, and made a whooing sound as they flew about."
-- Isamu Noguchi, A Sculptor's World, 1968.

Archival image.

Isamu Noguchi -- News, 1938-40

Isamu Noguchi's first major architectural commission was for this bas-relief over the entrance to the Associated Press Building. The building was constructed as part of Rockefeller Center and thus part of a progressive, large-scale architectural project.

Here the relief entitled "News" takes center stage. The stone walls at each side are like stage curtains pulled aside to reveal the main actors in this drama. The entrance simultaneously emphasizes the smallness of the spectator, the heroic figures above are five times our size, while at the same time engages the pedestrian in a away that someone entering the building can feel part of a much grander mode of action. The framing of the entry in stone with the relief and the doors set back in from the facade links the two to create a single monumental portal bridging the human scale with the super-human scale of the skyscraper, a wonder of modern technology in itself and a source of pride and symbol of optimism in the face of the Great Depression and developing war in Europe.

Many of the other reliefs and sculptures around Rockefeller Center feature mythological and/or religious personalities. Here the acts of man become larger than life, while being engaged in the project of recording and transmitting the "news," i.e., the latest goings on in our all too real world. Noguchi elevates the individual working together with others to describe and disseminate information to a higher stature on par with metaphysical and supernatural events.

Photograph by Roving Rube.