Martin Filler


Martin Filler’s latest book, Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume II, has been long-listed for the 2014 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Filler was born in 1948 and received degrees in art history from Columbia University. He has been a contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1985 and his writing on modern architecture has been published in more than thirty journals, magazines, and newspapers in the US, Europe, and Japan. His first collection of New York Review essays, Makers of Modern Architecture, was published in 2007. Filler is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He and his wife, the architectural historian Rosemarie Haag Bletter, live in New York and Southampton.

See NYRB titles related to this contributor.

  • The New Chartres: An Exchange

    December 17, 2014

    We write in response to Martin Filler's well-meaning but also misinformed blog posting concerning the restoration of the interior of Chartres Cathedral.

  • A Scandalous Makeover at Chartres

    December 14, 2014

    Apparently with the full support of the French state, restorers have set out to do no less than repaint the entire interior of Chartres Cathedral in bright whites and garish colors.

  • Falling for Photography

    November 15, 2014

    A new biography of Sam Wagstaff gives us a closer look at the curator, tastemaker, and pioneering collector of photography who launched Robert Mapplethorpe’s career.

  • The Unstoppable Soprano

    September 24, 2014

    How old is too old in opera? Few have lived up to the standard set by the soprano Magda Olivero.

  • Furnishing a Life

    September 12, 2014

    Novelists have long been attuned to the psychology of interior design. But such connections were less common in nonfiction before the publication in 1958 of Mario Praz’s La casa della vita or The House of Life.

  • Engineering Elegance

    May 8, 2014

    The highly constructed garments created by the Anglo-American designer Charles James, now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are such feats of fabric engineering that they can stand up by themselves.

  • The Master of Fireproof Modernism

    April 2, 2014

    If all politics is local, then much architectural history is also a neighborhood matter. In old New York buildings, it’s a delight to lift up your eyes and unexpectedly find Rafael Guastavino’s distinctive herringbone terracotta tile patterns overhead.

  • Taking Down Picasso

    February 7, 2014

    The real estate mogul Aby Rosen is planning to remove a historic Picasso stage curtain from the Seagram Building on February 9.

  • Ice Cool Brooklyn

    January 17, 2014

    Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s ice rink for New York's Prospect Park far exceeds what one might imagine possible for this faded urban oasis.

  • MoMA Loses Face

    January 14, 2014

    Not since the vandalizing of Pennsylvania Station half a century ago has New York City’s architectural patrimony been dealt such a low blow.

  • No Harm to the Kimbell

    December 9, 2013

    The triumph of the Kimbell Art Museum's new Renzo Piano Pavilion is its exquisitely wrought concrete walls, the most ravishing concrete I have seen in the United States.

  • High Culture Laid Low: A New York Requiem

    November 30, 2013

    As the winter season of New York high culture kicks into full swing, one thing seems quite apparent: there is little appetite for the new in the performing arts here, because innovation carries so much financial risk. The demise earlier this fall of the adventurous but profligate New York City Opera—and the particular qualities of its last staging—provide a kind of case study in the predicament of major cultural institutions today.

  • The Last Night in Camelot

    November 19, 2013

    Among the more poignant observances surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination is a small show that reassembles the display of paintings and sculptures that had been hastily borrowed to improve the rooms the first couple occupied on the last night of the chief executive’s life.

  • Streamline Dreamer

    November 13, 2013

    Our retrospective image of 1930s America derives in large part from Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958), the self-taught polymath who virtually invented the profession of industrial design.

  • The Contradictions of Le Corbusier

    June 29, 2013

    The Museum of Modern Art’s “Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes” is a sprawling, frustrating, intermittently thrilling tribute to the twentieth century’s most influential master builder.

  • Under Sri Lanka's Big Roof

    May 29, 2013

    From 1958 to 1966 the Danish architect Ulrik Plesner was the chief architectural partner of Geoffrey Bawa the Sri Lankan master builder. Plesner’s absorbing new account, In Situ: An Architectural Memoir from Sri Lanka, depicts Bawa’s Ceylon as a prelapsarian architectural paradise where one barely had to think about creating something before it materialized into being.

  • Ibsen’s Broken Homes

    May 22, 2013

    The fact that many architects seem compelled to seduce and dominate those around them—whether patrons, junior partners, paramours, or some combination thereof—was anticipated by Henrik Ibsen in his 1892 play The Master Builder, currently being given a revival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater.

  • LA's Alternate Realities

    May 3, 2013

    How can the most architecturally innovative part of the United States also be such a thoroughgoing urban mess?

  • MoMA's Act of Vandalism

    April 12, 2013

    The tragic turn of events on West 53rd Street is nothing less than impending cultural vandalism, made more odious because it will be carried out by a presumed institutional guardian of high culture and contemporary design.

  • Batman vs. Koolhaas

    January 29, 2013

    Among architectural insiders, Batman: Death by Design is likely to cause the most comment for its scathing portrayal of a Netherlandish master builder named Kem Roomhaus, who, as Batman says, “may be an affected, narcissistic creep, but he’s also a genius.”

  • Modern Oslo's Hidden Colors

    November 27, 2012

    It has long been a commonplace that no region on earth embraced modern design more eagerly or fully than Scandinavia. During the early twentieth century, a host of reform-minded pioneers in the Nordic countries demonstrated how contemporary architecture and furnishings could both shape and respond to a changing society that was becoming closely attuned to the dignity of the common man.

  • Design from Disasters

    November 5, 2012

    As we contemplate the horrific damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, the world of design may seem remote from our most immediate concerns. Yet the urgent needs that follow large-scale catastrophes—the need for shelter, clean water, alternative sources of power—can be particularly conducive to creative solutions. I recently observed that breakthroughs in architecture and industrial design have emerged during wartime; now a remarkable new exhibition in Oslo shows that the same can hold true for natural disasters as well.

  • Modern Architecture's Dark Side

    July 17, 2012

    There has long been a tendency to see the most important innovations of Modernism as arising directly from progressive causes. But now the French architectural historian and architect Jean-Louis Cohen establishes one big, awful, inescapable truth: the full potential of twentieth-century architecture was realized not in the social-welfare and urban-improvement schemes beloved by the early proponents of the Modern Movement, but rather through technologies perfected during the two world wars to slaughter vast armies, destroy entire cities, decimate noncombatant populations, and industrialize genocide.

  • Modernism's Slyest Lens

    April 11, 2012

    The ever growing recognition of mid-twentieth-century architectural photography has elevated the reputations of Julius Shulman, Ezra Stoller, and Balthazar Korab from that of workaday chroniclers of America’s postwar building boom to co-inventors of the High Modernist mystique. Yet there is a fourth member of their generation whose remarkable work on modernism has been far less widely known: Pedro E. Guerrero, who will turn 95 later this year, and who for many years was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite lensman. Working for the period’s most stylish glossy magazines, Guerrero devised a deceptively suave manner that in retrospect can seem quite subversive. It is particularly welcome then, that the Julius Shulman Institute at the Woodbury School of Architecture in Burbank has organized Pedro E. Guerrero: Photographs of Modern Life, the first major retrospective of his work.

  • Good Soldier Michals

    February 16, 2012

    There is an intangible quality about Duane Michals’s photographs that is readily identifiable, regardless of their subject matter. Whether they ponder questions as speculative as the existence of an afterlife or as basic as the nature of sexual desire all of them encompass a shared spiritual terrain, a timeless realm of pellucid light and preternatural calm, palpably present but also eerily elusive, like a waking dream. Yet Michals’s most significant contribution may be his championing of an elevated homoerotic alternative to the predominant heterosexual viewpoint of western art. Thus the publication of this quiet crusader's photo-memoir--which recounts Michals’ own repressed sexuality while serving in the army from 1953 to 1955—seems particularly timely following the recent revocation of the US Army’s preposterous “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy.

  • Deep Streep?

    January 12, 2012

    Among the impenetrable mysteries of modern life is how Meryl Streep can be universally regarded as the greatest dramatic film actress of our time. In my opinion, Streep is easily at her best as a comedienne, not in the high-serious roles she has favored. Now we have the 62-year-old Streep in what many critics deem the crowning achievement of her storied 35-year Hollywood career, as Margaret Thatcher in the starring role of Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady. But when I watched this strange tour de force of Important Acting, I was uncertain whether I was witnessing a tragedy or a farce.

  • Prisoners of the Fun Factory

    November 22, 2011

    I first met the designer Ray Kaiser Eames in 1977, when she showed me, my wife, and our son around the renowned Pacific Palisades house she and Charles Eames built between 1947 and 1949 from off-the-shelf industrial components. As she moved slowly through the high-ceilinged living room of the light-flooded, modular-paneled structure at the edge of an arcadian meadow overlooking the ocean, she reacted to the myriad possessions that crowded every horizontal surface as if she had never seen them before. “Oh my God, look at this!” she cawed like an excited mynah bird as she grabbed some pretty trifle, peered at it intently, and extolled its ravishing beauty. One could not help but love her unbridled enthusiasm, but also quickly understood how trying she might be to live with.

  • Bringing Light to Norway's Dark Night

    November 4, 2011

    Witnessing the endless daylight of Scandinavian Midsummer this past summer in Vardø, a picturesque Barents Sea island village built around the northernmost fortress on earth, I was led to wonder what life must be like there during the opposite extreme of the winter solstice. As it happens, this year’s Midsummer celebration gave some idea of that very different experience, or at least of the possible dire effects of prolonged climatic stress on the collective psyche. On June 23, Queen Sonja of Norway came to open the Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of the Witch Trials in Vardø, a new monument by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois that eerily evokes the dark night of the soul that it also attempts to expiate.

  • At the Edge of the Abyss

    September 21, 2011

    I wept, but about what precisely I cannot say. Much to my amazement, after having done everything possible to shut out the ubiquitous maudlin press coverage that engulfed the tenth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, I visited Michael Arad’s National September 11 Memorial in New York City--which was dedicated exactly a decade after the disaster--to find that it impressed me at once as a sobering, disturbing, heartbreaking, and overwhelming masterpiece.

  • Eyes Above the Street: The High Line's Second Installment

    August 25, 2011

    Rarely do additions to works of architecture or engineering by the same designers who created the originals attract as much comment as the initial installments. Thus there was some question as to just how much excitement could be generated by the debut this June of the second segment of the High Line, which runs between West 20th and West 30th streets.

  • God Save McQueen

    May 24, 2011

    Nearly twenty-five years ago I was called into the office of Anna Wintour, my boss during her brief interregnum at House & Garden magazine before she ascended to fashion glory as editor-in-excelsis of Vogue. “You use too many adjectives,” she told me. “I don’t like adjectives. That’s all.” But I now wonder how one could possibly explain the peculiar and pathological art of Alexander McQueen (whose most powerful promoter has been Wintour) without recourse to many multiple modifiers?

  • Land of Hopeless Glory

    May 10, 2011

    The British Crown possesses an undeniable genius for staging rituals that may seem to date from time immemorial but which for the most part were concocted in the early twentieth century.

  • My Lunch with Andy

    April 26, 2011

    Twenty-four years after Andy Warhol’s death, a dazzling, lifelike, ten-foot-tall memorial statue by Rob Pruitt has been unveiled in front of the building on New York’s Union Square that housed the artist's studio.

  • Holland’s Magic Mountain

    March 17, 2011

    The life and death of buildings are more than just metaphors when it comes to one category of structure closely identified with modern architecture: the sanatorium.

  • At Home with the Rembrandts

    March 2, 2011

    This exhilarating new show presents more than sixty drawings and prints from the Paris foundation established in 1947 by the renowned Dutch connoisseur and scholar Frits Lugt, and exhibits them alongside the Frick’s own Rembrandt paintings and prints.

  • Hollywood's Royal Stammer

    January 25, 2011

    There is nothing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves more than movies about people with physical or mental disabilities (or addictions). If the afflicted protagonist also happens to be royal, so much the better, for a suffering crowned head bestows an extra touch of class on Hollywood's uplifting formula of brave triumph over cruel adversity.

  • When Modernism Entered the Kitchen

    January 21, 2011

    Cooking odors grow stronger as visitors approach the gallery where Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen--a stimulating show at New York's Museum of Modern Art on food preparation in the twentieth-century home--is installed. Although the aromas actually emanate from a café next to the second-floor exhibition, the pervasive food smells that can be so distracting throughout the restaurant-riddled MoMA are for once appropriate here.

  • Raising the Banner of Beauty: Glasgow's Master Craftsman

    November 12, 2010

    The public’s outsized affection for the Scottish architect and furniture designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928) is all the more remarkable since as late as the mid-twentieth century his place in history was by no means secure.

  • La Stupendissima

    October 22, 2010

    Joan Sutherland, the Australian-born prima donna assoluta, was nearly the last survivor among the top sopranos of the twentieth century.

  • Buildings on the Big Screen

    October 14, 2010

    The static art of architecture and the kinetic art of motion pictures might seem antithetical mediums, but films can be enormously helpful in explaining buildings to laymen and professionals alike. Certain architectural works are difficult if not impossible to understand in still imagery, and are made fully comprehensible only through films that move around and inside them.

  • Clanking, Ponderous Rheingold: The Met's New Valhalla Machine

    October 8, 2010

    What is it about the works of Richard Wagner that consistently inspire some of the most bizarre productions in all of opera?

  • Notorious Couture

    October 5, 2010

    The most notable change in female fashion during the past three decades has had nothing to do with such age-old preoccupations as hemline length, neckline depth, or silhouette width. Rather, it has been the inexorable transformation of the high-end women's garment trade from the province of a tiny elite to an all-pervasive marketing tool for international luxury-goods conglomerates, which have masterminded such paradoxical concepts as mass luxury and global exclusivity, more through the sale of designer-label cosmetics and accessories than through clothing itself.

  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

    September 7, 2010

    The latest refurbishment of the White House Oval Office would be just another before-and-after decorating story were it not for the fact that stylistic aspects of the chief executive's workplace are closely watched for possible insights into the personality of the occupant.

  • Designing 'Mad Men'

    July 29, 2010
  • Deconstructing Prince Charles

    July 23, 2010

    Like Mount Vesuvius but at briefer intervals, Prince Charles erupts in high dudgeon over various and sundry affronts to his very particular and sometimes very peculiar notions of how life should be lived.

  • The Kimbell Gamble

    June 25, 2010

    Those who undertake additions to architectural landmarks ought to abide by the famous medical principle, "first, do no harm." Thus the best one can say of Renzo Piano's recently unveiled plans for a $125 million expansion of Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum of 1966–1972 in Fort Worth is that no fatal physical damage is about to be inflicted on what many revere as the finest of all modern gallery buildings.

  • From Venice to Vegas: The Back Stories of Buildings

    May 21, 2010

    Every so often, writers outside the architectural profession publish works on the building art that capture the public imagination and make the best-seller lists. Yet Edward Hollis stands apart from other popular writers on the subject in his acknowledgement that architecture is anything but the immutable medium most people suppose it to be.

  • They Revived the Pritzker

    April 15, 2010

    A usually melancholy springtime ritual for lovers of the building art is the announcement of the latest winner of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture. Thus the revelation of this year's surprise winners--Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, principals of the Tokyo firm SANAA--has been cause for rejoicing.

  • The World's Foremost Female Architect

    March 24, 2010

    Preposterously premature acclaim has posited the London-based Iraqi Zaha Hadid (who turns sixty next Halloween but has yet to produce a body of built work commensurate with her hyperbolic reputation) as the world’s foremost female architect. Instead, that designation rightfully belongs to Denise Scott Brown, a truly towering figure in the modern history of the building art.

  • The New Tower of London

    March 8, 2010

    One of the most well-intentioned artistic initiatives ever undertaken by the United States government has turned out to be among its least successful: the embassy design program meant to present America’s best architectural face abroad. The latest evidence of this effort’s often dispiriting outcome is the selection of the little-known Philadelphia firm of KieranTimberlake to create a new US embassy in London.

  • Aalto Survives Geopolitics

    February 26, 2010

    Although Alvar Aalto first won worldwide attention in the early 1930s as a leading exponent of the International Style—a reductive form of modern architecture proposed as equally applicable anywhere on the planet—his more expressive, site-specific work from the mid-Thirties onward marked him as a regional designer in the best sense, and the quintessential Finnish master builder. In 1989, however, thirteen years after Aalto’s death, his friend and official biographer Göran Schildt revealed Aalto’s rollicking 1943 junket to Germany at the invitation of Albert Speer, Hitler’s court architect-turned-munitions chief, to inspect construction there just as the Final Solution shifted into overdrive. Schildt’s tragicomic account reads like a plot outline for The Three Stooges Go to Hell.

  • House Life in a Koolhaas

    February 18, 2010

    Few makers of architectural documentaries exploit the full potential of film to create a convincing sense of what it is like to move through a sequence of interiors, an ability made much easier with the introduction of the Steadicam in 1976. A rare exception is Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine’s 58-minute-long Koolhaas Houselife (2008), one of two recent releases on the celebrated Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, principal of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam.

  • Presidential Appointments

    November 10, 2009

    Presidents of the United States have enough to worry about, but an ill-timed makeover of the White House can readily become a political liability. After the Panic of 1837, an opposition-party Congressman accused President Martin van Buren of transforming his official home into “a PALACE as splendid as that of the Caesars,” and thereby doomed the incumbent’s re-election. A century and a half later, while the Reagan administration slashed school-lunch subsidies and declared ketchup a vegetable, Nancy Reagan provoked outrage when she bought a $209,000 china service embellished in gold and ketchup red.

  • The Mighty Penn

    October 19, 2009

    Irving Penn was assured a high place in the canon of photography well before his death, on October 7 at the age of ninety-two. Yet for those of us who came of age during the 1960s, he seemed the Apollonian counterpart of his Dionysian contemporary and principal competitor, the younger and groovier Richard Avedon, who died five years before Penn almost to the day. They were the twin gods who ruled high-fashion photography after the postwar resurrection of the Paris haute couture, when they brought unprecedented formal power and graphic impact to what had been dismissed as an intractably insipid genre—“visions of loveliness,” in the sneering phrase of Penn’s mentor and tormentor, Alexander Liberman, longtime editorial director of Condé Nast Publications.

  • Quagmire at Ground Zero

    October 13, 2009

    The newly postponed completion dates for New York City’s beleaguered and laggard World Trade Center reconstruction project have an unexpected but telling parallel in Bernard Tschumi’s much-delayed New Acropolis Museum in Athens. When the museum finally opened this summer, few commentators noted that it was to have been completed in time for the city’s 2004 Olympics. Some blamed the lapse on Hellenic inefficiency. Santiago Calatrava’s flamboyant and technically complicated Olympic Stadium was barely ready for the games, an athletic extravaganza that burdened the Greek government with a $7 billion debt.

  • Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future

    October 16, 2013 — February 10, 2014

    Handsomely installed by architect Wendy Evans Joseph, “Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future” stresses Geddes’s ability to convince people that even his most pie-in-the-sky proposals awere just as attainable as his workaday home appliances.

  • Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy

    October 12, 2013 — January 12, 2014

    A display of the paintings and sculptures from the hotel room the first couple stayed in the night before John F Kennedy's assassination.

  • Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light

    March 10, 2013 — June 24, 2013

    Go see MoMA’s “Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light” for the ravishing Beaux-Arts watercolors and some of the most marvelous building models you’ll ever encounter.

  • Out of Site in Plain View: A History of Exhibiting Architecture since 1750

    April 7, 2013 — May 12, 2013

    If curator Barry Bergdoll’s riveting MoMA preview talk was any indication, his six-part A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts series promises to be a landmark in our understanding of the display of architecture in museums.

  • Tea Tasting at the Onomea Tea Company

    Ongoing

    For an exquisite experience on the big island of Hawaii near Hilo, visit the Onomea Tea Company’s jewel-like plantation overlooking the Pacific and Onomea Bay.

  • Merriman's Restaurant

    Ongoing

    Perhaps the best food on the big island of Hawaii can be found at Merriman’s Waimea, near the Kohala Coast’s resorts.

  • 'Heinrich Kuehn and His American Circle' at Neue Galerie

    May 12, 2012 — August 27, 2012

    The forgotten Austrian pioneer is rediscovered in “Heinrich Kuehn and His American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen,” at New York’s Neue Galerie.

  • 'Bauhaus: Art as Life' at the Barbican

    May 17, 2012 — August 12, 2012

    Design aficionados who missed the epic 2009 Bauhaus surveys held in New York and Berlin to mark the ninetieth anniversary of the renowned modern art-and-architecture school can make up for this loss by viewing the 400 works in “Bauhaus: Art as Life.”

  • 'Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting' at the Frick

    May 10, 2012 — May 12, 2012

    Visit Manhattan’s Frick before May 13th to see “Renoir, Impressionism, and Full-Length Painting.”