Martin Filler’s latest book is Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume III: From Antoni Gaudí to Maya Lin, a collection of his writing on architecture in these pages.
 (April 2020)

IN THE REVIEW

Modernism, Inc.

Gordon Bunshaft, 1957; behind him is the Connecticut General Life Insurance building, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1953–1957

Gordon Bunshaft and SOM: Building Corporate Modernism

by Nicholas Adams
During the Great Depression, among the few opportunities for nongovernmental architectural work in America were temporary exhibition buildings for the world’s fairs and regional expositions that proliferated even while the country’s economic recovery languished. Ready to seize upon this niche market were two enterprising young Indiana-born architects, Louis Skidmore and …

Megalo-MoMA

The exterior of the newly renovated MoMA, showing the expanded lobby and the base of 53W53, a new tower designed by Jean Nouvel, whose second through fifth floors are occupied by the museum, October 2019
Among the plethora of disturbingly disproportionate, super-tall, super-thin condominium towers that have spiked the New York City skyline since the turn of the millennium and that graphically symbolize America’s concomitant surge in income inequality, the most recently completed of them marks the spot of the Museum of Modern Art, which inaugurated its latest building project in October, two weeks before its ninetieth anniversary.

The Unsinkable Modernist

Walter Gropius with the design for his and Adolf Meyer’s entry for the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower competition, 1928

Gropius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus

by Fiona MacCarthy

The Bauhaus and Harvard

an exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 8–July 28, 2019
Whatever else one might think of Walter Gropius—the pioneering German architect who founded the Bauhaus a century ago this year and thereby earned an irrevocable place in the pantheon of Modernism—it is hard not to be impressed by his most salient talent: survival. After each new somersault of fate he somehow landed on his feet and emerged undeterred.

The ‘Bold Vagaries’ of Frank Furness

The front façade of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; designed by Frank Furness, 1871–1876

Frank Furness: Architecture in the Age of the Great Machines

by George E. Thomas, with a foreword by Alan Hess

First Modern: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

by George E. Thomas
Late-nineteenth-century Chicago is widely deemed to have been the crucible of modern architecture in this country—the birthplace of the skyscraper, the city that nurtured Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and a host of other innovators dubbed the Chicago School. After World War II, Los Angeles—enlivened by an influx of émigré architects …

NYR DAILY

Pandemic Journal, March 23–29

A running series of brief dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with regular updates from around the world, including Michael Greenberg in Brooklyn, Raquel Salas Rivera in San Juan, Aida Alami in Paris, Rahmane Idrissa in Niamey, Verlyn Klinkenborg in East Chatham, Tolu Ogunlesi in Lagos, Merve Emre in Oxford, Yasmine El Rashidi in Cairo, Keija Parssinen in Granville, E. Tammy Kim in Brooklyn, Adam Foulds in Toronto, Tom Bachtell in Chicago, Ivan Sršen in Zagreb, Sue Halpern in Ripton, Michael S. Roth in Middletown, Ben Mauk in Penang, Martin Filler in Southampton, Eula Biss in Evanston, Richard Ford in East Boothbay, George Weld in Brooklyn, Nilanjana Roy in New Delhi, Ursula Lindsey in Amman, Zoë Schlanger in Brooklyn, Dominique Eddé in Beirut, Lucy McKeon in Brooklyn, Yiyun Li in Princeton, Caitlin L. Chandler in Berlin, Nick Laird in Kerhonkson, Alma Guillermoprieto in Bogotá, Lucy Jakub in Northampton, Rachael Bedard in Brooklyn, Hari Kunzru in Brooklyn, Minae Mizumura in Tokyo, Jenny Uglow in Keswick, Sylvia Poggioli in Rome, and more.

Trump’s Towering Folly on Federal Architecture

The Tuscaloosa Federal Building and Courthouse, which opened in 2011, Alabama

News of Trump’s Classical edict seemed particularly grotesque given the Trump Organization’s construction of some of the cheesiest Modernist public buildings in recent history, epitomized by Der Scutt’s gold-mirror-glass glitzkrieg, Trump Tower of 1979–1983 in New York City. So, here we are again, being distracted and diverted by yet another of the peripheral issues through which Trump exercises media manipulation. With the same flagrant hypocrisy he displays politically, Trump has now marketed himself as a guardian of taste. But the effective ban on modern architecture commissioned by the US government that the president proposes is horrifyingly reminiscent of Hitler’s insistence that public buildings in the Third Reich hew to the Classical tradition.

The Ceaseless Innovation of Duane Michals

Duane Michals: The Illuminated Man, 1968

Months before he turns eighty-eight, the photographer Duane Michals is in the full throes of a remarkable old-age efflorescence. Evidence to that effect fairly leaps off the brightly colored walls of his fascinating new exhibition, “Illusions of the Photographer,” at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. Michals has long been renowned for three great innovations: his hauntingly atmospheric, teasingly Surrealistic, almost cinematic sequences of pictorial narratives; his use of handwritten texts on small-scale black-and-white silver gelatin prints; and his celebratory normalization of homoerotic male beauty, years before Robert Mapplethorpe’s freak-show fetishism and Bruce Weber’s consumer-culture beefcake. Yet, unlike artists who hit upon a commercially lucrative formula and then crank out endless fungible reiterations, Michals is something of a superannuated Huck Finn, an incorrigibly subversive and inimitably American scamp always lighting out for new creative territories.

I.M. Pei: Establishment Modernism Lite

Architect I.M. Pei near his Pyramid Entrance at the Louvre Museum, at its opening, Paris, March 29, 1989

A characteristic mid-career I.M. Pei design began with his initial selection of an elemental geometric shape—a square, triangle, or circle, say—which he then bisected (often on an acute angle), rotated forty-five or ninety degrees, and finally juxtaposed against other Euclidean patterns similarly manipulated. The specifics of this slice-dice-and-spin formula changed from job to job given the variables of budget, site, and function, but the lookalike results were readily confirmed as Pei’s signature style—which might be termed Establishment Modernism Lite. His tendency to repetition was reassuring to clients, who not only wanted to know what they were going to get for their very large investment, but also enjoyed having an identifiable product by an acclaimed architect. The communications-savvy Pei received remarkably strong press support throughout his long career.

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