Tag Archive: Frank Gehry

The Tour of Guimardia (English Version)

Métro Porte Dauphine (1900). Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

In its shopfronts cashmere sweaters the colors of macaroons. Behind their digicodes its reposing hameaux. In its ballot boxes three out of every four votes for Sarkozy. Hidden in their Maseratis its children dressed in black. The sixteenth arrondissement of Paris is a peninsula between the Bois de Boulogne (which belongs to it) and the Seine; there is the slight feeling of a border crossing, of breaching a feeble forcefield, upon entering or leaving. One can find here the works of Perret, Sauvage and, soon, Gehry, but it is the section of the Earth’s surface with the greatest concentration of buildings by Hector Guimard (1867-1942). The seizième is to Guimard as Oak Park is to Frank Lloyd Wright, except that it contains works from all periods of the architect’s career, from 1891 to 1927. Along the way one passes other buildings which support the contention, inherently arguable and worth arguing, that the sixteenth is the most architecturally interesting arrondissement. Annexed to the city in 1860, the seizième grew up in what we might call, with light apologies to Robert Caro, The Years of Hector Guimard, a complex, under-appreciated and richly contested period in the history of modern architecture. A new eclecticism began to rebel against the last moments of a played-out Haussmannization. Many modernisms were in play. Art Nouveau, which seems barely able to contain Guimard’s work, let alone the output of the entire period, may now seem the stuff of coffee table books, a particularly beautiful dead end, a fashion, a decorative style, but its surviving remnants hint of an influence more spiritual than physical.

Le tour de Guimardia (version française)

Métro Porte Dauphine (1900). Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

À ses devantures les pulls en cachemire aux couleurs des macarons. Derrière leurs digicodes ses hameaux reposants. Dans ses urnes les trois-quarts des votes pour Sarkozy. Cachés dans leurs Maseratis ses enfants habillés en noir. Le seizième arrondissement de Paris est en effet une péninsule entre le bois de Boulogne (qui lui appartient) et la Seine. Une frontière invisible le cerne, une petite résistance entre l’arrondissement et sa ville. On peut y retrouver les bâtiments de Perret, de Sauvage et (bientôt) de Gehry mais le seizième est le lieu de notre planète avec la plus grande concentration des bâtiments de Hector Guimard (1867-1942). Le seizième est à Guimard ce que Oak Park est à Frank Lloyd Wright, mais on peut y voir les bâtiments de toutes les périodes de sa carrière, de 1891 à 1927. Parmi ces bâtiments il y a bien des autres qui soutient la proposition, discutable j’espère, que le seizième soit l’arrondissement le plus intéressant sur le plan architectural. Après sa annexion à Paris en 1860, l’urbanisation arrivait au seizième pendant les années de Hector Guimard, une époque de plusieurs modernismes. À Paris un nouveau éclectisme architectural a commencé à résister l’Haussmannization épuisée. L’Art nouveau ne peut pas décrire l’ensemble de l’architecture de ces années, ou même l’architecture de Guimard lui-même, qui changeait au fil du temps. Puisque sa architecture n’était pas influente par rapport aux modernismes des années suivantes, l’oeuvre de Guimard vive trop souvent aux musées plutôt que dans les rues. Bien qu’il était une impasse dans l’histoire de l’architecture, qui ne veut pas habiter une telle ruelle.

Frank Gehry in Sydney

A year ago, when Frank Gehry was commissioned to design the new business school for the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) he was asked if he liked the proposed site. His response — “I like the problem” — was both diplomatic and revealing, for UTS, the youngest of Sydney’s four major universities, exists in a part of town with a lot of likable problems. Like NYU, UTS is an urban university with no real campus. This lack is no problem if you have a Washington Square Park, an expansionist attitude and a Greenwich Village to compensate, but UTS is stuck in a defiantly unlovely part of Sydney. Even if it had the beautiful lawns and gracious old buildings of the nearby University of Sydney, UTS would struggle to maintain a physical identity among the dense but generally mediocre surroundings to the west of Central Station. In a sense UTS’ problem is a condensed version of central Sydney’s more persistent malaise; it is not a place where people linger. While Gehry might seem an obvious choice for any university looking to promote, as the current jargon goes, “stickiness,” UTS and Gehry are in fact an ideal match. As his now-unveiled design for what will be known as the Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building reveals, he has solutions to their problems.

An Opera House, Judged: Ken Woolley’s Reviewing the Performance

“What’s that thing?” -A boy points out the Sydney Opera House to his grandmother, overheard on a train crossing the Harbour Bridge, 21 July 2010. During a recent screening of Rear Window at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I became preoccupied by the audience’s reaction. For me, Rear Window was a “gateway” film, an open door into the beautifully fraudulent world of cinema. I had not seen it for a long time, and watching a good 35mm print with an intelligent audience was a good chance to assess its true impact. In the cinematic canon, if such a thing exists, Rear Window seems to have come to rest partway along the spectrum between familiar, comforting films, say, It’s a Wonderful Life or Gone With the Wind, and perpetually unnerving experiences like, to name two of the blackest noirs I’ve ever seen, Scarlet Street or Detour. Films in the former category tend to generate formulaic responses which paper over any disturbing themes, and allow the work to be arranged as part of the cultural furniture. Films from the bad part of town, by contrast, refuse enclosure in a tidy package. Beyond whatever unsavory aspects of human nature they might reveal, these disturbing films demand to be viewed at 1:1 scale, as though for the first time, every time (this is not a simple distinction between blanc et noir, when Swing Time screened at the Gallery the week after Rear Window, any stirrings of featherbed nostalgia among the audience were quickly overcome in the presence of 103 minutes of sublime cinematic bliss). Rear Window retains characteristics of each extreme. Jimmy Stewart’s voyeurism now seems relatively innocent, at least compared to what people are into these days. The audience reacted to his obsessive nosiness with the same sighing, nostalgic little titters emitted by a gaggle of thirty five year olds watching The Breakfast Club. At the same time, certain moments of Rear Window remained shocking, particularly Stewart’s almost brutal coldness to Grace Kelly. Perhaps every classic film might be found somewhere along this imaginary line between Scarlett’s Tara and Ann Savage’s consumptive cough in Detour.

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