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The ABC of Architects

30 Jan

As a follow-up to my previous incredibly geeky primer on architecture, I have to share this wonderful video on The ABC of Architects from Ombu Architecture.  So fun.

Who’s your favorite and why?


The world’s most recognizable profile…

30 Nov

Courtesy of the lovely blog, Whorange, are these wonderful photos of the upcoming movie ‘Hitchcock’. I saw the trailer for this when we went to see ‘Lincoln’ last weekend.  (Another ‘must-see’.)  We are serious Hitchcock fans around here.  Even the girls.  I would have to say our favorite is ‘Rear Window’ or maybe ‘Vertigo’ but hell, I pretty much like anything with Jimmy Stewart in it.  (And can you guess what our favorite Christmas movie is?)

Enjoy these mid-century set lovelies and let me know what you think of the film.

Anthony Hopkins Scarlett Johansson Hitchcock

bullet bras, coral walls, shag rugs, red lipstick…and murder.

the LA times recently featured stills from the new film hitchcock and i couldn’t resist the production design by judy becker (the fighter, brokeback mountain) and set designer robert gould (the artist).

filmed primarly in homes around los angeles and pasadena, styles range from english tudor mansions and a mid-century bachelor pad to hollywood regency bedrooms and wood panelled studies.

a most curious collection indeed…

Jessica Biel Scarlett Johansson Hitchcock 1950s production design

Anthony Hopkins Hitchcock 1950s production design

Hitchcock Set Design Judy Becker Beverly Hills home

Hitchcock Set Design Judy Becker Kitchen

Psycho Scarlett Johansson Hitchcock 1950s production design

Malibu Hitchcock Beach House set design

Hitchcock film set design danish modern

read more behind-the-set of hitchcock at the LA times. article by the one and only david keeps.

All I want for Christmas is…

27 Nov

Ummm…where have I been that I missed this?  Mad Men Barbies?  Came out almost three years ago?  For reals?  I am transported back to the time when all I wanted for Christmas was the Barbie condo with the elevator.  Sigh, to be a kid again.

However, nothing compares to these awesome Mad Men dolls.  I know I am 41 years old, but I want them.  I really want them.  Unfortunately, looking at the Mattel site, many are sold out.  I can buy Joan Halloway on Ebay for $80+ but I don’t think I want to do that.

I know.  Maybe I’ll ask Santa.

Betty Draper

Don Draper

Joan Halloway

Roger Sterling

And as if that weren’t enough, I just saw the sets Michael Williams created for the dolls, martinis and all.  (Courtesy of If it’s Hip, It’s Here blog.)

And Michael Williams homage to Jonathan Adler.  These dolls have nicer homes than I do!

Michael a photographer and graphic designer whose personal work focuses on collectible 1:6 scale fashion dolls, including Barbie, Ken, Fashion Royalty, FR Nippon Misaki and R&D Susie, as well as dioramas and dollhouses, who hordes RE-MENT and MegaHouse miniatures as props for my photos.

See more of Michael’s work at his site here.
And on for whom he shoots.

You have to read George

24 Nov

I have a thing for George Nelson.  If you asked me who my favorite MCM designer is, I would be hard-pressed to decide between him and Eames, but I think he would win.  He has always struck me as a little more philosophically grounded than the fantastic Mr. Eames.  And I get practically school-girlish about his bubble lamps. 

So imagine my elation at finding out his writings trump his designs, according to the piece below from the Design Within Reach blog, Design Notes.   As a woman of words, any man with a higher than 10th grade vocabulary makes me swoon.  And the bravado of the intro to his book which basically says, “You don’t like me?  Put this book down then.” is my design-nerd idea of the charming rebel.

You have to read George.

George Nelson posing for Herman Miller advertisement “Traveling Men,” ca. 1954. Courtesy of Vitra Design Museum Archive.

At last week’s Yale symposium about George Nelson, one message was clear: You have to read George. In other words, George the writer trumps George the architect, George the designer and George the teacher, combined.

For two days, scholars, design nerds, editors and Murray Moss (there is no label to define him) talked about the legacy of this American icon. Known mainly for his furniture and design work for Herman Miller, Nelson also wrote and edited for Architectural Forum, Fortune, Pencil Points, Life and McCall’s, and co-authored the bestselling Tomorrow’s House with Henry Wright.

Cover of November 1959 issue of Architectural Forum, where George Nelson was associate editor (1935-1943) and consulting editor (1944-1949).

Nelson’s unapologetic, unflinching style is immediately clear in Tomorrow’s House, which begins: “This book has a point of view which may seem strange to you. What it is will be made pretty clear in the first few pages of this introduction. If, after reading that far, the viewpoint seems not only strange, but unpalatable as well, put this book aside and forget it, for what we have to say will not be for you.”

He continues, “Today’s house is a peculiarly lifeless affair. The picture one sees in residential neighborhoods the country over is one of drab uniformity: pathetic little white boxes with dressed-up street fronts, each striving for individuality through meaningless changes in detail or color. The reason today’s house is so uninteresting is simply that it fails to echo life as we live it. Expressed in another way, it is hideously inefficient. Less honest thought goes into the design of the average middle-class house than into the fender of a cheap automobile.”

According to professor John Harwood of Oberlin College, Nelson’s fascination with design extended to other areas, and he even hosted an ABC television program called “How to Kill People.” I did a quick search for archival materials and quickly discovered that “how to kill people” is not something you should google – especially at work – so you’ll just have to take Harwood’s word for it. Worth noting, even in this program, Nelson’s concepts were said to have been expressed with brilliance, wit and verve.


As for the exhibition, George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher is worth the trip to Yale. It’s also a treat to explore the Yale School of Architecture building designed by Paul Rudolph.


Paul Rudolph Hall was completed in 1963. The Yale campus also includes buildings by Louis Kahn and Marcel Breuer, and a hockey rink by Eero Saarinen.


The interior and exterior walls of this Brutalist building are made of hammered concrete aggregate, creating an interesting, and oddly soothing, textural pattern. The layout of the rooms, however is a bit choppy and, perhaps due to later renovations, there is a lack of intuitive flow from one space to the next.

George Nelson believed that a space is successful when it’s done with love. I don’t know if Rudolph’s heart was aflutter when designing this building for Yale, but the passion expressed inside its walls makes up for the possible indifference.

The curious appearance of a martini glass on the ledge. Perhaps Nelson, who was a Yale graduate and a fan of martinis, still haunts these halls…

I wish I could say we were seated in Womb Chairs, shown here in the student lounge, but our interest in George Nelson was tested by the brutal seating in Paul Rudolph’s Brutalist building. Described beautifully by author Ralph Caplan, who said, “One of the pleasures of speaking at this symposium is that you get a chance to get out of these seats.” (You also have to read Ralph, but I’ll save that post for another day.)

A gift for you: I found an online version of Nelson’s Tomorrow’s House through Open Library. Enjoy!

New Lang Syne

20 Nov

Out with the auld and in with the new this New Year’s.  From the beautifully modern 2Modern blog come these beautifully modern bubbly glasses.  Break out the Veuve Clicquot and ring in a gorgeous 2013!  (Responsibly, of course.)  Or if you aren’t driving or are staying home, be irresponsible and swing from the chandeliers in your knickers.

(And if you have ever wondered what that song is about, Auld Lang Syne is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song.   The song’s Scots title may be translated into English literally as “old long since”, or more idiomatically, “long long ago”, “days gone by” or “old times”. Consequently “For auld lang syne”, as it appears in the first line of the chorus, might be loosely translated as “for the sake of old times”.  From Wikipedia, so you know it’s true.)

Nothing quite says Happy New Year like a sparkling libation with streams of tiny bubbles lifting from the bottom of the glass to the surface, like streamers in the opposite directions, screaming come celebrate! Whether it is for the New Years, the old year or your year, the best way to drink it is from a pretty glass. Some prefer stemware some prefer stemless glasses. Tulip, flute or coupe? My requirement is that it is as elegant as the bubbles it contains. The season for celebrations is right around the corner so here are a few modern versions of the all important champagne glass for your holiday festivities.

Above: Horn Champagne flute, Ingrid Ruegemer

Above: left to right Selma Flute, CB2; Verve Flute, Crate & Barrel; Float Champagne Flutes by Molo, Riedel Sommeliers Sparkling Wine Glass, Williams-Sonoma; Inside Out Champagne Glass, Grounded.

Above: check out moss for these lovely shapes

Above: Crate and Barrel for this fluted variety.

Above: Revolution Collection Champagne Glasses by Felicia Ferrone; hand-blown of borosilicate glass

Above: Hand-blown Champagne Glasses designed by Ilse Crawford and Michael Anastassiades

Above: Colorful and vintage inspired from Home & Gadgets.

Above: Christofle Collection 3000 with silver base and crystal top.

Above: These Aarne champagne glasses look a little like beer glasses. What do you think?

Above: Alfredo Haberli: Essence Champagne Flutes

Above: Bloom etched stemless flute for the accident prone.

Cheers! Have an infinitely modern day!

Decor Swap Party

15 Nov

From Apartment Therapy, one of my favorite blogs, comes this amazing idea of a Decor Swap Party. I LOVE this. Anyone game? The best thing about it is that at least you know everything will fit!


If you have ever been to a clothing swap party, you know how great it is to see your once favorite pieces begin their new life with a friend and also get to come home with the feeling that you just went shopping and got a really good bargain. Well, why let clothes have all the fun? Let’s get homes in on the action too!

A decor swap party is a great push to finally get to the things you have been needing to clear out from your space. I know I am always headed to Goodwill or the like to donate the things that I ‘just had to have’ way back when, or the stuff I bought thinking ‘this would make a great (fill in the blank) one day’ and just never got to it. Remember, just because you have outgrown something doesn’t mean someone else will view it in the same way.

You could make it general and bring whatever you want, or have a specific theme like ‘things that make you go hmmm’, ‘shabby chic’, ‘organize this’, ‘things that light up’, ‘everything chartreuse’, ‘have a seat’, ‘vessels’ or even ‘funky furniture’. If you want to swap larger furniture items, just bring pictures of all side of the piece along with the dimensions.

So now all you have to do is shuffle through your stuff, toss out an invite, throw together some wine and appetizers and start shopping. Whatever doesn’t get chosen can be brought to the thrift store the next day. Have fun!

(Image: from Pop of Sunshine: 10 Yellow Accessories For Under $50)

Culture vs. Commerce: The Fight to Save Prentice

7 Nov

I am sharing this thoughtful post from the excellent blog Matter Observed because it addresses some topics near and dear to my heart:  Chicago architecture, Northwestern University (my alma mater) and the question of historical preservation as dogma.  I would be interested to know your opinion.  Demolish and rebuild?  Recycle and reuse?  Move?  Thoughts?

The heated debate over Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Woman’s Hospital building came to a head yesterday as the Commission on Chicago Landmarks finally heard the argument from staffers of the Department of Housing and Economic Development (HED) as well as public support to save the brutalist structure from demolition. After nearly six hours of hearing and granting preliminary landmark status, the Commission, chaired by Rafael Leon, overturned landmark status by a landslide vote of 8-1 at the meeting’s finale rendering Prentice a sitting duck.

As a recent adherent of this preservation saga, admittedly not knowing the all the intricacies and politics that undoubtedly lie beneath the surface, I see both sides as having valid positions:

Northwestern University

Northwestern University, the rightful owner of the property as of early Summer 2011, wants to build a brand new, massive (1.2 million square feet) biomedical research facility on the current site with aspirations to become a global leader in research on cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders. University spokesman Alan Cubbage said that Prentice is a 1970’s hospital designed for a totally different purpose, and can’t facilitate 21st medical research. He (Northwestern) believes that preservation of buildings with historical and cultural significance is a good goal, but doing research into diseases that kill people, and bringing thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research funds to Chicago are also very good goals. According to its website, the University will “attract an additional $150 million a year in new medical research dollars, create 2,000 new full-­time jobs, and generate an additional $390 million a year in economic activity in Chicago.” Northwestern University plans to demolish the old Prentice building and hold a design competition for its new research facility within the next calendar year.

The Save Prentice Coalition

Conversely, the preservationists are urging the commission for preliminary landmark status in order to protect the relatively young, 37 year old quatrefoil-shaped building designed by notable Chicago architect, the late Bertrand Goldberg. Though the University believes that Marina City is a better example of Goldberg’s work, the preservationists argue that Prentice is vitally important on numerous fronts. First, the architect is one of Chicago’s own, and he’s just now beginning to get the credit that he’s due. Second, the building is important to Chicago’s architectural heritage and the history of Streeterville. They also argue that if you look at Prentice in terms of its architectural design (cloverleaf-shaped concrete tower), its engineering (cantilevered decks from a single column), how it was designed to change the way that woman’s healthcare was provided (“care clusters”), and the fact that it was one of the first buildings to have used computer aided design software in its design, that it is extremely significant to the legacy of modern architecture. According to the Preliminary Summary of Information in the official Agenda of the Commission of Chicago Landmarks:

“Goldberg was an early adopter of computer technology within the architectural profession, and during the design of Prentice he modified software then in use by the aeronautical industry to design the building’s unprecedented cantilevered structure. Prentice is one of the first tall structures designed using computer analysis, and the computational method used to create it is now an essential tool in architectural and structural design.”

Original floor plan of Prentice Woman’s Hospital

Supporters and Detractors

A cadre of noted architects and engineers are in favor of preserving Prentice, including eight Pritzker Prize winners and the entire office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM). The Chicago architecture firm Studio Gang submitted an unsolicited rendering of an adaptive reuse solution, building a 31 story bowed square-shaped tower on top of the original building (see below). The Save Prentice Coalition immediately praised it, and the University just as quickly rejected it saying it doesn’t meet basic criteria for their vision of a modern, state-of-the-art research facility.

Christina Morris of the National Trust for Historic Preservation said that this “doesn’t have to be an either/or choice, and that there’s room for both reuse and research;” Architecture critic and WBEZ contributor Lee Bey said that “the preliminary landmark designation would temporarily spare Prentice from demolition for a year, and it would give City Hall the ability to examine whether a permanent designation and reuse plan are possible by working with the university, preservationists and experts” (a sensible idea, though time is of course money); Mayor Rahm Emanuel has recently sided with the politically powerful institution saying, “It is clear that the current building cannot accommodate the groundbreaking research facility that Northwestern needs to build, and I support the decision to rebuild on the site,” essentially sealing the fate of old Prentice; while the Chicago Architectural Club, in conjunction with the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects has called for new ideas from architects, artists, and designers in an open competition called “Future Prentice” – which could amount to a “what if” exhibition if landmark status is not granted.

So What’s Your Point?

This brings me to why I’m sounding off on this issue that again is relatively new to me: of all the figurative pushing and shoving I’ve read on both sides of the issue, and of the few adaptive reuse concepts that I’ve seen in the press thus far (I’m interested in seeing more), to my knowledge there has not been one mention of structure relocation as a viable solution and a way to appease both the University and the preservationists. In spite of its structural shortcomings and, to some, aesthetic shortcomings, wouldn’t recycling Prentice by moving it to a new site and giving it a new purpose be a logical solution to the problem? Northwestern can build their billion-dollar research facility, and the preservationists can have their Goldberg. Though not historic preservation in the purest sense, it is, after all, a better outcome than a plaque and box of photographs.

Now I certainly don’t know or claim to know the financial investment or logistical scope involved of what would surely be a challenging feet of structural engineering in order to save Prentice from the kiss of the wrecking ball – but, in a “make no little plans” city, a city that reversed the flow of the Chicago River and twice built the world’s tallest building (the Willis Tower in 1974 and the Burj Khalifa in 2010), if Prentice is truly an architectural masterpiece and a national treasure as so many have claimed, isn’t the topic of structure relocation and a recycled Prentice as a compromised solution in lieu of demolition worthy of at least a conversation, if not further exploration? And, by gifting the building to the city in order to save it (and responsibly move it off the land), wouldn’t Northwestern save in millions of dollars of demolition costs? Now that Rahm has spoken and a decision has been made, I’m curious to know if recycling Prentice is something both parties would even consider at this point. It may still be too early as I’m certain we haven not heard the last word from the preservationists.

My Connection to Goldberg and this Story

Why has this story grabbed my attention so much as to spend time thinking and blogging about it? Well, I’ve been familiar with Bertrand Goldberg for years. My father was a construction worker for James McHugh Construction Co. and helped build Marina City back in 1964; I recently worked on an interior design project in Goldberg’s boutique hotel turned condominium building, Astor Tower in the Gold Coast; and, living across the street from a mothballed brownfield, site of the old Grand Central Station (Harrison and Wells), I can’t help but see another complicated Goldberg structure just to the south, Marina City (1972-1989). As many problems the building has endured over the years (namely flooding), every day packed tour boats navigate down the South Branch of the Chicago River to River City showing hundreds if not thousands of architecture buffs and tourists alike the strangely unique concrete S-shaped complex. Irony or not, directly across the river is the land where 141 years ago, Catherine O’Leary’s infamous cow knocked over the lantern (or so the legend goes) that ultimately razed and paved the way for the city to become a hotbed for architects from all over the world to rebuild the city, thus beginning Chicago’s world renown architectural heritage. Despite these three connections to Bertrand Goldberg’s buildings, until the recent media attention over the preservation of Prentice, I had never really given too much thought into his work or his legacy on the city in which I call home.

Marina City

Astor Tower

Architectural boat tours

Preservation via Structure Relocation

As I mentioned above, I live across the street from a brownfield site that has been sitting vacant since 1971, around mid-construction of Prentice Woman’s Hospital. The seven acre plot that runs adjacent to the Chicago River has been an unauthorized park for the last 20 years, where people use the land for various activities, including golf, football, baseball, soccer, Frisbee, cross-training, pep-rallies, and theater, to name a few – there’s even a cricket league that plays their matches there. It’s also the city’s largest unofficial dog park.

In 1931, William Randolph Hurst moved the Santa Maria de Ovila Monastery 6,500 miles from Spain to San Francisco. What if…

we were to take the old Prentice building and relocate it 2 miles southwest to the site of 700 S. Wells (with or without the Miesian black box it currently sits on), turn the grounds surrounding it, including the riverfront, into a public park (think the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum), encase it in a glass box envelope (to prevent the “frosting drip” on concrete buildings when it rains) creating a light-filled atrium. One possible occupant could be the Chicago Center for Green Technology, giving it a secondary location, one that is closer to the people of Chicago (and to the thousands of tourists that pass the site every day on the architectural boat tours… i.e. a new revenue stream on the river, if you will) as its current location is 4.5 miles west of the Loop. Farr Associates, who have completed some amazing preservation and LEED projects, including the Chicago Center for Green Technology, and Perkins+Will would tag team the preservation, architecture, and landscape design.

“Frosting drip” on Prentice

Glass box examples

Chicago ranks among the top cities in the United States in green building design. What better way to symbolize both our architectural heritage and our leadership and commitment to green building practices and cradle-to-cradle design than to breath new life into old Prentice?

In yesterday’s hearing, Phil Enquist of SOM urged the Commission to “embrace the tradition of big, bold ideas, and identify a plan for reuse.” My (quickly conceived and crudely rendered) concept is just one example of many “big, bold” ideas for reuse I am certain are out there, if only the architects and planners were given the opportunity and a little more time.

Re-imagine, recycle, and reinvent.

Long live Prentice.

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