November 2010 The Evolving Critic

Gardens of the Hudson Valley
Photographs by Steve Gross & Susan Daley
Text by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, Forward by Gregory Long
The Monacelli Press, 2010 $50.00 (Amazon)
ISBN 978-1-58093-277-6

Gardens of the Hudson Valley published by the Monacelli Press highlights the exquisite gardens of the National Heritage Area known as the Hudson Valley, as well as the landscape architects that contributed to the cultural and artistic development of this region. Masters of landscape design like Alexander Jackson Downing, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Fletcher Steele have all left their imprints upon the landscape of the Hudson Valley.

This coffee table book recounts the stories of twenty five famous gardens including the estate garden of the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, Lyndhurst in Tarrytown and the Federal style Boscobel in Coldspring, NY. These historic landscapes are not only stunningly photographed by Steve Gross and Susan Daley, but also beautifully narrated by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner.  The Hudson River Valley is considered to be one of America’s most significant and culturally richest regions in the nation. The authors do a tremendous job at highlighting the historically significant beauty of these landscapes and hint at the impact of these gardens on the development of American landscape architecture.

In case you would like to visit many of the gardens featured in the book ( trust me, you will want to visit them after indulging in all the beautiful photographs), a list of gardens open to the public is included.

Private Gardens of Connecticut
Photography by John M. Hall
Text by Jane Garmey
The Monacelli Press, 2010 $65.00 (Amazon)
ISBN 978-1-58093-241-7

From the Hudson Valley we head to the state of Connecticut to explore the private gardens of prominent members of the fashion, design, arts and business communities. Even though some of the gardens featured in the Private Gardens of Connecticut are not as historic as those featured in the Gardens of the Hudson Valley, they are excellent examples of gardens that incorporate the beauty of the Connecticut landscape.

Among the gardens  featured in this book are those of fashion designer Oscar de La Renta as well as Agne Gund, the former president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  Many of these gardens  reflect their owner’s passions such as Agne Gund love for contemporary sculpture.  Both of these books are excellent sources of inspiration for those looking to create a sanctuary of their own this coming Spring.

Photo of Mark Bradford by Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy:

When Nicholas Baume left his position as chief curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) in 2009 to join the Public Art Fund of New York City, the future of Boston’s contemporary art scene was questioned.  With Baume’s curatorial insight, the ICA organized the first major museum retrospective of artists Tara Donovan and Shepard Fairey, thereby breaking attendance records (and bringing in tons of dough) and shining a light on Boston’s contemporary art scene. Since Baume’s departure, the ICA has exhibited a retrospective of Roni Horn and Damian Ortega organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and Tate Modern in London respectively.  In its quest to continue breaking the blurred boundaries of the art world, the current exhibition at the ICA is the first museum survey of the Los Angeles born and based artist Mark Bradford.

Organized by The Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, Mark Bradford (November 19 – March 13, 2011) is one of the most powerful exhibitions I have seen in recent memory. Bradford is known for his large scale abstract paintings which resemble dense political and physical maps. These paintings are created out of carefully selected found materials which include, but not limited to, weathered billboard paper, permanent weave end paper, newsprint, carbon paper, and wrapping paper. In spite of their abstract qualities, Bradford’s works are filled with subject matter and intense social commentaries.

Experiencing the works in the exhibition, the phrase “silence is golden” constantly came to mind. The moment one is confronted with a work of art, in particular one created by a contemporary artist, “silence is golden” does not apply. But as I stood in front of Bradford’s larger than life paintings, I wanted to find words that would help me explain the emotions I was feeling.  I was struck speechless by the intensity of the materials, colors and images and texts in Bradford’s works.

Untitled (Shoe), 2003. Billboard paper, acrylic gel medium, and additional mixed media. 30 x 31 1/2 inches. The Speyer Family Collection. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Among the works that still resonate with me are Untitled (Shoe) 2003, Scorched Earth, 2006 and Black Venus, 2005. In Untitled (Shoe), Bradford has taken a billboard advertisement for Reebok sneakers and peeled away the image of the shoe leaving only its outline.  With this piece, Bradford is making a commentary on black identity and sneaker culture, “I feel black male masculinity, especially in the last 10 or 15 or 20 years has been narrowed based on a kind of popular culture. Popular culture has determined that [as] black males, we exist in about two or three different models, the sports figure, the gangster figure, or the reverend.” Mark Bradford employs stereotypes to break away stereotypes.

Scorched Earth, 2006. Billboard paper, photomechanical reproductions, acrylic gel medium, carbon paper, acrylic paint, bleach, and additional mixed media on canvas. 94 1/2 x 118 inches. Collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl. Photo: Bruce M. White

In Scorched Earth, Bradford uses a dramatic and unforgettable red and black palette to reference the moment in history when in 1921 35 city blocks in Tulsa, Oklahoma were burned and destroyed in the riots resulting from the tensions between blacks and whites. In Black Venus, Bradford “examines class-race, and gender based economies that structure urban society in the United States.”

“”I was always supported in the domestic realm, and I was always strong about standing up for myself, but there were still struggles in my life. Reading about the postmodern condition made me realize it was about independence, about doing your own thing. And that’s a state of mind. It’s not an art work or a book. It’s a state of mind. Fluidity, juxtapositions, cultural borrowing- they’ve all been going on for centuries. The only authenticity there is what I put together.” – Mark Bradford

Black Venus, 2005 Detail. Mixed media collage, 130 x 196 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Image taken from Art21’s documentary on Mark Bradford as shown on PBS.

Mark Bradford at the ICA has the potential of igniting a rich dialogue on the urban landscape and race relations in America (in particular Boston, since the exhibition is currently in the city). His grid-like paintings resemble physical, political and topographic maps, allowing the viewer to imagine the rivers, mountains, lakes, elevations, boundaries or the ideological differences that divide and unite people. I loved this exhibition! I loved it because it is powerful and unabashed in exposing the economies of urban centers and their impact on people of color living in America today. I loved it because Mark Bradford is one of the few contemporary artists of color dealing with these questions through abstract art.

Will you go and see the exhibition, contemplate Bradford’s works in silence (go on a Friday night) and start a dialogue of your own?

“What are you doing here? I didn’t know you knew of her work!” “Who doesn’t know of her work? She’s a big deal.” I had this brief exchange of words with an acquaintance I had not seen in a very long time in a crowded auditorium at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. This acquaintance seemed surprised that I was not only aware of, but interested in the work of the Iranian-American visual artist Shirin Neshat. Last night, Neshat talked about her photographic and video work as well as her first feature film Women without Men

As a renowned artist, Neshat’s interests lies in exploring many social issues including the role of women in Islam, the relationship of gender to Islam itself and the relationship of human beings to their surroundings. Neshat has produced a body of work which is deeply personal and political, reflecting her experiences in Iran and America.

The uses of allegories, symbolism and metaphors have become key defining characteristics of Shirin Neshat’s works, leaving a powerful and long-lasting impression on those who experience them.

The film Women without Men is without a doubt one of the most powerful and achingly beautiful films I have ever seen. It is a highly stylized and highly choreographed film about independence, freedom and democracy, a film that richly tells the story of an era with all its beauty and horror.

And as far as beauty goes, Neshat does not shy away from it. She sees her work as a re-interpretation of elements in Islamic art. The symmetry, harmony, and composition so characteristic of classical Islamic art are also found in Neshat’s photography and video installations. Women without Men is a rich and thought-provoking film, full of questions about the human condition and our quest for freedom.

The film Women without Men has already garnered numerous accolades including the Silver Lion for Best Director at the 66th Annual Venice Film Festival and was the Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival. If this film gets a wider distribution, please do make an attempt to indulge in all its beauty and meaning.

Neal Rantoul, Untitled from the series Boston Infrared

Neal Rantoul: Twenty-Five Years (1980-2005) on view at Panopticon Gallery from November 10 through January 04, 2011 chronicles twenty five years in the career of photographer and Northeastern University professor Neal Rantoul. From the heroic depictions of Boston’s most maligned modernist buildings in his series Boston Infrared to the stark and eerie landscape series on the Northampton, Massachusetts fairgrounds, the work of Rantoul captivates the viewer with their varied subject matter. Contemplating the photography of Neal Rantoul and having studied the works of his mentors Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, some of the characteristics that made these two photographers famous are undeniably present in Rantoul’s photography.  Callahan’s love for the American landscape and Siskind’s fascination with the abstract forms of architecture are particularly captured in Untitled #7 from the Northampton Fairgrounds series and in Untitled #4 from the Boston Infrared series. This is not to say that Rantoul’s works aren’t original, because they are, but to have learned and been exposed to the works of Callahan and Siskind from the masters themselves, adds so much more credibility and importance to Rantoul’s works.

Panopticon Gallery is located inside the Hotel Commonwealth, in Kenmore Square. Take the Green Line B, C, D to Kenmore Square and enjoy the show.

For the first time in its thirteen years as an organization, ART21 recently premiered a film based on a single artist: William Kentridge. If you watch PBS, perhaps you’ve caught their excellent documentaries on contemporary art and artists, if you haven’t seen any episodes, head over to and watch them (the series is now in its fifth season).

The new film Anything is Possible: William Kentridge

gives viewers an intimate look into the mind and creative process of William Kentridge, the South African artist whose acclaimed charcoal drawings, animations, video installations, shadow plays, mechanical puppets, tapestries, sculptures, live performance pieces, and operas have made him one of the most dynamic and exciting contemporary artists working today.

For more information on this wonderful film click here:

If you would like to see some works by William Kentridge in person, head over to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design‘s Sandra & David Bakalar Gallery which is currently hosting William Kentridge: Projects until December 11, 2010. The exhibition is gorgeous and introduced me to an artists who is well known to many, but unknown to me until I watched the ART21 film.

My best attempt at imitating William Kentridge. If you see the exhibit (which you should), you’ll know what this all about:

First Image: William Kentridge, Felix in Exile, 1993, still from animated film short, 8 minutes 43 seconds. National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; Museum purchase 96-34-5. Copyright: William Kentridge

Thomas Jayne
The Finest Rooms in America
The Monacelli Press on Sale November 09, 2010 $50.00
Available on Amazon or any book retailers worldwide
ISBN 978-1-58093-2424

Ever wonder what some of America’s finest interiors look like?  There’s no more wondering since The Monacelli Press just published Thomas Jayne’s The Finest Rooms in America, whose concept is based on the classic book The Finest Rooms, by America’s Great Decorators (1964). If you’re an architectural historian, architect, interior designer or decorator or a design enthusiast, you’ve most likely seen in person some of the rooms highlighted in Jayne’s book.  By bringing together some of the most influential American domestic interiors like Thomas Jefferson’s Tea Room at Monticello and Annette and Oscar de la Renta’s bedroom/sitting room in Kent, Connecticut, Thomas Jayne has revisited a classic interior decoration book and made it relevant for all of us concerned with the history and evolution of American interior decoration today.

The first edition of The Finest Rooms, by America’s Great Decorators did not feature any historic rooms nor any rooms designed in the mid-century or modern style. Published in 1964, the book only focused on interiors designed in the 1920’s up until the early 1960’s. The interiors featured in the first edition were decorated by designers who looked back to many of those interiors included in Thomas Jayne’s The Finest Rooms in America. Jayne not only highlights interiors from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, but also the 21st century, in turn drawing parallels between the historic interiors and contemporary interior design.

The Finest Rooms in America is a reference for anyone interested in American interior decoration.  Among other notable rooms featured in Thomas Jayne’s edition include Fenway Court; the medieval inspired courtyard of Isabella Stewart Gardner, the Golden Step Dining Room at Beauport Mansion in Gloucester, Massachusetts and the living room at the Charles and Ray Eames House in Pacific Palisades, California. The fifty influential interiors featured in TheFinest Rooms in America not only show the evolution of American interior decoration from the 18th to the 21st century, but also how all the styles discussed in this book have endured the test of time.

Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light
David Mathias
ISBN 978-1-4403-0299-2 $35.00 (Amazon
Popular Woodworking Books 2010

Rarely do we get an opportunity to look at the details in the furniture and architecture of Charles and Henry Greene from the perspective of a hobbyist woodworker. David Mathias has given us that perspective. Mathias in Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood andLight transports his readers to an era in America where the creation of objects crafted by hand played a major role in society, particularly in the lives of wealthy clients and their chosen designers.

Allowing for an intimate look into the exquisite furniture and interior woodwork details designed by the Greene Brothers, Mathias examines their work and places the brothers within the broader context of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The movement which emerges out of the English Gothic Revival placed emphasis on hand crafted ornamentation and details, which in turn, as its leaders championed, would create a moral and social change in the world.

The potential of good design in creating a better world (for those who could actually afford the expensive furniture and objects created by hand, because in this sense, the Arts and Crafts Movement was a complete failure) was the driving philosophy behind the Arts and Crafts Movement.

It was this philosophy that drove the work of architects Charles Greene and Henry Greene in Pasadena, California. Influenced by the work of Gustav Stickley and other designers and trends of the time including Japanese design, as well as the works of the critic John Ruskin and the artist William Morris, the furniture created by the Greene Brothers was designed to stand the test of time. Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light is beautifully illustrated with photographs and architectural drawings, highlighting some of the most breathtaking details in the furniture. The lighting, stained glass, as well as interior and exterior architectural woodwork by Greene and Greene is also discussed in this monograph.

In 2009, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston hosted the exhibition “A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene and Greene” which celebrated the artistic triumphs behind some of the most iconic houses designed by these two architects. The exhibition proved to be an exhilarating journey into the native beauty found in the works of Charles and Henry Greene and was a tremendous success in Boston (at least, I saw the exhibition eight times)! In his first book, David Mathias allows for a more intimate journey into the poems of wood and light “written” in the furniture and architectural woodwork of Charles and Henry Greene.

January 2010 The Evolving Critic

Boston University

No, I am not speaking for myself, or the fine university I attend here in Boston, but for the thousands of high school students in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the country whose historic, architecturally significant schools are being torn down and replaced with cookie cutter, strip mall like architecture constructed of cheap materials. One of my favorite things as a student has always been going on class fieldtrips. Visiting sites like Plimoth Plantation, Old Sturbridge Village and the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island sparked an early age interest in architectural history and preservation. I was fortunate to attend a beautiful historic school in Boston which has been adapted to meet the educational needs of the 21st century, in turn serving as a model for other historic schools across the state.

East Boston High School, the beautiful and historic school I attended

As a professional working in preservation, the demolition of historic schools has posed a tremendous challenge for communities and tax payers all over the country. In Massachusetts, Tim Cahill, the State Treasurer and Chairman of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has been imposing upon every tax payer one of the most ludicrous ideas in the state’s fiscal history. Towns like Wellesley and Norwood have all jumped on Cahill’s bandwagon and voted to demolish their historic schools and construct new ones based on the Model School Plan.

Mr. Cahill has made it his lifelong goal to “save” communities money by demolishing their historic schools. Of course, in the long run the costs of maintaining these schools will outweigh the benefits to communities further burdening the tax payer. According to the MSBA, the Model School Plan “effectively adapt[s] and re-use[s] the designs of successful, recently constructed high schools and incorporate[s] sustainable, “green” design elements when possible and will be flexible in educational programming spaces while encouraging community use.” Educational theories constantly change and what were once groundbreaking theories in one generation may be obsolete for the next. But really, is there a need to demolish a school simply because it may programmatically interfere with the needs of students in the 21st century?

Norwood High School, TO BE DEMOLISHED upon completion of the new high school

If you are wondering how the Model School Plan works, let us consider this scenario: The new and supposedly better school is constructed in the “old” school’s playing fields over a short period of time (usually summer). When the new school is completed, the “old” school is then demolished and either converted to surface parking lot or playing fields.

The Model School Plan has many faults, one of them is that it ignores the possibility of either finding a re-use for the historic school or incorporating new technology to improve the quality of education. Most likely, Mr. Cahill has never heard of the phrase “the greenest building is the one that is already built” coined by Carl Elefante of Quinn Evans Architects and Director of Sustainable Design and a Principal in the Washington, DC office. Preservationists, architects and those concerned with sustainability and architecture live and practice by this mantra and if Mr. Cahill has heard it before. Demolishing a “historic” school or an architecturally significant building to build a “green” one, is not being sustainable.

Auburn High School, DEMOLISHED 2006. I’m sorry, not only was the High School demolished, but any images of it have also seem to disappeared as well!

The success of the new Model School design is also debatable. While schools continue to fall one after the other, like a domino sculpture, studies on the effectiveness of the Model School Plan have yet to surface. Towns have been blindfolded and have voted to adopt Cahill’s absurd ideas without really knowing what they are getting themselves into. Do people really think that demolishing a building is done at no costs to the town, state, country or environment? Adopting the Model School Plan only spells many future problems for our towns and cities, not to mention the deep holes in our tax payer’s pockets.

The schools that have already been built in Massachusetts under the Model School Plan are NOT good models for other schools to follow. These schools are as architecturally uninspiring as a course in economics was to me back in college. The new buildings look like a CVS, Stop and Shop, Wal-Mart or a Target in contrast to the masterpieces that have been demolished or will be demolished in their place.

Wellesley High School, SOON TO BE DEMOLISHED

Shame on Wellesley for voting to demolish their International Style high school designed in 1938 by the internationally acclaimed firm of Perry Dean Shaw and Hepburn and shame on Norwood for voting to demolish their strikingly beautiful Colonial Revival school designed by the town’s leading architect. Massachusetts has already lost several architecturally significant schools including Auburn High School, but can we afford to lose one more?

The New Auburn High School, Uninspiring at its best!

Hanson-Whitman High School, another Model School based on a cookie cutter template! Source: Boston Globe

The Macallen Building, South Boston, Architect: Office dA

Recently, the Boston Herald published a list of the top ten best new buildings of the decade in the city. These buildings break away from the typical brick and brownstone architecture that canvas most of Boston. Architecturally speaking, Boston has yet to distance itself from the puritanical and conservative ideals deeply rooted in its history. Looking at the past for architectural inspiration has allowed Boston to achieve limited freedom in creativity.  The buildings on the list have been praised for pushing Boston out of its conservative architectural envelope and redefined the world class city that it is!

The Macallen Building, South Boston. Architect: Office dA

Boston has never been able to get out of the shadows of New York City and the list proves that the rivalry between these two world class cities is alive and stronger than ever. It is not a secret how much Yankee fans and Red Sox fans love each other. They can barely wait for baseball season to begin to call each other names and brag about which team has won the most World Series. Wait, what am I talking about?! These fans will harrass each other regardless whether is baseball season or not. If you ask me to chose a team, I prefer the Red Sox, but if you ask my brother, he prefers the Yankees! One can never win. This love hate relationship between these two cities is captured in the list of the top ten best new buildings in Boston. By my count, Boston wins with 5 Boston/Cambridge architectural firms making a name for themselves, while placing the city at the forefront of the architecture world.

The WGBH Headquarter Building, Brighton. Architect: Polshek Partnership

Office dA, one of my favorite Boston firms makes the list with the Macallen Building in South Boston. Considered one of the first LEED-certified, environmentally conscious multi-housing buildings in the state of Massachusetts, the Macallen Building stands out for all the right reasons and the city is a much better place because of it.  The building was recently honored by the American Society of Landscape Architects with a 2009 Professional Design Award. The partners at Office dA, Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani proved that Boston possesses the talent and genius to award architectural commissions to local firms, instead of inviting architects from Los Angeles, New York City or from abroad to leave their imprint on the city.

The Boston Convention and Visitor Center, South Boston. Architect: Rafael Viñoly

Among the New York City firms on the  Herald’s list include Rafael Viñoly for his design of the Boston Convention and Visitor Center in South Boston, Diller Scofidio + Renfro for the boxy Institute of Contemporary Art also in South Boston and Polshek Partnership for the WGBH Building in Brighton. And yes, I do prefer the Boston architects over New York because they are excellent examples of what our local talent is capable of producing, but the New York architects (and I hate to say this), placed Boston on the international map this past decade with buildings like the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Boston Convention and Visitor Center.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, South Boston. Architect: diller scofidio + renfro

Although New York pushed the architectural envelope in Boston, the building that always captivates me is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Stata Center by the Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry. To borrow a word used recently by the Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert in his critique of Broken Embraces by Pedro Almodovar,  Gehry’s 2004 Stata Center is a “voluptuary” of a building. Its textures, materials, colors, and soft sexy curves punctuated by geometric shapes and hard edges are a reflection of yours truly. No, not in the soft sexy curves (in case you wanted to know), but in the multitude of colors and textures that make up my daily wardrobe! The Stata Center is a building that keeps me engage, it makes me feel like a kid in a candy store, excited and hyper, waiting to indulge my senses in all the sugar. It makes me want to hug every one of its shiny surfaces and scream to the world the audacious and bold step Boston has taken forward with this building.

In all fairness, New York architects have been dramatically influencing the architectural fabric of Boston for decades. The prestigious firm of Carrere and Hastings, McKim, Mead and White and even H.H. Richardson have all left their mark in Boston, designing buildings like the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church, which have served as sources for countless other buildings around the country. The New York architectural firms who left their mark in Boston this past decade have broken the barriers of creativity in Boston!

As groundbreaking as any of these buildings were during the last decade, there were two other notable buildings that did not make the list, but which deserved to be mentioned in this post. So here I go, take note.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stata Center, Cambridge. Architect: Frank Gehry

Simmons Hall at MIT by Steven Holl, one of my favorite New York firms, stands out for being a building that belongs in New York or Los Angeles and not in Boston.  It breaks away from the puritanical and conservative ideals associated with Boston architecture, adding a funky, cool sophisticated feeling to the fabric of Massachusetts.

The other building that deserved to be listed is the Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library, designed by the Boston architects of Machado and Silvetti. Distancing themselves from the brick so typical of Boston architecture, Machado and Silvetti incorporate slate sculpings and slate shingles with glass and various other rich textures creating a visually enticing building in one of Boston’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods.

To see other buildings on the list, click on the link above and let me know which ones you think deserved to be listed and which ones were omitted!

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Simmons Hall, Cambridge. Architect: Steven Holl

What I Saw: Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois

As you may have recalled from my previous post on my summer architecture-peeping trip celebrating the 150th birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, the first stop on this multi-city adventure was Chicago. Renown for its excellent architecture, public art and museums, Chicago not only witnessed the development of the skyscraper as a work of art, but also the birth of the Prairie Style—what is now referred to as the first American style of architecture. In preparation for my trip, I purchased tickets to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frederick C. Robie House, Unity Temple as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio, well in advance and brushed up on my FLW reading in the days prior to the trip.

Before immersing myself in Wright’s architecture in Oak Park and River Forest, I ventured to the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago—more specifically, the South Side and the campus of the University of Chicago to visit the Frederick C. Robie House.

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Considered the masterpiece of the Prairie Style, the Robie House epitomizes the perfect marriage of site and structure. Here, as well as in much of Wright’s work, the architecture and the landscape are in a harmonious relationship with one another. With a strong emphasis on horizontality, flat roof with massive overhanging eaves, long stretches of art glass windows and exquisite use of materials throughout the interior and exterior, the Robie House best expresses the ideas Wright would later exploit at Falling Water in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.

The furniture, lighting fixtures and carpets at the Robie House were all designed by Wright. However, much of the original furniture that once belonged to the Robies, is now part of the collection of the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago—just a short ten-minute walk from the Robie House and well worth a visit.

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My next two days in Chicago were spent exploring the suburbs of Oak Park and River Forest, two places known for having the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings anywhere in the country.

Located just nine miles west of downtown Chicago, the village of Oak Park is the perfect destination to see twenty-seven buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including Unity Temple and the architect’s Home and Studio which serves as the point of departure for all of Wright’s work in Oak Park.

Unity Temple, 1904 Oak Park (9)

My first stop in Oak Park was Unity Temple—a Unitarian Universalist church designed and completed between 1905-1908. Widely considered the first work of modern architecture, Unity Temple recently opened to the public after a multi-year, multi-million dollar restoration. Unity Temple is the embodiment of the spiritual, a building so stunning it’s difficult not to be moved by its beauty and grace—whether you’re a religious person or not.

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On my way to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, I stopped by the Oak Park Visitor Center to pick up an architectural guide to Oak Park and River Forest. The map highlights all of Wright’s buildings in these two villages, as well as other works by notable architects including a handful of Prairie School architects whose work may even fool the most knowledgeable of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. It’s definitely worth the $4 it costs, but if you are looking for something more substantial and detailed, I highly recommend William Allin Storrer’s The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (1)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio, which he designed at age 21, is very much a Victorian design in the Shingle Style and highly influenced by his former employer Louis Sullivan. Wright’s love for nature, Japanese woodblock prints are all present in this house in Oak Park. The tour of Wright’s Home and Studio is excellent and if you have time to visit one building in Oak Park, I would suggest you start with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio and see where it all began.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (12)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (2)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (3)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (4)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (5)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (6)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (7)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (8)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (9)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (10)Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1889 Oak Park (11)

The following are the rest of the houses by Frank Lloyd I saw in Oak Park.

Thomas H. Gale House, 1892

Thomas H. Gale House, 1892, Oak Park (2)Thomas H. Gale House, 1892, Oak Park (1)

Robert P. Parker House, 1892

Robert P. Parker House, 1892 Oak Park (1)Robert P. Parker House, 1892 Oak Park (3)

Walter Gale House, 1892

Walter H. Gale House, 1892 Oak Park (3)Walter H. Gale House, 1892 Oak Park (1)Walter H. Gale House, 1892 Oak Park (2)

Charles E. Roberts House, 1879-1896

Charles E. Roberts, 1879-1896, Oak Park (1)Charles E. Roberts, 1879-1896, Oak Park (2)

Charles Roberts Stable, 1896

Charles Roberts Stable, 1896, Oak Park

Francis J. Woolley House, 1893

Francis J. Woolley House, 1893 Oak Park (2)Francis J. Woolley House, 1893 Oak Park (1)

Harry C. Goodrich House, 1895

Harry C. Goodrich Residence, 1896 (2)Harry C. Goodrich Residence, 1896 (1)

Nathan G. Moore House, 1895

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Francisco Terrace, 1895. Built for Edward Carson Waller, the Francisco Terrace apartments were once located in Chicago, however they were demolished in 1974. This arch entryway, part of the original Francisco Terrace, was incorporated into an apartment complex in Oak Park.

Francisco Terrace, 1895 Oak Park

Rollin Furbeck House, 1897

Rollin Furbeck House, 1897, Oak Park (1)Rollin Furbeck House, 1897, Oak Park (2)

George W. Furbeck House, 1897

George W. Furbeck House, 1897

Edward R. Hills Decaro House, 1906, 1977


Edward R. Hills Decaro House, 1906, 1977 Oak Park (2)

William G. Fricke House, 1901

William G. Fricke House, 1901, Oak Park (3)William G. Fricke House, 1901, Oak Park (2)William G. Fricke House, 1901, Oak Park (1)

William E. Martin House, 1903

William E. Martin House, 1903, Oak Park (1)

William E. Martin House, 1903, Oak Park (2)

Frank W. Thomas House, 1901

Frank W. Thomas House, 1901, Oak Park (2)Frank W. Thomas House, 1901, Oak Park (1)

Arthur and Grace Heurtley House, 1902

Arthur and Grace Heurtley House, 1902 Oak Park (1)

Arthur and Grace Heurtley House, 1902 Oak Park (2)

Arthur and Grace Heurtley House, 1902 Oak Park (3)

Mrs. Thomas Gale House, 1903

Mrs. Thomas Gale House, 1909 Oak Park

Edwin H. Cheney House, 1903

On my next post, I’ll highlight the work of Frank Lloyd Wright in River Forest before wrapping up my recap with a final post on Wright’s work in Buffalo. Stay tuned!

Falling in Love with Buffalo, All Over Again

Is it possible to fall in love with a city more than you already are? The City of Buffalo, New York had been on my mind constantly for the past few years, but even more so after reading Alexandra Lange’s essay “A Buffalo Case Study: Can Architecture Bring a City Back?” Years ago, when I was looking at colleges, I stopped briefly in Buffalo, but didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings—yet the city stuck with me for reasons I would come to discover on a recent trip.

Reading about Buffalo and the celebrations planned across the country to mark the 150th birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, made me want to jump on the #FLW150 bandwagon and plan a trip to both Chicago and Buffalo—and so I did. I wanted to not only see Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, but to experience great architecture in general, something both of these cities know a thing or two about.

When I told people I was headed to Buffalo for the second leg of my trip, much of the reaction I got was what I had expected. Most people paused, a few shrugged and all proceeded to ask “Why would you go to Buffalo? What’s there?” What most of these people didn’t know then (now they do thanks to my enthusiasm for the city) is that Buffalo is one of the most architecturally significant cities in the country. With buildings and sites designed by almost every major architect practicing in the 19th and 20th centuries, Buffalo should be on every architecture buff’s list. It is one of those places that everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime.

With a roster of distinguished architects like Henry Hobson Richardson, Louis Sullivan, Frederick Law Olmsted, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, Gordon Bunshaft, Minoru Yamasaki and Daniel H. Burnham among many, many others, it’s easy to see why Buffalo is considered an architecture paradise. It’s like opening a chapter in an American architecture history textbook, but instead of flipping through pages, all one has to do is walk the city.

Shortly after landing in Buffalo and checking into my AirBnB in Elmwood Village—one of the city’s most architecturally distinct neighborhoods—I grabbed my used, almost-torn copy of Buffalo Architecture: A Guide and hit the ground running. I walked for miles at a time, stopping to look at any building that captured my attention.

I was too in love with Buffalo to think about the pain my knees and feet were in after walking all over Chicago just a few hours prior. I wanted to see all the buildings I had studied in my architectural history courses in college and recall that feeling of falling in love with a city that has undergone so many changes (and more underway).

I strolled down Delaware Avenue, a National Historic District lined with phenomenal Gilded Age mansions that reflect a time when Buffalo had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the country—and wow, what gorgeous mansions there are in Buffalo! Mansions designed by the illustrious firm of McKim, Mead & White and Charles Pierpont M. Gilbert among others, are all found on Delaware Avenue. (Porter Avenue also has some outstanding houses that you should see) I stopped to look at one of the city’s most dramatic buildings, Max Abramovitz’s Temple Beth Zion, a concrete building with scalloping walls completed in 1967. This striking modern building features windows by Ben Shahn, which I unfortunately did not get to see.

Temple Beth Zion (3)Temple Beth Zion (2)

After drooling at the work of Max Abramovitz’s at Temple Beth Zion, I walked toward downtown, admiring along the way the early twentieth century commercial buildings on Main Street. I stopped to marvel at Minoru Yamasaki’s elegant M&T Bank Building with Harry Bertoia’s fountain in the plaza. I continued walking until I arrived at Louis Sullivan’s profusely ornamented Guaranty Building, one of Buffalo’s most exquisite architectural gems—a masterpiece of American architecture. On Fridays, the nonprofit organization Preservation Buffalo Niagara leads tours of the building, but if you are unable to make it to one of these, there’s a small exhibit in the lobby that interprets the building and places it nicely in context to the architecture of its time. Tour or not, go inside the lobby and stare at every single detail, from floor to ceiling—it’s a life-changing experience.

Guaranty Building (1)

Guaranty Building (2)

Another building in Buffalo worth your time is the Kleinhans Music Hall by Eero and Eliel Saarinen. Located in the Allentown neighborhood, this swoon-worthy building is as magnificent from the exterior as it is from its interior. A total work of art in the smack middle of one of Buffalo’s most vibrant residential neighborhoods.


Allentown Neighborhood Buffalo (2)Allentown Neighborhood Buffalo (3)Allentown Neighborhood Buffalo (1)

Of course, Buffalo also has a decent collection of buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright including the most impressive house I’ve seen to date on the East Coast—the Darwin Martin Complex. A multimillion dollar restoration has just been completed (and more preservation work is underway) of the Martin Complex which consists of the Martin House, the Barton House, a Carriage House, the Gardener’s Cottage, the Conservatory and Pergola.

My trip to Buffalo also took me to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery where the art on display is just as wonderful as Gordon Bunshaft’s incredibly elegant 1962 addition to the Greek Revival building by Green and Wicks. As most of us know, the Albright-Knox has been in the news lately and not for good reasons since a partial demolition of Bunshaft’s addition is being proposed by the gallery. Already iconic even without having been built, Gordon Bunshaft’s sleek “black box” beautifully looks onto Green and Wick’s building from 1900-1905. It is graceful and deserves much more respect than what it is being given by the Albright-Knox.

Green and Wicks Albright Knox Gallery

As I walked out of the Albright-Kox, I spotted the eerie towers of Henry Hobson Richardson’s Buffalo State Hospital—one of the architect’s largest works completed in collaboration with Frederick Law Olmsted who designed the landscape.

I wanted to experience the city through the eyes of the many architects, planners and landscape architects that left their legacy in Buffalo. With that in mind, I hopped on two buses and headed to Forest Lawn Cemetery in the northwest part of the city to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Blue Sky Mausoleum.

Founded in 1849, Forest Lawn Cemetery is designed as a rural cemetery in the tradition of Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery (1831). And as with many of the cemeteries built around this time, Forest Lawn is also a cultural institution with a robust program of lectures and tours that highlight the monuments and sculptures in its grounds, some of which were designed by well-known architects and artists such as Richard Upjohn, Stanford White and Harriet Whitney Frismuth.

Forest Lawn Cemetery (1)

Forest Lawn Cemetery

Forest Lawn Cemetery (2)

Nestled among the grand Victorian houses of Elmwood Village is this contemporaneous design by Adam Sokol Architecture Practice. Dubbed “The Birdhouse,” this project simultaneously announces a departure of what’s already in Buffalo as well the arrival of what’s to come to this great city. Completed between 2006-2011, The Birdhouse is a bold addition to this colorful neighborhood.

Adam Sokol The Birdhouse Elmwood Village

But what about Brutalist architecture, you ask? Oh, there are some fine examples of the Heroic style in Buffalo, including the Buffalo City Court constructed between 1971-74 and designed by the Buffalo firm of Pfohl, Roberts and Biggie. Massive, windowless and according to my guidebook, designed to “protect the courtrooms and judges’ chambers from outside distractions,” the Buffalo City Court is one of a handful of brutalist buildings in downtown Buffalo that are worth admiring, I certainly did.

Buffalo City Hall (2)

If Brutalism isn’t your thing, but Art Deco is, Buffalo is home to many Art Deco buildings, but none more spectacular than Dietel and Wade’s Buffalo masterpiece, The Buffalo City Hall—a mammoth of a building with 32 floors of Art Deco gloriousness. Walk around it, go inside and stare at all the details that embellish every square inch of one of the city’s grandest buildings.

Buffalo City Hall (3)

Buffalo City Hall (1)

Buffalo City Hall Floor

I came to Buffalo in search of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, but left with so much more love for a city that is continually reinventing itself. The city is undergoing a renaissance thanks in part to the resiliency of its people and of course, for its great architecture. There’s just so much to love about Buffalo that I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface when it comes to exploring its built environment. I hope to be back soon and see all of its magnificent church interiors, something I did not get to do this time around.

Shameless plug, but if you want to see more  of Buffalo’s architecture, head over to my Instagram and take a gander, I’ll be posting more photos as the weeks go by.