Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

Apollo’s Girl

January 2, 2019

apollo and lyre

ISAW right now! (through January 6)

isaw 4The perfect respite from holiday excess sits on a quiet side street in a gloriously restored mansion. Wrapping yourself in the glow of New York’s gilded age, you will
find cases of dazzling silver with an amazing backstory – sure to trigger envy and awe that connect millennia and cultures. It is isaw 1French treasure and Roman luxury. The treasure was (literally) uncovered in 1830 by a farmer plowing his field in northern France, but the metallic gleam that caught his eye had been buried much, much earlier
in a brick-lined pit by Romans on the site of their temple dedicated to Mercury Canetonenis.

The farmer, a practical man, thought to sell his find for the its weight in silver, but had the wit to show it to a local expert first. Such news travels fast, triggering a bidding war between
the Louvre and the Bibliothèque Nationale. The Bibliothèque won, the farmer was
compensated, so (after recent conservation by the Getty Museum) we can now enjoy
the privilege of seeing for ourselves what the Romans could create in precious metal. There are gems, jewelry and miniature dioramas of gods and mortals telling their stories of everyday life, eternal epics, and the life of the imagination in the ancient world. 

Many of the objects are offerings by the wealthy seeking favor and naming rights(sound familiar?)
isaw 3from Mercury, the messenger of the gods as well as the patron deity of commerce and the arts. The hand work of the master metalsmiths is breathtaking; their dedication and skill can still be marveled at. And, in an echo of their painstaking artistry, one of the two large statues of Mercury on view was found in fragments then, like an infinitely complex jigsaw puzzle, put back together piece by piece by the Getty conservators on their mission to recapture the past.

One of the great pleasures of ISAW (the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World)is that you can spend quality time with the displays, absorbing their mysteries and splendors only inches away. (Bring a magnifying glass for the ultimate experience.)

P.S.: From March 6 – June 2, 2019, Hymn to Apollo: The Ancient World and the Ballets Russes will be on the walls and in the vitrines. Not to be missed! ISAW: 15 East 84 Street. Information and hours: isaw 5


Apollo’s Girl

September 13, 2017


Film: Mid-life Makeovers
Nobody’s Watching; Red Trees; Year by the Sea; The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis

Nobody’s Watching (Dir.: Julia Solomonoff)
Film Forum
With a dozen features and shorts to her credit, as a magnet for scores of awards, prizes and grants, and with solid relationships with the best and brightest of Europe and Latin America as collaborators and supporters, Solomonoff has made a movie which everyone should watch. It’s confident, as smooth and addictive as her talent can spin it out, with a well-meaning but feckless hero (Guillermo Pfening, Jury Prize for Best Actor at Tribeca, 2017) who grabs your heart and doesn’t let go. When he finally becomes his own man, you’ll want – you’ll need – to cheer.

The story of this actor, a soap opera star in Argentina, and an undocumented gay immigrant/babysitter in New York waiting for a big part in a big international film that never materializes, touches on every hot button issue in the book without ever slowing down or going stale. Pfening is surrounded by an ensemble cast that works all the time, yet the work seems effortless, the actors always at ease. As it moves between New York and Buenos Aires, Nobody’s Watching transports you right to its deeply satisfying conclusion, Solomonoff’s gift to those who will be grateful to share her talents and the shine of her cast and crew. You will miss them all when the last frame turns to black.

Red Trees (Dir./Writer: Maria Willer) Quad Cinema
This is one gorgeous film, pulsing with the life of the mind, the heart and the eye; Marina Willer’s tribute to her father, Alfred Willer, who became a survivor and a man of the world. That world, in all its complexity and angst is revealed through his memories (poignant, rich—a repository of cultures with many origins and great depth) of Central Europe and, later, Brazil, where he eventually found residence and raised his 
family after World War II.

What sets it apart from many memoirs is its access to Willer’s visual skills (she’s a partner of the design firm, Pentagram), equaled by the work of DP César Charlone’s (City of God; The Constant Gardener) cinematography; it’s a match made in heaven. Because Alfred Willer (a chemist by trade) was also an artist, a musician, and a writer whose journals provide his eyewitness to history, the director had an embarrassment of riches from which to create her work. She chose wisely and well, visiting many of the locations in Czechoslovakia in which her father had grown up, and in Brazil, where she lived most of her own life after the family arrived there in 1947.

If you have ever wondered what the period between the wars was like in a Europe that nurtured and respected high culture before it was smashed beyond repair, see Red Trees. You will find its music, its art and its literature. But before you weep for what was lost, you will be transported to what was found afterwards: a tribute to resilience, to acceptance, and the hope of diversity as the promise of the future. Let’s say that the film, for all its searing images and words, begins with Bach and ends with Leonard Cohen.;

Year by the Sea (Dir./Writer: Alexander Janko) Landmark Sunshine;
Lincoln Plaza
The press conference following the press screening of Year by the Sea was an astonishing love-fest as cast and crew described the long journey from Joan Anderson’s Times’ best-seller to the final cut that has just opened. While the production seems to have benefited from the kumbaya atmosphere that prevailed on location and set, the most astonishing aspect of its journey was the story of how Janko (a prolific musician, composer and arranger) found Anderson’s novel, persuaded her to come on board, to mentor him as he adapted her book into a script, and support him to direct it as his debut feature. But, without question, the revelation that she, as the novel’s author, was present on-set during the entire production and that she and Janko are still friends was nothing short of amazing. While many directors will not permit an author of source material, or even the script writer, anywhere near their shooting schedule, Year by the Sea was definitely its own movie; a communal effort from a community that has remained together. Add to that the fact that Anderson’s book is not a novel, but a personal memoir of her transformation from hausfrau to the fully realized woman she has clearly become, and it is even more exceptional.

Karen Allen plays Anderson with real conviction, aided and abetted by her two best friends: Celia Imrie as psychoanalyst Eric Ericson’s free-spirited wife and caregiver, and S. Epatha Merkelson as the long-suffering and empathetic agent who shepherded Anderson through the process of turning her life into her best-selling book. Together, they spend a year in a remote New England fishing village while Anderson (and the husband she has been living apart from who works through a transformation of his own) learns how to balance self-realization with loving support. The preview audience was deeply enthusiastic, and the film will resonate with many viewers, just as the book did with its readers.

The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis (Dirs./Writers: Francisco Marquez, Andrea Testa) VOD
Also an adaptation (this time from a novel by Humberto Constantini), The Long Night, for all its modest resources, is an absolute gem! The hero, once a low-key revolutionary poet, has settled into a life of middle-class comfort with his wife and friends. Until he’s contacted by an old friend and fellow-traveler who asks him for a favor that can put him at serious risk in Argentina’s new post-revolutionary society.

It’s not the story itself, but the way it’s told and especially the way its reluctant hero (the outstanding Diego Velazquez), allows us to feel the pain of his struggle and its resolution. Very much worth keeping an eye out for its VOD release later this fall.


Caught Van Gogh’s Ear at the Signature Theater and was intrigued by its synesthesia, with music of the period (played live by a fluid group of strings and piano)used to enhance and amplify Van Gogh’s paintings and distress. Together, the music (including songs performed by Chad Johnson as Vincent’s brother, Theo, and Renee Tatum in dual roles of sister-in-law and lover) and scripted lines (based primarily on Vincent’s letters) spoken by Carter Hudson as the brilliant artist captured the ecstasy of Impressionism when it ignited a fin-de-siècle revolution. David Bengali’s projections and the set and costumes by Vanessa James (especially those worn by the musicians) kept the fires burning up to the inevitable finale.

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century, which created Van Gogh’s Ear, has two more productions waiting in the wings: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Dec 21 – Jan 7) and Tchaikovsky: None but the Lonely Heart (May 17 – June 17). While co-existing in the same century, the three subjects could not be more different; it will be fascinating to see how – and where — they take us.

Apollo’s Girl

April 28, 2017

More Film

First, the Good News…

As we continue to up the truth-or-dare ante with North Korea, there is respite available downtown: the Quad Cinema has awakened from its long slumber and emerged, gleaming, as the star of a successful makeover by Pentagram, sponsored by the Cohen Media Group, and guided by programmers Christopher Wells (director of repertory programming) and Gavin Smith (senior programmer). With CEO Charles Cohen’s muscle, millions and determination, the Quad has big plans for indie, foreign and revival fare for those eager to receive the bounty. 

The makeover? It hits all the sweet spots—clean lines, stylish visuals, comfortable seats and sight lines, a lobby bar (with banquette) serving coffee, popcorn and treats, and a cafe/bar next door with alcohol and food. Did I mention the marble ladies room? Worth the trip! So, before you go back to worrying about Armageddon, bookmark the Quad to stay on top of its schedule ( and be thankful for its offerings.

One of them, A Quiet Passion (directed by Terence Davies, based on the life of Emily Dickinson) is a fascinating mixture of biography and between-the-lines interpretation of the inner life of this most private poet. The dialogue is drawn from her work and her letters to and from her publishers, her friends, and her family. Initially, this imposes a formality on the conversations, which offer an accurate account of how differently people thought and expressed themselves in the mid-19th century, when letting it all hang out would have been entirely unacceptable. Yet, as we become used to the dialogue and the distance it creates from emotion, we are drawn into the enormous conflicts between Dickinson’s strict religion and morality, and what appears to be a deeply sensual nature that tore at her most of her life. She remained with her family, increasingly reclusive, until she died. They were supportive of her quirks and her talents, (she was a formidable baker), but the obstacles to publication of her woman’s work and how they affected her are given their due. Because of the distance created by formal language, the emotional impact of Dickinson’s final years and death are all the more powerful, and Cynthia Nixon is Dickinson. For a deeper dive into some of her original prose and poetry, go to the Morgan Library and Museum for I’m Nobody! Who Are You? On view til May 28.

A Quiet Passion will be joined at the Quad by Harold & Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (Dir.: Daniel Raim) a not-so-quiet backstage romp through the long and adventurous marriage and careers of Harold and Lillian Michelson, the go-to story couple behind Hollywood’s most successful movies and movie-makers. Think that the blockbusters you’ve relished over the years appeared full-blown on the screen? Think again. Even those based on well-known novels and biographies (or earlier film versions) were the products of armies of creatives and craftsmen. And, from the very beginning, once the directors were in place, Harold and Lillian joined the party as indispensables.

If you’ve ever become obsessed with a subject and wallowed in the joy of finding out every single thing about it known to mankind, you will “get” what happened to Lillian while she was a stay-at-home mom with time on her hands. She didn’t type, but had a ravenous curiosity, and found her way as a volunteer to plunge into the black hole that was Goldwyn’s research library. Research became her life, and the books and files (she bought them when Goldwyn decided to sell) moved with her over time from studio to studio, but she never looked back. Harold (who had always been able to sketch) developed a talent for storyboards; they were much more than stop-motion shorthand versions of the scripts they compressed, including camera angles, edits and approach. For years, even though he often worked in secret, his drawings were used by Hollywood’s biggest names on films ranging from The Ten Commandments to West Side Story, from Hitchcock’s thrillers to Rain Man and The Graduate. Ultimately, he and Lillian often worked as a team, surviving whatever life threw at them (a lot of surprises) and becoming legendary where it counted, with Harold at last winning the title of Art Director on 14 films. The feature clips in Harold and Lillian alone are a trip; what makes the film tick are the drawings, the home movies, the backstories, and the testimonials from the linchpins of the business who love and admire the subjects of this endearing Hollywood Story. 

Cooper’s London

December 14, 2014





Anselm Kiefer: The Sword
in the Stone

For those who love art, who love politics, history, and genius, the Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Royal Academy was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It ran for less than three months, drawing huge crowds and a great deal of attention. If only it could have been a permanent installation! I was able to go only at the end, knowing as soon as I submarinesentered the RA’s normally staid 17th-century courtyardto be confronted by a fleet of dented German submarines that had been rusting since World War Two—that this was going to be a life-changing experience. It was also clear that none of the images of Kiefer’s work that I’d seen could begin to prepare me for what filled almost the entire building…the work itself.

I had heard of his iconoclasm; of the kiefer 2confrontation with the Nazi and collaborationist guilt of WWII (beginning in the 1960s when no one in Germany would talk about it); and about his idiosyncratic ways of structuring his startling photos (building on them with layers and layers of paint and other materials) and installations (found objects, broken metal, wood, cement). No matter what I’d heard or seen reproduced small, I had not expected the constructions to speak to me with such immediacy, energy and utter power.

But above all, no one had prepared me for the amazing textures that surrounded me; the astounding technical audacity, the corrosive wit of what he had  painted and sculpted and hewn; or the sheer size of what he had made (with Kiefer, size matters). Or how masterfully The Royal Academy displayed all of it. Kiefer is as provocative, shocking and moving as reported. His works have multi-layered impact, and are appalling and moving simultaneously. He is quintessentially modern, and yet somehow classic, a Michaelangelo of shattered concrete, of vertiginous suggestions of ruin, and historic guilt imagery.These works embody what W. B, Yeats meant when he talked about “monuments to unaging intellect.”

kiefer 3


One of the images that haunts me the orders of the nightthe most is The Orders of the Night (1996), a huge canvas with a tactility that is astonishing and bold. Like many of his works, it’s an image that works on its own but also can evoke all the terrors and insanities of the 20th century, especially of World War II and what has followed since. It stands for all destructive and horrifying impulses that mankind is still overwhelmed by; and yet it also, somehow, excites and redeems because of the direct, staring confrontation with it all.

Anselm Kiefer retrospective - LondonKiefer’s latest works – referential of Van Gogh and his cornfields – are images just as mad and marvellous as the early works that made him famous. Ash Flower, roughly 12 feet tall by 21 feet wide, has ash scattered over its entire surface; it creates a kind of veil over the image of a building, a neoclassical construction reminiscent of the insane and grandiose architecture that Hitler loved to build for his new empire. At the bottom of the painting there is a layer of cracked earth that is actually crumbling; and from top to bottom, a single, huge, dried sunflower. Like the best metaphors, like the greatest art, it is impossible to define what it means exactly, though that meaning is terribly clear at the gut level. You have to stand in front of it, you have to see it, you have to experience it to “get” it. What was almost as overwhelming as the exhibition itself was seeing how excited, enthusiastic, and deeply affected everyone was—and what a great mix of ages they represented. Perhaps some may hate some of the works (or be frightened by what they express), or be put off by some of the philosophy that is difficult to acknowledge. But you don’t need to “understand” everything. This is viscerally engaging imagery that speaks a language of its own, best absorbed by simply experiencing it.

If far from conventionally attractive, these works are of seminal importance to art today and you need to be aware of them, to think about them. Without question, they can only be experienced properly in person. The photos and films are souvenirs, memory joggers; but are no substitute for a one-on-one confrontation.

la ribauteThe RA has done a real service with this monumental retrospective in which the development of a life’s unusual work (so far) can be grasped, reflected upon and experienced in a suitable setting. It also inspired me to visit Kiefer’s extraordinary factory/studio in Barjac, France.

kiefer 5

But above all it showed me that so much energy, raw intellect and emotion, even when producing fragmented images in unexpected materials, creates its own kind of intense and emotionally charged beauty.

The British critic, Jonathan Jones, reviewing this exhibition wrote in London’s Guardian newspaper:

“This exhibition is an exhilarating roller coaster ride of beauty and horror, deeply exciting and enriching – yet, at its heart is a knowledge of history that puts all those pleasures in question. At some level, Kiefer, who began by equating … the German romantic art of Caspar David Friedrich that he loves kiefer saluteand the evil of Nazism – wonders if he even has the right to make art.”

The most frustrating aspect of this extraordinary experience is that the show is not travelling. So you will have to buy the catalogue, or make do with the occasional Kiefer gallery show.

Philosopher, historian, iconoclast, observer of human frailty and human heroism: whatever you have heard or thought about the artist in the past, this show confirms that he is indubitably a giant of contemporary culture and art. And yes, seeing what he has made will change your life.


Apollo’s Girl

December 10, 2014


apollo and lyre


Come to the Cabaret…

Sing for Your Supper at HENRY’s
with NYFOS After Hours

The first time I went to HENRY’s was to join friends for dinner and stay on for the evening’s celebrationSing for Your Supper (A Crystal Anniversary Cabaret). What a night it was! The show opened with (what else?) “Sing for Your Supper,” skipped to an original take on “I’m Not Getting Married Today” (by the same tenor who had been an ardent, brilliant Lenski in Juilliard’s Eugene Onegin), and included a heartbreaking “Maria” from West Side Story, from another tenor (now at the Met, but also once a cameraman for Doctor Phil). Song after song, the evening made the spirits soar. When the cheers were over, we floated home, remaining aloft for several days.

henry's exteriorHENRY’s, you see, is all about heat and light. Bright red window frames entice you across Broadway toward the glow of outside sconces beneath awnings. Crossing the street, you’ll spot branches of tiny lights on a picket fence; more clues to what lies within. When you enter, arts and crafts chandeliers diffuse warmth from 15-foot ceilings; the room is generous, with big tables close enough for buzz but far enough for conversation. A forgotten art? Not in this neighborhood—packed with locals from uptown’s university row and media worker bees. They will come to eat, drink, meet one another and, on this particular night (December 15), be very, very merry.

Why is this night different from all other nights?steve at piano
It’s the restaurant’s fifth annual
A Goyische Christmas to You, part of NYFOS After Hours, the brainchild and one offspring of a partnership between Henry Rinehart and Steve Blier. And how did that come to be?
Because, in the Upper West Side’s mantra, real estate is destiny.                            

About 15 years ago, Blier, a fabled, hyper-busy musician, writer, coach, accompanist, entrepreneur, polymath and all-around wit with no time to cook at the end of the day, was desperate for dinner. And there, across the street from his apartment, HENRY’s beckoned. Blier simply followed his nose. For
henry reinhartHENRY’s had good attitude, good food, and plenty of it. And it had Henry himself: restaurateur, actor, art connoisseur and showman. The rest is history.

HENRY’s became Blier’s de facto dining room, and Henry got a piano for Steve to play. Over time, the two cooked up a plan: a free-form cabaret series, called Sing for Your Supper, where the up-and-coming singers Steve knew could entertain after hours in a unique neighborhood boite, be embraced in a knowing group hug, and be fed well in the bargain. It was all about the atmospherebeing able to relax on the one hand, and being appreciated on the other. The crowd makes it work: there are communal tables to encourage friendly interactions 101206_Henrys_314 copythat will prosper, and fans of Blier’s many other activities, most of them closely related to NYFOS (New York Festival of Song), the umbrella organization he and Michael Barrett founded in 1988. Since then, NYFOS has grown from a modest musical trial balloon with legs into a helium-powered gondola headed right into space.

NYFOS’ agenda is as inclusive as the enthusiasts who pack its concerts in New York, Boston, Caramoor, the North Fork and a long roster of A-list venues. They relish Blier’s philosophy of everything “… from Debussy to doo-wop, lieder to latin jazz, Josquin to just-written.” The shows are unified by a theme and constructed with a dramatic arc; superb vocal artists bring the songs to vivid life, with the directors as accompanists and animated narrators. NYFOS cabaret at Henry'sBut what makes them go, in the end, is Blier’s wicked humor and encyclopedic grasp of music, his love of sharing them, and the infinity of tunes in his head and fingers. They make his special brand of magic and guarantee that no matter how much you knew about the evening’s choices when you arrive, you will know more by the time you (reluctantly) drag yourself away from the party. And you will feel like part of it from the first note to the last.

Now back to NYFOS After Hours: For those of you with 101206_Henrys_234a good calender app, it may inform you that A Goysiche Christmas to You takes place on December 15, the night before Chanukah. And why not? It is, after all, the Feast of Light, and the occasion generates a lot of it for an ecumenical bunch. You will be happy with what you see and hear. But reservations are essential!
And there more to look forward to: a season’s worth of concerts, some new NYFOS After Hours cabarets at HENRY’s, and CDs to keep you on the wavelength in the meantime.

What will you take away from the experience? Just have a look at the evening news on any channel…then go through Henry’s red door and join the group for the kind of community that most of us only dream about but can actually find inside, around the piano, watching Steve Blier after hourscast his spell. Hang out for a while after the show, talk to your fellow-celebrants and meet the artists. Then, holding tight to your metaphorical balloons, float out into the night. If you’re lucky, it will get you through the news for the rest of the week. Or maybe just give the news a rest and enjoy the memories. You can always come back for lunch, brunch, dinner and drinks at HENRY’s while you’re waiting for the next show.

Page 3: Bart Teush

March 4, 2014

Architecture, Style, History (Part Two)




 3. The Nasty

The epitome of Nasty architecture, the unpleasant step-child of Brutalism, dominates the corner of 14th Street and 5th Avenue, arguably a gateway to Greenwich Village. There stands a building so outré in its refusal to fit in that I question the motives of its architect, Roger Duffy (ironically, like Gordon Bunschaft, also a partner at Skidmore Owings and Merrill partner). It strains credulity to think that this building was drawn–-figuratively speaking — on the same SOM drafting tables where Bunshaft created The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library fifty years ago. 

brutal1This wound on a major site in New York City marks fifty years since A&A and Beinecke were built, and makes a fit comparison. It, too, is an academic commission (by The New School for Social Research) and, like the Yale buildings, clearly intended to assert its own importance as a University Center.

Duffy’s 370,000 square foot Leviathan arises in the midst of a mix of post-war white brick apartment houses, masonry masterpieces from the 30’s, and a new, quite elegant low-rise building just across 13th Street that serves as a counterpoint to the University Center as a reminder of restraint, discipline and simplicity. 

Many buildings have a signature, usually a dominant design element, to which they are reduced: Johnson’s Lipstick and Chippendale buildings, Norman Foster’s Gherkin, or Saarinen’s Whale. This might be called Duffy’s Gash. 

There are actually two major design elements, which are, in a way, contradictory. First, the brass “clapboards” and ribbon windows refer politely to Joseph Urban’s original old new school1936 New School for Social Research building nearby on West 11th Street. Duffy makes a gesture to context by quoting Urban’s brick treatment but then mutilates the homage with the easy and outrageous gouge of glass streaking across the West and South façades, new school brutalrepresentingif nothing elsean outsized portion of the building’s construction budget. This grotesque stroke is meant to do what, exactly? 

Its apparent function is to expose the stairways of the building so we can watch students, faculty and administrators walk from floor to floor. Yes, walking from floor to floor is a fundamental part of academic life, but does it deserve such prominent display? Maybe. After all, it reveals the users of the building in a transition from level to level, certainly a synecdoche of the whole academic enterprise. Could that be how Roger Duffy pitched the Nasty image to his clients while they sat with open checkbooks at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill?

There’s no need to guess. SOM’s Web site pitch spills the beans:

“The University Center is intended to become the “heart” of The New School. The LEED Gold building will provide space for all aspects of a traditional campus, with 200,000 square feet of academic space on the first seven floors and 150,000 square feet for a 600-bed dormitory on the levels above. 

“Interactive spaces are dispersed vertically throughout the section to activate all levels of the building. fire stairsTying them all together are three iconic fire stairs that are unraveled to weave their way through the building, providing ample opportunities to chance encounters and unstructured conversation. This structure creates hives of activity that are traced along the façade with large glass windows. The result is an architecture whose identity is completely intertwined with the University’s identity, making the two indistinguishable.” 

Blah. Blah. Blah. Whoa: “Three iconic fire stairs”? The phrase pokes through the archi-babble like the gash itself. How and why does a stairway get bumped up to “iconic”? Iconic, after all, means “executed according to a convention or tradition” and implies an elevation to memorial or even reverential status. How do fire stairs merit such veneration? Their function as routes for emergency evacuation is something I would call to the attention of tenants and pedestrians only if I were being . . . Nasty.

And besides, with all the other spaces in the breathlessly multi-use building intended for dorms, offices, lounges, restaurantshow does a stairway become a “hive of activity?” Yes, it shows constant motion, but all the action is elsewhere.

The ultimate irony is the architect’s indisputable achievement: the building’s Gold energy efficiency rating (read environmental conscientiousness).  Ironic because there is a larger environment, which you’d think any major addition to the campus would consider.

After all, The New School is, like Greenwich Village, an environment, with an identity that arises in a quite specific history. During the 30s and 40s it was bauhausa safe haven for countless émigré academics in flight from the Nazis. These émigrés were European in their formality, rigor and clarity. Think Bauhaus, think Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss. To make Roger Duffy’s porridge of postmodernism a nominal center of the New School and its diffuse campus flies in the face of the intellectual and esthetic foundations of the school. And despite the LEED rating certifying the building as non-polluting and energy-efficient, it brazenly intrudes on the neighborhood.

night shotDuffy’s intrusion is a form of pollution. His glaring, (albeit energy-efficient) illumination is also pollution (trust me, at night you’ll expect to hear the chords of Close Encounters echoing down 14th Street). As is the uninflected size of the building, as is the Gash, which pollutes the façade and spoils the architect’s less-than-enthusiastic homage to Joseph Urban.

Perhaps that’s itthe best and most succinct definition of the Nasty: pollution; pollution of the streets–careless, self-promoting, self-satisfied pollution, making a space less appealing than it was. 

I don’t welcome the transition, cultural, political, architectural, and psychological from Brutal to Nasty. But I make the distinction to mark the New Year on the assumption that once aware of it we can begin to avoid it like the plague it already is.

(See Part One: The Brutal and the Nasty, February 14.)

Page 3: Bart Teush

February 14, 2014

Architecture, Style, History (Part One)


1. The Brutal and the Nasty

I have the distinct sense that the world has swerved in the last fifty years from brutal to nasty and that architecture both reflects and sheds light upon that shift. Therefore, let’s start the New Year comparing and contrasting three buildings: one an iconic example of the extremes of Brutalism; the second, an evolution of Brutalism so extreme it set new standards for Brutalism; and the thirdbuilt fifty years laterjust plain Nasty.

First, what do I mean by Brutal and Nasty? 

Brutal is large-mannered, assertive (to say the least), unapologeticcall it overbearingat its best exhilarating, at its worst cold, uninviting, impenetrable. Brutal confronts, engages and defines surrounding space. Nasty ignores surrounding space. Brutal dominates; Nasty diminishes. Brutal is serious. Nasty is glib, mercurial and untrustworthy. Brutal plays to win, and takes no prisoners. Nasty takes hostages. Nasty has a neurotic relationship to power, feeding upon schadenfreude, Brutal thrives on independence and self-sufficiency. 

Architectural Brutalism uses basic materials confidently in their unadorned state—concrete, stone, glass, and steel—preferably oxidized. Nasty architecture communicates no apparent love of its materials, merely their effect. It uses glass, steel, aluminum, titanium, bronze, copper; whatever, wherever. Le Corbusier is the patron saint of Brutalism, along with some brilliant acolytesPaul Rudolph, Gordon Bunschaft, Moshe Safdie, Kevin Rocheto name a few. 

Nasty? Its collective patron saints are all the deconstructivist “starchitects” who turn a blind eye to the neighborhoods, where they build whatgehry residence they will just because they can. Nasty’s acolytes are all those who regard the world as mere backdrop to their inventions without regard to scale or context or, more precisely, what on a small cleveland clinicscale may pass as a local folly (Frank Gehry’s residence in Santa Monica, right), becomes on a large scale a neighborhood bunker bomb (Frank Gehry’s Cleveland Clinic Revo Center for Brain Health, on the left).

Approaching architecture as a form of sculpture without regard to scale or context, Nastiness is capable of hair-raising originality at one extreme and jaw-dropping inappropriateness at the other. (Consider, in addition to Frank Gehry, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and Zaha Hadid, to name a few.)

Yes, I realize that this Manichean taxonomy might better be applied to politics or personal pathology. But I want to identify architects in this schema because architecture is the most political of the Arts, impacting real, often public, spaces, and because its practice has consequences in the polity. Architects are subject to civic codes, beholden to local approvals, obligated to safety and environmental standards–not to mention that they and their builders employ thousands in fulfilling their plans. But far more important, a building’s public influence can last sometimes centuries, defining space, place, and the community. That’s a long half-life for Nastiness and its practitioners.

2. The Brutal 

I have lived through the entire Age of Brutalism—that is, architectural Brutalismone reaction to the aridity of Modernism, and the source of many brooding, dark and windswept corners where trash collects in American cities. I’m thinking of some near-by examples in New Haven, Connecticut, arguably a center for Brutalism. Numerous buildings come to mind including the Kevin Roche’s Knights of Columbus World Headquarters (still standing), next door knights of columbus hqto his equally Brutal New Haven Arena and Parking Structure, now merely a vacant lot in New Haven’s long-suffering downtown.

Kevin Roche, Roche Dinkeloo Associates, Knights of Columbus Headquarters (background), New Haven Coliseum and Parking Structure (foreground), New Haven, Connecticut

But the two buildings that truly define the esthetic limits of Brutalism were, coincidentally, completed in the same year (1963), and each was a commission by Yale University. One is Paul Rudolph’s intricate (if that’s a word I’m permitted to use in connection with Brutalism) Art and Architecture Building (A&A), which has survived since its opening , frequently renovated and recently restored at great expense to Yale. The other is The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library designed by Gordon Bunshaft, then of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

The Brutalism of the 114,000-square-foot south facade detailA&A  was nothing if not hard-won. The concrete was poured into wooden forms, but the finished slabs lacked the jagged textures Rudolf had envisioned: instead, a uniform ribbed surface remained. This rudolph and facadebrought a team of masons hoisting themselves over the exterior and interior walls hammering away at the concrete until the perfect texture was produced.


a  a with lighted windows


This was only the first of many setbacks that dogged A&A throughout its history; for example, in 1974 there was a costly purge of exposed asbestos, which Rudolph had used, reportedly, as much for its flaky texture (unfortunately the flakes would fall like snow) as for its thermal properties. But an even greater scandal involved the designated users of the building. 

Yale commissioned the building to house two of its professional schools. Without question, Rudolph did not hide the fact he favored the architects. The wonder is he favored them so crudely and disruptively. It was never surprising that the painters resented being squirreled away in the basement levels cut off from the natural light reserved for the architects above.

Indeed, when fire engulfed A & A in 1969 (there were few doors, and apparently no fire doors whatsoever), the painters used the fire (reported by some—probably falsely—as having been set by an Urban Planning student “in protest”) as an opportunity to demand improvements. They were never fully accomplished until 2008, when Yale completed both a renovation and an addition to A&A. But the controversy brought into sharp focus the Brutalist esthetic and psychology. 

As Mark Alden Branch wrote in the February 1998 Yale Alumni Magazine:

“To them (the painters), Rudolph’s building epitomized all that was wrong with architecture—it was arrogant, aloof, divorced from history and from the buildings around it. Robert Venturi, who, ironically, began teaching at Yale under Rudolph, made a point in lectures and in print of condemning Rudolph’s ‘heroic’ works in comparison with his own humble, ‘contextual’ buildings.”

Everybody regarded it as a tour de force, but its spirit was overbearing,” says Mark Simon, ’72MArch. “It was one man’s vision of how you were going to occupy it, a temple to architecture at the cost of function. It ignored about two-thirds of its users.”

The wonder is that the spirit of Brutalism can be stretched as far as it was in another building on the Yale campus. Completed the same year as Rudolph’s overbearing A&A buildingGordon Bunshaft’s exhilarating beinecke exteriormasterpiece of geometry and materials, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, just a five-minute walk from A&A.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Exterior

Beinecke hovers over a public plaza. Its neighbors are the neo-classic Commons (where Yale Freshmen dine); Woolsey Hall; and the offices of the President and the Corporation of the University.

Beinecke is the very opposite of A&A—an implacable rectangular solid, rendered in white travertine squares framed by grey granite, floating over a band of dark glass, set on a slim pillar at each corner; it vibrates between simplicity and complexity, monumentality and breathtaking delicacyevoking at once the scale of Brutalism and the poise of its neo-Classical neighbors.  beinicke interior panels CU


beinicke interior panels

Each of the 3/4” marble panels (which detractors, looking for trouble, have compared to television screens) is so thin that daylight shines through the stone, illuminating the interior in the caramel and ochre glow of the translucent marble; it references the marbled edges and leather bindings of the rare books shelved within a soaring clear glass cube rising as the central core of the interior. Pretty amazing.

ecke central coreBeinecke Rare Book Library Interior, central glass enclosed core containing and displaying the rare book collection

I’m mentioning Bunshaft’s and Rudolf’s buildings together not only because they represent the extremes of Brutalist estheticone dangerous, the other relatively safe—but each is a considered building which gives us an opportunity for intimate engagement with the architect.

a & a interior with orangeI am confident that Rudolph walked through every inch of his building, savoring its variations of light and texture, traversing the polished concrete floors and sinking into the plush persimmon carpeting, turning a corner from cozy alcove to expansive vista. All without benefit of computer graphics.

Notwithstanding Rudolf’s impolitic blunders, I am not surprised that the most recent transformationof (and addition to) his building by Gwathmey Siegel, have changed the critical tune.

Nicholai Ouroussoff, in his New York Times article (August 27, 2008), noted that “The result should stun those who have continued to deny Rudolph’s talent. Now seen in its full glory, his building turns out to be a masterpiece of late Modernism, one that will force many to reappraise an entire period of Modernist history and put Rudolph back on the pedestal where he belongs.”

More to the point, the Brutalist esthetic has been established as a major impulse of Modernism, embracing buildings as potently problematic as A&A and as sumptuously simple as Beinecke. Neither building is an obvious guggenheimfit in its neighborhood, but each enhances the neighborhood, sets it in motion, invigorates it, like the Guggenheim did decades ago as it spiraled up on its street corner of the Manhattan grid.

Certainly neither is modest nor shy about its size. But just as Frank Stella could not have executed his monumental steel pieces in miniature to the same effect, size matters in Brutalism; the sheer weight of the materials often flirts with gravity, seldom shy about gravitas. This is serious architecture for serious people.

But where are the massive planes of yesteryear, the heart-stopping cantilevers and heroic architectural engagement of space and material? While its eyesores remain tenacious, its glories are being overshadowed by the Just Plain Nasty, which includes all of those buildings that have appropriated the aggressive forms of Brutalism without its soaring ambition and understanding of detail. Imagine Mad Max outfitted by Tommy Hilfiger.

More in the next installment, where we discover Nasty in our midst.

Cooper’s London

October 23, 2013

Big Cities/Big Books




The Pleasures of Reading
and Walking Around



Lucy Inglis,Georgian London: Into the Streets. Viking (an imprint of Penguin Books)

If you want to learn a lot about London, are the mood for an endless stream of amusing and informative anecdotes, or want to find the perfect book to keep on a bedside table for your guests, then a good choice for all the foregoing would be Georgian London: Into the Streets lucy inglisby the redoubtable Lucy Inglis. Having started a blog a while back devoted to highlighting the lesser known aspects of London during the eighteenth century when it was, effectively, turning into the city we recognize today, she has now gathered materials into an endlessly beguiling, entertaining and educational survey. It’s arranged by area and set out a bit like a guide book tour.

Do you want to know about Soho and why it got that name (South of bedlamHolborn!), prostitution in Covent Garden, madhouses as places for entertaining anyone who could pay a penny to see the loonies on show; how Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced inoculation against the smallpox into England, the founding of the Foundling Home or of the Bow Street Runners (the first police) or the postal service? It’s all there in this book. The stream of information is swift, sure, thoroughly researched and bound to make you want to get a host of tomes about individual subjects that catch your fancy as you take this guided tour of the city of the past. And—given the pace of big-city demolition around the globeit’s amazing how much of London’s past is recognizable and survives today, starting with the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral beginning in 1675.

great fireEssentially, this is a well-written collection of swiftly told tales about how London started to become the city we know today from the time it was leveled by the Great Fire through to the time of the Napoleonic Wars. From Clive of India’s living in Berkeley Square (in a building where all those car showrooms are today) to tales from south of the River Thames to a heartbreaking story about the death of a chimney sweep, the book not only takes you back to the eighteenth century and its life but also informs your contemporary wanderings and wonderings about the city. Once you read this book, walking through every district of London will never be quite the same. Georgian London also makes a thoughtful present for friends who are about to visit it for the first time. I recommend it highly and suggest reading it slowly and savouring this collection of fascinating information.

London's-poor-street200As the Financial Times said in its review: “[Lucy Inglis’] focus is very much on everyday life, with thoughtful insights on immigrants, women and the poor. The result lies somewhere between a map and a serialised chronicle, full of neat character portraits and engaging plots.” I give it five full stars out of five and if you love London, its history, its characters, its growth, I could not recommend it more highly. I found it thoroughly engaging and un-put-down-able from first page to last. A most special and unusual book, to be treasured and kept, or given for a special occasion.

Sudhir Venkatesh, Floating City: Hustlers, Strivers, Dealers, Call Girls and Other Lives in Illicit New York. Allen Lane (an imprint of Penguin Books)

The hidden message in Lucy Inglis’s book about eighteenth-century London might be: “Your neighborhood is your fate.” Further, your life story hinges on many factors that you are born into, avankateshnd sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh showed this with frightening clarity in his best-seller Gang Leader for a Day, about the crack gangs of Chicago. Now he has moved his x-ray eyes to New York to expose its broken and dysfunctional bones.Only this time, instead of neighborhoods, it’s the whole city that meshes into various networksand your connections are absolutely key. The publisher’s blurb is accurate: the book covers everything in underground New York today “from a Harvard-educated socialite running a high-end escort service to a Harlem crack dealer adapting to changing demands by selling cocaine to hedge fund managers and downtown artists.”

In the process, Venkatesh questions his own reasons for going deeper into this world, and discovers something truly unexpecteda real sense of connection and community. floating cityThis decade-long study of the call girls, drug dealers, illegal immigrants and ambitious strivers throughout the entire social spectrum gives you radical insights into what might be termed the underground economy. This is thought-provokingand covertly highly political stuff. We are invited to enter a parallel universe, another New York from the familiar tourist-friendly buzzing metropolis; and Venkatesh is a knowing guide. This is a strong book, well-enough written, and one that might just be a source for a future Lucy Inglis who wants to let people know what it was like to wander those mean streets of an extraordinary city early in the twenty-first century.

What was it about Oxford?

Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. Hodder and Stoughton

Both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were Oxford dons and scholars who are now mainly famous for writing fantasies. In the case of Tolkien, the scholarship into old myths of the North and the Norse shows through and one could argue you have to be a bit older and more sophisticated than a child to be able to appreciateor even carry on all the way throughhis Lord of the Rings sequence. But Lewis’s Narnia books are a whole other matter, truly something narniayou can read to your children from a fairly early age and yet enjoy yourself! They are a sequence of seeming superficialities that become more complex and fascinating with every re-reading; they have a context in the life and thought of the author that McGrath sets out most meticulously. On top of that he has compiled a comprehensive bibliography of other C. S. Lewis books, including things like The Screwtape Letters, that address questions of religion and spirituality and the malaise of our times.

McGrath’s book is timelyit marks the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s deathand his new look at Lewis is, at times, not only shocking but far more frank and questioning than anyone else has dared to be before. It’s full of endless pleasures that come from unexpected detaillike the poet Lewis’s dislike of T. S. Eliot and an attempt to perpetrate a failed hoax on the older man. There is a lot of new material; especially about his sexual predilections and his romances; but the whole life is presented with warmth and concern for the subject and with cs lewismarvelously evocative portraits of his friends and family. The writing throughout is lucid, easy to read and it makes the subject throughly accessibleboth when exploring the darker side of Lewis’s psyche and when explaining and charting how he became one of the most important apologists for Christianity.

This biography is both illuminating and penetrating and a real tribute to the eccentric genius who gave us both Narnia and some of the most provocative and theological writings of the last century. McGrath’s analyses and opinions are always thought-provoking and helpful and drive you back to the writings of Lewis every time, shedding new light on the man, estimating his work intelligently and making an important contribution to Lewis scholarship (including a re-dating of his conversion) while constructing a book that is provocative, readable and entertaining. It ranks Lewis high and is totally convincing in doing so. Very highly recommended and a good potential Christmas present (especially for adults with children)!

Cooper’s London

October 3, 2013

Theatre, Travel





The Young Vic is, I would bet, about to hit a roll. For those of you in New York, the wonderful production of A Doll’s House directed by Carrie cracknellCracknell that they produced last year

and which is now having a very successful season as a transfer in the West End, will be heading for New York to BAM with the West End cast. That’s hattie morahanthe one where the set is actually a blown-up doll’s house, and Hattie Morahan’s portrayal of Nora Helmer has already won her the Critic’s Circle Best Actress award, among others.  I don’t know that she will win a Tony; but I would sure bet heavily that she’ll be nominated.  Be alert and buy the tickets while there are still some left.

Highlights of the upcoming season in London at the Young Vic will now include:

  • A production of the Kander and Ebb musical The Scotsboro Boys directed by Susan Stroman from 18 October 2013
  • A pre-Christmas production of Beauty and the Beast that sounds funky and fascinating and will be in the tiny Maria Theatre, an experimental space
  • Gillian Anderson undertaking the role of Blanche DuBois in a new production of A Streetcar Named Desire to be directed by Benedict Andrews
  • Juliet Stevenson as Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s intense and surreal masterpiece Happy Days
  • peter brookPeter Brook bringing a newly conceived show (The Valley of Astonishment) that, says the preview note, “mixes neurological research and Persian verse”. Well, it is Peter Brook …

If you’re looking for a Christmas present for someone who lives in London and loves the theatre, you might want to get them a season ticket or a subscription.  For the foreseeable future the Young Vic is one of the most consistently exciting, reliable and stimulating places to get your bit of a theatre-night-out.  And the restaurant still does the best hamburgers in London.

To give a gift, or to “friend” the theatre, (includes the perk of priority booking for any or all the above):

On the Road, Part Two: O, Canada!

Who says you can’t go home again? I’ve just spent over a month in my home and native land and I have to tell you that after a couple of weeks exploring banffthe Rockies in Alberta, Jasper, Banff, Edmonton, and Calgary and its stampede, my wife was asking why hadn’t we brought up our kids there instead of England? All that space; all that clean air; so few crowds. Then, after three days in Toronto with my family, she said: Now I know why we stayed in the UK. It takes an ocean between us to dilute some of the intensity!

Still, we enjoyed the whole experience, including my somewhat time-consuming but very loving family. Canadians are, by and large, rather keen on local culture – from totem poles and local food festivals to work for local actors, directors and scenic designers. There were lots of arts events to choose from: fringe plays in Edmonton that were stimulating and in really interesting small spaces; brilliantly performed Fiddler on the Roof and  Shakespeare in Stratford, Ontario; a terrific production of Tom Stoppard’s Utopia in Niagara-on-the-Lake that sold out in about three seconds flat. I’d have recommended them all, but alas, they are all gone with the summer festival season . But the most surprisingly Anything Goes Tourenjoyable show I saw was Anything Goes in Toronto, with the irrepressible and totally compelling Rachel York as Reno Sweeney, worth the pricey tickets even though it was the same production I had seen in London a few years ago. 

So next year, if you’re going to Canada to enjoy the scenic splendour, do also google the festivals in places like Stratford, and Niagara-on-the-Lake and book early, because both are popular and reliably first-rate. I think that I’d actually want to live in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it’s so lovely; or somewhere in Eastern Ontario like Port Hope.

All this, however,  was overshadowed by encounters with bears, chipmunks and elk in the Rockies and family visits and reunions in Toronto. The farmers marketcity was lively and the weather was lovely; the cafés were full and the farmer’s markets dazzling. And I found some wonderful book stores too! I simply basked! In Toronto you want to visit Bloor Street near Brunswick Avenue/Bathurst Street and look, on the south side, for BMV and Book City. Just make sure you have a large, really strong cloth bag with you and lots of time for exploring. You will then be able to enjoy your finds over some of the best coffee in town.  One of the weddings I went over for was a Fiddler on the Roof meets Las Vegas floor show—great entertainment, and too much food as well. My sore legs the next day told me in no uncertain terms that my dancing days were over.

I came away feeling there’s a lot to do in Canada; I’m more eager than ever to get back to revisit the places I’ve been and also, once more, Quebec City, Montreal, ottawaOttawa (the most underrated city beautiful in North America, ed.) and, finally, Vancouver. Next time I may even take the cross-country train. It takes about five days and offers spectacular vistas 24/7.

Apollo’s Girl

August 7, 2012



Latinbeat and a Little More

We’ve got two calls to action here: before I get down with Latin Beat  I must warn you that you have less than 24 hours to see Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy. Part of the Film Society’s series of NYFF’s past-perfect picks, it’s being shown only once—tonight at 6pm. Whatever your plans, you will just have to change them. Trust me. Even if you have to beg at the box office or whine piteously on the standby line.

Mike Leigh has a huge palette, but Topsy-Turvy was one of his biggest surprises, and surely one of the best. Like a favorite uncle’s 19th-century chromolithograph come to life, Leigh’s gorgeous take on the Victorian era, its infatuation with all things Japanese during the 1885 exposition, the fabulous Gilbert and Sullivan, their evergreen Mikado, the backstage tumult that made it sing, and the intimate pains of Gilbert’s marriage should not, and cannot, be missed. And if you can’t get in, flood the Film Society’s office with pleas for an encore showing.

And now, back to Latinbeat.

Like its namesake, Chinese Takeaway (Argentina) will fill you up, but leave you wanting more. There is a sly, deliciously loopy humor to the film, anchored by just the right emotional heft and some serious issues. A really ingenious story, told through Sebastián Borensztein’s artful writing and direction and the performances of Ricardo Darin and Ignacio Huang, is matched by technical values that make the entire meal a pleasure. The jokes are actually funny, and the cast has as much fun as the audience. There are surprises, too (also ingenious). In fact, the director claims it’s based on a “true incident”. Maybe. But, on the other hand (no spoilers here), you will have to stay through the credits to find out what that incident was. DO NOT LEAVE THE THEATER! It’s definitely worth the wait. There are few comedies of this skill and wit around. Make sure you find time to enjoy it.

Then, there’s Unfinished Spaces (Cuba). It’s an architectural, political and moral tragedy that had me poised to open my window, like a refugee from Network, to scream “I’m sick and tired and I’m not going to take it any more!” Of course I will tell you why. Please bear with me (second call to arms and digression alert):

When you have seen a lot of architecture, it’s hard not to be aware that it’s not just about the building itself, or the materials it’s made of, but where, and how, it fits into its cityscape. In New York, the cityscape was on a human scale for more than a century, with the occasional iconic skyscraper popping up for appreciative ogling. It made for a uniquely varied and compelling skyline. But no more. Now it’s become all about that scourge of the urban landscape: air rights. So that anyone with enough money and lack of care can snatch them, grab the capital, and put up something both overwhelming and overscale wherever it can be shoehorned in. Designed, of course, by a starchitect who needs to keep his name in the limelight and his staff on salary.

A perfect example: Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, plunged into a streetscape of once-and-former three-story houses—an ever-diminishing reminder that New York was once both vibrant and humane. Where J & R now stands there was a theater that staged the American premiere of Don Giovanni;  in living memory, there was an aged bookseller nearby whose dusty volumes were on offer near the corner of Park Row and Anne Street. More: the row of modest brownstones opposite Carnegie Hall have been replaced by the current candidate for “New York’s tallest building,” One 57, with 90 stories, by Christian de Portzamparc. The list grows longer every day.

But it’s not just about size: it’s about context, and celebrity. The Hearst Building was designed by Joseph Urban in 1928. It’s understated but sturdy, and was always meant to support a tower. A matching tower, for which Urban’s original design remained unbuilt because the Depression intervened—until 2006, when Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower opened its doors to receive the Hearst Corporation’s working stiffs back to their new glass-and-steel quarters. Foster has specialized in work that calls attention to itself not only for its size, but for its inappropriateness. (Anybody remember when Prince Charles went on a tear about the architect’s proposed addition to London’s National Gallery—the “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”?) So each new hulking contestant is another nail in the coffin of peaceful coexistence of periods and styles; its success depends on how much noise it can make, how much attention it can steal, and for how long.

Which brings me back, believe it or not, to Unfinished Spaces. In 1961, Fidel Castro decided to build a multi-disciplinary national arts school on what had been Batista’s pride and joy: an exquisite golf course for Cuba’s pre-Revolutionary elite. Three architects were commissioned, each one to design different buildings for different disciplines; their designs were unique, free and venturesome for the era. They incorporated historical building materials and iconic themes, and modern technology, driven by Utopian ideas. The ballet school in particular, by Italian architect Vittorio Garatti, was as graceful as the performers it was meant to house. But nothing, in art or architecture, ever goes exactly as planned.

The new buildings attracted a certain amount of spite and resistance; someone whispered in Castro’s ear that they were “not good architecture,” and work was stopped in its tracks. The ballet school was closest to being finished, so it became a repository for a number of interim enterprises. But without maintenance, the buildings decayed and turned into unloved wrecks. Until the pendulum began its return journey, drawing the attention of author John Loomis book filmmakers Alyssa Nahmias and Ben Murray and, finally, the regard of the World Monument Fund and a pending designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Enter Carlos Acosta, a Cuban ballet hero who has achieved superstar status abroad, who will be returning to Cuba to direct the Cuban National Ballet, to be housed in Garatti’s former Ballet School building, to be “converted” (according to the New York Times) by Norman Foster. Acosta and Foster are “working together to transform the buildings for future use”. Unlike Joseph Urban, long dead, whose plans for the original Hearst Tower were simply tossed on the junk heap, Vittorio Garatti’s plans are very much extant, as is Garatti (now living in Italy) himself. How exciting it would be to have the architect’s vision completed (with updated systems), rather than completely obscured by another architect who revels in the practice.

Shooting for almost a decade, the filmmakers have managed to turn a dauntingly complex story into a sizzling narrative and balancing act. It’s sure to haunt you as the final chapters, still being written, are played out. Although the film is scheduled for PBS broadcast in the fall, Latinbeat has done us the favor of making it available on the big screen; for this subject, with its stunning visuals, it’s the way to go. And the filmmakers will be there in person for both screenings (August 11 and 13).

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