I CAN’T BREATHE

9Yodveh

Mystery Murmuration

 December 1, 2014, Art Basel Miami: It starts quietly enough with a murmuration of starlings, a blob-like cluster of birds flying in perfect formation while re-morphing, changing shape, moving up and down the horizon, but retaining their amorphous sense of unity throughout the aerial dance. I am on 79th Street, stuck in traffic, trying to reach the first of many events, when just as suddenly the birds vanish into the gold-anodized filigree of the once dreaded INS Building on Biscayne Boulevard, formerly the Gulf American Building, but now abandoned. The moment of unexpected natural beauty will resonate throughout the week as a revelatory message of sorts. I only have to figure out what it means.

The Art Basel week begins at 4PM with a tour of the newly refurbished and expanded Design District with developer Craig Robins and Mathieu Le Bozec of L Real Estate (an LVMH subsidiary). With all the $-millions flowing in from LVMH and its subsidiary L Real Estate, Robins has managed to skip several stages of gentrification and go directly from scrappy mixed-income neighborhood (in the shadow of the Interstate 195 overpass) to platinum luxury utopia, without many of the intermediary steps one normally expects in such urban transitions. More than a hundred luxury brands are either already open or will soon be open including Bulgari, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Pucci, Versace, Dior, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes, Tom Ford, etc. One looks for the grand architectural gesture and finds instead a high-end shopping mall, a protected urban space fortified with luxury brand logos and a variety of surface treatments. Much of the effect is just that, special effects, well-placed claddings, wrappings and graftings, a kind of architectonic nipping and tucking that employs reflective glass, mottled surfaces and theatrical lighting to achieve the desired suspension of disbelief. The question remains, will it be an effective enough illusion to lure zillionaire shoppers from the lush comforts of Bal Harbour Shops and the other high-end venues of South Florida? Without them, the heady rise of the Design District may turn into an equally precipitous decline.

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The new Palm Court creates a conspicuously fortified enclosure to protect Manolo Blahnik-wearing shoppers from accidentally bumping into urine-scented street folk, but the plaza is semi-public, open on the north and west to pedestrian traffic, and soon there will be an outdoor cafe on the second level and a handsome cast-concrete public events space designed by Aranda/Lasch to help lure non-shoppers deeper into the complex.

Some of the unfinished buildings have been draped with translucent mesh veils that give them a mysterious, burka-like presence. There’s also an element of folding and pleating going on in some of the facades. The Aranda/Lasch building is clad in cast concrete slabs with patterned imprints that mimic a kind of embroidery. The two-story arcade of narrow glass fins by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto reads as a lattice of chilly blue icicles. It may help to break the ferocity of the Miami sun while framing the shops along the southern side of the Palm Court, but its engineering seems fussy and needlessly overwrought.

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Glass Arcade by Sou Fujimoto

The District is desperately in need of more parking, as is all of Miami, and the origami-like folds of Leong Leong’s multi-level garage on North Miami Avenue (still unfinished and a block to the west of the Palm Court,) are best seen from the elevated perspective of Interstate-195 as blue-and-white metallic membranes appear to crinkle from side to side as one drives by at 70 MPH. People have been talking more about the gridlock traffic than art or design this week, so it’s no surprise that parking takes on an elevated status in this auto-centric city that has such a long history of inadequate public transportation. Leong Leong’s structure joins a roster of high-design parking structures by the likes of Herzog & De Meuron, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and Enrique Norten.

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The Design District’s star attraction, however, is Bucky Fuller Fly’s Eye dome that dropped like an alien intruder into the very heart of the complex. It’s a digitally re-engineered version of the original 24-foot-diameter Fly’s Eye that was fabricated in 1979 by John Warren and is now installed on the western deck of the Perez Art Museum, two miles to the south. The new version was built by Dan Reiser to meet local codes, and has already become the symbolic centerpiece of the entire Design District, upstaging all of the architecture that surrounds it and, like Superman’s magic crystal, pulling together the disparate parts of the neighborhood through some alembic kind of magnification and transmutation that only Bucky Fuller would have understood.

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Bird’s Eye View of Fly’s Eye Dome, Design District

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Edition Hotel

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Arrive late at opening reception for the EDITION (née Seville Hotel), pushing past tall thin models in black lycra mesh who stand guard like “the Hounds of Hell”, (as one rumpled writer suggests), transparent clipboards as their shields. The refurbished hybrid (at 2901 Collins Avenue) was concocted by Ian Schrager in tandem with Arne Sorenen of the Marriot. John Pawson is project architect and interiors are by Yabu Pushelberg with black walnut veneers and sandy shades of beige with creamy pale undertones. We, the rather docile and anemic-looking design press, sit in the “Matador Room” beneath a 20-foot-diamter chandelier, a giant daisy cutter, from the 1950s and listen to Shrager and Sorenen compliment one another and explain how they had created the highest-end luxury boutique hotel on Miami Beach, comparing their efforts most humbly to the corporate branding of ***EDITON - 1653Apple. The original Seville (1955) was designed by Melvin Grossman, protégé of Morris Lapidus and the new owners want to keep its rat-pack elegance in tact of the original while smoothing and slimming it down to suit a sleeker, more pampered clientele. (Basic room rates start at about $1,000 a night.) The Edition/Seville holds its own against the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc just up Collins and only lacks the kind of money-shot moment that Lapidus was so good at choreographing, but Grossman outdid his mentor when it came to the outdoor circular bar and multi-level diving platform, both of which have been lovingly restored along with the oversized chandeliers and gold mosaic columns in the lobby.

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“Untitled” pavilion on beach

Drink far too much on first evening: brandy concoction then vodka with pomegranate at Gucci preview (“Smell the Magic”); gin and tonics at “Untitled” Vernissage on beach at 12th Street; several beers and single malts at “Intimate Dinner” for more than 350 at Morimoto Restaurant to honor ubiquitous artist Marina Abromovic who can’t stop hugging and kissing everyone and posing for endless selfies with photographer Todd Eberle; a few nightcaps at another gala, my head pounding all night and wake up feeling like an Art Fair whore.

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Jonathan Muecke’s circular pavilion

 

Design Miami opens for previews on Tuesday and at last acknowledges the environment in three curated shows within the main exhibition pavilion. For Swarovski, Jeanne Gang, luminous Chicago architect, offers “Thinning Ice”, an ingenious interpretation of melting polar ice caps with white enameled icebergs rising from a reflective floor laced with rivers of melted ice (tiny Swarovski crystals) flowing through narrow fiber-optic streams. The tabletop masses are punctured by ravines and thaw holes that contain enchanting deposits of crystals which appear to glow with mysterious emanations while the walls support images of melting glaciers by James Balog.

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“Thinning Ice”, Jeanne Gang, Design Miami

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“Ephemera”

Perrier-Jouët’s “Ephemera” by Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler is a mechanical ornamental garden that rises and falls in response to human movements around a large oak table, a sweetly melancholic reminder of man’s love-hate codependency with Nature. Olson Kundig Architects deliver the finest gesture of the show with a lounge installation called “38 Beams”, bringing a muscular Northwestern vibe to Miami’s often ephemeral sub-tropical environment. It’s a kind of Lincoln Logs stacking of horizontal beams that allows for visual and atmospheric penetration from the main hall so that VIPs won’t feel so lonely and removed while sitting within, sipping glasses of Perrier-Jouët.

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Study for “”38 Beams”, Kundig Olsen Architects

The massive beams, measuring about 15″ by 30″ and 30 feet long, were recycled from an old industrial building in Los Angeles, refurbished, flame-proofed and then lightly sanded by Spearhead, a specialty wood fabricators in Vancouver. The lighting and music were also created by Northwestern talents and even the hostesses wear white overalls designed by Seattle designer Totokaelo.

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“38 Beams” Kundig Olsen

On Thursday morning I’m obliged to moderate a fractious panel on the theme of “The Future of Design” at an industrial complex in the Little River area of North Miami with furniture diva Patrizia Moroso, Italian architect/designer Piero Lissoni, and Israeli-Brit enfant terrible Ron Arad who speaks about his remodel of the infamous Watergate building in Washington DC. As well as architectural changes, Arad has designed everything from furniture to napkins and stationary with a font based on shredded documents from the Watergate hearings of 1973. He also managed to sabotage the planned program by unveiling a new prototype inspired by a funky old mattress that he spotted on the street near his London studio. The mattress was bent against a wall, deformed, reeking of malodorous human indignities, but Arad became obsessed with its form, taking photographs, making sketches and somehow transforming the mattress from trash into an elegant low-impact couch that he named “Matrizia” in honor of Patrizia Moroso who laughed and, on the spot, agreed to put the thing into production at her family’s 62-year-old factory in Udine, Italy. A design critic from England pointed out that while most designers see a problem and attempt to come up with a solution, Arad sees a problem and creates more problems.

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Ron Arad, Problem Maker

Winds off the ocean are strong and the traffic gets even worse. After a long sleepy lunch on a balcony overlooking a railway line, I go swimming in the turbulent ocean and it feels good to get away from all the art and design events even though I get stung by a cluster of small blue jellyfish. A rash spreads up my neck in the shape of a radiating vector and the stinging only begins to subside as I arrive at an Indonesian dinner in honor of Theo Jansen, Dutch artist and star of the week who created the Strandbeests (“beach animals”), articulated, kinetic sculptures that walk along the strand like giant, multi-legged insects, powered only by wind power.

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Theo Jansen’s ‘Strandbeest’

Friday morning, the wind whips off Biscayne Bay, rattling through the portals of the Perez Art Museum and the concrete cavities of Nick Grimshaw’s Museum of Science, seeming to pick up velocity as it caroms off buildings and spills down onto the site of this morning’s official groundbreaking for One Thousand Museum, the bone-like, 62-story tower designed by Zaha Hadid. A temporary wall of trees tips over and spreads dirt over the carpeting. Tables collapse, champagne glasses shatter. Waiters with mimosas and tiny croissants try to contain the damage. Valet parking attendants and security personnel scatter and then regroup as Hadid herself arrives, an hour late, entering the throng like a rock star, a royal personage, a diva who now finds herself surrounded by crazed fans pushing their I-Phones into her face and inching closer to get a shot of the architect who is now trying to smile, now looking somewhat embarrassed, now growing concerned for her own safety as a Miami-Dade cop pushes into the mob and goes to her rescue, shielding her from further abuse.

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Zaha Hadid’s One Thousand Museum Tower

 

I’m supposed to get a 15-minute interview but abandon all hope and leave the scene before Hadid scatters the first ceremonial clump of dirt. There’s a Champagne Brunch on the beach, an immersive video event, a plastic pollution installation in Wynwood, the Peter Marino show at the Bass Museum, a Prouvé demountable house at the Delano that I still haven’t seen but I give up after sitting for an hour in cross-bay traffic and finally abandon my car by the side of the road and cross the Venetian Causeway on foot. It seems that protests have broken out in reaction to the Eric Garner grand jury on Staten Island. Roads are blocked and conditions escalate when news gets out about a similar case of police brutality in Miami itself: Delbert Rodriguez Gutierrez, a 21-year-old street artist otherwise known as “Demz,” was run over by a squad car this morning when the cops spotted him “tagging” a private building near 24th Street and gave chase. Gutierrez is now in hospital in critical condition suffering from severe brain trauma. All week the entire Wynwood area has been filled with graffiti artists from around the world, but no one thought to arrest them because they were being “artists” working in tandem with Art Basel Week.

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The crowds are swelling, tempers flaring, momentum building as the mob moves outward and expands into a single body with a single mind: “I CAN’T BREATHE!” they chant, holding up their hands, “I CAN’T BREATHE!” echoing Garner’s dying words. Gaining confidence, the protesters march onto Interstate-195, shutting down the Julia Tuttle Causeway, a prime connector between mainland and beach, between art fairs and design shows, disrupting the to and fro, the art world gossip, the back-room deals and interviews and celebrity cluster fucks, VIP red carpets, vacuous panel discussions. Suddenly the entire Art Basel Bubble bursts with the loud refrain: “I CAN’T BREATHE!” and there is nothing left but an urge to file this report as quickly as I can, but feel pressed to relate the ending back to the beginning–as a proper story should–when the starlings rose up in their murmuration on Monday afternoon and appeared to be telling me something that I couldn’t understand, and am still at a loss for words.

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Postscript: Graffiti artist Delbert Rodriguez Gutierrez died Tuesday night, December 9, 2014.

RIP ‘Demz’

ORONGO STATION NEW ZEALAND

“The motorcycle was my drawing tool”.   – Thomas Woltz

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How often does a single design firm get the opportunity to turn a 3,000-acre property into a sprawling work of integrated art, architecture, agriculture, ecological and cultural reclamation, wildlife preservation and landscape design? That’s what Thomas L. Woltz and his design team at Nelson Byrd Woltz has accomplished at Orongo Station in Poverty Bay, New Zealand. The project includes the restoration of an old homestead that was already on the site, new out buildings and utility buildings, domestic gardens, re-configured wetlands, sheep paddocks, a reforested coastline, a ceremonial bridge and citrus groves, as well as the expansion of a Maori burial ground. It’s almost too much for the imagination to take in. Rather, it grows on you slowly, as does the level of care and integration that went into the property’s evolution.

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The decade-long  project grew in incremental stages, as the client’s program expanded from a relatively small house-and-garden restoration and remodeling to a vast and self-sustaining kingdom by the sea. “The vision grew after a great deal of research we did on the ecology and historic cultures of New Zealand,” said Woltz who is handsomely dressed in vest and tie and speaks with a passion and intensity that seem uncharacteristic for his profession. He makes the work sound more like a mission than another design commission. “‘What is this place?’ we asked. There is no such thing as a blank slate.” Indeed, Orongo was conceived at such a vast scale–it is six times larger than the city-state of Monaco–and with such complexity and natural diversity that it verges on spawning its own Creation mythology.

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Environmental conservation and sustainability often remain abstract concepts in the human imagination and it becomes the job of a holistic thinker like Woltz to bring all of the parts together into a readable narrative. While his team’s research includes everything from water tables, flood cycles, native plants, wildlife habitat and migratory bird flight to cultural history–and more besides–he still sees himself as a “designer” who takes all the complexities of a site and works them together into a highly integrated expression. “We want to encourage a responsiveness to the environment through artful designs and ecological narratives that connect people to place,” says Woltz. In other words, design with a capital “D” can play an immensely important role in bringing ecological awareness to everyday life, and Woltz emphasizes that his firm’s landscapes are meant to be “composed”, not simply intended to look like natural extensions of the existing topography. Indeed, his comprehensive maps and site plans resemble abstract paintings with swirling forms and colors, and in this project he cites the lyrical work of Ricardo Burle Marx, the great Brazilian landscape designer who was also an accomplished painter. “Modernist design sensibilities and rigorous geometry form a frame for place-making and restoration ecology at small and large landscape scales,” says Woltz.
Invasive animals such as rats, stotes, weasels, and Australian possum, had gotten out of control and were eating the eggs of the migratory birds, and driving them away from the property. An 87-acre tract on the northern peninsula, called the Tuatara Preserve, was re-forested with 45,000 trees and turned into a predator-proof enclosure, protected with high fencing from cliff-face to cliff-face, stretching across the entire peninsula.

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Steve Sawyer, a locally-based conservation biologist, made recordings of the endangered birds and created a solar-powered CD player and speaker system that plays their songs twice a day and lures the birds onto the preserve. “The birds circle around, attracted by the familiar calls,” explained Woltz. “Now there’s a massive population of sooty petrels, fluttering shearwaters and gannets who fly in to lay their eggs without fear of being attacked.” Existing wetlands ran through a valley near the head of the Tuatara Peninsula. They had been drained by a previous owner and during the wet season, the property turned into a muddy mire that made it an unhealthy place for grazing. “Why not dam it up and excavate a complex wetlands composition,” suggested Woltz who consulted with local conservation biologist Sandy Bull and created a weaving pattern of pathways, polders, islands, ponds and waterways to control the problem of seasonal flooding. S-curving earthen dams separate fresh-water treatment ponds from salt-water inlets to create greater diversity of habitats for both plant and animal species, as well as creating a bucolic landscape for animal grazing and human pleasure.

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The shape and size of the islands and waterways, the slope of the banks, the width of the channels, were all determined by wildlife needs and other considerations. “One bird species, for instance, needed a minimum of 1.6 hectares, so we made one of the islands exactly that size,” said Woltz. In other cases, a shallow slope was needed for foraging, while a steeper slope provided a certain species with a lookout for predators. “These are all measurable factors,” explained Woltz. “Then we could start composing a 75-acre painting.”

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He began to compose this 75-acre “painting” by riding a motorcycle through the tall grasses, making long and winding curvatures, and leaving the desired track in the grass. “The motorcycle was my drawing tool”. An excavator followed behind and started to shape the paths, dams and islands that took more than a year to build up into their final forms. A system of weirs can be lowered or raised to control the level of water. Narrow polders create separation of salt from fresh water while providing pathways and places for bird watching and the launching of kayaks.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 11.00.46 AM“We were intentionally not designing a natural wetlands,” said Woltz who sees the intervention as a work of art in the service of wildlife, a way to expand the range and diversity of wildlife habitat. The wetlands area is now brimming with oyster catchers, piping plovers, blue penguins, and the nectar-eating Tui, a bird that is native to New Zealand.

As one moves south on the property from the outer point and wetlands area through grasslands and rolling hills, one becomes aware of an open but willful organizing principle: a sweeping, spiral-curve geometry has been applied throughout the 3,000-acre property, from the road that runs from the beach to the domestic gardens and the layout of citrus groves. Some of the depleted, overgrazed land has been retired and stabilized with native shrubs and trees such as Ngaio, Taupata, Karo while the working sheep station is efficiently divided into paddocks. The wilder, less-defined expanses of land appear in the periphery of the property, while the landscape becomes more structured and consciously “designed” as one nears the central area where the historic homestead stands.

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A sequence of different gardens encircle the 19th-century private homestead and are, according to Woltz, a “portrait of the entire property, a microcosm of the greater landscape.” The “Earthworks Garden” has a spiraling bed of low, rounded Hebe, a native New Zealand shrub, and gently sloping mounds that pay homage to the ceremonial earthworks of the Maori people. “We had contact with Maori elders about the layout of this garden,” said Woltz. For the “Endeavour Garden”, Breck Gastinger, a Woltz associate, visited the Royal Horticultural Society in London to learn what kinds of plants English botanist Joseph Banks sent back from New Zealand aboard Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour in 1769. “We got that plant list and made a perennial garden from it,” said Woltz.

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The “Timber Garden” is planted with key species from the New Zealand lumber industry including Rimu, Totara, Kahiicatia and Sequoia that settlers first brought from North America, and the “Homestead Garden” is made up of both native and English plants that early settlers wrote about in their letters back to Great Britain. Right next to the house itself, Woltz added a 100-foot-long pool surrounded by native New Zealand tree ferns that droop down over the water and provide shade.

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The 183-foot-long Maraetaha Bridge was designed by NBW and built to connect the original Orongo Station property to a neighboring farm that was subsequently purchased by the client. The free-span, steel-truss bridge crosses the curving Maraetaha River and creates a kind of ceremonial entry to the heart of a highly composed landscape of citrus groves that have been laid out in a series of geometric configurations. “We listened to the needs of the citrus farmers–the turning radius of their trucks, for instance–and gave the grove an artful form,” says Woltz.

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cemeteryaxon_master_med The citrus trees themselves are protected from ocean winds and salt spray by a “shelter belt” of sheared alder trees that have been clipped into 34-foot-high hedges. A long, central allée is lined with native Kowhai trees that bloom with bright yellow flowers in Spring.  As if that weren’t enough, Woltz also collaborated with Maori elders on an expansion of the 300-year-old Ngai Tamanuhiri (a Maori people) burial ground that lies to the south of the grove. “It was a tremendous honor for our design team to help shape their most hallowed ground,” says Woltz. The bridge, roadway and allée are all oriented in alignment with the burial mound.

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Woltz expresses humility and hesitates to claim full authorship of such an all-encompassing enterprise that includes formal gardens, wetland reclamation, ecological and cultural reclamation programs, as well as an integrated farming system that has become a model for sustainable land management in this part of New Zealand. NBW, led by Woltz, has recently been hired to design a 100-year master plan for Cornwall Park in Auckland. The park includes a large working sheep and cattle farm and stands adjacent to the sacred Maori site One Tree Hill, the largest of Aukland’s nine volcanic cones. “This has all been a colossal collaboration with so many different people–biologists, horticulturists, historians, farmers, wildlife experts, and indigenous peoples,” says Woltz. But he also acknowledges that it takes a single person’s eye, a single overarching vision, to pull all of the disparate parts together and turn them into such a seamless work of environmental art. “The designed landscape can become a powerful tool for telling stories of the land as it helps to promote stewardship long into the future,” he says.

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A version of this story appeared in Design Anthology (Hong Kong) , May 2014

TO FRED SCHWARTZ: CITIZEN ARCHITECT, 1951-2014

*Fred Schwartz - sketch 1

I ride my bike down to the beach

after sunset

Easter Sunday

low-drifting clouds

over the ocean

in clusters

huddled

with oddly twisting appendages dangling

down,

almost miniature

tornados, with wisps of gray

and silver vapors

flecked by a wash of orange and pink

from the final rays of retired light.

 

I lock the bike to a signpost,

only a few people still

lingering on the beach.

Along the path there are

joggers, tourists, college girls,

an old Cuban lady who comes

every night to feed the stray cats

and I walk to the water’s

edge and smooth out my towel

on the sand

and kneel for a while

gazing at the supernatural sky

and think of you

and the mysteries of life and time,

how they circle back on themselves like a figure eight.

 

The waves are low,

breaking smoothly from left to right

along the outer bar

and that is something

that continues to astonish:

the simple elegance of a finely

turned wave.

 

I take a deep breath

and send it north

to you

and around you

like a protective cocoon.

I try not to think, just breathe easy as these are weighty,

wake-up times,

filled with thoughts of how we’re

supposed to act or speak.

One longs for the incantatory

moment, the loudness

of bells, the intoxicating

scent of flowers and incense,

the trancelike movements

of a long forgotten dance.

but we have this instead,

the sand and mottled darkness of the sea.

 

The day we met,

fourteen years ago,

was a kind of pas de deux,

two waves converging

in a downtown studio.

You seemed intense and smart,

in love with life and all

the messy contradictions.

I got that right away

and we became instant friends

in the post-9/11 smog.

 

You wore a ratty, ancient t-shirt and showed me the

drawings you’d done of bodies

falling from the Twin Towers

and in the general state of shock

yours seemed to the clearest voice

of all.

 

You showed me a hairy

Fillmore East photo

and I told you

how I’d been in

the same stoned crowd

for Hendrix and Quicksilver and

even Moby Grape,

waiting in line on 2nd Avenue.

That was another bond: how we

would have preferred to play

guitar in a rock band,

and understood that right away,

the generational reflex.

 

I wrote about you

in the Times and the piece

was called something like:

“Frederic Schwartz: The Man who Dared the City to Think Again”

with a photo of you peering

through thick spectacles

as if recognizing something

that the rest of us were missing.

The caption for that

photo read “CITIZEN ARCHITECT”

and that’s what you were and that’s what you are:

the Citizen Architect,

thinking beyond himself,

designing for the world.

 

We stayed in touch,

spinning in different orbits

but with an affinity

of spirit that revolved

and remained

constant so that

whenever we met–in

New York, East Hampton

Milford–there was a

flash of recognition,

as if resuming a single conversation,

picking up where we’d left off

a year or more before.

 

It’s darker now and

the bottom layer of clouds

assumes an almost regimental formation,

tightening at the edges,

burnished with bronze.

I walk into the salt water,

through the basin with its

cross currents,

diving under the waves,

colder and deeper than I expected,

dispelling warnings

in my head about swimming

in darkness,

sharks and tidal rips,

and reach the sandbar

another fifty yards out,

checking for shadows

in the water–

and think of you

and your voice

and your face

looking up in that inquisitive way,

right here, in front of me…

dear Fred,

beloved friend,

Citizen Architect.

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First sent this poem/note to Fred Schwartz on Monday, April 28, a few days before he passed away. Read it again last night–Monday, June 30–at a memorial tribute at the Architect’s Center in NYC that was organized by Fred’s wife, Tracey Hummer.  

THE NECESSITY OF RUINS: The Lost Dymaxion Deployment Units of Buckminster Fuller

Three U.S. pilots stand in front of a cluster of Dymaxion Deployment Unites, NOrth Africa, 1944

U.S. pilots stand in front of a cluster of Dymaxion Deployment Units, North Africa, 1944

I drive south on the parkway and turn off at Exit 98, into rolling fields and a shaded street that skirts a saltwater inlet known as Shark River. The clouds are low and flecked, folded back on themselves like paper sacks, ruffled with iridescent streaks of gray. This must be the place, Camp Evans, surrounded by earthen berms and high, chain-link fencing. A man with a sunburned face waves me inside the former military installation, pulls the gate shut and shows me where to park my car. It’s a ghost camp. Old brick administration blocks, Quonset huts, concrete out buildings are all boarded over and spookily quiet. We walk past rusting equipment and a series ***QUONSET HUT at Camp Evansof wood-framed structures with buttressed supports. As soon as we get around the far end of the biggest Quonset hut, I see them: three Dymaxion Deployment Units (DDUs) sitting in a row and a fourth across the way, looking like so many alien pods, with portholes and conical roofs, as if dropped from the sky. I’d driven down from New York on a hunch. There were a few intriguing notes, hand-scrawled in the Fuller archives at Stanford University; then a vague mention on the Internet–one of those “haunted landscape” sites, something about a “corrugated igloo”–but now they were here, standing in front of me, the missing artifacts that Fuller designed in response to wartime housing needs: mass-produced to be easily shipped and assembled and provide shelter in war-torn locations.  I‘d heard vague rumors about, but no one seemed sure if ***DSC_2862 copy 3they were still extant or had already been destroyed. Elizabeth Thompson, Director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, couldn’t confirm their existence, and Allegra Snyder, Fuller’s 86-year-old daughter, had never heard of any DDUs in New Jersey. “I don’t know how many were manufactured in the end, but the DDUs helped break down the notion that living structures had to be primarily rectangular,” she said over the phone from her apartment in Manhattan. “That was quite a revolution in and of itself.” Jay Baldwin, Fuller disciple and author of Bucky Works, not only worked with the master but rescued the only extant Dymaxion Dwelling Machine (AKA “Wichita House”) and direct descendant of the DDU. I met him a month ago in northern California where he and his wife live in a converted chicken coop and he explained how the Butler Company of Kansas City manufactured several hundred DDUs and shipped them to Italy in 1943 to serve as housing for pilots and radar personnel, “like in Catch 22,” he said, but he’d never heard about any being shipped to Jersey.

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Satellite view of Camp Evans showing location of 8 DDUs (Google Earth)

The first solid lead came from satellite images that showed circular blips in and around the grounds of Camp Evans, a former military base in Wall Township, New Jersey. The blips were consistent in shape and color–light brown, beige–and there were at least eight, maybe even nine of these ghostly impressions on the ground. It felt like a new kind of archeology, using Google technology to peer into the past and uncover forgotten artifacts. I wasn’t absolutely sure, however, as they might have been oil tanks or corn silos, but there was a kind of nozzle or cap rising from the center of each roof that resembled the air vents used in the DDU prototype, so I just had to figure out how to gain access to the site. As I peered closer at my computer screen, I thought of those blurry aerial photographs that John F. Kennedy revealed to the public in 1962 as proof of Soviet missile sites in Cuba.

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Fred Carl inside a Dymaxion Deployment Unit at Camp Evans, NJ (photo: Randy Harris)

Discovery begets discovery. After a few phone calls, I learned about “InfoAge”, a science museum that Fred Carl and others started in one of the old buildings at Camp Evans. He answers the phone and seems to know everything about the DDUs and has been working on their preservation for several years. He agrees to meet me at the gate and show me around a few days later.

****Porthole, DDU, ©Alastair Gordon, 2013DDUs_19

I am completely stunned when I first see them. I’d expected to find only one or two units at the most and now I learn that there are at least nine and maybe more in an another part of the camp that has been fenced off.  They are beaten up but beautiful in a funky industrial way. Some are rusting and dented like old garbage cans with ragweed, bull thistle and poison ivy growing out of every orifice. Here and there the original galvanized metal surface shows through. Others seem surprisingly well preserved, perched on circular concrete slabs, painted Army beige with portholes still in tact, eyebrow shades and original Plexiglas in-fills, now gone milky white and fissured like snowflakes. Squat and homely, the DDUs are certainly not as light and graceful as some of Fuller’s other inventions, such as his ubiquitous ****DDU 6, ©Alastair Gordon, 2013geodesic domes, but in many ways they were just as significant, the product of urgent necessity, and in this there was genius, an early manifestation of Fuller’s philosophy of
“ephemerization”, doing more with less. “The idea of re-purposing off-the-shelf technology was an important thread in Bucky’s pragmatic approach to design,” said Jaime Snyder, Fuller’s grandson and executor of his estate. “For Fuller, aesthetics were not that important,” said Thompson at the Buckminster Fuller Institute in Brooklyn. “He had a much larger vision and wanted to provide low-cost, mass-produced shelter for everyone. He really believed that a family of four could live comfortably in one of these units.”

DDU interior1 copyCarl, the man who’s showing me around the base used to be a science teacher at the local high school. He bought a property that bordered the western side of the Camp Evans, and grew more and more curious about his mysterious neighbor. Eventually, he learned that the 243-acre site had been a highly classified research center–Field Laboratory #3–where the U.S. Army Signal Corps developed early radar systems including the SCR-270, famous for having detected Japanese aircraft flying over Opana Point, Hawaii, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. The camp continued to be used for top-secret research throughout the Cold War years as well. In fact, the highly classified status of the installation is probably the reason that the DDUs have survived all these years. No one even knew they were. When the camp closed for good in 1993, the Army planned to demolish everything and sell the property to the highest bidder, but Carl felt that the legacy of the camp needed to be preserved. He attended a public meeting in 1994 and spoke up. “I proposed a plan to preserve a portion of the site in
honor of its history and use it as a tool to inspire students to learn about science and history,” he said. “But it’s been a long, bureaucratic struggle.” Working with other concerned citizens, state officials, Congressman Chris Smith and preservation groups, Carl was able to stall the Army. “It was like a game of chicken,” said Elizabeth Merritt, Deputy General Counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “They left us twisting in the wind for several years.” In 1996, the Army conducted a historic resources study that acknowledged the historic importance of the DDUs as well as other structures on the Camp Evans site, yet they were still planning to level the site. “We started asking a lot of questions,” said Merritt. “We reminded the Army of their obligation to comply with federal historic preservation laws and the next thing we knew they backed off.” On April 1, 2004, the military agreed to pass the property– including sixteen buildings on 37 acres–over to the ownership of the local township and county. “It’s an extraordinary success story,” said Merritt.

****Dymaxion 4, Plans The DDUs were perhaps the most rudimentary of all Fuller’s prefab housing schemes. They were simple and inexpensive, with ideal specs for wartime production, made from galvanized metal, with Masonite floors and fiberglass insulation. The idea originally seeded itself in Fuller’s mind during a road trip he took through the Midwest with his friend, the novelist Christopher Morley. The primary intent of their odyssey had been to find letters from Edgar Allen Poe thought to be hidden in the attic of an old house on the Mississippi River. They never found Poe’s letters, but Fuller discovered something else while driving back to Chicago through the Illinois farmland. He became fascinated by the metal grain bins that stood at every farmstead along the way, and learned that they ****Butler Farm Equipment (BF Archives, SR) copywere made by the Butler Manufacturing Co. of Kansas City. It was November, 1940, and the papers were filled with news of the London Blitz along with photographs of bombed-out buildings and people sleeping on the street or huddled together in underground tube stations. Fuller began to envision how the Butler grain bins might be converted into emergency housing for the victims of war-torn Europe. Morley, his road companion, encouraged him to approach Butler with the concept and even agreed to fund the research with royalties from his latest novel, Kitty Foyle, which turned out to be a best seller. (An investor named Robert Colgate agreed to underwrite additional costs.) The idea was to retool the production of Butler’s “Long Life” steel bins–“Safe from Fire, Rats, Weather and Waste”–and turn them into bomb-proof shelters for the masses. Fuller went to Kansas City and met with Emanuel Norquist, Butler’s innovative president and drew up an agreement. He then returned to New York and worked out all the specs with his team of architectural associates who included Walter Sanders,  a friend and head of the architecture department at the University of Michigan, John Breck, and Ernest Weissman. Their design allowed Butler to use existing dies and required no factory retooling, so the transition into production was relatively seamless. By early 1941 Fuller was making presentations of his “grain-bin house” to the Division of Defense Housing Coordination and other potential clients.

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Prototype DDU, Haynes Point Park, Washington DC, April 1941

In April, 1941, the first full-scale prototype was unveiled to the public at Haynes Point Park, Washington DC, just across the Potomac from the Pentagon, so that it was easy for military officials to drop by and have a look. Architect Sanders agreed to play ***No. 6, Pamphlet cover - DDU's, 1808 copydomestic guinea pig and moved into the Haynes Point DDU with his wife and “test-dwelt” it for several days. The press was enthusiastic: “How to be Comfortable Though Bombed,” ran one headline. “A Shelter in War–A Beach House in Peacetime,” ran another. Architectural Forum called it a “dressed-up adaptation of the lowly grain bin” but went on to praise its reasonable cost and demountability, calling it a “three-room defense house, a six-man steel tent,” while hailing Fuller as “prefabrication’s liveliest intelligence.” (AF, June, 1941). The Point Hayes prototype was twelve feet high and twenty feet in diameter with ten porthole windows and fifteen small circular skylights penetrating the conical roof. The interior was lined with wallboard and insulated with fiberglass. Floors were made from 1/8-inch-thick Masonite, and fresh air circulated through an adjustable skylight and ventilator contraption in the center of the roof. As advertised, the DDU cost only $1,250 and came complete with utilities and lightweight furnishings from Montgomery Ward, including a kerosene-powered icebox No. 3john-philips-inside-dyand stove. Inside it was tricked out with quaint little drapes over the portholes, while a fireproof curtain hung from overhead tracks and could be drawn to divide the interior into four pie-shaped rooms. Openings could be made anywhere in the curving DDU walls to attach additional units as needed, or to install a self-contained “mechanical wing” that Fuller based, in part, on his Dymaxion Bathroom of 1937. He was intent on consolidating all the mechanical necessities of daily living into a single, compact and comprehensive system that would reduce time and cost during installation. Preliminary sketches show a 5-foot-diameter pod, the so-called “toilet wing”, that contained a water cistern, septic tank and gas tanks, partially buried below ground while the roof of the toilet wing was equipped with a windmill to provide enough energy to run a pump.****BF sketches for DDU, 1940 1 In October 1941, New York’s Museum of Modern Art installed the second DDU prototype in its sculpture garden at 11 West 53rd Street, among its collection of outdoor sculptures. The two-part DDU sat there as an experimental art object, a bombproof art object. “While not proof against a direct hit, its circular corrugated surfaces deflect bomb fragments or flying debris,” explained MoMA’s curator ****Int. Study. DDU (BF Archives - SR) copy 2of Architecture and Industrial Design. It was an auspicious time for such an installation. Europe was embroiled in violent conflict and although the U.S. was still at peace, most Americans assumed that war was imminent. “This is a house in which to brave bombs,” wrote art correspondent Margaret Kernodle, while Fuller himself pointed out that a round house was easier to camouflage from air attacks. “It coincides with nature-forms such as trees and hillocks,” he said. Not only were Americans prepared for war, but they would face it with a certain amount of artistic flair. Less then two months later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, making Fuller’s design seem all the more prescient.

***No. 4, BF assembling DDU @ MoMA, 1941 copy

Bucky Fuller assembling DDU at the Museum of Modern Art, October 1941

Several hundred units were purchased by the US Army Signal Corps and shipped to bases in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and the Pacific where they were used as housing for pilots, radar crews and aviation mechanics. At least a hundred units were also shipped to Signal Corps bases within the United States, including Camp Evans. According to Carl, the DDUs at Camp Evans were probably never used for human shelter, but served as workshops for radar research and the handling of flammable/explosive materials. (A vintage photograph he found shows a Camp Evans worker pouring molten aluminum inside one of the units.)

****VJ-DAY, Camp Evans with DDUs copy

Award ceremony, Camp Evans, NJ, July 18, 1945, showing six DDUs in background

In the little science museum, near the entrance to the camp, there’s a framed photograph that was taken on a sunny afternoon on July 18, 1945, only a month before Japan’s surrender. There are flags and stars-and-stripes bunting around a little stage and ranks of military personnel stand at attention while local townsfolk gather round in a crowd, listening to Colonel Victor A. Conrad present the Legion of Merit Medal to Captain Charles H. Vollum for his work on radar research. Just to the right, you can see at least six DDU’s in a cluster, with one lying right beneath a radar tower. Using Google Earth as my search tool, I was able to count at least ten circular concrete slabs that once supported other DDUs around the grounds, and if you add them together with the existing units, there was at one point a total of 28 DDUs at Camp Evans. Besides these, there’s at least one on the roof of the Myer Center in Fort Monmouth (about 12 miles away from Camp Evans), and another two–possibly more–at the Naval Ammunition Depot Earle in Monmouth County. Access to the Earle depot is highly restricted and I haven’t figured out a way to get in, yet. Among other hazardous ordinance, there are said to be a hundred or more nuclear warheads stored at the site.

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DDUs at a U.S. Air Force base in North Africa, 1944 (Office of War Information Archives)

There were also three–and presumably more–at a US Air Force base in North Africa, as seen in photographs from the Office of War Information archives.  No specific information is given about location and date, other than “somewhere in North Africa (1942-43)”.  In the first photograph, three US pilots are standing in front of one of the units. The DDUs are perched on a freshly laid concrete base. They have conventional wooden doors and the porthole windows have been blackened out. (The foreground shows roughly turned-up earth, mud, shards of masonry. The sky is a matte gray.)  The other photo was taken at a different angle and shows two of the units in profile while Colonel Carl Andrew “Tooey” Spaatz inspects the newly erected DDUs with two other officers. Spaatz was Commander of the Twelfth Air Force when it was stationed in North Africa, so this might possibly Tunisia, but it’s hard to say. Apart from all of the above, there have also been several undocumented, unverified sightings of other DDUs elsewhere in the mysterious hinterlands of New Jersey.

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Soon after America’s entry into the war, Butler Manufacturing had to stop production of the DDUs. The U.S. government imposed limitations and all supplies of metal were consigned to weaponry–airplanes, tanks, bombs and guns–not housing. Fuller’s dream of an affordable, mass-produced dwelling unit was only temporarily delayed, however, as he soon started work on the Dymaxion Living Machine (better known as the “Wichita House,”) a circular, aluminum-clad house fabricated at the Beech Aircraft factory in Wichita, Kansas, hence the name.

Model - Wichita House, MoMA Collection

Carl, my guide, points to the south, to the far side of a field at Camp Evans, near a wooded area, where there appear to be two more DDUs overgrown by knotweed and I walk into the field, into the nettles, and stick my head through a veil of creeping vines. These two units are even more crusty and patinated with age, even more haunting and beautiful than the first group, untouched since the closing of the base, left exactly as they were with original paint blistered and peeling off their metal walls as if burned by a torch. Nature has taken over, almost swallowing them whole and this gives them a sense of inverted time, as if they were ruins from the future rather than the past.

*****RUSTY DDU, Camp EvansA shorter version of the DDU story was published in the New York Times on December 31, 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/garden/war-shelters-short-lived-yet-living-on.html

 

LANDSCAPE AND TRAUMA: Glen Coe

 In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness.                               – Samuel Beckett

**Milner diagram 1

I reach the black hill of Sgòr na Chiche and follow the trail that dips up and down, wending my way through slate, heather and deer grass. I climb the craggy outcropping known as Signal Rock and look back over the glen and the river and can see smaller streams that converge at the Meeting of Waters and flow into the Loch of Achriachtan and beyond to the Field of Dogs at a place called Achnacone. (There’s still snow on the higher reaches of Bidean nam Bian.) It’s thought to be a preternaturally gloomy place, the so-called “Glen of Weeping”, where more than thirty MacDonalds were massacred in 1692, including Alastair Maclain, my namesake and 12th Chief of Glencoe, but it’s not just the memory of blood and betrayal that makes it such a memorable landscape. It’s the brooding scale of the “munros,” the dark mountain masses that crowd against one another like mourners around a grave. There’s a sense of sublimated violence in the outlines of Bidean nam Bian, a massif created when volcanic eruptions took place during the Silurian Period, followed by a million years of glacial erosion.

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“Cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe,” goes the local ballad, while invading Norsemen called it the “Place of Wild Dogs”, and when Dorothy Wordsworth visited in 1803 she and her brother William couldn’t wait to get out. “Never did I see such a miserable, wretched place!” G. K. Chesterton visited after World War I and saw an allegorical landscape of death and resurrection with “star-crowned cliffs hinged upon the sky” and “clouds as floating rags across them curled.” Douglas Stewart came in 1924 and composed his well-loved “Sigh, wind in the pine; River, weep as you flow; Terrible things were done Long, long ago,” and when T.S. Eliot came in 1934 he was struck by a bleak sense of foreboding that he attempted to capture in verse: “Here the crow starves,” he wrote. “Substance crumbles, in the thin air, moon cold… shadow of pride is long, in the long pass. No concurrence of bone.”

My father made his own pilgrimage to the sacred bone yard in October 1945, a few weeks after repatriation and eleven years after Eliot’s visit. He took the “Silver Line”, a cream-colored bus with snout-nosed grille, to Oban and continued thereafter by small-gauge railway and foot. It was raining most of the way north and he wore a black oilskin and carried the leather valise his mother had given him as a homecoming gift. He brought extra socks, a small blue Service Bible and his new “hobby”  camera, the Leica IIIC that his friend, Eric Moss, brought back from Dusseldorf. LeicaScreen Shot 2014-03-02 at 10.53.05 AMMoss sold him the black-market camera for eight pounds. It came in a black leather case with three Zeiss Jena lenses and a copy of Douglas Milner’s Mountain Photography: Its Art and Technique.  He spent one night at King’s House and another at Clachaig Inn where he met an Army lieutenant named Graydon who’d been blinded in one eye at Chindwin River. Together, they hiked up the old Wade Road, across Rannoch Moor and onto an undulating green pasture that led to the River Etive and the foothills of Bedean Nam Bian. They scrambled halfway up the boulder-strewn escarpment called the Devil’s Staircase and on the way down, stopped to take a rest. This was when my father took the first of his landscape studies: Stob Coire Sgreamhach.

****Milner photo 3

Graydon was an experienced climber and soon split off to try a more challenging trail, while my father, who had sore knees, continued through the lower-elevation moonscape, and tested  a range of different exposures while making notations in a little blue notebook: “From the Coire Bar. looking over tip of Beinn Bhan. Taken with 13.5 cm. wide angle,” numbering every shot, recording the name of the mountain or loch, the time, date, type of lens, shutter speed and f/stop. It was quite unlike him to be so precise, so scientific. I can only imagine that he needed some kind of reference or benchmark and that the mountains, the so-called “munros,” served as a kind of framing device for his own process of recovery. I’ve heard how victims of trauma return to the scene of a crime to re-live and process their experiences. Was that what my father was doing? I don’t really know because he rarely told me anything about this period of emotional adjustment. In fact, he preferred not to talk about it at all, and would only answer my questions if I prodded him and even then it would only be some minimal detail, a date or place name, something about the camera or what he was carrying with him on the trip, but nothing of much substance. I only discovered the photographs when I was going through a box of his things and found them mixed in with old family travel shots, birthday parties, beach picnics, Christmas dinners.

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They were oddly sized, almost square, deckle-edged, black and white, and stood out from all the other snapshots. Each one was moodier than the last with no buildings or people depicted, hardly any trees, just mountains, sky and rock, clouds and shadows, but they were strangely beautiful in their starkness. I picked them out and placed them on the dining room table, going from left to right, from lighter to darker, from smaller to larger scale, so that the photo of a loch gave way to low-lying hills, to a gorge, then to an actual mountaintop. This seemed like the most logical and lyrical sequence. Over the next few weeks, it gradually dawned on me just what the photographs were, when they were taken and what they represented. I was fascinated and felt as if I’d found an entry point to an otherwise unknown period of my father’s life, the otherwise blank period between his release from the camps–on August 12, (three days after the bombing of Nagasaki)–and his marriage to my mother, almost four months later, an agonizing period that, for the most part, he’d blocked from memory. I became quite obsessed with the photos and began wondering how, for instance, my father had managed to frame certain scenes and make the mountains look like overlapping folds of cloth, or how he came to choose the angle of light, the depth of field, or the length of a certain exposure.

**Milner diagram #4

In one shot there are rhythmically stacked layers that rise along Aonach Eagach with morning light brushing the edge of one peak, radiating behind an almost vertical precipice of pitch-black granite, a composition for which my father notes dryly: “taken with Tele P. lens,” in his unmistakable penmanship. Another shows a patch of snow on Beinn Fhada with darker striations, knobs, shadows, a fractured tumulus near the top of Sgur-mam-Fiann. In yet another, there are bands of moss at a lower elevation, and light streaming from behind one of the “paps” turning a solitary pine into a blurred emanation. But as much as I wanted to find answers, the photographs were surprisingly devoid of sentiment or conventional meaning and I found myself seeking clues to a “narration” that wasn’t necessarily even there.

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Parts of the glen appear to be without exit, closed off from the rest of the world. The north side is formed by the almost vertical Aonach Eagach ridge, while the conical Pap of Glen Coe (Sgurr na Ciche) encloses the western end of the U-shaped vale and eventually opens out to Loch Leven. A facile reading might be to see an allegorical chasm of dark, impenetrable walls, lowering clouds, inescapable truths–at least one of my father’s fellow survivors had taken his own life since returning from the camps–but I don’t think he ever considered suicide. More likely, he was bewildered by such a precipitous reentry to the civilized world. I kept going back to one photograph in particular that had a mysteriously dark foreground and the peaks of the Three Sisters looming along the right-hand side of the frame. A narrow roadway threads through the bottom of the valley, reflecting the sky and providing the only contrast in an otherwise leaden composition.

Glen Coe by EG 2

Was this a thread of hope, a narrow escape to salvation? It’s the same road that Eliot wrote about when he visited Glen Coe in 1935: “The road winds in / Listlessness of ancient war, / Langour of broken steel, / Clamour of confused wrong, apt / In silence. Memory is strong / Beyond the bone…” My father hadn’t allowed himself the luxury of a future, any sort of future, much less the prospect of marriage or a family life. He’d seen my mother once on the promenade at Inellen and once at a tearoom in Ardentinny, although that may have been after the Glen Coe outing, I’m not sure, but he was starting to think about the possibility of a romantic relationship, a thought that would have seemed ludicrous only a few weeks earlier. However much of an amateur he may have been, however many ideas he may have borrowed from Milner’s Guide to Mountain Photography, he achieved a surprising sense of scale within the 2-1/4-inch-square format by consolidating the major landscape elements and rendering them as monolithic forms. The light throughout is crepuscular, elegiac; the skies high and wide, alabaster panels veined with gray and there is something about the gradations of shadow that made me start to read the photos as self-portraiture, as if the lens of his Leica were pointed inward as well as out towards the scenery.

**GLEN COE, EG, 8

When I look up to my own sky, it’s patterned with sieves of pink and purple that alternate with furrowed pockets of gray. The valley seems an infinite funnel between present and past, a worm hole through time, and I feel as if I’m still moving along the narrow tarmac of A82, even when I park the car and start to walk across the moor, over humps of gorse and moss, it’s not what I expected. There are hardly any points of transition except for where the main trail intersects with other trails, an occasional cattle crossing, or a small cluster of birches near the Etive River Bridge and a triangular white sign that reads “King’s House Hotel, circa 1754,” pointing up a narrow track that leads to nothing. I’d driven in the morning from Tarbet to the head of Loch Lomond and onto Rannoch Moor the back way, from the east, while my father had come from the west, through Oban and Ballachulish. I carry his photographs in a waterproof folder, the idea being to track his movements and stand in the same spots where he stood when he came here in 1945, but it’s almost impossible to line up the angles. The light and shadows are oddly skewed and images everything’s saturated with a deep, living color: the heather, the rocky knolls and peat bogs fringed with moor-grass. It’s so different from the black-and-white world of post-war Scotland. Nothing seems to be in the right place, and while I’m sure there’s a way to triangulate his movements from exposure to exposure, it’s beyond my capabilities. In fact, the very thought makes me light in the head and I have a kind of spatial-temporal dyslexia, a horizontal vertigo, in which foreground and background become inverted, and for a moment I feel as if I were walking through a pinhole aperture into one of my father’s own photographs. There’s too much information, too much material to work back from. His were tightly framed views that left almost everything to the imagination. His glen was more compressed and packed with shadow than mine, his depth of perception more shallow, like bas-relief. I’m standing in the same place as he was and can see what was left out of those closely bracketed landscapes, how the glen is all around and continuous, even wilder than imagined. My boots are soaked and I’m distracted by a group of hikers who say hello in a such a cheery way that it brings me hurtling back to the soggy present. I take a slow breath and remind myself that I’ve come here to retrace my father’s footsteps, not for a leisurely stroll or an afternoon of sightseeing.

**Milner diagram #7

I have always marked and measured my life against his, to a sometimes pathological extent–my age, my gains and losses, my accomplishments, my career, my two marriages, my own children–wondering what he was doing at different stages of his life, at twenty, thirty, forty, and comparing it to whatever I was doing at the same age. Where others saw a selfless servant of Christ, I saw a needy, sometimes helpless man, who always had to be the center of attention. I loved him. I adored him. I happily acknowledged every part of his legend, the stories and heroics, the near-death experiences that so many admired. He was a war hero but he also read ancient Greek. He read Anglo Saxon. He read Plato. He read Kierkegaard. He read everything and possessed a golden Rolodex of names and dates and philosophical notions that rotated constantly inside his head. You could see it, spinning in there, behind his watery green eyes. I never understood what he was talking about until I was older and even then I found it impossible to keep up, impossible to compete. If I threw out a name, or a book, or an idea, he had twenty other names and books and ideas ready to throw back at me, to impress, contradict and confound. It was exhilarating but it was also exhausting, and I learned to assume a quiet, deferential attitude whenever I found myself in his presence.

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William Aytoun visited Glen Coe in 1835 and described the moorland as “black amidst the common whiteness.” Horatio McCulloch came from Glasgow to paint the unruly wildness of the glen with radiant bands of gold falling across the Aonach Eagach ridge. Thomas Moran traveled across the Atlantic to make studies of the morbid shadows and extreme weather. In his Pass at Glencoe, a storm sweeps over Bidean nam Bian as the Etive floods beneath the Bridge of Coe. Edwin Landseer painted sentimentalized renderings of a stag rearing his head against a multi-hued background of glowing mountains and wind-ravaged trees. All of the artists and poets, all of the ones who’d come before, were seeking some sort of convergence with the Sublime, but why did my Dad come?  I can only guess that he was trying to recapture the landscape he’d lost during six years of war and find a way to map himself back into the world of the living. As E.M. Forester wrote: “Landscape is personality,” and for those few days in October, 1945 my father claimed the rugged landscape of Glen Coe as his own.

**Milner diagram #5

His camera and the photographic process with its f-stops, apertures and technical rigor, gave him a methodology and a set of coordinates that were both spatial and emotional. It gave him a reason for wandering these hills, for being aware of the position of the sun as it moved across the sky and the angle of light and how it extended or distended shadow, emboldened or diminished a silhouette. He could reassure himself along the way that he wasn’t losing his mind, even though he was still haunted by the faces of the dead. He had palpitations and night sweats and diarrhea and the lingering effects of dyptheria and malaria and beri beri and tropical ulcers. He would pray every morning but it wasn’t quite the same as when he prayed in the camps. He could hardly sleep and when he did he saw clouds of insects and railways cutting through jungle. He saw his friends, Dusty and Stewart, standing over the mass grave at Tarsau and the faces of the dead laid out for burial, faces from Clydeside and Liverpool, faces from Hull and Aberdeen, all the ones he failed to save. The River Coe flows west along the glen before turning into a waterfall near the head of Loch Leven. This was where my father stopped to compose his final photo and it shows Eilean Munde, the burial island of the MacDonald Clan, probably the most conventional of all his studies, but one that captures some of the unfathomable emptiness that he felt that week. The moon reflects off the surface of the loch and turns it into a darkly enameled shield, an image that seems all the more spectral for the way that the surrounding trees lean away from the camera. It’s a photograph about time and memory and the mysterious banality of death, or so it seems to me.  

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Only a month earlier, he’d been on board the M.S. Boissevain, an old Dutch liner that left Rangoon on September 18 and crept slowly across the Indian Ocean. He was sitting on the upper deck, writing a letter home to his parents and smoking one of the “Navy Cuts” that the captain had handed out to all the officers.  Sept. 20, 1945: Dearest Mother, It’s really true! We’re at sea, bound for Blighty. Corstrikemepink! Now I believe that I am Free… When he dozed off he saw an emaciated body rolling out from its covering and the cruel eyes of Lieutenant Sasa looking on. He awoke to thick coats of paint on the Boissevain’s smokestack and the Bay of Bengal shining silver and bronze under a tropical sun.

*BOISSERAIN, EG Returns from POW copy

There’s a photograph that shows David Leckie standing in the middle, while my father’s on the left wearing baggy shorts and battle jacket. Tim Smythe, a Captain in the Norfolks, stands beside him, very tan, almost black, with a boney David Niven face (both Smythe and my father survived the death wards at Chungkai) and you can see a capstan in the background and the temporary officers’ quarters made from shiplap with a corrugated metal roof sloping down to the gunwales. In the letter, my father was explaining that the ship was expected to arrive by the first week of October, but didn’t know where. He was hoping for Glasgow because it would take them past the island where his parents lived. “There is a possibility that I might come sailing up the Clyde,” he wrote. Tell Dad to look out for me – I’ll try to borrow a flashlamp so that I can morse my name as I pass. We are to pass through a Transit Camp first, but should be home within 48 hours. I’ll ‘phone you whenever I get ashore…” It was an almost delirious sensation to be writing these words, imagining what it would be like to come home after so many years.  Would his family and friends even recognize him? He was no longer a boy, but a hardened man of twenty-nine. He’d lost the bushy mop of brown curls. His face was dark and gaunt from starvation. “I’m putting on weight as fast, as fast can be. I weigh myself daily and find the score mounting. As well as good food we are being stuffed with vitamin pills. At times I feel rather like a turkey being prepared for the Xmas Dinner.”

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The Boissevain stopped for two days in Ceylon, then crossed the Arabian Sea, passed through the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, the Straits of Gibraltar and finally turned north towards Great Britain. The ship never did go up the Clyde as my father had hoped, but sailed up the Mersey and berthed at Wapping Dock in Liverpool. An express train from Lime Street Station took my father and dozens of other repatriated soldiers to Glasgow. On the way north he sat on the patterned velvet seat and envisioned the white buildings gathered like a village on the point. He nodded off, somewhere near Carlisle, and saw the skerry slip that cut through rock at a diagonal, the prow of Vim cutting through the current off Ardrossan, his father walking on the shore, distant and unreachable. It was only when the train reached Glasgow Central and his brother Peter was there to meet him, waving from behind the barrier, that he snapped out of his reverie and realized that they wouldn’t be going to Toward Point, but to an island that he hardly knew. The train to Largs was late and he could only see some murky roofs passing in silhouette against the night sky and the dim but familiar platforms at Lanbank and Wemyss Bay. The train picked up speed as it moved inland through Knock Hill Cut and curved back to the coast with a sudden, shuddering stop at the old station on Crawford Street, but the actual moment of reunion was so eerie that it eclipsed the train ride and everything else he’d had in his mind that night.

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Three separate pyres were burning along the shore, casting a milky, orange glow through the veil of fog. The rolling of the launch and the smell of diesel fuel made him queasy as he watched a single figure standing on the beach waving her arms and beating on a metal pot. It was his mother, Sarah, beating the pot and keeping the bonfires stacked with driftwood to guide them into shore. She almost fell over herself running up the concrete landing, reaching out to embrace him when they made their landing. He knew nothing. He understood nothing. He had arrived, but his sense of home, his internal mapping was completely askew. It wasn’t the cozily familiar cottage with whitewashed walls and slate roofs that he’d left in 1939, but a rugged, slightly terrifying landscape in the outer-most reaches of the estuary. My grandfather had been posted to Cumbrae in 1940, and Ernest had only ever stepped foot on the island once, eight years earlier, while sailing Myfawny on the final leg of a Royal Clyde regatta. They’d limped into the castle side of the island with a broken spar, anchored in the lee of South Gellet, which was nothing more than a cluster of sharply slanting rocks, and it seemed as if they’d reached the end of the world, even then, on a relatively calm summer day in 1937. Sarah made every effort to make his return as comfortable as possible. The bedroom was tucked beneath a gable in the keeper’s house. There was a rugby ball, a few books and a framed photo of a boat tacking up the Clyde. His mother had brightened the room with a vase of blue bells on the bedside table.   Oh where does your highland laddie dwell, He dwells in merry Scotland where the bluebells ***CUMBRAE House, Chimney Pot copysweetly smell…   But he felt trapped, and in the morning looked out the corner window, past the flame-shaped chimney pot, across the estuary to the hills of Bute, streaks of silver-pink light streaming down the channel, and he was already making plans for an escape. During the next few days, he went shivering up and down the High Street in Largs, back and forth in the launch to Millport, up to Gourock and over on a Clyde steamer to Dunoon. He couldn’t sit still. It was as if he’d awoken from a nightmare in the middle of the night but couldn’t find the light-switch. He had leg cramps and headaches. He wrote furtive entries in his journal and went for long walks to escape the suffocation of his parents’ house on Cumbrae. Cousin Sally was playing Peevers–a Scottish form of hopscotch–in the laundry court, clicking her heals and slapping hands against her thighs, picking up stones in one square and placing them in another. She was terrified of the dark stranger who’d arrived late in the night like an apparition. “He stayed at Cumbrae for some time to get himself back together,” she wrote in a letter to me from the south of England in 2010. “Mum had the room next to him and could hear him shouting in the night and pacing the floor but they were told not to go to him as this might be a little dangerous because of all that he had been through.” Those first few nights were Hell. The bed was too soft, the goose-down pillow impossible, so he lay on the drafty floorboards, his toes twitching like the wings of a dying moth, spasmodic leg muscles, hands clenched into fists, flailing arms, torso turning and twisting beneath the woolen blanket, and then–it was as if he’d kicked himself in his own forehead–awoke with a gasp as he heard the strange half-echo of his own voice beneath a bell jar, that’s how it sounded, and the words were meaningless, random names and threats shouted at no one, into the void, and this would snatch him from the shallow ditch of sleep.

Jimmy Donaldson spotted my father on the dock at Kirn, waiting for the ferry, less than a week after his return. Margaret Dutton saw him walking up Argyll Street and thought he looked surprisingly fit, considering his ordeal. He ate the buffet lunch at the Buchanan Hotel and went to the Odeon Cinema on Renfield Street to see Fantasia, Disney’s epic animation, and found himself weeping for the colors and Stravinsky’s score. He kicked around the yards at Lorimer’s and Robertson’s looking over the yachts that lay idle through the war. Dionne was ravaged with her teak pitted, varnish peeling, and in desperate need of repair. (He dreamt of sailing her to Tobermory.) Skilly the Poacher, otherwise known as Wull Allan, saw him walking briskly round the head of the loch, near Dalinlongart, where Skilly Robertson Yard 2lived throughout the war inside the upturned hull of an old fishing boat. Jean Robertson, my grandmother, first heard the news of Ernest’s return from Kathleen Lorimer who told her that the Anderson sisters had already invited him to tea at Rubislaw. The Andersons! Gran passed the news onto my mother, Helen, who was pretending not to hear, fixing her hair in the hall mirror at Ardmillen, trying to ignore her mother who seemed particularly agitated and out of sorts. Helen stood back from the mirror and turned to look at her own figure, sideways, smoothing down the folds of her jacket. She would get her hair cut. She would throw the ATS uniform into the bin and find the dark blue woolen suit, the one that hung in the upstairs closet, the one that made her look so tall and slender. Ernest did go to the Andersons, on at least two occasions. Rubislaw was a stately Victorian house made from pinkish stone with high windows and steep gables. There was an iron gate, a greenhouse and a stream running in the back, and inside there were four sisters standing by the window, looking out: Jean, Sally, Eileen, Maureen, all of them attractive and available except for Sally who was engaged to an officer in the Royal Navy. When I met Eileen many years later, she told me the impression that my father made walking up the pebble pathway that day, how thin and dark and good looking he was. What she remembered most was the swooshing sound that his kilt made as he walked up to the front door–that’s what had stuck forever in her memory–the way that the pleated tartan fabric swung back and forth across his knees.

*Ernest & Helen, Wedding Day, 1945 copy

A week after his photographic odyssey to Glen Coe, my father found temporary digs in “Brading”, a boarding house on Nelson Street, just off Largo Road, not far from the St. Andrews campus, where he hoped to complete the classes that had been interrupted by war in 1939. The following week he sent my mother a marriage proposal, “I’ve been thinking and thinking, going almost mad…” and it came with a package of silk stockings, a photo of himself, and a poem called “Escape” that he’d started to write while still aboard the Boissevain on his way back from Rangoon.  Helen received the proposal on the morning of November 30, a Friday, and accepted it in writing by return post: “Darling, I don’t know whether I’m on my head or heels. Your 2 letters this morning put me right into a flat spin. I’ve been thinking of you every minute since you left and wondering if you were serious and knowing that I was serious and the answer is yes, I’ll marry you, darling. As you say, it’s so obvious. It was always meant to be this way…” My parents got married on December 17 at Ardmillen, my grandmother’s stone house in Sandbank, and it was a simple affair with a small group of family and friends in attendance, and Reverend Lithgow of the Kirn Parrish Church conducting the service. The next morning, they were off on a honeymoon, down the west coast of Scotland by train, to Girvan where they stayed four nights at the Royal Hotel. It wasn’t much of a hotel, certainly nothing royal, but it was all my father could afford and it had a little pub and a decent view over the estuary.

ROYAL HOTEL, 34

The Royal is still there, just off A77, a busy road that runs from Dumfries to Ayr. It’s a simple, two-story stone building with whitewashed walls and pale blue trim. I approach from the north but miss the turning and have to pull off at a gas station and swing back. I tell the rosy-faced proprietor about my parents. He smiles and insists that I take a peak at their former honeymoon suite. He hands me the key to Room #4 on the second floor, and it’s pretty much the same as it was when they stayed there in 1945, only now decorated with peach-colored wallpaper with two single beds–“Twin Peach” is how it’s described on the hotel’s web site–but it has the same view they had then, across the estuary to Ailsa Craig, the oddly symmetrical dome of rock that looms up from the sea, bleak and solitary, inhabited only by puffins, seals, and a lonely lighthouse keeper.  My parents could see it out the window of their room and whenever they went on one of their chilly outings along the beach, or poking around the ruins of Crossraguel Abbey, or following the footpath up Dow Hill, it appeared as if the Craig were following them like a luminous presence. And what was this strange volcanic rock rising from the waves, struck by moonlight? In the morning it looked blurry and distant, but as the sun rose higher and caught the contours of its vertical granite shafts, the island appeared to jump up from the sea and come alive with so many facets and craggy outcroppings. To early Scots it was a hiding place for mystical, sentient beings and the name in Gaelic, Aillse Greag, literally means “Fairy Rock,” but it was also known as Carraig Alasdair, or  “Alasdair’s Rock”, and when John Keats traveled through Scotland in the summer of 1818, he sat, transfixed, at the King’s Arms Inn and wrote a poem about the geological anomaly across the water: “Hearken, thou craggy ocean pyramid… Thy life is but two dead eternities, The last in air, the former in the deep!

***AILSA CRAIG, b&w

Two dead eternities… I stand in the doorway, staring into the room, and try to imagine them snuggled together, but something stops me cold from going any further. I feel like a time-traveling voyeur, a peeping tom, gazing in at my own parents’ love nest. I hurry back downstairs, oddly embarrassed, and order a Belhaven lager in the pub. Evening descends and I walk outside, past a stone barrier, and watch the light shifting wildly across the slopes of Ailsa Craig, rocky vision, wondering about my parents’ oddly intertwined destinies. Ernest was stronger and more confident than he’d been during his trip to Glen Coe a month earlier. He was madly in love and had even started to write poetry again, encouraged by my mother. He carried the collected Keats and a brown notebook tied with string with his initials scribbled on the cover. He was reading the final part of Endymion while reworking one of his own poems: The wings of great birds are beating / Against the window pane… that he’d started aboard the Boissevain sailing back from Rangoon, and had picked it up again in his parent’s living room, overlooking Kilchattan Bay: My soul flies out to greet them / One with the wind and the rain… I found it sixty years later among his papers, printed in fading blue typeface, copied for posterity on a mimeograph machine. Inside the same manila envelope, I also found the original receipt from my parents’ stay at the Royal.

Honeymoon - EG & HMG 1945 copy

22/12/1945, Capt. & Mrs. E. Gordon: 4 days and morning tea at 15 shillings per person… 2 high teas for 6 shillings… 13 shillings/ 8p for “Beers, Wines, etc.” / Total: 6 pounds, 19 shillings and 8 pennies, a modest honeymoon to be sure, but they were lucky to have survived the war and found each other like that in the shortened daylight and freezing rain of Scottish winter. He was no longer scarecrow thin like he’d been on the ship coming back, and was up to 10 stone–close to 140 pounds–the hollowness in his face filling out, almost back to his handsome former self. Girvan’s Atlantic Breezes Cures Winter Sneezes read a poster in the railway station, and they kissed in the lee of the lighthouse and walked along the edge of the links, across the fairway and made their way through the rolling dunes to the beach. He’d been married for two days and couldn’t suppress a smile on his face. Despite the frightful weather, despite his crumbling teeth, he couldn’t stop smiling. It was a peculiar sensation.

A few weeks later they moved into a small, cold water flat at No.100 Willowbrae Avenue in Edinburgh, and spent the rest  of the winter there, attending classes by day, seeking simple pleasures by night, lying in bed beneath the eaves, reading verses out loud, picking their favorites and reciting them again with rain lashing against the windows of the second-floor flat, dining on shepherd’s pie, baked beans and Bird’s Custard. Rationing was still in effect and everything from eggs, milk and tea to toffee and chocolate were scarce. It was a miserably cold winter and my father remembers inserting endless pennies into a heater–some kind of paraffin-powered device–that was always breaking down and almost setting the place on fire.

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Memory is strong beyond the bone and Helen was the one who endured his midnight shakes, his twitching toes and flailing arms, his sudden outbursts of anger, and irrational mood swings, and the ravenous hunger that was never fully sated. She was the one who brought him back, finally, to the land of the living and the righteous. In January she gave him a copy of Other Men’s Flowers, a popular anthology of poetry compiled by Field-Marshal Viscount Wavell, published by the Alden Press, Oxford, in 1945. I know this because I have the book in my possession and can see that the frontispiece is signed in my mother’s distinctive handwriting: “Edinburgh, Jan. 1946. With all my love, darling. – Helen.” It’s not much to go on, but inside, there are dozens of markings, under linings, dog-eared corners, checks and dots in almost all of the margins. It seems as if every poem had not only been read, but had been analyzed and reread, swallowed in its entirety. My father was still starving, in a sense, no longer hungry for food but craving something beyond the superficial routines of daily life, and the books that came into his life at this point were far more than cherished possessions: they were bulwarks against darkness 61b+MLmtGdL._SL500_SY300_and death. “Who sings unconscious of their song, / Whose lips are in their lives” was heavily underlined on page 174 with blue ink in “The Song of Honour,” a lengthy ode by Ralph Hodgson which I understand in some ways–whose lips are in their lives–as I imagine my father still trying to put the horrors into perspective, looking for meaning. I know that the little pencil chicks on page 316 have to be his because this was how he always marked his books. The passage that he singled out–“A prison wall was round us both / Two outcast men we were…”–was from a poem by Oscar Wilde and had been annotated in several other places with pencil and then again, with pen: “The world had thrust us from its heart, / And God from out His care…” and then, underlined twice: “Yet each man kills the thing he loves, / By each let this be heard…”

I take a taxi to Willowbrae and walk up the long curving street on a clear morning to find a two-story stone house, still split into separate apartments, set back with a small but neat front garden, a painted gate and old rain-spouts made from lead. It’s a quiet neighborhood, buffered from the city’s clamor by the hills of Holyrood Park. I stand there for a moment, feeling no connection or further insight, just a kind of claustrophobia and desire to be somewhere else, so I hail the next taxi coming down Abercorn Road and return to my hotel on Princes Street. My father was still torn between secular and spiritual forces, wrestling with horrific memories, trying to forgive and forget the worst, while adjusting to the weather and day-to-day austerity of post-war Scotland. He went twice a month to Dr. Duggan, a tropical specialist at the Royal Infirmary off Dalkeith Road, where they took blood and stool samples and made him pee into a glass vial. He was given anti-inflammatory pills for ms-135-16-2-bottles-1000diphtheria, copper sulfate for his jungle ulcers, charcoal and creosote tablets for lingering effects of dysentery, and a foul-smelling vermicidal called Thiabendazole that he took for hookworm. Duggan also prescribed an early version of Chloroquine for malaria but the drug made my father throw up so he stopped after the first few weeks. In general, however, he was feeling stronger and loved to walk through central Edinburgh looking at the bridges and railway lines beneath the North British Hotel, the broad steps leading down to Waverley Station, and the saw-toothed roofs of the big train sheds. He watched shoppers mingling on Princes Street, gazing at the displays in Jenners, or climbing the Scott Monument and always, wherever he went, he felt the brooding presence of the Castle high upon its rocky perch. He was taking classes in the Faculty of Divinity, studying under the tutorship of Rev. Charles S. Duthie M.A., B.D., attending classes in Old and New Testament Studies, Systematic Theology, Dogmatics, Ethics, Apologetics, Homiletics and won the prize that semester for Elocution.

**Milner diagram #3

He would make it back to Glen Coe five years later, a changed man, his future bright. He finished theological seminary in Connecticut, accepted a position at Paisley Abbey and purchased a second-hand Vauxhall Velox. Again, he brought a camera, but the results were nothing like the photos he’d taken in 1945. The corries of Bidean nam Bian look buoyant compared to the ominous silhouettes of the earlier black-and-white shots, as if he were seeing the world in more granulated and aspirational tones. The Leica IIIC had been stolen on the way back from his honeymoon and the lens of the new camera, whatever its make, was inferior to the finely ground Zeiss Jena lenses that he’d used before. He was also trying out a new kind of film, Kodachrome Transparency, and the slides have brilliant but highly unstable colors that create a kind of Fauvist distortion. In some, the azure sky turns deep cerulean, almost black at the edges of the frame due to silver halide breaking down the integrity of the film’s sixty-year-old emulsion. Viridian green of the pines jumps out sharply in some of the slides, but rock, moor-grass and heather bleed together with watery edges, purple being the least stable of photographic dies, thereby flattening any sense of depth.

**GLEN COE SLIDES, 1951 - EG_0003 2

  • • •

All line drawings are from C. Douglas Milner’s “Mountain Photography,” London: The Focal Press, 1945. All of the square-format, black-and-white photographs (and the last image in color) are by Ernest Gordon, 1945.

HOUSE OF USHER: Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier and the Strangely Twisted Fate of E.1027

SKYLIGHT - E-1027, recent

Entering a house should be like the sensation of entering a mouth which will close behind you.    – Eileen Gray

Cap Martin, October 15, 2000. There are glass doors leading to a narrow balcony and after all the funky smells of the interior, it feels good to step into the fresh air with hints of piñones and mimosa wafting up from the garden. I’d passed through here in October, thirty years ago, hitchhiking with two friends, and when people asked us where we were going, we shrugged and said aucune idée, laughing out loud. And it was true. Other than some half-baked plan to meet Robert Graves in Deià, we’d set out without any particular destination, carrying $40 in traveler’s checks, only the clothes on our backs, the same clothes we’d worn to a Friday-night party on Quai Créqui, near the bridge in Grenoble, overlooking the Isère, but it didn’t matter. We were on the run, eighteen years old and fully empowered, hitching our way south through Digne, following the ancient Roman way, eating garlic soup in Entrevaux, napping on a haystack in Le Brusquet, wrapped together tumblr_l3019rP19U1qztgteo1_500in a blanket “liberated” from a pensione in Gréolieres. We reached Vence the next day and stood bathing in the blue-green reflections of Matisse’s chapel, and visited a house
where D.H. Lawrence once lived–the ancient widow, supposedly one of Lawrence’s lovers, served us watercress sandwiches and chamomile tea–then we hitched a ride to Nice and walked along the coast, stopping here, in Roquebrune, for dinner in a tiny bistro that no longer exists, and we used the same pathway that follows the railway today, less than fifty feet from E.1027, but knew nothing about Eileen Gray or her infamous house at the time, so passed into Italy without a second thought. 

Now the garden is overgrown with thistle, olive trees and umbrella pines with clumps of lavender sprouting here and there.The exterior staircase, once daringly cantilevered, is propped up by timbers and overgrown with bougainvillea. The original solarium is still in E-1027, AG - 35mm colortact, sunken in the earth, lined with iridescent tiles, and I try to imagine Eileen lying there naked in the sun, out of the wind, on a day much like this, limbs intertwined with her lovers’, Jean Badovici of the crooked Romanian nose, architect and magazine editor, leaning down beside her, sipping anise-flavored liqueur from a tiny glass.  I’m not a big believer in Feng Shui, but I have to admit that the place has odious lines of Chi–“poison arrows and killing breath”–flowing through its ruined chambers. Maybe it’s the railway cutting too close to the property line, or the tragedy of Eileen’s own disaffection and heartbreak. Maybe it’s Le Corbusier pissing like a dog all over this,  her chef d’oeuvre, painting his murals on every available surface, or maybe it’s the German storm-troopers who used the walls for target practice in 1943, or Peter Kägi, gynecologist and morphine addict, who was murdered in the master bedroom, or the homeless droguers who squatted for months and spray-painted the walls with cultish
**Solarium, E-1027 2
graffiti. It’s hard to say. 
I arrived on a late flight from Amsterdam and it was too dark to see anything so I just went to the hotel and fell asleep. My first real glimpse came early the next morning, looking across the bend of beach and it was everything I’d anticipated with sun breaking through the clouds, illuminating a horizontal slab of white, as if in a dream, distant, mysterious, crystalline, hovering above the rocks and sea. You can’t drive to the house because it’s situated in a kind of cul-de-sac, isolated and wedged between the rail line on one side and the coast on the other. There are ugly new villas and condominiums stacked in tiers, so you have to walk a narrow alley, Promenade Le Corbusier, that runs from Cabbé to Cap Martin. 

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An old woman was clearing away a tangle of branches and dead palm fronds that had washed down the hillside during last night’s storm. She called to her husband who was repairing tiles on the roof of a neighboring house but he couldn’t hear her. I tried the metal gate but it was locked with a sign that read Propriété de l’État in bold red letters warning that entry was strictly forbidden. I walked back to the tracks and hopped the local train to Mentone on the Italian border, bought the International Herald Tribune, a box of Oscillococcinum, and sipped a cappuccino while watching English and German pensioners strolling down Promenade du Soleil without any soleil in sight. The train from Ventimiglia streamed past and I could see the faces of Italian day workers peering out, on their way to the hotels of Monaco and Nice.***** Cap Martin, E-1027, by AG, . I then returned to my own hotel and waited for the local architect who was supposed to show me around the site. The room was shabby and there were suspicious smells wafting up from the foyer. I tried to take a nap but was still wired from jet lag and just lay there, staring up at the ceiling. I could have stayed at the Hotel Victoria, much fancier and further up the hill, but preferred this, the Diodato, with its sleepy, Graham-Greene languor and blossoming bougainvillea. The former villa of a Russian aristocrat, the hotel is situated on a rocky promontory called Pointe de Cabbé and there are cracked Eutruscan pots filled with daisies that lead down steps to the Plage du Buse. It felt as if I was the only person staying there. When he arrived an hour late, Renald Barrés was dressed in a tweed jacket, bow tie, round spectacles, looking like Professor Tryphun Tournesol in the Tin Tin series, which seemed oddly fitting as we were going to enter the lost and ruined world of E-1207 like two archeologists digging for a future that never happened. He was an architect based in Nice and had been put in charge of restoring the house. As we eileenGray-e1027-axoapproached,  he assured me that I was the first, or at least one of the first, allowed on the property since the French government took charge a few months ago.  He unlocked a padlock and waved me across the threshold to the overpowering smell of urine, old, sad, vagrant piss. At first I’m shocked by the dystopian ruin, nothing like the shimmering mirage I’d glimpsed across the bay that morning. There were rags, broken bottles, flies buzzing over shit. The milky glass was cracked, the roof sagged in places, and the mildewed stucco erupted here and there with fissures and swollen joints. “A house is not a machine to live in,” said Gray in response to Le Corbusier’s oft-quoted line about a house being a machine á habiter. “It is the shell of man,” she said, “his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation,” suggesting a softer, more enveloping style of modernism, and I was glad to be seeing her house in its ruined state before the restoration “experts” had stripped away its patina and soul. After all, this is how a modern masterpiece should be witnessed, with scars and bruises in tact. I want to catch some of the rhythms of her life, her sensitivity to light and shadow, her obsessive but playful attention to detail. I want to walk in her footsteps, see the same views, feel the same breezes, walk down the same 0323257aea0db32ef09f01bea6fe94c2narrow pathway to the beach where she swam every day. But how much could I learn from this ruined shell of a house, from a wall tinted blue or a broken staircase? Despite so many years of neglect, rot, vandalism and tabloid-style mayhem, Gray’s vision still flutters through here and there. It’s not at all a big house but feels expansive because of the transcendent views and the way that Eileen positioned the house on the bluff, so that each room spills outside. The scale is surprising, almost feline. The Mediterranean casts a sea-brewed luminosity that she captured, somehow, and sculpted so as to suffuse the interior with its subaqueous glow. The light itself becomes an architectural presence in the mottled white surfaces and translucent skylights. I try to imagine her here, eating fruit de mer, bathing in the sea, arranging her art and furniture with quiet purpose. Gray worked on the design and construction of the house from 1926 to 1929 with her erstwhile lover, the Romanian-born architect and magazine editor Jean Badovici, and everything about E.1027 was premised on her love of the sea and sun, like its floor-to-ceiling glass, terraces and sunken solarium lined with iridescent tiles. Gray designed many of her most famous pieces of furniture expressly for the house, including the low-slung Transat armchair, the iconic Satellite mirror, and a circular glass side table.  An ingenious skylight-staircase still rises from the center of the house like a spiraling nautilus made from glass and metal. In a sense it is the heart of the house, not only providing access to the roof but also drawing natural light down into deeper recesses.

Only three days earlier I’d passed through London and visited Peter Adam, Gray’s friend and official biographer. I sat on a low, overstuffed divan and watched as he sorted through a box of old photographs and letters from Gray. The windows at the front of the parlor looked out across Addison Road to Holland Park and I could see the nannies pushing their charges in prams, gliding up the walkways beneath a line of poplars. “She was an introvert,” said Adam, holding up the photograph of a young woman, quite beautiful with curly hair, downcast eyes, wearing a single strand of pearls.  He told me how she was born in Enniscorthy, Ireland in 1878 to a wealthy family and how she went to the Exposition Universelle  in Paris in 1900 and saw the work of Rennie Mackintosh which made a lasting impression on twenty-two-year-old Eileen. 

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%5Cimages%5Cpages_content_archive_NEW%5C2011%5Ceileen-gray-340She enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art and then moved  to Paris in 1902 to attend the Académie Colarossi. This was when she first saw the paintings of Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gaughin. In another photo, Eileen is dressed like a man in a velvet coat with a high collar, looking like George Eliot. “She was reclusive, bisexual,” said Adam, who’d spent years trying to rescue Eileen from the fickle undercurrents of art history and was amazed at the recent popularity of her work.  “Her furniture has gone through the roof,” he said, pouring me a cup of tea. “One of the lacquer screens just  sold at auction for $1.5 million.” Something clouded over in his eyes–perhaps the cruel and arbitrary twists of fate or how Eileen had lived until she was ninety-seven but had slipped into total obscurity. Only three people, including Adam, attended the funeral at Père Lachaise Cemetery on a rainy afternoon in 1976. A few months later, the gravesite was mistakenly destroyed and Gray’s remains were tossed into a mass grave, adding insult to injury. “She never took
Eileen-Gray-screen herself too seriously,” said Adam, looking up. “I’m sure she’s up there laughing about the whole thing.”
  There were louder noises filtering in from the street, 
 
vans and mini-cabs honking, busses accelerating up Addison Road, and 
the light coming through the windows seemed to grow paler, more anemic as the afternoon unraveled. Adam disappeared for a
******Peter Adam
few minutes and came back with an old photo album that was bound in dappled blue leather. “It was rape,” he said, incensed by the apparent vandalism of Le Corbusier and his murals. He shook his head and handed me a photograph that showed Le Corbusier standing naked, working on one of his murals at E.1027, a Cubistic composition with stylized guitar, eyes, and a cloud. In 
the photograph, Corb turns to look at the photographer with an arrogant, quizzical smirk on his face, le violeur caught in the act of desecration, and I could see the 
paleness of his plump Swiss bottom and the zigzag scars where a propeller had ripped into his thigh while he was swimming in the Mediterranean, not far from E.1027. I’d never seen the photograph before and found it unsettling, vaguely obscene, almost as if the famous architect were literally raping the house.

***CORB RAPE

“I’m warning you. It’s a dismal ruin,” said Adam as I walked onto the sidewalk and hailed a cab. “You might be shocked.” In Roquebrune, three days later, I am shocked but also fascinated and a little confused by the multiple layers of abuse that E.1027 had suffered since Eileen first lived here. The job of restoration would be challenging if not impossible. I could see that. What do you keep? What do you get rid of? It would take an archeologist–a brilliant archeologist of the modern–to make sense of the mess. We were upstairs in the main living area and Barrés pointed out a semicircular screen made of translucent *** Lv. Rm, 3,  E-1027, , Cap Martin, E-1027.celluloid. Eileen broke up the white walls with bands of vertical blue and a horizontal band of black that ran behind a cantilevered shelving system. Along the north wall she mounted a map and placed her low-slung Transat Chairs and one of her signature rugs. Despite the squalor, there was enough still in tact, for me to imagine what it might have been like when Eileen still lived here, bathing in the sea, eating fruit de mer, arranging art and furniture with quiet, mindful intent. Instead of a sentimental seaside name, Eileen chose a modern streamlined name: “E.1027,” as if it were something inventoried in an automotive catalogue. In fact, it was an enigmatic anagram for herself and erstwhile collaborator/lover, Jean Badovici, the Romanian architect and editor. (“E” stands for “Eileen.” The numeral “10” represents the tenth letter of the alphabet which is “J” for “Jean,” “2” for the second letter which is “B” for “Badovici,” and finally the numeral “7,” seventh letter of the alphabet, which is “G” for “Gray.”) Her initials, “E” and “G,” are literally embracing, making love to his initials, “J” and  “B.” 

E1027intBarrés turns and points at a composition that was painted in the late 1930s by Le Corbusier on a freestanding partition where Gray’s daybed used to stand. There are three  figures–something akin to Picasso’s “Three Musicians” of 1921, but painted in a mannered surrealism. The figure on the right resembles a wood cutout with a single eye, the middle one is a globular white figure, the third an amorphous red shadow with angry snout. They are three leering musketeers breaking into Gray’s subtle arrangement of space. Barres guides me down the narrow staircase that spirals to the lower level like an511937940_97eb0dfe03 umbilical chord. I can hardly fit at 6’4″ and have to tuck my head into my shoulders like a turtle. We emerge into a utility room that has tables laid out with rusty brackets, latches, grilles and escutcheon plates, all tagged and numbered like so many archeological artifacts. This is the beginning, the first step in a painfully slow process of restoration and reclamation, but who will benefit the most? Eileen or Corb? 

***E1027 parts, by AG

When betrayed by Badovici in 1934, Eileen left E.1027 behind like a snake shedding its own skin, and never looked back. I find this hard to comprehend. How could she abandon a place that she’d put so much of her soul into?  Eileen was born on August 9, 1878, a strong-minded Leo with “grit and ability to come back from difficult circumstances,” according to her astrological birth chart, and some of this seems to have been true as she picked herself up and started over without a second thought, leaving the house to Badovici without an argument or struggle: “extremely proud, can seem vain, high ideals in romance, high level of energy, boundless ambition and immeasurable integrity…” She simply designed another house, Tempe à Pailla, this one strictly for herself, and built it in Castellar, not far up the road from E.1027.

Between 1934 to 1956, Badovici had the house to himself and frequently invited Le Corbusier and his wife to visit. This is when the imposition, the so-called “rape” of the house began. There’s a group of grainy photographs, recently uncovered, that shows Le Corbusier lounging around the house in his underwear, or naked, or in pajamas. The snapshots must have been taken some time before World War II and there’s something vaguely pornographic and onanistic about the way he’s lying on the divan in the living room, touching himself, drawing something on a table while his foot is propped on a stool, or posing in front of one of the murals, further indicting himself.

****CORB at E.10272049_2331 2 copy

Le Corbusier sucks the oxygen from a room, at least that’s how I imagine him, sitting on the divan, late August evening, rambling on about one of his perceived enemies–and there were many–while Badovici plays host, accommodating to a fault, indulging the maître’s remarks about less talented architects while opening another bottle of Côtes du Rhône or running to the kitchen for a pot of moules marinières, Corb’s favorite dish. Not that much is known about Badovici but he comes off as an opportunist and could easily be dismissed as one of those characters who flit in and out of art history, sponging off the talents of
CORB WORKING ON MURAL 9
others and then slipping back into obscurity. While some of this may be true, it isn’t entirely fair for he seems to have genuinely loved Eileen, encouraged and championed her and helped to expand her reputation beyond a mere “designer” of furniture and decorative objects. Badovici had an accommodating personality. He was an editor and enabler of sorts and encouraged those he admired, bringing out the inner cave painter in friends like Fernand Léger who, in 1934, painted a mural on a garden wall at Badovici’s house in Vézelay and started something of a trend. Le Corbusier also did his first mural at Vézelay that summer, and then–again, encouraged by Badovici–turned his attention to the walls of E.1027. There’s dispute about how many murals he painted in all. Some say eight. Others say as many as nine, and in his shamelessly self-congratulatory book, My Work  (1960), Le Corbusier mentioned seven. During my own rather hasty investigation, I found evidence of only six, and could see that at least one had been painted over. Most were drawn in shallow depth with overlapping compositions of  standard Cubistic elements: heraldic figures, clouds, guitars, vases, trees, bodies in motion, hands clasped together, etc. with vague sexual allusions and, in some
900x720_2049_2332cases, hints of voyeurism and violation. At the time, Corb was obsessed with Edouard Schuré’s Les Grands Initiés, a book about secret initiatory cults,
and at least one of the murals seems to suggest some form of Orphic rite with a symbolic figure
 painted in yellow that represents a caduceus, the staff carried by Hermes, messenger of the gods and guide of the Dead, with twin serpents intertwined. Was he trying to exorcise Eileen’s  spirit? Counteract the feminine energy of the house? Claim it for himself? At the bottom of the mural,  beneath his own signature, Corb wrote the date “1939.” He returned to finish it after the war and added a looping green line and a vermillion bladder. He returned once again, after Badovici died,
******Corb, Mural detail, Cap Martin, by AG. 2
and a Madame Schelbert had taken up residence, and he continued to work on the same mural.  Ever methodical, even in his madness, Corb recorded the date of each revision at the bottom of the mural: “1939” / “1949” / “1962”, as if offering future art historians a key to this work of art that developed so slowly, over a twenty-two year period. Despite all that time, however, the composition never really gelled, or Corb simply lost interest, and it remains conspicuously incomplete.  Le Corbusier saw the murals as perpetual works in progress, gestures that helped take his mind off the polemics of architecture, allowed him to unwind, but less consciously were crude markers of territory, both spatial and psychic. 

*****AG - Mural - Eileen Gray House- AG 8***AG - Mural, Eileen Gray House - AG 5The most aggressive and conspicuously territorial mural of all was the one that Corb painted at the main entrance to E.1027. A path curves around from the north into a protected little alcove, and a red wall serves as a kind of invitation where Eileen stenciled the words: “Entrez Lentement,” just beside the door and the words “Défense de Rire,” a bit further to the left.  Are these riddles, puns, cryptic messages, Eileen’s poems to the genie of the place, or as I prefer to imagine, the walls of E.1027 itself speaking out? They can be read in several ways. Entrez Lentement, might be a traffic sign to all those who enter E.1027, advising them to come in slowly, leave the hectic world behind, relax. Eileen and Badovici would come here to escape the city and be romantically close so it might be a simple reminder, but Enter Slowly also has sexual overtones, while Defense de Rire seems to be a whimsical play on  the prohibitive signs that are posted all over the metros and streets of Paris: “Défense de Fumer,” “Défense de Cracher,”  “Défense d’Afficher,” but instead of forbidding smoking, spitting or the affixing of posters, Eileen’s message forbids laughter, a tongue-in-cheek admonition to take her work (or perhaps herself as a woman architect or lover) more seriously. For Gray, the act of entering was a mysterious exchange, a coy seduction, the opening act of a gradual unveiling. In her notebooks she wrote about the “desire to penetrate”,  “pleasure in suspense” and most enigmatically: “Entering a house should be like the sensation of entering a mouth which will close behind you,” combining the lure of sensual pleasure–a tongue searching a lover’s mouth–with the anticipation of entrapment and pain.

****CORB at E.1027cf48f1a630

For Corb, entry was more a frontal assault, a victory march: “Voila ce qui donne à nos rêves de la hardiesse: ils peuvent être réalisées.” (“Here is what gives our dreams their boldness: they can be realized.”) He appropriated Eileen’s words and surrounded them with a cartoon-like sequence of stylized forms that spelled out “Entry” in his own cubo-heiroglyphic alphabet: a flesh-toned torso followed by bands of yellow, red, a perforated screen, ghostly white pages turning, and a teal-blue escutcheon. Enter 4181367472_a24d6defc8_bSlowly? It not only defaced Eileen’s original treatment, but distorted her intention in a way that I find unimaginable for one artist to do to another artist’s work. What, I wonder, prevented Corb from painting over Gray’s composition altogether? Had Badovici intervened or did Corb experience a sudden flicker of guilt? There’s a photograph that shows the culprits at the scene of the crime:  Le Corbusier and his wife, Yvonne Gallis, sitting with Badovici and you can see Corb’s mural in the background. It’s a blustery day in the summer of 1939 and they’ve escaped to the leeward side of the house to avoid the wind. They’ve just finished lunch and there’s an air of conspiracy: Yvonne with eyeliner and leafy headband, looking bored, leaning into the shadows of the doorway, Corb sitting in a bathrobe, sucking his pipe with a complacent but petulant look on his face, turning away from Badovici who smiles as he points to the camera with a blurry paw: a piece of inculpatory evidence if ever I saw one.

e1027housecorbusierwifebadovici5

I went back to my hotel on the opposite shore of the bay. I showered, changed clothes and took a taxi to Restaurant Casarella on Rue Grimaldi where I ate dinner alone–endive salad, homemade pasta and moules marinières with lots of garlic–and then walked back through the darkened streets of Cap Martin, thinking about the peculiar feelings that E.1027 provoked in me. That night I dreamt about Eileen Gray. She walked right into my room, her ghostly hair brushed into long, silvery braids. She seemed warm and familiar like one of my Scottish aunts, and sounded genuinely pleased to have me visit her house, but she warned me not to stay too long and I woke up before I could ask her what she meant. The next morning I returned to E.1027 and met Barrés who guided me down to  a shady, underlying area where Corb had drawn another mural as a looping fresco in wet plaster, as if the intertwined figures had been made with a single gesture of the artist’s hand. It’s the only mural at E.1027 without any color, just black lines on white background.

**MURAL - E-1027 1Some have read it as two lovers intertwined in erotic ecstasy. Others see the love-hate relationship between Eileen and Badovici or two women with a child lying between them. I see an entanglement charged with ambiguity and conflict: thighs, vagina, nipples,
fig-7 buttocks, a woman leaning back, naked, contorted into a knot, her arms raised above her head as if in self-defense, and I have to wonder if it’s not really about Corb’s own sublimated desires and 
the troubled relationships he had with women throughout his life. In 
one letter to his mother, Corb drew 
a naked self-portrait with sagging penis–who sends his mother something like that? Then there was Yvonne, former dressmaker and fashion model, who married him in 1930. She seems little more than a shadow, flitting in the background, a moody, long-suffering
footnote to architectural history. In the photos that show them together, Yvonne appears withdrawn, sitting in a tumblr_inline_mfflqpAskN1rvvpzccorner, her face turned away from the light or concealed behind a scarf. She was emotionally unstable. She starved herself, 
fell down drunk and crashed into furniture, breaking her brittle bones in the process. By 1947, she’d shriveled down to an anorexic scarecrow of eighty pounds at about the same time that Corb was painting this same mural on E.1027’s foundation while also having an affair with Minette de Silva, a Sri Lankan architectural student in London.  Does any of this come through in the mural? Not directly, but there’s plenty of underlying ambiguity and a
Brassai Nude
sense of pending violence in the mural , a pushing and pulling, as if the male figure were shoving the woman away in anger or pulling her closer in lust. Le Corbusier always complained about Yvonne’s alcoholism and her “weak bones,” but he stayed with her until the end.
   

Badovici died in 1956, the house slipped into a downward spiral of neglect and ruination, like some kind of Gothic tale, but updated for the 20th century, a modernist House of Usher that absorbed the wounded pathologies of its former tenants and self destructed as with E.A. Poe’s “barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.”  Badovici’s sister inherited the property but she was a nun who lived in Communist Romania and the Romanian State asserted its rights, confiscated the property and put it up for sale in 1960. Le Corbusier encouraged Madame Schelbert to buy the house and preserve it, but this seems to have been a completely self-serving gesture on Corb’s part because he wanted to make sure that his own murals were protected. The plot thickens when a character named Dr. Kaegi enters the scene. 

eilee2Kaegi was Madame Schelbert’s gynecologist and somehow convinced her to sell him the house. He was a morphine addict and a compulsive gambler who lived in perpetual debt. Claiming to need the money to restore E.1027, he sold off the iconic Eileen Gray furniture at auction for a paltry three million francs, but never made any improvements. In 1994 he put the house on the market for $5 million, but was murdered before he could find  a buyer. The official police version states that Kaegi hired two young Frenchmen to work in the garden and they stabbed him to death in the living room of E.1027 when he refused to pay them for sexual services rendered.  The house remained unoccupied for the next five years and suffered leaking roofs, broken windows and vandalism from a group of indigent squatters. The City of Roquebrune assumed control IMG_0048in 1999, put up barbed wire, boarded over the windows, and placed the house under police surveillance. By that point it looked as if the structure would either collapse on its own or be demolished as a public hazard. This was when I first learned about E.1027’s precarious fate and became interested, but was unable to gain access until 2000 when the French Government stepped in and announced that they would help restore the house as a national monument.

                                                                       •

Now I hear the tide rising with a rushing sound through openings in the jagged shore, and a sleepy melancholy steals over my entire body. The afternoon light flickers through pine needles as I stand on the roof and look across the bay to Monaco, the city-state that appears to rise up tall in the strident light. During morning hours it blended into the haze of the Alpes Maritime so perfectly that I hadn’t even noticed. An adjacent garden descends in terraces, with cypress, quince, poplars and tiers of rotting trellis, clusters of honeysuckle and gorse, gesse, ficaire, like an ancient  Roman garden, ordered yet overgrown and chaotic with stunted cedars, Judas trees, marronnier and mimosa.  Le Corbusier acted as if this were his turf, his trees, his dappled southern light. That’s how he spoke about the place, and Gray’s “intrusion” infuriated him. She was a woman, an Anglo-Irish outsider, an “insignificant” designer of lacquered screens, and worst of all, a self-taught architect. On several occasions he attempted to purchase E.1027 and make it his own, but unable to buy the house, he settled for a small lot just to the east where, in 1950, he built himself a tiny cabin called La Baraque but now known as Le Petit Cabanon: “I have a château on the Riviera which measures 3.66m by 3.66m (12 feet by 12 feet),” said Le Corbusier. “It is wonderfully comfortable and pleasant.”   

steps to cabanon (1 of 1)

I walk up a steep path behind E.1027, through a green metal gate with a hand-made latch to Corb’s own perch with its darkly rustic, split-timber siding and a sloping roof of corrugated concrete. I have to wonder how this man who conjured up a sprawling Ville Radieuse for three million people could have squeezed himself (and wife) into such a tiny truffle of a shack where every inch had to be micro-planned like a submarine. The main room is tiny, only 108 square feet, but was designed to be as functional as a monk’s3796070478_beb77e71f1_o cell. Furnishings are rudimentary, childish, like kindergarten furniture and designed to serve multiple purposes. Windows were positioned to
take advantage of cross 
breezes and frame the most desirable views. The floors are stained yellow and the wood-veneer walls have a mellow, hand-rubbed patina. Thumb-tacked to a wall is the faded photograph of a woman sitting in a Thonet chair with a dog lapping at her face. There are shells and parts of a sheep’s skull, bleached white in the sun, resting on a clumsily built shelf. In an early sketch for the cabin, Le Corbusier drew a stick figure looking through a slit window with binoculars, and the figure–one presumes it to be Corb himself–gazes down at E.1027, as if keeping vigil over his strange obsession.

**** Cabanon Sketch. 8, Cap Martin, E-1027. 3Further to the east he built a tiny atelier, painted olive green, propped on rocks, with a single door at one end and two large shutters that swung open from overhead hinges, for light and air. This was where he came to draw and write in private and gaze out over his beloved Mediterranean.  Corb came frequently to his rustic little shack for vacances. He walked up and down the hill, swam in the Bay of Cabbé and on rainy days sat with Thomas Rebutato, proprietor of L’Etoile de Mer, a little bistro that is weirdly attached ****Corb, studio, Cap Martin, by AG, 1to the  cabanon through a vagina-shaped hatchway. There’s a photograph that George Brassaï took of Le Corbusier in 1952 and there’s something hideous about the way he’s staring out from the palm-frond doorway of the L’Etoile de Mer, his nose a ball of putty hanging from the  black-rimmed spectacles, and he’s wearing a bathing suit that looks like an oversized diaper. “Je me sens si bien dans mon cabanon que, sans doute, je terminerai ma vie ici!” (“I feel so good in my cabin that I will probably end my life here!”) And there was already a sense that his days are numbered after the death of Badovici, his mother and then Yvonne in 1957, all within a two-year period. His personal world receded and he spent more time on his own, painting, writing, swimming against his doctors’ orders, from the rocky outcropping below E.1027.

Le Corbusier at Cap Martin--007788

On my last day, I eat a salade de tomates and loup de mer at the Grand Inquisiteur in the precipitously steep village of Roquebrune. After lunch, I climb up to the cemetery perched high above the town and find Le Corbusier’s gravesite, a concrete cube painted with strokes of yellow, red and blue. It’s a beautiful spot, overlooking the sea. The hand-scribed dedication reads:

ici repose
Charles Edouard Jeanneret
dit
Le Corbusier

le 6 octobre 1887
mort
le 27 aôut 1965
á
Roquebrune Cap Martin

*CORB GRAVESTONE

After placing a little posy of lavender atop the grave, I walk past the church, down Escalier Chanoine Grana and Avenue Villaren all the way back to the beach where I take off my shirt and make myself go swimming in the spot where Le Corbuser drowned. He loved to
swim and I love to swim so it seems like an appropriate gesture to make on my last day here. Waves are breaking against the rocks, and I can see how the current sweeps around the point and tugs out to sea. Was Corb caught in this same current? Was that why he drowned? I hold my breath, take the plunge, and kick past the swells–it’s much colder than expected–and I find myself thinking, oddly, about Norman Jaffe, another architect who drowned while swimming, and how he once told me about Corb’s death, almost as if it were a final design challenge: planning an elegant demise, and I had to wonder if their deaths were linked, somehow. Were they both suicide? Had they suffered heart attacks or had they simply drowned?  “A current under sea picked his bones in whispers,” wrote T.S. Eliot in the “Death by Water” section of Wasteland, and that’s what I’m thinking as I swim
******E-1027 photos AG_0007
around the point, imagining Corb’s pale corpse lying at the bottom, amid a spectral kingdom of seaweed and coral, and I think about how we start life in the amniotic fluids of our mother’s womb and then struggle through life, only to come back to the sea again, to drift and die, in a symmetry that Le Corbusier must have appreciated.
 In the end, Eileen Gray outlived him by twenty years and she undoubtedly lived a happier life, never bothering with cities for three million, simply wanting to create a beautiful environment for herself and a handful of friends. On the very last morning of her life, at age 97, Eileen sent her maid out to buy cork panels and other materials so she could start working on a new piece of furniture.

I stayed in the water for another few minutes, bobbing and splashing, kicking against the current, dunking my head below the salt water, saturating myself in the vaporous folds of sea and sky and the aura of unfulfilled dreams that haunts this southern coastline. I frog-kicked back to the landing, pulled myself up by a rope railing, climbed the coral steps, dried off with a towel and hurried back to Hotel Diadato where I packed my bag and left for the airport. As I walked the beach for the last time, I could hear the tide receding and then swelling against the shore with the pull of the moon, oblivious, remembering nothing.

*Beach Cap Martin - AG 1

• • •

Addendum: October 24, 2012

FRAD006_01NUM_0044_02 copy

Twelve years later I’m on a press trip in the south of France, not far from E/1027,  and I’m curious to see how the restoration turned out, but I need permission from the local authorities so I call the Roquebrune-Cap Martin Tourism Office but they’re closed for the rest of the week. I then call Eric De Backer, Cultural Director at the Conseil Général des Alpes-Maritimes but only get his voice mail and he never returns my call. Then I try Christian Desplats at the Conservatoire du Littoral, a conservation agency that technically owns the property and I get an administrative assistant who’s irritated and tells me that work on E.1027 was never completed.  “Comment? Ce n’est pas possible!” I say in my shitty French.  “Yes, it is possible,” she says in her shitty English, and explains that her
office doesn’t have authority to grant access to the site. After some prodding she gives me a number for the Mayor of Roquebrune-Cap Martin and promptly hangs up before I can ask any more questions. The Mayor’s office is equally unhelpful and they make it clear that no one is allowed on the property, even journalists. “Je suis desollée.”It turns out that, in keeping with the villa’s sad legacy, the promised restoration has been just as compromised and conflicted as the house’s prior history. Pierre-Antoine Gatier, Architecte en Chef des Monuments Historiques, took charge in 2003, but as several experts have asserted, he was not properly qualified for the job and made some glaring mistakes. FRAD006_01NUM_0044_01 copy“Eileen Gray would be spinning in her grave at Pere Lachaise if she could see what’s going on,” said Michael Webb, an English architectural historian who’d managed to see  E.1027 a few months earlier and was shocked to find rusting metalwork and cracks in the foundation walls. Work on Gray’s own bedroom hadn’t even begun and the garden remained overgrown. “It’s a sad fate for such a wonderful work of art,” said Webb who filed a scathing report in the British journal, Architectural Review. After speaking with Webb, I called Sandra Gering, a New York gallerist and founder of the not-for-profit Friends of E.1027 foundation, and she was equally dismayed.  “We receive hundreds of inquiries from scholars, journalists and students from around the world and we have to tell them that the villa is closed until further notice,” she said. Michele Brown, Gering’s associate, went to inspect E.1027 and found filthy floors, backed-up gutters and newly replaced windows that leaked rainwater onto the living room floor. There was no apparent supervision or maintenance of any kind. “This is a real scandal, but no one dares to talk about it,” said Barrés, the French architect who’d originally shown me around the house in 2000 and supervised early restoration efforts. Barrés refers to the current program as a “massacre.” Work began in 2000 and is still incomplete through a bungled restoration plan, construction delays, bureaucratic in-fighting, scholarly disputes over historical correctness, lack of funds, and a seemingly indifferent local government. Original 1920s electric switches were discarded and thoughtlessly replaced with modern-day fixtures. The housing for E-1027’s spiraling glass-and-metal skylight was improperly replicated and new, mass-produced glass was used when the original mottled glass was still in tact and could have easily been preserved. Porch railings–a key element in Gray’s overall design–were not in scale with the originals and the canvas awnings badly fitted. To further complicate matters, there’s been a complete lack of management. “It’s worse than a hornet’s nest,”said Michael Likierman, a retired entrepreneur who lives in nearby Menton and has been raising funds for E-1027’s restoration and trying to find a way past the current deadlock. “All of these different agencies have their fingers in the pie and that’s why nothing gets FRAD006_01NUM_0045_13 copydone and so much money has been wasted.” He agrees that Gatier is not the right architect to be in charge of restoration. “Simply put, he’s not competent.” But Likierman sees an even bigger problem that has nothing to do with aesthetics. When he offered to buy a neighboring villa and turn it into a visitor’s center for E.1027, his efforts were blocked by local authorities. “The town sees no added value,” he said, citing the fact that Mayor Cesari is up for re-election in the Spring of 2014 and seems intent on keeping the place closed, at least until the elections have passed. Jean-Louis Cohen, Professor at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and an expert on European modernism, views the situation with philosophical detachment and cites the fact that Villa Savoie, Le Corbusier’s famous house in Poissy, France, underwent numerous phases of restoration before reaching a final, satisfactory form. “The current state of E.1027 bothers me but mistakes can be fixed,” said Cohen, who curated the recent Le Corbusier exhibition at MoMA: “Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes.” He visited E.1027 last year and despite some reservations, supports the work that Gatier has done so far. “There’s nothing easier than replacing an electric fixture.” The irony is that after years of such relative obscurity, Gray is more famous today than she’s ever been. Her unique furniture—chairs, lacquered folding screens, expanding side tables, industrial lamps—has reached stratospheric heights at auction. Her Dragon’s Armchair went for a staggering $29 million in 2009 and set a record for 20th Century furniture. A much-celebrated retrospective of Gray’s work was recently on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and featured many examples of her furniture as well as architectural models and a full-scale reproduction of E.1027’s living room. There’s even a movie in the works, “The Price of Desire,” by Irish director MaryFRAD006_01NUM_0045_08 copy McGuckian with Winona Ryder cast to play Eileen and Alanis Morissette as her lesbian lover. Gray’s late-blooming success seems to have made little difference to E.1027’s fate, however. The house remains shut to the public in a state of disrepair. Now, hopelessly caught as it is in bureaucratic limbo, the fate of E.1027 remains uncertain. “The only solution is to take the property away from the town and give it to a non-profit association that can maintain it as a historic site,” says Likierman. Cohen agrees and believes that some kind of cultural park should be established that’s run by a single, not-for-profit entity. “The process is stuck, but the solution is very clear,” he says. Personally, I don’t see the situation being resolved any time in the near future but that may be in keeping with Eileen Gray and the “barely perceptible fissure” that runs through E.1027’s legacy.

• • •

  An updated, shorter version of the E.1027 saga was published in WSJ. Magazine on August 19, 2013:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324354704578637901327433828?mod=WSJ_article_exploremore

PLENOPTIC FOUNTAINHEAD: Art Basel Miami, 2013


**Jade, 195
Miami continues to reshape its image and rebrand itself as a vibrant new city under the sun, part Utopia, part Dystopia, but swelling with dozens of riotous new projects, all screaming for attention. Every brand-name architect in the world came to town this week promoting yet another high-profile project like the new Miami Beach convention center and park by Rem Koolhass/OMA; and then there’s a 60-story “exoskeleton” tower and vulvic parking structure in the works by Zaha Hadid; condos by Ceasar Pelli; shimmering glass cubes by Richard Meier over the old Surf Club; twin towers shaped like dueling tornados by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels; and a science museum by Nicholas Grimshaw.31303030206d757365756d3232
There’s something oddly pale and bone-like about many of these proposed structures, presented as they are in garish CAD renderings, as if already doomed and dried out in the sun, exploiting architecture as the mightiest of marketing tools with wildly sculptural forms, oversized balconies expanding giddily into fleckless blue skies, dare-devil verticality, shifting axes, structures revealed in all-over transparency and other forms of architectural voyeurism. The buildings are sparsely populated by slender digital figures–one percenters in tailored suits and bikini-clad super models–who appear to be enjoying a future of sexual experimentation, sunbathing and floating listlessly in electric blue swimming pools. In a rendering for one new structure, a single heroic figure stands in silhouette on a cantilevered balcony, sipping a mojito and watching the sunset over Biscayne Bay. He appears to be the Architect, the new Howard Roark in sybaritic suspension, oblivious and unaware of the rising waters and social unrest brewing down below. And within this sunny, plenoptic Fountainhead, the moody charcoal chiaroscuro that Hugh Ferriss popularized in his Depression-era renderings, has been replaced by a completely shadow-less empire awash in waves of translucent blue pixels.

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As Miami’s skyline rises higher with glassy phallic towers, the city continues to sink at ever alarming rates. On any given day, you can find areas that are already under water, depending on the tide and lunar cycle, yet there was hardly a mention of “green” or climate change all week, except for the engulfing sand dune (above) at the entry to Design Miami that was designed by Garrett Ricciardi and Julian Rose of formlessfinder and hinted at some sort of cataclysmic event. “Miami, as we know it today, is doomed,” said Harold Wanless, chairman of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.” Environmental scientists predict that by 2030–only 16 years from now–the sea will have risen more than two feet and as much as six feet by the end of the century or even sooner, thereby creating a Bling-Miami version of Atlantis with all the flamboyant new buildings submerged. Dutch flood experts were flown in to consult and Broward County has enacted a climate change master plan, but developers in Miami Beach seem to have missed the memo.

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This is all part of a trend that started way back in 2011 with Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony Hall in Miami Beach that was soon followed by Herzog & de Meuron’s high-design parking structure at 1111 Lincoln Road, an instant landmark for the “New Miami” with open-frame structure, flaring, fin-like supports, spiraling ramps and disco lighting–something between Piranesi and Lady Gaga. “We proved that a parking garage could become an interesting space,” said Jacques Herzog who proved that an über-garage could become a party space for non-parking cultural events like the “Piston Head” exhibition curated by Adam Lindemann this week with “repurposed” cars created by
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artists like Damien Hirst, Richard Prince and Kenny Scharf, as well as a nicely pancaked
Fiat by Ron Arad (right). Herzog was in town to celebrate the opening of his firm’s latest triumph, the controversially named Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). It was, without question, the super-star attraction of the week. Despite a rushed construction schedule, the museum managed to open to the public on Tuesday with mounds of sand, pots of overturned palmettos, and thousands of visitors tramping over rough gravel, funneling between chain-link fencing to reach the new Jewel on the Bay, many of them wondering if it was the Swiss architects’ intent to leave building and grounds so unfinished looking, not realizing that the project was, in fact, unfinished.

**PAMM, vertical gardens. Iwan Baan. 2

Patrick Blanc–the French inventor of vertical landscaping–was frantically running around with died-green hair, green shirt, green pants, green boots and long curling fingernails, giving orders to Latino plantsmen, unnerved by the fact that they hadn’t inserted all 54,700 of the exotic plants his plan called for (including 77 local species of salvia, begonia, silver-leafed artemisia, columnea and sedum), and wondering out loud how they could be so late in getting around to finishing such an important task. I said something smug like “Welcome to Miami,” while introducing him to a young blogger from Harvard who complimented him (twice!) on the bicycle-wheel installation by Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei.

**Patrick Blanc-PAMM (AG)“This?” he said, spinning one of Wei Wei’s wheels in response to Holly Golightly’s misdirected compliment. “This is not me,” he said. “C’est pas moi!

The new museum hovers lightly over Biscayne Bay with a degree of humility that is uncharacteristic for a city of architectonic hubris. It’s not an “iconic” mass or signature statement so much as an airy, dissipated assemblage of screens, slender columns, scrims and cubic volumes (containing art galleries) that float between a wooden roof “trellis” above and cantilevered terraces below. Of course, the overall effect will be greatly enhanced when peripheral gardens fill in, the public plaza and neighboring museum by Grimshaw are completed, and Blanc’s dangling gardens are lushly sprouting so that the entire structure begins to resemble the original vision of an overgrown ruin, a kind of monumental chia pet or, as Herzog described it to me, a sprawling banyan tree with multiple trunks and dangling air roots. “This isn’t some strip mall,” said PAMM’s director Tom Collins, and he’s right. “This is really sophisticated design.”

**PAMM, south facade. Iwan Baan. 2 Early proposals showed pyramidal forms and stacked slabs rising vertically, as if to compete with the skyscrapers of downtown Miami, but such temptations were ultimately resisted and lower, less conspicuous forms replaced strident profiles. “Museums work better when they’re horizontal,” said Herzog who, with partner Christine Binswanger, managed to meld the 120,000-square-foot facility into place without
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disrupting the messy urban vitality and natural beauty of the site at the intersection of Northeast 11th Street, Biscayne Boulevard and the MacArthur Causeway. The sea-brewed light is voluptuous, sparkling, almost iridescent with inlets and ocean on one side, skyscrapers and sprawling urban infrastructure on the other. The building sits at the very crux of a dynamic convergence between Nature and Commerce, overlooking Museum Park, the elevated tracks of the Miami Metrorail, the Venetian Causeway, the picturesque islands of Biscayne Bay and the convex shell of the American Airlines Arena (home to the Miami Heat). Cars and people movers whizz past; cruise ships come and go through Government Cut; tankers unload at the adjacent Port of Miami; jetliners stream overhead, making their final descent into Miami International. It’s as thrilling as any building site can hope to be. Now this city, famous for its short attention span, is obliged to rise to the occasion and make up for all the shortcomings in the museum’s spotty collection. To be fair, gifts have been pouring in during the past few months from Jorge M. Pérez, Debra and Dennis Scholl, Mimi and Bud Floback, Craig Robbins and Jackie Sofer, among others, but the art on the walls still pales in comparison to the architecture that enfolds it.

An international pantheon of famous architects congregated for the “Imagine the Future – Now!” power dinner at the Wolfsonian Museum on Wednesday evening, hosted by Director Cathy Leff. Her guests included Norman Foster (has he lost his “Sir” or not?), Richard Meier, Jean Nouvel, Herzog, Binswanger, Dror Benshetrit, Bjarke Ingels, Shohei Shigematsu, Enrique Norten, Laurinda Spear, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and **Nouvel at Wolfsonian, AGIwan Ban, the brilliant architectural photographer who was in town to shoot PAMM. Terry Riley was at both the Wolfsonian dinner and the Design Miami tent, talking about the competition he organized for the Terra and Related development groups that included projects by Christian de Portzamparc, Nouvel, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Koolhass/OMA who were all invited to offer ideas for a mid-rise residential building on a waterfront site in Coral Gables. “Our solution was to distribute the 500,000 square feet of living between a field of slender towers,” said OMA partner Shigematsu, who turned out to have the winning scheme. The six towers in OMA’s **4 Visions Miami - OMA model, AGproposal have no interior columns, which allows for uninhibitedly naked exposure and maximum views. “One of our theories is that one can offset this excessive compulsion toward the spectacular with a return to simplicity,” said Rem Koolhaas somewhat cryptically given the spectacular vanity of his own proposal. (All of the entrants’ models and drawings were unveiled this week at Design Miami as well as the book Four (4) New Visions for Living in Miami published in tandem with the exhibition.)

**8x8 Demountable house ext-02It would seem that old is new, yet again, and that the future lies mysteriously imbedded in the past, somehow, and yes, it says something about current design trends that some of the most noteworthy artifacts of the 2013 fairs were vintage, like the furniture that Charlotte Perriand created for French industrialist Jean Borot in the 1950s **Prouvé - AGand was shown at the Laffanour Galerie booth; or the vintage Gio Ponti pieces recreated by Molenti&C at Modus Miami in the Design District; or Jean Prouvé’s “Demountable House” of 1945 that French gallerist Patrick Seguin shipped to Miami and reconstructed in the Design Miami tent. It’s the gray patina, the sadness in those weathered boards that make it so compelling and relevant for today amid so many shiny new objects at the other booths. The central structural support–a Prouvé signature “caliper” made from yellow sheet metal–further emphasizes the melancholic, refugee/concentration-camp geist of the worn wood siding on the house’s exterior, while inside an equally Spartan treatment is carried through with whitewashed walls and moody lighting from Prouvé’s own minimal fixtures.

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White surgical booties were required footwear for members of the press if you wanted to get a sneak preview inside Charlotte Perriand’s Maison au Bord de l’Eau, a project based loosely on a couple of sketchy renderings that Perriand drew in 1934 for a competition organized by L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui–somewhat akin to the **charlotte-perriand-L-QCVyBVspeck of DNA from a prehistoric mosquito being used to create a dinosaur in Jurassic Park. The house was fully reconstructed by Louis Vuitton on a sandy lot ** SKETCH - Maison Au Bord De L'Eauat the back of the Raleigh Hotel–a place so perfectly re-imagined, so finely constructed and finished, and now maintained by young women in blue dresses, that one had to wonder if it was real or a three-dimensional hologram. I wasn’t quite sure, even when I touched the smoothly finished walls with my own fingers. (Perhaps they should have handed out special goggles as well as the surgical booties.) Indeed, the house is more fantasy than reality: the radical modernism of Perriand has been cleansed of all social content and turned into a branding tool for the luxury fashion house of LVMH.

**Miami_Ch Perriand Inside becomes outside in the central deck that is covered by a canopy of white canvas. Below are some potted plants and reproductions of Perriand’s furniture, the Chaise Longue Pliante of 1939 and the Table Basse en Ardoise of 1934, designed specifically for the Maison. All of this served as the manicured backdrop for LV’s Spring/Summer 2014 Collection Icônes with modern, tasteful clothes based on Perriand’s sensibility, clean, minimal and refreshingly non-bling: green silk gingham long-sheath dress, gingham shorts, blue cape, striped shift and leggings, color blocked to match the furniture and architecture. Indeed, Perriand’s entire universe has been appropriated: her smiling face,**Miami_Ch Perriand, 129 her deck chairs and knick knacks, her little dream shack. As the press blurb purred: “Fresh as a breeze from the mountaintops, graphic as the stroke of an architect’s pen, the ‘Icônes’ collections for Summer 2014 invite a timeless feminine elegance…” But Perriand, who passed away fifteen years ago, never had any say in the matter and one wonders if she really wanted to be re-branded like this in our current Age of Appropriation.

Norman Foster was in town, unveiling a master plan for the Norton Museum of Art in Palm **Norman Foster @ Delano - AGBeach to a throng of pink-slacked bankers, Channel-suited board members, architects, PR flacks and members of the diminishing architectural press, all gathered in a private dining room at the Delano Hotel on Wednesday afternoon. Foster himself was nattily clad in a white linen suit, at peace with the world, smiling and shaking hands. “What does this building really want to be?” he said, standing at the front of the room. “‘Please help me rediscover my roots,’ asks the building. Bring in water and green the landscape, inspired by the lush vegetation of south Florida…” Spencer de Grey, Foster’s joint Head of Design, was also on hand, wearing goggle-style spectacles and explaining some of the finer points of the elegantly simple plan, which is shaped in part around a 150-year-old Ficus tree that grows in front of the museum. The deep overhang of **NORTON MUSEUM, 65the roof has a circular cutout to accommodate the tree while a floor-to-ceiling window in the new, multi-purpose “Great Hall” was designed to frame the majestic tree and make it the project’s “anchor and reference point,” according to the architects. “What if the poor tree dies?” asked one board member, peering into the scale model that was prominently on display. (No one seemed to have an answer.) The master plan keeps much of the original 1941 building–an otherwise nondescript, neoclassical pile with courtyard–in tact. It re-establishes the original entry from the Dixie Highway (US Rt. 1) and rotates the central axis while re-contextualizing the older galleries for the 21st Century. Four new pavilions will effectively double the museum’s exhibition space and include a reception area, restaurant, new auditorium and education area to help bring the museum into the community that it serves. “It’s a very wide palette of activities and spaces,” said Foster, pointing to the street-side plaza that features a long rectangular pool to reflect sunlight under the overhang, creating a shimmering pattern and animating the entry facade.

**Christina Bingswanger's Finger - Jade, Raleigh, AG

“Views to the beach are all perpendicular,” said Christine Binswanger (left & right) of Herzog and De Meuron, sitting on the back porch of the Raleigh Hotel with a coffee and half-eaten lemon meringue in front of***BINSWANGER her, pointing at a diagram and explaining how Jade Signature, yet another billionaire condo tower, is being built on the beach in Sunny Isles for Fortune International and scheduled to open in 2016. Binswanger is partner in charge of this 57-story cliff dwelling that looks surprisingly not unlike other condo towers but there are a few notable distinctions. The exterior surface is perforated with floor-to-ceiling glass and deep overhangs that block the sun. Partitions were designed in what she calls a “Vocabulary of Columns”, pulled and stretched to bring in human scale and alternated between units depending on the floor’s layout. The concrete forms, something like the scalloped slots of a cheese grater, express a porous and cellular surface, one that is more articulated and responsive to light and far less soulless than the reflective facades of most Miami towers. A seemingly random pattern ripples between concave and convex with sculpted cartilage supporting each corner as the building ascends to a slightly tapered top. The ground-floor clutter that usually hinders these types  **Jade, 73of buildings has been avoided by using a second-floor lobby and underground parking. Interiors are luxurious white expanses with ten- to twelve-foot ceilings and thirty percent of each floor given over to outdoor space with generously wide balconies. Each unit goes all the way through from back to front, offering both sunrise and sunset, bay and ocean views, while floors are staggered to allow for cross-ventilation, and this, emphasizes Binswanger, should alleviate the need for air conditioning during winter months.

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The rest of week dissipated into a blur of extravagant cocktails and traffic jams, eating nothing but tiny spring rolls one day, three lunches, two dinners the next, a long tent on the beach with Swarovski crystals, no-show celebrities, Piotr Uklanski at the Bass, Hugo França’s sculptural benches at Fairchild Gardens, AIDS benefit, tall super models, media tours, VIP lounges, book signings, pop-up stores and fashion shows, Wynwood, the ubiquitous Craig Robins, Pulse, Ice Palace, Aqua, Nada, Scope, “Untitled” in a tent on the on beach, De La Cruz Collection, Chinese art at Rubells, wandering Lincoln Road with Ron Arad in his flip-up hat and general Miami oblivion. It was sunny and 82 degrees when I left, but Siberian-style white out when I landed back in New York.

A version of this story appeared in the Architect’s Newspaper on December 12, 2013:
http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6987