Iconic or Not


Author: Kyle (page 2 of 11)

Postcards from Surreal Places

Permanent Liberty

Permanent Liberty

Last summer while I was traveling Scan 1 in the Hudson Valley, NY and poking around in antique shops, I stumbled upon this 1986 tear-out book of postcards by Michael Langenstein.  The publisher’s (Dover)  note explains that the postcards combine world famous masterpieces with the surreal. Weirdly, 30 years later, Langenstein could be foretelling  Cassandra-like warnings and predictions about  global warming, a plane crashing into an architectural  icon, and the futuristic construction of the Chinese CCTV building by Rem Koolhaas.

Empire State Building and the World Trade Center at Sea

Empire State Building and the World Trade Center at Sea

Magnitude Manor

Magnitude Manor




In 2015, here are two that lost fight to preserve cultural icons

The bells pealing on New Year’s eve sounded a death knell for two American architectural icons of the 20th Century.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation published the news on their website even before the New Year.    The construction techniques of these two spanned the century — from wood to concrete, from Queen Anne  gables to the concrete flat roofs. The purpose of the Modern building elevates the bureaucratic to the  iconic with its design, while the turn-of-the-century resort harkens back to a the Guilded Age.  The buildings speak volumes about changing American lifestyles within the span of just 70 years.  Neither of these architectural landmarks was iconic enough to preserve it as a monument to their time, place, or history.

The Belleview Biltmore Hotel

People having tea on the lawn of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, Florida. 192-. Black & white photoprint, 4 x 6 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. , accessed 11 January 2016.

People having tea on the lawn of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, Florida, circa 1925. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/271948>, accessed 11 January 2016.

Aerial view looking northwest over the Belleview-Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, Florida. 1983. Color slide, . State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. , accessed 11 January 2016.

Aerial view looking northwest over the Belleview-Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, Florida. 1983. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/242979>, accessed 11 January 2016.


On the Florida Gulf Coast, in Belleair, the Belleview Biltmore Hotel  sits on 21 lip-smacking acres on a bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor. Built in 1897, its a monument to the Guilded Age.  The fictional Earl and Countess of Grantham of Downton Abbey, Lady Mary Crawley, Lady Edith and their entourage of butlers and maids would have settled for nothing less than a stay in the “White Queen on the Gulf” for their holiday in America. In reality, the Duke of Windsor  vacationed here.  The hotel was the last of railroad magnet Henry B. Plant’s monuments to exotic destinations for the upper class. Now,  a new generation of the well heeled  will be the “stewards of the heritage” (so says developer JMC Communities). Despite its distinguished past, and that it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, it will be torn down and plans are underway to build  Belleview Place, “luxury carriage homes and condominiums,” to replace it.  Lord Grantham  of Downton Abby would understand. A strong storyline in the current  Downton Abby saga is that the Granthams can’t keep up the  estate.  If one is forced to sell off parcels when maintenance is too expensive,  there are  “stewards  of the heritage” who will  pay higher condo fees.

Paul Rudolph’s Orange County, New York  Government Center

Orange County Government Center, Goshen, New York. Interior. Courtroom

Orange County Government Center, Goshen, New York. Interior. Courtroom

Paul Rudolph’s 1970 Government Center in Orange County, Goshen, New York has has been clinging to life since 2011 when Hurricane Irene drove wind and rain into every crack and seam in the  roof. Porous roofs are often the first reason cited for tearing down the whole building. But, really, what roof doesn’t leak? I wrote about this important building  and the campaign to save it earlier this year. The building is noted for Rudolph’s imaginative use of space and a symbolic trend toward openness of design in public architecture. The picture above shows the interior of the building, a less recognizable view of the building. The distinct boxy exterior is usually the profile featured in pictures. I chose the this shot of the courtroom to show the natural light, and  warm orange  glow reflected on the concrete walls.  Brutalist buildings look stern on the outside, but can be surprisingly soft and light on the inside. The Orange County Government Center was added to the World Monuments Fund Watch  List.  However, this designation  didn’t protect it, and in 2015 Orange County won a legal battle to gut the interior.

Here’s a link to The World Monuments Fund Watch List for 2016


Beijing, cultivate trees for blue skies

Central Park, New York City

Central Park, New York City

When breathing the air in the city becomes a health risk, something has to be done. Beijing might be the site of the next great architectural experiment to bring nature back into the city.  On Monday (Dec. 7), The Chinese issued a red alert warning that the air toxicity was beyond the index for safety.  Creative architecture could be part of their shining hope to  again inhale deeply  and breathable architecture could be part of the answer.

Before we in the West start feeling smug about our clear blue skies (most of the time),  we should remember that Beijing is experiencing what troubled European and American cities a century ago — smoke so thick it choked residents and sent them fleeing indoors.

A hundred years ago, French architect LeCorbusier,  and English landscape designers Sir Ebenezer Howard, and American Fredrick Law Olmsted  fought the problem of toxic smoke by planning  greenbelts around the core of industrialized urban areas. The plan became known as The Garden City movement and cities such as Buffalo, NY  became livable again thanks to urban parks developed by Olmsted. Today, green space in cities quickly becomes the heart  of the city. It’s a good investment.




Breathable architecture for a sustainable future

Breathable architectural skin should be part of the conversation at the United Nations Climate Change Conference his week. This innovation looks exciting as part of the solution for reducing carbon emissions in the air.

When I stumbled upon the term “breathable architecture,” my first reaction was, is this for real? And, tell me more. Architects, such as Doris Kim Sung, are asking how can we use the height of a building to make it breathe? It’s a great question for urban dwellers living in highrises. Instead of being energy consumers,  tall buildings in cities may help reverse the effects of carbons emissions in the air. Sung built a model using thermo-biometal tiles that curl, expand, or contract in response to air temperature. Chambers direct air through aperture-like fins that curl as warm air passes over them and unfurl as the air is cooled, thus moving air. Sung hopes to use biometal tiles to reduce or replace the need for air conditioning.

Doris SungThis isn’t a new technology; in fact it is an old one. I discovered that directing air flow in buildings has existed since the time of the Pharaohs. The Egyptians built “wind catchers” that cooled the inside of their houses by forcing wind into a tower that pushed it down a chimney-like chute into the living space below. The tower acted as a ceiling fan, moving the air to cool the rooms. So the idea isn’t new. It’s just that architects are revisiting this concept to reduce energy consumption and to make architecture more sustainable into the new millennium.



Finding my way home: Buffalo


I was thrilled to see this post from The architectural writer Alexandra Lange who visited Buffalo, NY. this summer.

Lange’s article gave architectural tourists like me  a good reason to rediscover my home town. The city has more than Chicken Wings going for it. It’s one of the country’s most architecturally and culturally  historic places.

As a native Buffalonian and garden lover, I was surprised to learn that Fredrick Law Olmstead designed the city park system. I already knew that Louis Sullivan designed the Guaranty Building and that the monumental City Hall was designed by John Wade in what he dubbed the Americanesque Art Deco style (1932). The city’s booming growth came to a grinding halt just 30 years later.  In the 1960s, the city became crusted over with the orange patina of rust when  middle class workers, such as  my parents, realized that steel production and other industrial jobs were disappearing fast. Their story is a familiar one. Typically, those with white collar jobs moved to the suburbs.  For instance, when my siblings and I reached school age, our parents moved us to the suburb of Amherst.  In 1969,  they  joined the great migration of educated workers who gladly moved to Florida, happy to leave the economic has-beens — the industrial cities of the Great Lakes region.  Little did I know that 40 years later, I’d return to rediscover it’s rich architectural  history.


Calatrava’s bridge for Florida, Poly Tech


These feather-like arbors surround the building

Two years ago Santiago Calatrava’s white feather-shaped arches stopped traffic on  I-4, just outside of Tampa, FL– even if it was just for a nanosecond.

Drivers may have assumed a new kind of fast food restaurant would appear on the roadside.  But, no. The arches were’t that kind of arches. They were the first sign of the newest Florida institute of higher learning –Florida Polytechnic.

Last week I had a chance to tour the fledging campus. My student tour guide Juan Rodriguez did exactly what Santiago Calatrava hoped an 18-year-old would do upon seeing the building – he took a detour off I-4 and onto the Research Way exit to look at Florida’s newest university. With that detour, Rodriguez changed the direction of his life.  On some level, the architecture gets the credit (or blame) for causing him to change the trajectory of his life path.


Student Juan Rodriguez talks to a group from the University of Chicago Alumni Association about the technology experiments in progress in one of the five labs located in the center of the building.Rodriguez plans to study artificial intelligence (AI), and he’s a model student the university hopes to attract. His talent and interest in a science,technology, engineering, math ( STEM) career made good economic sense. Rodriguez decided to join the first class of Florida Poly Tech students when the university offered a  full scholarship. Score one more student for the year-old Poly Tech; that brings the student population to 922. Florida has 137 institutions of higher learning, so Rodriguez had many colleges to choose from. A new university geared to STEM careers had better have futuristic architecture to grab the attention of a college student such as Rodriguez.

Rodriguez The recent high school grad already had been offered athletic scholarships to other Florida colleges.  But these students are the “pioneers” of a new digital age and they won’t be tied to a classroom or an inflexible schedule anymore. The building is designed to accommodate the leaders of tomorrow. But, the Saturday I was there, not a soul was in sight. Our guides informed us that innovators generally don’t get out of bed before noon. The classrooms are equipped with cameras so the inventors can stay in their PJs and  attend class remotely. They’re lab rats and they come alive at night. They hang out cyber gaming, in the Media Lab, or in the Visualization and Technology Collaboration (VTC) Lab

The flagship, the Innovation, Science, and Technology building is the only one on campus right now. Natural light fills the halls and when the Florida light is searing, rooftop louvers open or close to  control heat and light . Window walls provide light and double as white boards. The whole building is a lab. For example, the students are currently working on a project to take the building off the power grid.


Lindsay Dibble and Miguel Loy show these popular library chairs/ hammocks. The chairs  are designed to sink into them; the elastic fabric bounces like a trampoline, so that the seated person springs forward making it  easy stand up.

The real-world project represents a philosophy to solve problems by looking at the familiar through a future lens. It could be a simple thing such as rethinking a chair. University President Randy K. Avent saw an unusual one while visiting Google’s headquarters.  He was impressed  by a gravity-defying hammock that forces students to rethink the concept of a seat supported by four legs. The hammock chair is so comfortable, once you try it, you’ll want one for your home. The importance of seating is carried into the classroom. A limited number of comfortable armchairs are placed in the front row of a lecture hall as an incentive to get the students to come to class early and keep them there.

Lakeland now has two iconic colleges and they span 75 years of architectural styles. In 1939, Frank Lloyd Wright designed Florida Southern, while Florida Polytechnic opened last year (2014). The Florida Southern campus is truly iconic; the Polytechnic campus is calling itself iconic even though it is only a year old. Calatrava’s Innovation, Science, and Technology building may be well on the way to iconic. But, I think it’ll take another 50 years or so to know for sure.


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