Iconic or Not


Tag: Architecture (page 1 of 4)

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


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.


Inside Russel Wright’s Manitoga

In my previous post, I focused on the grounds surrounding  Manitoga, Russel Wright’s garden. In this post, I’m taking you inside his house.

tablesetRussel Wright (1904-1976) believed so strongly that Americans should find their own cultural identity through architecture that he built an experimental house. He chose a cliff overlooking a granite quarry (later turned into a man-made lake). He saw no reason why Americans should copy European architecture; instead, he challenged us to  find our own style.  In 1942, Wright  purchased 75 acres situated between the Hudson River and the Appalachian Trail  in the town of Garrison, and he began building  Manitoga,  The name pays homage  to the native Algonquin people and the word translates loosely as “a place of great spirit.” His American home is hidden among the ferns and moss-covered rocks. One sort of stumbles upon it.  Continue reading

Russel Wright’s Manitoga Garden

ManitogaplaqueScientists say the sense of smell has the strongest power to bring back memories. That was true for me from the minute I stepped off the plane in Albany, New York. The air in the airport carried the scent of a familiar place. I can’t describe the aroma except to say I detected the trace of grassy hills nearby. That’s the kind of magic landscape can work on a person. Industrial designer Russel Wright surely felt that pull when he built Manitoga on 75 acres in nearby Garrison, NY.

Settlers had originally deemed the steep hillside unsuitable for farming so they harvested the trees for firewood and mined the abundant granite on the property. Thus, industrial hooks and cables were left as artifacts from the mining days. Wright took advantage of the leftovers by positioning granite boulders as sculptures in the garden and leaving the hooks where they had been abandoned.

Docents, like my friend Debbie Klein, try to correct the common misconception that Wright built his house without altering the landscape. That isn’t the case. He designed the site to flow into garden rooms. He followed the contours of the land as a palette and he enhanced what he liked. He added a lake, and he noted what type of native plants clung to the hillsides. He watched as dogs, deer, and rabbits tunneled through the grass making trails. He followed the wisdom of the animals when deciding where to locate the paths leading to his garden rooms.

Professionally, Deb is a curator of visual resources for Bard College; in her free time, she’s been a docent and/or volunteered for several historic houses around Hudson including Manitoga. She loves Russel Wright’s Manitoga and is helping to preserve this early example of a Modernist’s love affair with the land. Recently, Manitoga has been rediscovered as an under appreciated gem, as is evident in this Dwell article published August 2015.



Sliding glass doors made the outdoor room possible

Sliding glass doors

This picture of a screened back porch says, “Lazy summer afternoon.” Lucky me! It’s the view from my office chair.

Admit it. When you look at the picture to the left, don’t you see yourself with a tall glass of  sweet tea? Maybe you prefer to sip a mint julep as you slowly swing on the wicker bench? After 30 years of being frozen out of trendy architecture, Modernism is coming back.  The Southern charm ingrained in the picture on the left is built into my mid-Century ranch style house via the sliding glass door. I  snapped this picture while sitting in my desk chair.  In a way, I have Paul Rudolph to thank for this relaxing vista. Paul Rudolph and the Sarasota School Modernists  added sliding glass doors to Florida houses in the early 1950s. See-through doors connected the people inside the house to their surrounding environment. This inside/outside look is the central theme in Modernism and it is the key to making a Florida home feel like a Florida home. A half century later, I’m living it and loving my house built in 1969. The latest episode on the podcast North Carolina Modernist Radio discussed the group who brought you the sliding glass door — the Sarasota Modern School. You can learn more about  (SMF) and how they  took advantage of and  protected residential housing in harsh Tropical weather on  NC Modernist Radio, episode #9. So, is it any surprise that Modernism’s new found popularity coincides with the  desire to incorporate environmentally sustainable design and construction?

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