Iconic or Not


Tag: Iconic (page 1 of 3)

Iconic Berlin, MD: colonial history alive in 2017

My brother-in-law is a foodie. It was his idea to check out Una Bella Salute, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, in Berlin, MD. He was there for the olive oil; I was there for the architecture. When I pulled open the screen door to the shop the door made a  soul-satisfying creak that reminded me of the whine of the rusty spring hinge on the door of the neighborhood deli of my childhood. The other features of the building, the plank flooring, exposed brick, and narrow double hung windows, transported me to the 1700s.

The town grew up around what was part of the Burley land purchase of 1677. The town’s name, Berlin is a result of a misunderstanding of Burley Inn. Travelers asked for directions to the Burley Inn pronouncing the first syllable with a strong accent. The establishment was thus renamed Berlin.This is a great example of how the vernacular shaped the place.

Berlin was a trade outpost for the Assateague Indians and the Pocomoke Tribe. Before the 1800s, the Stevenson family homesteaded here, so the town was first known as Stevenson crossroads. The agricultural history lives on in the acres of corn and soybean farms surrounding Berlin, Rehoboth, Bethany, and Ocean City on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But more and more, the acres of farm lands are dotted with islands of new developments of pseudo-estates (McMansions) located just a couple of miles from the beach.

We were in Berlin for the olive oil trade. The olive oil shop is nestled into Broad Street and Gay Street. Oregano, basil and fruit scent the air filling the shop with a comforting smell of an Italian kitchen. The aroma encourages browsing a little longer. The polished stainless steel casks that line the shelves of the tasting room contain flavored balsamic vinegar on the left wall and infused olive oil on the right wall. The convenient single-ounce plastic sampling cups invite taste testing. I spied the chocolate flavored vinegar, and decided to be adventurous. My taste buds detected an initially tangy flavor, but the reward of sweet won me over and I bought a bottle. My brother-in-law bought $100 worth of balsamic vinegar and infused oil. While owner Deborah Nicolle wrapped our purchase, I asked how long had the building been there. She guessed it dated back to around 1850 and then added that she knew the space had previous incarnations as a massage parlor, a cigar shop, a spa, a restaurant, and the town jail.

Budget Travel voted Berlin the “Coolest Small Town in America” in 2014. The criteria for cool didn’t include history cool, but it should have. It could be a destination for history buffs who want to explore all 47 sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Runaway Bride (1999) and Tuck Everlasting (2004) were filmed in this iconic town.  If your aren’t interested in the history, well,  at least you could get some tasty olive oil and vinegar. For me the reward was when Deborah Nicolle told me that Una Bella Salute was once a jail house.

Portlandia, the icon that isn’t

Portland Building image taken by MaccoinnichIn 2014, Michael Graves’ postmodernist Portland building almost became another casualty in the trend to renew downtown.

What would Wall Street be without its massive charging bull?

Probably just another New York City street among the concrete canyon of gray skyscrapers.

Michael Graves’s postmodernist Portland building stands out as a strong recognizable symbol in that city because it has cool colors and an iconic statue guards the west entrance.

So why would the city want to tear down the Portland Building, their defining image?

To fix shoddy construction, says the city.

The wrong-headed idea was short-lived. The city of Portland dropped the plan when Graves stepped in to defend the building.

Still, architectural historians were shocked by the proposal and  Architect’s Newspaper| blog  and ArchDaily both covered the story.

The building and the  38-foot-hammered copper sculpture hovering over the west entrance, Portlandiaare the symbols of postmodernism. Raymond Kaskey, created the statue, and I’ll get to how he fits into the story in a moment.

Demolishing the building could have been a double tragedy.  If  people recognize the building, they probably aren’t as familiar with the statue that holds a trident over the west entrance. She was commissioned by the city of Portland as a work of Public Art. Her image would be a logical choice for police cars and the city seal, but it’s not used for either of those purposes, although a female figure is on the city seal.

Who owns Public Art?

The story of why we see so little of Portlandia brings up an interesting debate about who owns public art. Sculptor Raymond Kaskey owns all rights to the image of the statue he created and he  guards the use of her iconic likeness as fiercely as she guards the building.  He has sued  several people for using pictures and drawings of his Portlandia. Tourists won’t find many postcards with her image. So, I provided a link to the image rather than posting it here. John Locanthi, in his story, So Sue Us, explains why Portlandia hasn’t become an icon for Portland. He examines the unintended consequences  that result when artists hold complete control over the use of images they created for a  public space.

Even the  IFC cable sitcom Portlandia starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein does not feature the image prominently —  Kaskey gave permission for the statue to appear only briefly in the opening.

What would Portlandia be without her building? 

Who destroys the city’s iconic image?

So, the city has an icon it wants to destroy? In 2014, the city wanted to demolish the building that is  the first major structure designed by a member of the postmodernist school, Michael Graves, and it is as significant as “Bauhaus was to Modernism, ” says architectural critic Charles Jencks.  In 2011, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Those two pedigrees should be enough to protect its place within the city fabric, right?

No. The city of Portland debated  demolishing it just 14 months ago.

Modernist buildings are getting the foundations knocked out from under them all over the country. It looks like postmodernism is under attack too. Postmodernists intentionally used a mash-up of old and new styles, adding bold ornaments such as the figure Portlandia, and bright paint colors, on the government building.

Decades later, the bold colors of postmodernism have faded and some of those buildings are targets for destruction. The complaints have a familiar ring: the interior of the building is dark, leaky, and claustrophobic, say city workers.

After Michael Graves traveled to Portland to express his outrage at the idea of tearing down the building,  the city council was convinced to renovate it instead.

It looks like Portlandia has won the battle to save her building.  But if you want to use an image of her defensive stance,  you better get permission from the artist before you use a picture.



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




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.


Architecture, alchemy, iron, and fairies?

eiffel-towerDo you ever feel like technology is magic?

When you experience an unexplainable computer glitch (often just as you’re about to hit send), do you wonder if gremlins are behind the scene giggling while they watch you struggle to find a missing document or get rid of something that appeared out of no where? I do. So I decided to ask writer Kathy Bryson, a fan of fairy mythology, if she knows of any sprites from underworld who like to disrupt technology.  Here’s her guest post on the magic behind the Eiffel Tower, iron, and fairies.  I hope you enjoy this post. Thanks Kathy! Continue reading

Older posts

© 2019 Iconic or Not

Designed by EZWP.BIZ Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑