Tag Archives | modern architecture

Winter Writing

A movie about exceptionalism overcoming racism at an agency of the government, an effort to restore a building and a forthcoming book about accounting for an entire arts genre give me fuel this winter.

Top U.S. film

America’s top movie at the box office is Hidden Figures, which centers upon three individuals of ability in the Jim Crow-era South, when racist laws infected even an aeronautics U.S. agency charged with launching an American into outer space. It’s a wonderful film, really, which doesn’t surprise me because it’s written and directed by the same individual who wrote and directed 2014’s St. Vincent, which is also very good. His name is Theodore Melfi and he recently talked with me about writing and directing the talented cast, which includes Empire‘s Cookie, Taraji P. Henson, his thoughts on racism, storytelling and what he’d do differently and having his movie screened at the White House. Read my exclusive interview with Melfi about the nation’s number one motion picture here.

Eagle Rock Clubhouse by Neutra

Speaking of exclusive interviews, I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing architect Dion Neutra at his home and office designed by his father, the late modern architect Richard Neutra, whose legacy I explore in an article about a campaign to restore one of Neutra’s signature buildings (read the story on LATimes.com here). I’ve been covering this effort by an architect and a realtor who say they want to restore the Los Angeles clubhouse to its original splendor, and finally met and interviewed them at Neutra’s building for a detailed restoration tour. The building, a parks and recreational center in northeast Los Angeles, opened in the 1950s with a stage that plays to both interior and exterior audiences, a kitchen with a window for selling concessions, an athletic court, reflecting pool and sloping landscapes—all in glass, brick and Neutra’s favored metal, steel—with a director’s office overlooking gymnastics, trails, pine trees, playgrounds, tennis courts and with retractable walls to let the air and spectators or audiences inside. The two gents are in talks with Dion Neutra as I write this.

New book this March

A forthcoming book features new and interesting data about the words and works by William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Stephen King, Agatha Christie and Ayn Rand among other literary greats. It’s titled Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve (Simon & Schuster, March 14, 2017) and the author covers detailed statistical analyses of these and other writers in a solid narrative. Among the newly mined data are authors’ ‘favorite’ words, how sexes write differently—Rand rates as “masculine”—and use of adverbs, exclamation points and novels’ opening lines. Mine is the book’s first non-trade review. Read my article here.

The newest Writing Boot Camp starts up next month (seats are still left in the 10-week course, so register here), moving to Tuesday nights, the day after my all-new course on social media (register here). These courses evolved from career camp workshops I was asked to teach several years ago. I subsequently taught a series of nine media and production workshops for Mood U, online, economic development, expo and public library presentations and developed the writing and media classes into full courses a few years ago for adult education in LA. They’re works in progress yet past students give positive and constructive feedback, so I’ve created Facebook groups for past students. Stand by for details and more on the upcoming courses.

Meanwhile, thank you for your readership, support and trade. I read every piece of correspondence, though I’m sometimes slow to respond, sent through the site and social media. This year, I plan to remake my website and I am working on other projects, from stories in manuscripts and screenplays to my cultural fellowship, new partnerships and a new media enterprise. For now, I want you to read, share and gain value from these articles about inspecting works of art and making, or mining, something good.

Travel: Taliesin West

Having finally visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park, Illinois houses last winter, the Hollyhock and Ennis houses in Los Angeles and Taliesin in Wisconsin last year, I recently took one more fresh tour, the Insights tour, through his ingenious Taliesin West. Wright’s winter camp is located in Scottsdale, Arizona, though the docent pointed out that he probably wouldn’t have put it there today had he known what the local government would do.

What they did was mar the landscape he had worked so diligently to study, examine, research, consider, develop and integrate into his unique vision for the art of living he called modern architecture.

exterior at Taliesin West photo by Scott HolleranWhere Wright and his fellowship of apprentices had built a home, lab and place in sloping stone walls, redwood beams and sand to align with the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, the government has since made several changes including above-ground utility poles and other decisions he would have considered transgressions against art, nature and man. But then the docent on my recent tour, a student whose father is an architect who studied with Wright, pointed out that Wright thought traffic lights were also against man’s nature, too.

Wright created great American treasures from the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin, and an iconic Rodeo Drive building in Beverly Hills to New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania. He had discovered Arizona in 1927, when he was contracted to design the Arizona Biltmore. Wright moved to the Grand Canyon State, staying each winter season, until he died in 1959.

He wrote about his design for Taliesin West:

I was struck by the beauty of the desert, by the dry, clear sun-drenched, air, by the stark geometry of the mountains, the entire region was an inspiration in strong contrast to the lush, pastoral landscape of my native Wisconsin. And out of that experience, a revelation is what I guess you might call it, came the design for these buildings. The design sprang out of itself, with no precedent and nothing following it.”

FLW TW CabaretPools, terraces, icicles, dragons, towers, gardens, theaters and living quarters – where I spotted his copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell – are masterfully forged into an angled camp that adheres to his philosophy that buildings be bathed in warm, natural light. Refusing to make it on a strict north-south axis, he once explained to an archivist that tilting the design off the direct compass points sunlight and shade throughout Taliesin West’s rooms and views all year long. Looking toward the Camelback Mountains and over Paradise Valley, he found in this land the wonders of what was once an ocean floor, accentuating unusual Cholla and Staghorn cactus for their resemblance to strange corals.

As Wright wrote in 1937:

We must believe architecture to be the living spirit

that made these buildings what they were.

It is a spirit by and for man,

a spirit of time and place.

And we must perceive architecture,

if we are to understand it at all,

to be a spirit of the spirit of man

that will live as long as man lives…

 

These buildings were wrested

by his tireless energy from the earth

and erected in the eye of the sun.

It was originally the conscious creation,

out of man himself, of a higher self.

His building, in order to be architecture,

was the true spirit of himself made manifest…

Taliesin West photo by Scott HolleranEach place at Taliesin West, from the sculpture garden to the cabaret, dining room – even the parking lot – bears the mark of Frank Lloyd Wright and must be seen to be fully experienced and appreciated. My pictures are just that. Some photography is forbidden due to copyright issues. There is much to enjoy and explore at Taliesin West. This was my second visit. Each time, I gain something of value. I plan to visit again. Like almost everything in the desert and the American West, it offers strange beauty, grand vistas of earth and sky and it brings out the best in man.

Tours currently range in time from 90 minutes to three hours, and from $24 to $75, with some requiring reservations in advance and most available for booking on site. Tour availability, hours, seasonal and adult/child/handicapped access issues are all addressed on the Web site: FrankLloydWright.org

Accredited architectural undergraduate and master’s degrees are also available through studies at Taliesin West. Tuition is $30,000 for each program. Competition for admission is strong, though applicants with advanced critical thinking and graphic arts skills are encouraged to apply for admission. The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, divided into two season sessions at Taliesin West (October through May) and Taliesin (May through October), is a 12-month calendared, year-round program which requires residency on the campus. For more information, call the director of admissions at (480) 627-5345 or visit Taliesin.edu.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Illinois

Having toured the Ennis and Hollyhock houses in Los Angeles and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, I finally crossed an item off my bucket list when I toured some works by Frank Lloyd Wright in Illinois. It was around Christmastime, and the winter in northern Illinois was unseasonably kind, so I was able to embark on the audio walking tour in Oak Park.

The reasonably priced tour comes with an audio electronic device similar to an iPod, which was explained in a tutorial, a map in brochure and a set of headphones. They were all sufficient, though the device didn’t always work as intended and the headphones are one size fits all, so constant adjustments were necessary. The autonomy of walking through Oak Park’s wide, tree-lined neighborhoods is worth the hassle and the package includes a guided tour of Wright’s 1889-1898 home at 951 Chicago Avenue. Here, he raised six children with his first wife and added a studio, where he created a new American architecture, the Prairie style, and designed 125 structures, including such famous buildings as the Robie House, the Larkin Building and Unity Temple. The restored site is presented as it appeared in 1909, the last year that Wright lived in the home and worked in the studio. The house and studio are simple, clearly and thoughtfully planned and everything I’d always imagined they would be. My favorite parts of the home and studio tour were the children’s playroom and the studio workspace, best described as a place designed for man at his best. Standing at the drafting tables is an exalted experience. The whole experience stirs the senses and makes you want to get to work and create.

From there, the audio walking tour, which does require coordination and syncing the pedestrian with the technology, cycles to ten Wright houses and the Unity Temple, which remains an active religious facility that offers a separate tour for a fee. Individually, each is striking in its own way, and I’ve included a snapshot here as a sample. The audio provides a strictly architecture-oriented lesson, not an historical or biographical narration, and I found myself wanting to know more about how the commission was developed and for whom and how Wright regarded each finished work. The tour loops along Forest Avenue to Austin Gardens and up Kenilworth Avenue back to Wright’s home and studio past several other interesting houses designed by various architects. Overall, this is the largest concentration of Wright-designed structures in existence. All the houses are privately owned and occupied by residents and visible from Oak Park’s public sidewalks.