June 5, 2013
There’s little that James Wines hasn’t done. The highly acclaimed architect has designed commercial showrooms and fast food chains, museums and parks, and is currently working on a cemetery in South Korea. He wrote one of the early tomes on green architecture, urging practitioners to look for holistic and not just technology-driven solutions. With a background in visual arts, Wines founded his firm, SITE (Sculpture in the Environment) in 1970. His willingness to take on any and all projects, from high concept to mainstream often put him at odds with the design world. Despite winning a slew of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Graphic Art, and grants, Wines says he’s remained somewhat of a thorn in the side of the industry.
For his pioneering work in green architecture and his dedication to erasing boundaries in the practice of architecture, Wines was awarded the Cooper-Hewitt’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Design Award. He says the award, which requires nomination from peers, is a triumph. “First of all, the fact that our government endorses it is a huge jump in the award arena,” says Wines. “It’s good to feel that there’s this national recognition in the design world, it’s a terrific honor, there’s no question about it.”
“We’ve done environmental art, we’ve done architecture, we’ve done work for MTV, work for the rock ‘n’ roll industry, we’ve done products,” says Wines. Because of this, he says, “I’ve always been considered outsider or marginal or alternative.” It’s a stance he never particularly sought out, but he certainly doesn’t eschew.
We talked with the rule-breaker about his career and some of his landmark projects.
So when you founded SITE, you weren’t setting out to turn everything on its ear?
Well, not really. You have sort of a vision. I came from visual art. We all lived on Green Street–somebody called it the Green Street Mafia for environmental art because we had Robert Smithson and Mary Miss and Gordon Matta-Clark and Alice Aycock and everybody converged on one street in Manhattan and it was a dialogue. I think artists were trying to escape from the gallery, you wanted to get out into the streets, you wanted to get where the people are, the idea of hanging pictures or putting sculptures on pedestals it was kind of anathema to my generation.
It’s kind of a suicidal mission, you know. I have coffee with Alice Aycock every morning because she lives right across the street and we’re always commiserating about all the wise artists who continued painting small paintings and did well. We’re always struggling with building departments.
With that background, what does architecture mean to you?
There’s the building, but then there’s the courtyard and the streets and it all flows together.
People in my office always criticize me because no matter how small it is, I get interested in it, because you realize that everything can be transformed or everything could be made more interesting than the norm.
We started in the junk world, with buildings no self-respecting Harvard student would stoop to design, which is shopping centers. But we always say we bring art where you least expect to find it. These are places where you would never expect to find good design or architecture or anything else and we made that transformation.
A recent example of that is the Las Vegas Denny’s, which includes a chapel.
Denny’s is very amusing. Nobody can possibly believe that Denny’s as a corporation, given their history, that they would ever be interested in art. But I always point out, they were the original Googie style. They were really part of that real strip diners, which we now admire today as being historic artifacts. There are whole books on diner style. So it obviously became respected after the fact, but there’s always this association that no self-respecting architect would touch that, so I’ve always liked those things.
There’s this wonderful statement about Picasso I read when I was in school and I agree so much; he said, you don’t make art out of the Parthenon, you make art out of the garbage under your feet. And it’s so true, you look where other people don’t look.
You’ve attracted your fair share of criticism, what do you make of it all?
I was on a panel of artists whose careers started with totally negative criticism, this was 30 years ago, but it was Claus Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella and all these accusatory early criticisms. I was still in school and Roy Lichenstein had his first show and the headline in [Life magazine] was, ‘Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?’ So we all collected our negative criticisms and all these horrible things that were said, particularly by the architecture world–this isn’t real architecture and it won’t last.
Not only did all the people last on the panel, but they lasted a lot better than others. I remember Frank Stella at that time was doing his black pinstripe paintings and he was saying, why do the critics always start out with what you’re not trying to do, instead of trying to critique what you are trying to do.
So how did you survive?
I guess just will power. I think if you can hang in there, what did Woody Allen say, the key to success is showing up? It’s so true. You just keep showing up. But we had good clients. We started with art patrons, which is a good way to start. Young architects always say how did you get started and I say, well I worked with my connections in the art world. So we started with two or three clients who were really art patrons. They weren’t questioning the value of doing it. They weren’t questioning whether it’s architecture.
Later on, when you start getting normal clients, that’s more difficult because you can’t use this esoteric verbiage.
One of your most popular projects is the Shake Shack in New York City. Why are people so crazy about this?
I have no idea. That’s a phenomenon because it was kind of a “let’s see what happens.” That’s a real saga because New York City fought that: you can’t put a commercial enterprise in a park. When they found out there were foundations under there, built in the 19th century, to receive exactly that kind of kiosk, then they couldn’t say anything. City Hall backed down.
One thing led to another and I think it’s our most famous and most beloved project.
Anybody who comes to New York to see me, one of the first things they say is, will you take me to the Shake Shack. It’s iconic I guess. It’s ironic, because the building is sort of the menu in a way. And it’s also highway art in the middle of a lush park. We’re using sort of this hybrid in between a park and a highway.
I took some Iranian students and they stood in line. I said, I’ll sit down, you stand in the line. And they stood in line for an hour. And they were so excited: we got to stand in line! As a New Yorker, I can’t possibly imagine that psychology.
An earlier project in Chattanooga introduced some really high concept bridges into park space, how were those received?
Very well. They messed it all up now, they kept invading it. It used to be the park and then there were small shops around it, it was really nice, very human-scale. Now they’ve got bigger and bigger buildings.
But it was very well-received at the time. The old people sit in the summer under the arches, which are cool and they can watch the children. There were lots of people-watching situations and water and it had all the ingredients of a pleasant public space. All the trees and bushes have grown out, it’s a lush place.
My big interest is still in public space. I would love to do something in New York. Other than the Shake Shack, we’ve never done anything in New York.
June 3, 2013
The housewife that Jean Stapleton portrayed on “All in the Family,” was, by her own words, “very naïve, and she kind of thinks through a mist, and she lacks the education to expand her world.” The actress, who died Friday at the age of 90, offered the show a moral compass. Where her on-screen husband Archie, played by Carroll O’Connor, was known for his small-minded bigotry, Stapelton’s Edith represented a more enlightened view on the show, known for breaking with television tradition, showing social strife, marital discord and the growing generation gap.
Bruce Weber wrote in her obituary for the New York Times:
Edith was none too bright, not intellectually, anyway, which, in the dynamic of the show was the one thing about her that invited Archie’s outward scorn. Ms. Stapleton gave Edith a high-pitched nasal delivery, a frequently baffled expression and a hustling, servile gait that was almost a canter, especially when she was in a panic to get dinner on the table or to bring Archie a beer.
But in Edith, Ms. Stapleton also found vast wells of compassion and kindness, a natural delight in the company of other people, and a sense of fairness and justice that irritated her husband to no end and also put him to shame.
In a 1978 ceremony, the American History Museum acquired both Edith and Archie’s set chairs. The objects are among the most visited and beloved in the collections.
“They are the equivalent of the Appomattox chairs in many ways because Archie’s chair and Edith’s chair are the point of debate in the conversation that goes on,” says entertainment curator Dwight Blocker Bowers. He cites the show’s comedic bickering that connected to a larger social context as one of the reasons it did so well and remains relevant today.
“They’re very, very popular with all ages, I’m surprised,” he says, “even kids, because of television syndication, which keeps the show on the air and in the public eye.”
Of the actress, he says, “Jean Stapleton’s legacy embraces her appearances on Broadway – in such shows as Damn Yankees and Bells Are Ringing, her recreations of those roles in those shows film versions, but uppermost her legacy is as Edith Bunker – a ditzy voice of reason and temperance that constantly balanced her husband’s prejudicial point of view.”
Note: Currently, only Archie Bunker’s chair is on display in the American History Museum’s “American Stories.”
May 31, 2013
Every year, some 25 million visitors flock to the National Mall to take in the museums and monuments. And they bring with them all kinds of gear: matching T-shirts in all the colors of the neon rainbow, back packs and fanny packs stuffed with maps and sunscreen, Tevas not worn since that ill-fated camping trip of ’05. But one visitor reigns supreme: the Segway rider. Standing a solid foot taller than everyone else atop their super-advanced, two-wheeled machines, the Segway riders zip confidently by, turning heads as they do.
Some look on in amusement, others in jealousy. But with the wind in his helmeted hair, the Segway rider hardly notices. He’s too busy delighting in the pastoral pleasures of the Mall and learning all kinds of tidbits on his 1.5-hour long Smithsonian Tours By Segway excursion
After you pick up your Segway PT (personal transporter), watch an informational video with some hilariously tragic stick-man skits that make you feel better about your building nerves and practice riding around in the shadow of the American History Museum, you too can be on your way to an educational and futuristic experience that will inspire awe and envy in others.
As your tour guide will tell you, “There are many ways to move about our Capital, visiting the Smithsonian properties and the historical monuments, but there is simply no better way to see these sites than via Segway PT.”
Indeed. The two-wheeled wonder-thing was first unveiled in 2001, the product of maverick inventor Dean Kamen. Equipped with tilt and gyroscopic sensors, the vehicle can sense your every shift of weight. Want to head forward? Just push your hips forward ever so slightly and feel the wind pickup against your face as you speed off–though not faster than 12 miles per hour; the Segway PT has a built-in speed limit and will warn you as you approach it. Turning is as easy as pushing the handle bars side to side. After a few minutes on the Segway PT, you’ll wonder why we haven’t all converted to a life lived on two wheels.
As you loop up and down the Mall and around the majestic Capitol building, your tour guide will tell you lots of informative and fascinating things, like:
- During the Civil War, President Lincoln viewed the Union troop movements across the Potomac River from the tall north tower of the Castle.
- In the 1970s, the Castle was home to a pair of barn owls who lived in the west tower, named “Increase” and “Diffusion”.
- During the Civil War the War Department quartered troops in the Capitol for several months. A year later the Capitol served as a hospital for the wounded.
- While the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, there is technically a higher court in the same building–the basketball court.
- Over 400 Indian tribes were consulted for their opinions on the design of the American Indian Museum, which succeeds in honoring the natural and built environment.
- The large West glass wall of the Air and Space Museum functions as a giant door for the installation of airplanes and spacecraft. Natural History and Air and Space are the most visited museums in the world.
The three-hour tour includes a tour of the monuments and White House as well. And since you’re not going to want to ever get off your electronic steed, you might as well sign up for the three-hour tour.
Even the hard-working staff of Smithsonian magazine learned a few things on a complimentary tour, including discovering a tranquil garden tucked alongside the Department of Health & Human Services, and we are now trying to determine how exactly we can expense a couple dozen Segway PTs for office use.
This could be you:
Tours are offered three times a day and prices range from $62.54 to $83.74, depending on the length.
May 23, 2013
Friday, May 24: Gallery Talk on Jeff Koons’ Kiepenkerl
What is about pop artist Jeff Koons that draws equal parts scorn and admiration? The art world, argues a recent article in New York Magazine, remains skeptical even despite his commercial success. “Koons is,” writes Carl Swanson, “by the measure of sales of new work, which is the money-mad art world’s only objective measure, the most successful living American artist, but he has never before had a museum retrospective in New York, his home base for 36 years.” His reputation, says Swanson, is built on creating toys for rich old boys. The Hirshhorn’s own Koons, Kiepenkerl, is a strange mix of old meets new, with a candy-coating of silver. The statue of a traveling peddler plays on nostalgia while selling an exciting spirit of exploration: poised with walking stick and a bag full of mysteries, where is this man headed? Today’s gallery talk will examine this 1987 stainless steel sculpture and look at how it fits into the artist’s larger oeuvre. Free. 12:30 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Saturday, May 25: Celebrate Hawai’i Festival
Even though the Washington Post reports that fewer folks will be traveling this Memorial Day weekend, you can still get that tropical vacation you were hoping for right on the Mall. Head to the American Indian Museum for a full day of events celebrating Hawai’i. The annual celebration is part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and includes cooking and hula demonstrations as well as films and performances from popular acts like the Aloha Boys. And if one day isn’t enough, Sunday features another full day of programs. Free. 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Sunday, May 26: Music at the Museum: Summer Band Concert
Salute the troops this weekend with a performance by the U.S. Navy jazz band, the Commodores. The show is outdoors, so bring the blanket, the family and some sunglasses. The band has been entertaining and educating since 1969 and features a mix of big band tunes and vocal arrangements. The concert series continues each fourth Sunday through August. Free. 6 p.m. Air and Space Museum.
Also, check out our Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
May 22, 2013
Just a block from Harlem’s great thoroughfare, 125th Street, is a brownstone listed for a cool $2.3 million, courtesy of the Corcoran Group Real Estate. Advertising its proximity to the subway and trendy restaurants like Red Rooster, the listing provides a snapshot of the dramatic changes underway in the Manhattan neighborhood. Projects like the expansion of the Harlem Hospital Center and the plans for Columbia University and rezoning efforts have brought a wave of development interest to Harlem, which suffered along with the rest of New York during the 1970s when the city was verging on bankruptcy.
In the process, the profile of the neighborhood, long considered the Mecca of African-American culture, has changed. According to census data for Central Harlem, the population of white residents grew by more than 400 percent between 2000 and 2010. In the meantime, the average sale price for housing in Central Harlem increased 270 percent from 1996 to 2006, the fourth largest increase of all neighborhoods city-wide. Starting at the north edge of Central Park on 110th Street, real estate interests staked their claims. Glossy businesses like the hotel chain Aloft moved in.
But for all the attention paid to the changing skyline and demographic profile, Harlem historian and architectural consultant John Reddick argues there’s more beneath the surface of Harlem’s development. He says the roots of the community’s development have long been building to this economic high note, and that despite the common conception that much of this change has come from the outside, it’s established community members who brought it about.
The fight for affordable housing, for better schools, for renovated properties–all that, he says, came from the community itself. “There were people who lived there during the worst of times and really made a commitment and who were part and parcel of the genius to turn things around,” says Reddick, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1980, ”and nobody knows who they are!”
In part to rectify that error and to highlight the ways Harlem inspires and innovates in the design fields, Reddick has been curating a series and lectures and programs in conjunction with the Cooper-Hewitt titled, “Harlem Focus Series,” that will continue through the summer. Museum director Caroline Payson says the series, “encourages people to think about design in their own backyard.”
Reddick has done much of his work in the neighborhood on memorial projects and in the parks, which he calls the “treaty grounds for everybody.” Whether as a place to walk a dog or to hold a barbecue for a birthday party, the parks draw everyone in. His favorite park space is at the north end of Central Park by the Harlem Meer lake, where the landscape is rockier and hillier. “It’s very different from the rest of the park.”
But it’s the people as much as the parks that make Harlem the inviting neighborhood he remembers from his first visit in 1965. “As an African-American, it was just mythic,” he remembers. “I just was energized by all of it. I knew I’d end up here.” Neighborhood staples like the churches felt familiar to Reddick. Others were attracted by that same energy.
Now Harlem is home to a large percentage of African immigrants concentrated on 116th Street, in addition to a growing Asian and Hispanic population. All around him, Reddick says he can see the global influences taking shape in Harlem as it orients itself on a wider stage. Even Harlem’s most famous rapper today, A$AP Rocky borrows from rap cultures around the country in his music while still representing the “pizzazz, spunk, charisma, character” he says is indigenous to his childhood home.
“I think Harlem is this amazing brand,” says Reddick, “greater than Chanel.” And yet, he says, its story has been stunted in the telling.
Reddick’s own research into the Jewish and black roots of music in Harlem prior to the Harlem Renaissance challenges the idea that Harlem was “happening” in discrete moments. Outside historians and writers, he says, are “like explorers in the black community and once they document it, they’re like Columbus: history starts when they decide Harlem is improving or it has value and so it diminishes anything that was there before.”
Harlem’s recent economic development has brought a similar reading. But Reddick says the changes that are just now starting to bring attention have been a long time coming. Fights like the one that kept Marcus Garvey Park, with its amphitheater and swimming pool, public and available to the community helped protect major neighborhood assets.
Decades before City Council speaker Christine Quinn stopped by Make My Cake in Harlem as she set about laying the groundwork for her mayoral bid, JoAnn Baylor was baking up her tasty and addictive creations in her basement, according to a profile of the business on DNAInfo. In 1996, the family opened their first shop. Now with two locations, the shop is co-owned by Baylor’s daughter and has irregular hours which don’t hurt the demand one bit. Though its success was made visible by high-profile patrons and inclusion in a Small Business Saturday American Express campaign, the roots of the business were long part of the neighborhood.
Or there’s the American Legion Post 138 on West 132nd Street in Harlem, whose weekly Sunday jazz jam session was ranked the best free Uptown jazz in 2012 by the Village Voice and is one of Reddick’s personal favorites. Though the show was started in the late 90s, its organizer, Seleno Clarke, has been playing organ professionally for more than 40 years. His connections to Harlem musicians help him keep a steady rotation of guest artists, in addition to the international musicians who also stop by.
The creative, collaborative spirit that enlivens the American Legion is precisely the sort that first attracted Reddick to Harlem and what he hopes to highlight with his Cooper-Hewitt series. “There are creative people who have this energy.” When people talk about things like rooftop gardens and urban farming, he says “people in Harlem are thinking about this, it’s not just happening in other well-to-do neighborhoods.”
The series continues May 22 with architect Jack Travis, who will discuss the Harlem Hospital’s Mural Pavilion, connecting Works Progress Administration-era murals by African-American artists to contemporary African-inspired color palette, pattern and philosophy.