Long Island Modernism

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Long Island has a rich history of modern architectural gems. Who knew? When I lived  in NY, I would make a Sunday afternoon of it; hunting down a modernist classic tucked away in a unsuspecting neighborhood. A few historic structures remain, but sadly many have been torn down, or fundamentally altered.

In her new book Long Island Modernism: 1930–1980, author Caroline Rob Zaleski has thoughtfully explored and documented the modern architecture of this region. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the author explains the source of her intrigue: ‘Numerous architecture stars used parts of Long Island as a sort of laboratory. Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe all built there, and even contemplated a plan to re-establish their Bauhaus school on Long Island after relocating to the U.S. from Nazi Germany. Many other notable homes and buildings conceived for corporate and public use were conceived by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, Richard Meier and I.M. Pei, among many others.

Image:  Philip Johnson’s Robert and Mary Leonhardt House, Lloyd Neck, 1954-56

Image:  1969 – The Renny B. and Ellin Saltzman House, East Hampton, NY.

Ms. Zaleski has created a treasure worthy of the sleuthing it took to make it. This compilation of design by some of the most well known architects of our time is a gift of history, and provides the reference and foundation for design innovation to come.

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Department of Islamic Art Opens at the Louvre

We are familiar with  I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre, the iconic glass and steel pyramid which creates a central focal point, and defines entry for the museum. This week, a second sculptural piece of contemporary architecture opens in celebration of the new Department of Islamic Arts. Fluid in form and offering an amazing light quality to the gallery space below, this new addition celebrating a rich history of art and artifact is a dynamic addition to the museum’s historic Cour Visconti courtyard.

‘The new Department of Islamic Arts is designed by Milanese architect Mario Bellini and his French colleague Rudy Ricciotti, who won the commission through an international competition in 2005. Similar to I.M. Pei, the pair created a naturally lit, subterranean gallery space beneath an undulating, glass roof within the courtyard of the historic Cour Visconti.”  archdaily.com ”The golden roof billows up from waist level at the edges to about 22 feet close to the center. At first glance it looks gauzy enough to blow away in a heavy wind, but according to members of the architectural team who were working at the site, it weighs 150 tons and has been painstakingly fashioned from almost 9,000 steel tubes that form an interior web, over which are a layer of glass and, on top of that, a shimmering anodized gold surface.” nytimes

The new gallery houses many works of art which have not been on display for decades.  Many famous and important pieces are on exhibit, part of a collection which reflects craftsmanship and history of the 7th through the 19th centuries. Arranged chronologically, the exhibit includes ‘glass works, ceramics, metalwork, books, manuscripts, textiles and carpets.’

I embrace the philosophy that the growth of the museum and the supporting contemporary architecture is as important a consideration as the treasures displayed within. These built structures, displays of art themselves, define human interaction with these exhibits, becoming an integral part of the visitor’s experience. I look forward to a Paris sojourn, to take in this magnificent cultural happening.


Images and excerpts sourced at archdaily. Additional excerpts sourced at nytimes as noted.

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Suzhou Museum by I. M. Pei…

I still remember the first time I saw the Suzhou Museum by I. M. Pei. Well, not in person per se (one day I hope!) but from a beautifully packaged postcards set that was given to me as souvenir. I gasped the second I saw the image above. Doesn’t it look like a watercolour painting? In fact, this “stone mountains” landscape is set against an older, whitewashed garden wall. With the pond as part of its backdrop, it really does look like mountain peaks from afar. What makes this museum extra special is that Suzhou is Pei’s ancestral hometown, and what an amazing personal tribute it is. I love the play of his signature styles here: squares, rectangles and pyramids. Modern, and yet the traditional Chinese motifs are so well blended in with all the clean lines, and its simple white and grey color scheme. There’s something so peaceful, and even spiritual about this place. And if I could feel that through these photographs, can you imagine sitting in the museum garden and just… gaze? Pei once said, quote “In China, architecture and the garden are one. A Western building is a building, and a garden is a garden. They’re related in spirit. But they are one in China.” unquote. There’s a lot to be said about that statement, don’t you think?


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