01 April 2014

SLCL Survey

I wrote these comments on a new survey being done by the St. Louis County Library system. Please complete the survey and tell them what you think!

"I find the library's plan to demolish and rebuild perfectly functional buildings to be a waste of resources. In particular, I am appalled that the library would even consider demolishing the most beautiful, most historic branch in the entire system: the Lewis & Clark Branch Library!! Doing so would be to destroy an important part of our heritage. Please renovate and add an amazing addition! Please use the money saved for special programs to connect to children and adults in the community! Fiber optics to schools. Laptops or iPads for loan. Technology center! Creative work-spaces (music, web design, art, digital media, etc.). Make this branch the showcase of the entire system to truly demonstrate that north St. Louis County deserves an amazing, state-of-the-art facility that respects and honors its history! There's no reason to waste money on foundations, structure, HVAC, roofing, etc. instead, build on what is already great about the building! Commission new art for the new entrance!"

Please take this survey and tell the Library what you think:

17 March 2014

Demolishing Lewis & Clark Library Would be Cultural Vandalism

Frederick Dunn's Lewis & Clark Branch Library (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2013).
The arguments in favor of demolishing Frederick Dunn's Lewis & Clark Branch Library of 1963 appear to be based either on the building's age ("it must be in need of replacement since it's the oldest branch library") or on aesthetic judgments (i.e., the building does not appear "up to date" and in accordance with what most people would consider a typical image of a library). It's likely some combination of these two arguments are operating in this instance. I will address and dispel each of these ostensible justifications for the building's removal and replacement.

Lewis & Clark Branch Library, facade detail (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2014).

Argument: The Building is Functionally Obsolete

The argument for demolishing and replacing the library due to its age is not based on a true consideration of its condition as it stands today. The physical plant is in excellent condition. The building was renovated in 2000 (including new carpeting and repaving parking lot). A new roof was installed in 2004 and new HVAC equipment installed in 2007.

Other recent updates include:
           • new express checkout
           • new furniture updates
          • new reference area
           • new interior & exterior signage

Lewis & Clark Branch Library, facade detail (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2013).

Based on the above facts, taken directly from the library's Facilities Master Plan (available online as a PDF, see page 25), the building has no substantive deficiencies from a functional perspective. The only suggestion of a shortcoming is the notion that the library should be 4,000 sf larger than its existing 16,000 sf. Otherwise, no justification for its demolition and replacement is indicated.

Demolishing a perfectly functional library appears would be wasteful and irresponsible, constituting an abuse of taxpayers' money. The public would have a "new" library with all of the same features as the existing one, except it will be 4,000 sf larger. This is by no means an adequate justification.

Lewis & Clark Branch Library, perspective cut-away view.

A fiscal conservative would likely consider this plan to be an example of excessive government funding being poorly used for little or no material gain. In other words: a "bridge to nowhere." Why a 4,000 sf addition to the existing structure has not been proposed is a mystery since the property and building design seem ideally suited for just such an expansion.

Replacing the building due to it being functionally obsolete or in need of excessive maintenance is demonstrably false. Let us then consider the arguments based on aesthetics.

Argument: Building Doesn't Look Like a Typical Library

The existing Lewis & Clark Branch Library does not appear like a "stereotypical" library. Without knowing the building's function in advance, one could mistake it for a community center, office building, a religious structure or perhaps a beautiful factory. (Of course the design of the facade's decorative glass elements is key to the building's identity.)

Dunn's Lewis & Clark Branch Library (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2013).

The apparent confusion regarding the building's function based on its shape and massing is fundamentally an intentional aspect of the building's design. The form of the primary rectilinear box has minimal inflections and in this sense is neutral. A good example not far from Lewis & Clark is the nearby Faith-Salem Church (7348 West Florissant Avenue, Jennings) designed by Dunn and featuring steel structure and decorative glazing not unlike the Lewis & Clark Branch Library. Another Dunn building in North St. Louis County with a similarly simple, abstract form is his Aloe Warehouse. The Headmaster's House he designed for Country Day School is one of several structures that have already been demolished. His design for the Steinberg Skating Rink is more likely well known by the public; It has similar features: flat roof, monolithic rectangular massing built of masonry and glass.

Dunn's Faith-Salem Church, interior, Jennings (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2013).

Dunn's Aloe Warehouse (significantly modified; image courtesy Esley Hamilton).

Dunn's Country Day School Headmaster's Home (no longer extant, Post-Dispatch image).

Dunn's Steinberg Memorial Ice Skating Rink, Forest Park, St. Louis (image courtesy Esley Hamilton).

This architect preferred simple rectangular shapes for his buildings as did many other architects operating in the modernist mode in the decades following World War II. Each time he was asked to design a church, he invariably began by suggested it have a flat roof.

Portrait, Frederick Dunn, Architect (image courtesy Esley Hamilton).

Mid-Century Modern architecture for straight lines and clean geometrical forms. This period of design is today seeing a great resurgence of interest, primarily amongst younger adults who identify with the ethos of simple open spaces with extensive daylighting and enclosed honestly and directly without excess, unnecessary complications.

The Library's Board of Trustees is composed of older adults who most likely grew up at a time when buildings of this type were relatively commonplace. It may be they may view the Mid-Century forms and materials negatively from a psychological viewpoint based on a rejection of cookie cutter ranches and rampant suburban development. While this building may not be their stylistic preference, it is an outstanding example of its type. In fact, Lewis & Clark may be the best example of a Mid-Century Modern public building extant in St. Louis County.

The appreciation of particular styles of building design often involves the rejection of what is considered to be old and outdated simply due to a building's overall formal references. However, what is viewed negatively by one generation can be considered an important expression of a culture that has largely disappeared, that is, the optimism of Post-War America when economic prosperity and new technologies offered seemingly limitless opportunities for growth.

Architecture rejected by one generation is often embraced by a following generation. They understand these buildings fulfill a new critical role in society. They offer a sense of cultural continuity and history evolution through the principles embodied in significant works of architecture.

Lewis & Clark Branch Library, detail (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2013).

During the Post-War era, buildings in the Victorian and Second Empire styles were demonized and demolished with abandon. Today, the few examples of these buildings remaining are considered beautiful examples of our cultural heritage to be treasured and preserved. St. Louis nearly demolished it's Old Post Office at that time considering it to be an outdated, ugly pile of stone. Many homes such as those we appreciate around Lafayette Square today were unfortunately lost in the name of progress.

Making aesthetic judgments about a building's quality and value based on personal associations and interpretations can be a dangerous way of dealing with our common cultural legacy. The Lewis & Clark Library was proudly constructed by the citizens of St. Louis County who admired and appreciated its simple, beautiful form. We ought not trample on acknowledged examples of highly regarded structures of any period without adequately considering the irreversible loss.

Lewis & Clark Branch Library, interior (Photograph © Andrew Raimist 2013).

The essential value of this building is not simply embodied in its decorative glass elements. The experience of the building is a complete, coordinated ensemble. Dismantling and reinstalling those irreplaceable enamel glass windows in a new structure would do them a fundamental injustice.

In another essay, I've explained in detail the way in which the design is a complete expression combining form, structure, circulation, graphics, natural lighting, historical references and symbols. In this way it's coherent, meaningful and understandable as the building stands almost perfectly preserved. I'll provide a link to my essay discussing the intentional, interconnected manner in which it was designed including photographs and architectural drawings.

My request: the Library's Board of Trustees should put a moratorium on proceeding with demolition and replacement of the existing Lewis & Clark Library while consideration is given to alternative approaches to enlarging and expanding the existing building in lieu of its destruction. Offer the public six months to reconsider this destructive act of cultural vandalism so the community can indicate whether this structure should be retained and celebrated or disrespectfully bulldozed and dumped in a landfill.

15 October 2013

Noguchi's Light, 1

Throughout Isamu Noguchi's career, there's repeated evidence of his fascination with light and its wide ranging effects on our understanding and perception of form, space and volume. His great interest in the effects, behavior and uses of light may stem from some early experiences recounted from the ten years between the ages of three and thirteen when he lived in Japan (between 1907 and 1917).

Isamu Gilmour, age 13. His mother Leonie Gilmout included this photograph with his application to attend the Interlaken School, Rolling Prairie, Indiana. Image: Lilly Library.
While one can speculate on his perception of light filtering through paper shoji screen, traditional lanterns and other possible sources, there are stories from his youth that are so specific and meaningful they seem hard to dispute as having taken place, particularly since they were published in an article by his father Yone Noguchi in Sunset Magazine, Volume 25 (San Francisco: Southern Pacific Company Publishers, July–December 1910) entitled, "Isamu and Others: Parental Pointers Concerning Babysan and His Koishikawa Playmates."

Sunset Magazine's masthead. Reference to publication.
As a child, Isamu had an especially strong connection with shadows and light. With regard to shadows his father writes:
He made a habit of playing with our shadows on the walls of the sitting-room after supper every evening. "Mama, shadow gone! Give baby shadow, mama," he will exclaim sulkily, seeing his own shadow disappear. "Go to papa! he will give it to you," Leonie will say; then he will hunt for it, pushing his hand everywhere about my dress. "There it is, baby," I will say, seeing his shadow accidentally appear on the wall. How glad he will be."
Baby Isamu also loved to watch for the moon to rise over the garden. He would insist on remaining awake until his reliable, magical friend would return to watch over him. His father writes:
I doubt if he has any real knowledge of the moon. When I say that he must go to bed, he will push a little outside door, and say that no moon is seen yet. Then I will quietly steal in to the drawing-room and light a large hanging lamp with a blue-colored globe, and say to him: "Moon is come now. See it baby!" He will be mightily pleased with it; a few minutes later, he will be found in bed soundly sleeping.
This story would likely be considered apocryphal (a forced interpretation reading backwards from his later works incorporating light) except for the fact it was written by his father Yone Noguchi long before Isamu became an artist. He even illustrated an essay he published with photographs depicting some of the scenes he describes.

Photographs of baby Isamu illustrating Yone Noguchi's article in Sunset MagazineArticle reference.

It is possible Noguchi later read his father's stories (or heard the incident recounted by his mother) which could have influenced the artist's later interest in creating Akari lights, lunars with embedded lights and other works dealing with the reflection and transmission of light. Nevertheless it's certainly appealing to think those early memories evoked such strong visceral reactions in him as a child that those desires to manipulate and control light remained with him.

When examining Noguchi's career, his output and his writings, it becomes clear that understanding the various ways light interacts with translucent materials (for example, paper and plexiglas) and casts shadows to define volumetric form. In particular he seems to have maintained a fascination with the qualities of lunar reflections from the moon and the manner it pierces the darkness of night.

Many works can be considered exemplars of his ongoing fascination with light's properties. We can find this interest in some of his earliest works within just a few years' time. Over the course of the 1920s, he explored radically different approaches to dealing with light and its manifestations vis-a-vis sculptural form.

His earliest training in the classical mode of sculpting relied on manipulating clay or plaster to create shadows and highlights as a primary means for defining and describing form. His plaster life-size female nude figure Undine (Nadja) of 1926 is a tour-de-force in its manipulation of volume to establish delicate lines separating areas of highlight and shadow. These areas of light, shade and shadow reveal the details of her soft, beckoning erotic form in accordance with the academic techniques he rapidly mastered after leaving his Columbia University pre-medical studies.

The photograph of him looking admiring upon his creation is a classic image representing this early period following his studies at the Onorio Routolo's Leonardo da Vinci School of Art. This image would have been taken in his studio at 127 University Place in New York. Most reproductions of the photograph are cropped. However examining an original photographic print reveals a bare incandescent bulb hanging down above the window. It seems likely that he would have relied on artificial light periodically when he was creating this figure of a water nymph.

Original photographic print from the Rumely Collection, Lilly Library, University of Indiana.
Examining the temporary wood base he's using, it seems to have been constructed so he could rotate the piece and thus view it in under various lighting conditions. The artificial light might have been used to supplement the available light and/or as a means of testing and examining the piece at nighttime. Interestingly, Noguchi was so proud of this image he printed it on a smaller scale to create his own Christmas greeting for the Rumely family who had been his benefactors and supporters throughout his high school years in Indiana, while he was getting his start in New York and even later.

Christmas Card from Noguchi to the Rumely family. Image: Lilly Library, University of Indiana.
In 1928 after working for a period of time in Brancusi's Paris studio, Noguchi undertook the production of a series of works referred to as his Paris Abstractions. He experimented with highly polished, reflective surfaces, not unlike those in some of Brancusi's work. Part of his responsibilities was periodically visiting the Salon des Tuileries to polish Brancusi's Léda of 1926. Brancusi later mounted Léda on a slowly rotating reflective silver disk to further emphasize the changing effects of reflecting upon it's surface.

Constantin Brancusi's Léda, 1926. Image: Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Some of Noguchi's "Paris Abstractions" of 1928 used polished sheet metal ship-brass curled in such a way to create inner reflections multiplying and distorting the reflections of the work in its own surface. In this way, it suggested a sense of dematerialization as one views the piece trying almost desperately to grasp its actual form. The natural response of a viewer to sculpture of this scale (table top display) is to almost imperceptibly adjust the position of one's head as a way of determining, verifying and interpreting the actual form upon which we're gazing. In this example, such an approach to discovering the "objective" form is suppressed in favor of a multiplicity of subjective views which diverge rather than converging on a static reading of the piece.

Isamu Noguchi: Sail Shape, 1928. Photo by Shigeo Anzai, Noguchi Museum.
One of his Paris Abstractions which was to use light in a profoundly different way from what was generally understood to be sculpture was a proposal entitled Zing or Power House (Study for Neon Tube Sculpture). While his prototype was formed using zinc tubing, Noguchi photographed the work and printed it as a negative to suggest the dark metal tubing was actually the light source itself. He intended to produce this work using glass neon tubing to emit light in such a way as to essentially dematerialize the physical object, i.e., what would commonly be considered "the sculpture". While possibly suggestive of an abstracted human head, he also seems to have been attempting to "see into the shape of the intricately curled wires contain within an incandescent bulb".

This proposal for a work in neon tubing was printed both as a negative (left) and as a positive (right) in documentation of Noguchi's designs of that period. It was never realized.

Power House, 1928. Images: Noguchi's A Sculptor's World (left) and Nancy Grove's Catalogue (right).
His mentor and sponsor during his high school years in Indiana, Dr. Edward Rumely, emphasized the importance of new technologies and inventions such as Franklin's experiments with electricity and Edison's invention of the light bulb. Rumely himself was involved in developing lighting technologies in connect with the perceived health benefits of artificial light. A few years later, Rumely engaged Noguchi to design such a light fixture for the Curtis Lighting Company which was apparently manufactured, but no examples or record of its form has yet been located (Deborah A. Goldberg's unpublished NYU doctoral dissertation).

So from his earliest years as a sculptor, Noguchi revealed a subtle, inquisitive understanding of the properties of light and its effects on the perception of mass as well as unorthodox uses of light in the context of sculpture that was difficult for others at the time to fully appreciate.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This essay is the first in a series concerning the multifaceted career of Isamu Noguchi which encompassed modern sculpture (both abstract and figural), landscapes, playgrounds, plazas, fountains, furnishings, light fixtures, stage sets and many other forms of artistic expression. He was never one who would allow himself to be constrained by categories, definitions or preconceptions (including his own).
These writings are a prelude to my upcoming lecture "Noguchi and 'My Arizona'" to be presented on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey in connection with the sale of "My Arizona" (Lot 994) on Sunday, October 27, 2013. Questions regarding the auction should be directed to David Rago.

Andrew Raimist, Lecturer
Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts
Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri 63130

16 April 2013

5th Annual Exhibit A

Come to Cannon Design's Fifth Annual 'Exhibit A'!

Thursday 18 April 2013 from 5:30 to 8:30pm in Cannon Design's uniquely re-imagined municipal Power House located at 1100 Clark Avenue, Saint Louis, Missouri.

Silent Auction of drawings and sketches from notable architects from around the world. In addition a limited number of winning architectural photographs from the AIA's annual photography contest will be available for auction. (See below for my own photograph.)

Event poster.

This year's photographs include my image "View from Arch" matted and framed.

View from the Arch. Photograph © copyright Andrew Raimist.

All proceeds from the event this year go to support the St. Patrick's Center in downtown St. Louis!

For tickets to this year's festive benefit to to www.CANNONDESIGN.com/exhibita

Cannon Design's Power House

Cannon Design achieved a remarkable construction with their St. Louis architectural office ("Power House") which has the feeling of being a elegantly design ship-in-a-bottle (or perhaps "space-ship in an abandoned industrial coal plant" would be more accurate).

Cannon Design –– interior. Photograph copyright © Andrew Raimist.
Their design –– lead by architect David Polzin, AIA, LEED –– floats a series of new suspended floor plates from the existing structural steel columns in connection with two existing masonry bearing walls. By holding the floor plates free of the two facades with monumental sized windows, an incredible sense of lightness, openness and space is created. This structure could have very easily been subject to a developer's logic: jam as many floors as possible into the box and utilize even square inch of rentable space by slamming the new floor plates up against the series of arch top windows.

Cannon Design –– looking down on desk. Photograph copyright © Andrew Raimist.

A new form-language is used for the inserted materials: curvilinear white plastered surfaces which contrast beautifully with the patina of corrosion on the existing steel elements as well as the rich reddish-browns in the heavy exterior masonry bearing walls. The base of these walls is clad with white glazed tile, a functional touch that would allow for cleaning the walls at the ground floor. Originally, the monumental volume was filled with massive boilers and two enormous smoke stacks to disperse the smoke from burning coal which provided steam heat to a section of downtown in the area of City Hall and the Civil Courts Building.

Excerpt from an aerial view postcard of St. Louis with Power House location indicated.

The original Power House structure was massive, monumental and designed in a Florentine Renaissance manner drawing upon Palazzo Vecchio for its inspiration. The following elevation was published in The American Architect with design by Study & Farrar, Architects.

The Power House structure stands taller than the rest of the block with two monumental smokestack towers.
As built, the structure provided an expressive, richly textured contribution to the city's urban design. The structure clearly received a great deal of thought and consideration given it's location (within view of City Hall) and its important function. It's hard to think of a contemporary functional building dedicated to power generation that has the grace, proportions and presence this structure has.

View of 1923 Municipal Power House. The two smoke stacks are cropped out at the top.

Cannon Design intelligently kept the new floor plates away from the monumentally scaled windows. Historically accurate new windows meeting today's energy standards were installed as a part of their Platinum LEED certified adaptive re-use of this ninety year old building.

Cannon Design Power House –– interior nave. Photograph copyright © Andrew Raimist

The entire building will be accessible for touring and viewing during Exhibit A: the silent auction of art by architects to be auctioned this Thursday 18 April 2013.