COLUMNS

  • Back to the Future

    WHEN DAVID HOCKNEY first arrived in Santa Monica, in 1964, he decided to ride his bicycle across Los Angeles as far as Pershing Square, which he had heard was a prime cruising spot. Only too late did he realize that the journey was eighteen miles. The painter resolved to buy a car the next day.

    Christopher Hawthorne told this story a couple of Fridays ago, delivering it with a wan smile. “There’s a whole genre of non-LA artists and writers coming here and trying to bike the city,” he said. “Newcomers just don’t understand the scale.” The former architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times—now

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  • Building Blocs

    THE CROWD AT THE SMOLNY INSTITUTE had only just stopped applauding, the minority delegates having reluctantly ceded the floor, when the leader of the revolutionary congress grasped the sides of the podium and spoke the first words of a new era. “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order,” Vladimir Lenin said: In Russian, the verb he used was stroit (строить), literally “to build”; in time, versions of the phrase would become a rhetorical rallying cry throughout the Soviet Union and its allied states, adorning the overpass of a dam on the Volga River, for example, and the side of an

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  • Free Forms

    IN 1935, W. E. B. Du Bois published Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880. Coming in at just under eight hundred pages, Du Bois’s “essay” served to carefully delineate the role of African Americans in the social, political, and economic restructuring of the United States following the devastation of the Civil War. In many ways, the artists, architects, and designers included in “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America,” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, have

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  • Grand Facades

    “DARLING, AT A CERTAIN POINT ONE MUST STOP BITCHING and get to work,” Detlef Weitz told me when we met at a sun-showered Humboldt Forum shortly before Christmas. He had a point. My bad-mouthing the reconstructed Baroque Royal Palace had stopped being interesting. For years, every mention of the project has sparked animated discussions of the sort where each statement lights a fire under the next, resulting in extraordinary conflagrations of fury. In that way, the Humboldt Forum is a bit like Donald Trump or Brexit: I don’t know a single person who thought it was a good idea. Yet here it is, 766

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  • Better, Faster, Stronger, Kinder

    THIS PAST MAY, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, was briefly in the public eye for being the first major American museum to reopen after the initial wave of coronavirus-related lockdowns. Come November, the debut of the final component of a $450 million expansion project—the Nancy and Rich Kinder building, which boasts 164,000 square feet of exhibition space dedicated to international modern and contemporary art—coincided with the onset of what promises to be the pandemic’s deadliest season yet. Despite the grim winter forecast, museum leadership, armed with the blessing of Governor Abbott’s

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  • MISSED CONNECTIONS

    THE COLD WAR is not remembered as a love story. More frequently recounted as a cautionary tale of mutual distrust, antagonism, and the looming specter of global nuclear annihilation, the era has been memorialized in literature, art, and cinema—think Dr. Strangelove or From Russia with Love—through caricatures that capitalize on fears of evil Russian ambitions to undermine American sovereignty. 

    “Building a new New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture,” at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, plumbs architectural history to suggest an alternative reading of the bilateral

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  • ON THE MARGINS

    IN JULY 1825, eight months before his death, the French architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu donated several hundred of his meticulous pen-and-wash drawings to the Bibliothèque Royale in Paris (now the Bibliothèque Nationale de France). Representing more than four decades of work, and spanning the fall of the Bourbon monarchy, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic era, and the Restoration, Lequeu’s corpus reveals a maximalist artistic vision unlike any other. Made in near-total isolation in a cramped Parisian bachelor pad furnished with little more than a table and chair, a mattress, and a lone coffeepot,

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  • Another Story

    ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS YOU SEE when entering the Chicago Architecture Biennial, from either entrance, is a gray land acknowledgement sign with crisp white type: “Chicago is part of the traditional homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi nations. Many other tribes—such as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Sac, and Fox—also called this area home. . .” Such recognitions have become more visible in recent years, but this text, prepared by the American Indian Center of Chicago, functions differently within its context than on, say, the bottom of an institutional website or

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  • KINGDOM COME

    NO ONE EXPECTED the internal dispute among the Arabian Gulf states to last this long. Since June 2017, four of the states—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt—have severed economic and diplomatic relations with Qatar. The dispute doesn’t just exist on a government level but weighs on the minds of residents: Those living on both sides of the divide privately lament the crisis while publicly—i.e., on social media—refraining from liking posts by or openly communicating with friends from estranged countries. It has also affected the operations of the art world, both in terms

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  • Living With Water

    CRISP, LOW-LYING, AND QUIETLY BEAUTIFUL, the Art Deco boulevards of Miami Beach constitute what the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) calls an “Open Air Museum of 20th Century Architecture,” driving tourism and the city’s economy. The modernist curves and stacked ziggurats—designed to catch the breeze in each hotel room—suit a landscape built at the mercy of water. The white-and-pink, peach-and-aqua exteriors balance out the deep blue of the Florida sky. Walking down Collins Avenue with its oceanfront hotels, or the side streets with their three-story Moderne apartment buildings, the

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  • Arch Forum

    A LINE OF PEOPLE WAITING TO ENTER the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art snaked its way through the Egyptian wing, holding steady for the entire day on January 19. The hope was that those lucky enough to secure entrance to the third edition of “In Our Time: A Year of Architecture in a Day” would abandon their seats, allowing those in line to fill them. This urgency was echoed inside the auditorium, wherein there was a fear of not being able to leave your spot even momentarily lest an usher give it away. Who knew there was such a demand for critical dialogue around

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  • Sketch Pad

    FANTASY COLLIDED GENTLY WITH REALITY in Houston’s leafy Montrose neighborhood earlier this month. The Menil Collection is a place I have studied closely from afar but never seen in the flesh, and I was arriving with a head full of fragments: the famous centerpiece by Renzo Piano, with its cheap pine floorboards and proprietary ceiling louvers; the rows of prewar bungalows painted a uniform gray; the blocks of evergreens; the porches; the porticos; the filtered daylight. The museum of my mind wasn’t too far off, though, in part because some recent developments make the actual place more like I

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