The big story on East 7th Street these days is the opening of Thom Mayne’s new student center for Cooper Union, on Third Avenue. It’s a pretty wacky extravagance, and it replaces a deadly dull building beloved by nobody. A block away, on the corner of Second, this story is reversed. Love Saves the Day, the iconic kitsch storefront that’s been a local landmark for decades, has given way to a humorless brown excrescence. New York is losing its history one shop at a time, a sad attrition that is the subject of my new essay in Print magazine, which doubles as a review of the new book Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, by James and Karla Murray. One of its many lessons: You wanna survive in this town? Buy the building.
My review of the Ron Arad: No Discipline exhibition now up at MoMA appears in the latest issue of ID. I’m not sold on Arad as an architect, but his material experimentation is certainly admirable and many of his chairs—and this show is mostly about chairs—are undeniably attractive, if not always functional. Though maybe just being beautiful is a function sometimes? The best thing about the show might just be the catalog, with a characteristically straightforward design by karlssonwilker and an equally sharp cover by Beverly Joel.
I’ll be participating in my first event to celebrate the publication of Master of Shadows on October 6th, here in NYC. It’s a group discussion with some other terrific writers—AJ Jacobs, David Sax, and Charles London—to be moderated by Alana Newhouse, the very fabulous editor of Tablet magazine. The event is sponsored by Reboot, hence the Jewish theme. All are welcome, even goyim. RSVP to Jackie@rebooters.net.
“Who’s your favorite architect?” I get that question a lot, but don’t enjoy answering it. I admire many architects and for different reasons, so choosing seems reductive. A quick response, which is usually the expectation, sounds potted and inadequate, and now that everyone on the planet has an opinion about architecture—which is not altogether bad—you often end up with an argument you’d rather not have. Name anyone too obscure and you’re in danger of coming off like a pompous snob. Well, whatever—I’m guilty of that. When asked I generally respond with two names unfamiliar to the uninitiated (though I wish they were not): Sasha Brodsky and Lebbeus Woods. Together they’re responsible for only a handful of standing buildings–though the catalog is growing. Their reputations, instead, rest on paper projects that catalog the traumas imposed on the individual and the urban landscape. Brodsky’s work is wry and wistful; Woods’s is more dystopic.
Over on his website, Woods has released a film treatment, “Underground Berlin,” that seems a distillation of his design philosophy into narrative form. [The image above is taken from it.] Imagine Chris Marker’s “La Jetee” crossed with “Dr. Strangelove” and “Metropolis.” Do yourself a favor and check it out. Also, you might be interested in a short bio of Woods I wrote a few years ago; It follows after the jump.