Tag Archives: Brad Cloepfil

Critic face-off: Brad Cloepfil and the battle against kitsch

The primary piece of writing on my reading list this weekend was Inara Verzemnieks’ profile of Brad Cloepfil, which was a hybrid of sorts, marrying facts about the architect and his buildings, but also offering an account of life on the ground inside those buildings and an approach to thinking about his work. It even gets, gulp, philosophical. I was a little too close to the process of this story to supply a full-fledged analysis of it, let alone a “judgment”, but it is the jumping off point for the rest of this post.

Lurking within Inara’s story is a debate between Ada Louise Huxtable and Nicolai Ouroussoff, and not just over Cloepfil’s renovation of the Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle, either. About everything. I’ll start with Huxtable just because she’s just the best. She puts Ouroussoff on notice immediately in the lead of her review in the Wall St. Journal: “the reviews have set some kind of record for irresponsible over-the-top building-bashing,” she writes, and she must be referring to him, because no one was quite as vitriolic as he was (that I’ve found in print, anyway).
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More thoughts on the edge (with a little gloom attached)

The comment thread on the On the edge (of cities) post right below shows there is a lot of passionate interest in the topic — Thomas Sieverts’ idea that architects need to lift their eyes from the city core and regard the outer limits of the city with the same intensity and, well, we’ll say it, love that they have for the traditional European city center. Whether that interest is also broad we’ll test with another post on the matter, this one arising from two Monday night events: Metro president David Bragdon speaking with Portland Spaces editor Randy Gragg at Jimmy Mak’s; and a big-name concluding panel at PNCA that featured Sieverts, architect Brad Cloepfil, Reed Kroloff (who runs Cranbrook Academy, supervised our tram design competition and who was dean of architecture at Tulane when Katrina hit), and Matthew Stadler as moderator.

The topic of both the panel and the Bragdon-Gragg exchange went something like this: What can governments do to encourage good design? And it frequently kept to the question, though this “healthy” topic also generated a number of tasty digressions and frankly was never as dry as the question seemed to promise. And thanks to Stadler, the Sieverts analysis/prescription was always lurking in the background.

I know from the clock on the wall that I won’t be able to give a full account of what happened in this post (I know what you’re thinking: O sweet mother of the Titans, don’t tell me there’s a third post brewing; what is this, the Halprin fountains?), but I will get a few thoughts out there, and perhaps the Scatter regulars at the event can fill in some details.

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More about money and art: Lehman Brothers, Seattle Art Museum, Oregon Symphony and Brad Cloepfil

So we will continue our meditation on the connection between art and money. Which really, we hate to do — the connection makes things messy in so many ways, and when we are thinking about the connection we aren’t thinking about the art. But we are thinking about the conditions that make art possible, for better or worse, so we will persevere, at least through a series of related links.

First, of all, Bloomberg’s Lindsay Pollack notes that bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers has something on the order of 3,500 contemporary art works in its collection and wonders what will happen to it now. There must not be an accessible list of the art, because Pollack’s own list is rather sketchy — though it includes work by Louise Nevelson and Jasper Johns, not to mention Damian Hirst. But the article does give us a sense of the long history of the Lehman name in art circles — there is a Robert Lehman wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, after all, named after the grandson of the founder of the bank.

Closer to home, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Regina Hackett notes the VERY close connection between the Seattle Art Museum and Washington Mutual, the huge savings and loan which is both under great financial pressure and looking for a buyer as we type this. The two share a building in downtown Seattle in a complex arrangement that the museum used to finance the extension, designed by Portland’s own Brad Cloepfil. The museum says it has its bases covered, no matter what happens to WaMu, but Hackett has found some folks who aren’t so sure.

Closer still, Art Scatter friend David Stabler, at The Oregonian, found out that the Oregon Symphony hasn’t detected any deterioration in the financial commitments of its patrons. This could be a “Planet Arts” phenomena (see post below), but it is encouraging, nonetheless. And he found the silver lining in all of this:

How many times have we heard that the arts should be run more like businesses? Well, Brian Dickie, General Director of Chicago Opera Theatre in Chicago (the small company, not Lyric Opera), hopes he never hears that again, “given what CEOs with MBAs from the major business schools have managed to do to some of the country’s largest financial institutions.”

All we can say is, sweet!

And finally, speaking of Brad Cloepfil, he’s at the heart of the beast in New York City, where his redesign of 2 Columbus Circle is unveiling. Another Scatter friend, Inara Verzemnieks, is there and she’s been posting about it on OregonLive and had a front page story about it in today’s Oregonian. For us the key quote came at the end (consider this a spoiler alert):

One of the criticisms that has been leveled at Cloepfil’s building is that it is not bold enough, not enough of a break with the past. But this blurring of past and present seemed to be what Cloepfil wanted. He seemed to like playing with the tension between what you thought you remembered — is that the lollipop building? — and what you now see. That it was possible for the two to occupy the same space.

“The ambiguity of memory,” he said. “Isn’t that sometimes the nature of cities?”

We’d much rather end with the ambiguity of memory than the ambiguity of money.

The Denver Art Museum deflects a hot summer day

The Daniel Libeskind-designed addition to the Denver Art Museum, which opened in 2006, doesn’t count as “new” anymore. It seems to have settled into its home near the State Capitol building, dug in, maybe, because it reminds me of an armadillo, bronze-plated and glowing in the sun. It has that peculiar snout, though, a sharp geometric foray into space and toward the original Denver Art Museum building over a busy Denver street. But otherwise it seem perfectly suited to the hot summer day in Colorado on which I visited it – its blocky facets deflecting the heat, its low aerodynamic profile slicing through the hot wind, its situation in the plaza that Libeskind created for it roomy enough to allow its heat to radiate and disperse without warming its neighbors.

So, yes, I approved of the new building from a sculptural point of view — it also reminded me (and my wife — thanks Megan!) of a Stealth bomber. And I like the metaphor: art stealthily and lethally undermining a crude, car-choked American metropolis. But I had two questions in mind for the new DAM: 1) Would the aggressive architecture detract from the art inside, impose itself too much, and 2) how would it “fit” into downtown Denver as an urban design proposition. One visit and a little Googling isn’t going to answer those, but that’s not going to stop me from taking a stab at them… oh no.
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A planning thrill ride with Fregonese, Koolhaas, Krier

According to the number crunchers at Metro (Portland’s regional government, for those keeping track outside Oregon), metropolitan Portland, which includes five counties in Oregon and two across the Columbia River in Washington, will reach a population of 3.85 million by the year 2060. The population now is roughly 2.1 million. And if the area continues to grow at the rate it did from 1960 to 2000, that rises to more than 6 million.

If you are in the planning business, and John Fregonese is, this is important news, because big change ahead means more planning! Fregonese spoke Monday night at the Bright Lights Discussion Series, sponsored by Portland Spaces magazine and moderated by editor Randy Gragg, and one of the first things he referenced was that figure. Not because he’s looking for work, but because it lends a certain urgency to the work he’s doing with the Big Look, Oregon’s attempt to improve its land-use framework, still seen as a model nationally, but now a bit old and proven to be short on flexibility. Especially with hordes of new residents lining up to come here.

Fregonese’s discussion wasn’t all that radical, primarily a restatement of the principles governing the Big Look, a short and flattering account of Chicago’s planning process (not to mention Denver, both Fregonese clients), and some cautionary notes about the cost to Portland of standing still. What gave it some urgency for me, though, was the Nicolai Ouroussoff story in the New York Times magazine about urban planning and building (without urban planning) in China, specifically the coastal town of Shenzen, which has grown from a little fishing village of a few thousand to a city of eight million or so in the past 30 years. That’s eight million. Ouroussoff’s story is interesting for its account of this frenzied growth, not all that uncommon in China, where a huge rural population is shifting to the cities, but also for the “values” it contains. More about that later. Finally, I was also considering a rousing defense of New Urbanist Leon Krier by Roger Scruton in Journal magazine, a publication of the Manhattan Institute. I started to type that the Manhattan Institute is like Portland’s own Cascade Policy Institute, but it’s much smarter than that, though its eagerness to battle “collectivism” in all of its real and imagined forms is similar. Both are important for they way they send you back to check your “arithmetic” on various issues (the Cascade Politicy Institute, for example, hates light rail, accommodating bicycles and the Eastbank Esplanade).

So, just to recap the introduction: Fregonese on contemporary planning processes; Ouroussoff on China; new urbanism. If we throw them together, what do we come up with?
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A little Brad Cloepfil wisdom coming your way

So Monday night I was jammed against a wall at Jimmy Mak’s, scribbling down words of wisdom from Portland’s reigning creative economy king, architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works. I got there a little late: Cloepfil had already been introduced by Randy Gragg, editor of Portland Spaces magazine, the sponsoring organization, and had begun a preparatory slide show of his recent work, most notably his remake of the Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle in New York. And the room was completely filled; I was lucky to get my little piece of wall. But even in my scrunched state, I found it difficult to resist Cloepfil. He’s clear-headed, speaks directly, has a dry sense of humor, doesn’t conceal his real feelings (maybe the martinis had something to do with that) and most important, has an obvious passion for Portland, what it is and what it could become.
He was also comfortable with Gragg’s moderation, maybe because Gragg was a Cloepfil supporter during his years of writing architecture criticism for The Oregonian (full disclosure: where I edited him for several years). It’s hard to get the gist of 90 minutes of talk, so I’ll resort to picking out the most provocative quotes, roughly in the order in which they occurred Monday night.
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