Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Return of Marshall McLuhan

On the medium:

I was a philosophy major at the Jesuit U of Detroit (1949) where I got an early look at "The Mechanical Bride" (1951) by reading his pieces in the lay Catholic weekly "Commonweal". So when asked for an American Civilization doctoral thesis in 1951 at Western Reserve University, I proposed McLuhan's ideas.

"Huh?" "Who he?" was the official response! In 1955-56 I had a Ford grant in New York to study how high school English teachers should deal with the new medium of TV. Marshall was the visiting professor at TC, Columbia that year and we had several satisfying meetings. He remained helpfully friendly until I panned "The Gutenberg Galaxy". He was not a generous disputant!

Patrick D. Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Sorry, Right Number

I simply wanted to reach out and touch someone who could explain to me why a two-minute night-time call from Philadelphia to St. Paul coast 32 cents while a two-minute night-time call to my Philly home the next night coast $1.38. It defied everything I had learned in geography in the third grade.
The AT&T man asked me to identify myself. I did. He said he was sorry but that was not the name he had for this phone. Well, sir, I said, this is me, and we’ve had this phone for over a year. I explained that we had taken this unlisted number to foil burglars whose M.O. was to hit houses on our block when no one answered the phone.
He excused himself and I typed away on a story on my Macintosh while he schmoozed with his supervisor. Then he came back on and asked me, like a recent graduate of a gumshoe school, what had been my last phone number. I missed it by one digit, giving him a 333 prefix out of my Alzheimering memory instead of what later inspection revealed to be 331.
The supervisor came on and in a somewhat stern voice addressed me with another name which I can only surmise was the man with the 333 prefix. His tone was such as to chide me for messing around with the phone company.
Why would I mess around? I’m calling with my bill in hand from the phone number I have been paying AT&T from for over a year, and he wants I.D.
There must be a special ring in Dante’s Hell for the judge who wangled an anti-trusting American public into believing that smaller was better in the phone business. Smaller, baby, is bitter.
Believe me, if I had been any good at starting fires as a Boy Scout 50 years ago, I’d abandon the phone system entirely for smoke signals.
From Welcomat: After Dark, Live Coverage, October 11, 1989

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Weisman Art Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Saturday, 27 August 2011


Columbia University in the City of New York                      
New York, N.Y. 10027
Department of Philosophy                                                                 Philosophy Hall
                                                                                    31 July, 1986
Dear Patrick,
Thanks for the note on the memoir of Rivera. I am always glad to get some communication from my own era in Detroit, so much a fog to me in retrospect. We came from different sides of the track—my father was a dentist, and we lived a supremely middle-class life. I went to Wayne after the war, and I thought it, I think it still, a great school. I heard the black bands at the Colonial Theater, at Woodward and Sibley, next to my father’s office. I have not been back to Detroit for twenty years, I think, my parents having moved away. Someone invited me to lecture at the Detroit Institute of Arts, but I could not face a Detroit audience somehow. But I would like again to see the paintings I grew up with, not only those of Diego but the German Expressionists whose work I loved.
Good luck,
Arthur Danto

Friday, 26 August 2011

Wayne Barrett

Ouch! An unknown to me, still practicing Philly Catholic, Jesuit educated, newest Hero of the Month!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

America as an Ancien Regime

This ain’t the way our Founding Fathers planned it: a runaway wealthy mini-minority, a burgeoning underclass of nobodies with nothing invested in the system but their misery, and an increasingly squeezed middle class. Jefferson’s model American of the fee-simple yeoman farmer with his own plot to make him a reasonable participant in the democratic process is going the way of Corporate Farming, reduced to being mere open air drudges slaving away for some accountant overseer in Omaha or Minneapolis. Outsourcing is a slippery neologism for farming out formerly expensive manufacturing operations to some Third World country and multiplying minimum wage service jobs for the bitterly reduced American blue collar.
Kevin Phillips’ remarkable book, “The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate Aftermath” (Random House, $19.95) has got all the bad news down in grim chapter and verse, or should we say poll and sound byte television. “This book is about the redistribution of power and wealth during the 1980s: who got it, who lost it, and through what policies.

It is also about the extent to which these changes, insofar as they reflected familiar conservative economic and demographic patterns of preferment, prepared the ground for a progressive or populist reaction. Politics is a process of movement and countermovement. Only for so long will strung-out $35,000-a-year families enjoy magazine articles about the hundred most successful businessmen in Dallas or television programs about the life-styles of the rich and famous. And the discontents that arise go well beyond lower-class envy or the anticommercial bias of academe.” (p.xx.)
Phillips’ analysis of how we’ve become economically is especially interesting because of the way he puts it in historical perspective. A century ago patrician landowner families and other old-money families whose sons were the country’s established lawyers, diplomats, doctors and bank presidents led a political revolt against the “muddy-booted nouveau riche railroad barons and stockrobbers,” the so-called Progressive movement which crested when TR ran for president in 1912 on the Bull Moose ticket. Teddy was old money in search of respect for a revival of old values—activist idealism, hard work, reverence for the land so that it would be useable by future generations.

Yet George Bush’s wimpy pleas to be considered the Education President, the Environmental President, the kinder, gentler poll reader President seems flabby indeed compared with TR’s bully pulpit fulminations. The “Vision Thing” seems laughably inadequate by comparison. Bush’s Willie Horton-exploiting, wrap ourselves in the Flag level patriotism appears to be Speaking Loudly while Carrying a Balsa Truncheon. The term millionaire, coined during the Gilded Age to twit the emerging “malefactors of great wealth,” seems strangely quaint in a decade that has spewed out nearly a hundred thousand “decamillionaires.” The coexistence of Progress and Poverty is of course not an entirely new American problem.

It was the title of Henry George’s 1871 classic that explored the paradox of millionaires and mendicants proliferating in he same economy. Nor are the structural problems of the underclasses really addressed by the appearance of a new cadre of kinder, gentler millionaires who grab the headlines for a day by adopting an elementary school class in the slum. How hard will it be to redirect public expenditures in a kinder, gentler direction is evident from the Florio Flub.

For at least a generation it has been a commonplace in teachers’ break rooms that the suburbs were getting more and more educational investment and the center cities less and less. But try to tell that to a suburban resident who is flailing away at meeting escalating college tuition costs for his kids and higher real estate taxes, and you are immediately talking to a victim of Compassion Fatigue. To them, giving more money to Camden and Newark is like backing a dump truck up to a black hole. Why put more money in a bottomless pit when what has already gone there has done so little good. So Kevin Phillips’ populist agenda has its work cut out for it. In a shrinking economic pie, everyone is desperate to see that his slice doesn’t get too much smaller.
I would find this formula extremely dispiriting if I hadn’t read another book while still under its aura, Benjamin DeMott’s “The Imperial Middle: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight About Class” (William Morrow & Co., $18.95). I have always admired DeMott, the Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Amherst, especially since 1966 when I watched him operate as a member of the Dartmouth Conference, a group of English professors assembled to plot grand strategies in the subject for the next generation. (Alas, I realize as I write that this generation is ending!)

He exemplified for me the two aphorisms I picked up in graduate school to guide my own intellectual life: one was Emerson’s vow to call a popgun a popgun even though the ancient and honorable of the earth affirmed it to be the Crack of Doom. There has never been a shortage of Popguns among English professors, even that summer at Dartmouth. The other was the Unitarian divine Theodore Parker’s resolve to “Think with saint and sage, but speak with common men.” Unlike so much humanistic discourse which is Alexandrian in its hermetic commentaries on itself, DeMott uses his judgment, energized by the best that’s been thought and said, to bring a fresh stream of new ideas (that’s the neglected, even suppressed, half of the famous Matthew Arnold bromide) on our common agenda.
He does that in spades in “The Imperial Middle.” And it’s entirely characteristic of this man’s capacity to learn important things from any one and every one that the PBS / CPB censorship of his daughter’s 1981 film, “Seventeen,” (on the working class student culture of Muncie, Indiana) triggered this analysis of how defective our “vision thing” has been from he beginning over the reality of class in American life. There have been great, even permanently debilitating, costs of fostering the myth that we live in a classless society.

“My subject,” DeMott writes, “is a nation in shackles, its thought, character, and public policy locked in distortion and lies. The deceit I speak of corrodes every aspect of American life. It legitimizes, in war, arrangements exempting without cause, large sectors of the younger male population form the burdens and sacrifice of service. From Roger Rosenblatt to James Fallows we’ve been hearing a lot recently in the lee of the Saudi Arabia callup about yuppie guilt over having skipped Vietnam. It grants giant subsidies for housing, education, and health care in obedience to a single precept: benevolence is most deserved where least needed. It intimates in contempt of reality that whatever injustice exists in America resides on the margins and among the minorities, remote from the center of the majority.

And it produces a culture in which men and women of intellectual and artistic talent are persuaded that the highest cause such talent can serve is that of its own independence, and that disdain for the spirit of affiliation and solidarity is among the primary obligations of genius.” (p. 9) In short, from “Screw you, I’ve got mine” types in our entrepreneurial classes to Bartleby isolates in the arts, we think it’s better to go it alone.
DeMott argues that “social wrong is accepted in America partly because differences in knowledge about class help to obscure it, and the key to those differences is the degree of acceptance of the myth of classlessness.” (pp. 10-11) Some times the messages about differences get through to the intellectually curious, those who, like me, grew up pink collar in Detroit learned about “them,” very lower case “t,” from Joyce Carol Oates’ fine novel about the 1967 race riots of the same name. Or her latest, “Because It is Bitter and Because It is My Heart,” about the difficulties inherent in a black high school basketball star and a blue collar girl from a broken home bridging their differences.

It is entirely apt that Oates took her title form the poet Stephen Crane whose novel, “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” was an early effort to see the effects of class pressures on a working girl’s life. Dreiser soon made the message more general in “Sister Carrie.” But since we are blessed with the least read great literature in the history of mankind, most Americans are blissfully ignorant in their protected enclaves, tutored by Robin Leach’s fatuosities.
The marvelous thing about DeMott’s analysis is how he picks through the haystacks of confusion—Polish jokes, Cosby cosmetic sitcoms, political doubletalk—to find the needles of reality: class matters in America, always has, and more and more is creating a country where even the myth that everybody just wants to be assimilated into the middle muddle is becoming less and less possible. The dead giveaway was the way PBS and CPB (ever mindful of their classless sponsors such as Xerox and IBM) bridled at hearing the Muncie blues.

They said they bridled at the blue language but DeMott shows how they were threatened by the clear evidence that America had become an Ancien Regime, full of rigidities entrenched by such things as redlining, differential educational investment, home mortgage tax rebates for the middle. What I fear is that if enough Americans don’t begin to disavow the swindling lies about our being classless then Phillips’ bold call for another progressive, populist revolt will never be heard, let alone acted on. If you don’t believe that once vigorous societies can let bad ideas send them to the poorhouse, visit Peronist Argentina. From the third wealthiest country per capita in the world at the beginning of the century to the basket-case it is today. From “good” share the wealth ideas with bad consequences. It’s not the decamillionaires we envy.

It’s the cutting off of mobility that comes with their myths. The myths of classlessness have always been disorienting. DeMott proves to my satisfaction that they have become downright dangerous, even fatal. Get the banker, editor, or politician in your family these two for Christmas. And read themselves, to learn how to talk back to the mythmakers.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

James Agee, Talker

All around lit man Updike! Can't snoop on a better conversation than this!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Monday, 22 August 2011

Former Dresdener Bank Building, Steubenstrasse, Weimar

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The more things change…

Down memory Lane with the Welcomat
Even though I’ve lived, fairly consciously, in Philly for over 30 years, even taught among Main Liners at Penn for four years and read Digby Baltzell when my father’s widow gave me a Christmas copy of his big one in 1964, I’ve never understood why the best and brightest of Philly were such lousy leaders until I read Mary Wickham Bond’s book, Ninety Years “At Home” in Philadelphia (Dorrance and Company, $12.95).
I must say I was set up for comprehending the memoir of a Silk Stocking Democrat from Chestnut Hill by hearing Dennis Clark develop his theory of the reform movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s at a day-long seminar at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
He chided the golden oldies there, preening in their own reflected glories, by saying that in addition to the princes of the Clark/Richardson axis, you had to factor in the pretzels (ethnicism, slightly twisted, a little salty) and the pigmented (a great surge of the 150,000 new black and brown Phillies), not to forget the displaced Phillies (here Clark shrewdly pairs those who fled to the Main Line after their industrial prowess made post-Civil War Center City unsavory with those lower muddles who fled to Leave-it-Town, lily-whitedly).

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Friday, 19 August 2011

Portland Museum of Art designed by Henry Nichols Cobb of I. M. Pei & Partners

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Retrieving the Bauhaus Ideals: Decanonizing Philip C. Johnson

Walter Gropius came back from his stint as a cavalry officer in the First World War totally disillusioned by the wasteful horrors of that conflict. I believe he sublimated his pain by imagining a new kind of Art School where students could devise ways of fusing Art and Technology to make good design accessible to the working classes. Most Bauhauslers, alas, have forgotten, or never believed in, that last prepositional phrase.

I intend in this essay, written for the April 30th conference at the Bauhaus Berlin Archive to plan an appropriate celebration for the 90th anniversary of its founding in 2009, to show how Pius’s ideal can be retrieved from those I would denigrate as Bauhustlers. With two exceptions, Dr. Annemarie Yaeggi and Dr. Omar Akbar, the bulk of those planning the celebration are betting on two broken down old horses—the vision of a bigger, better Bauhaus Museum (filled, alas, with more and more trivia, giving a new meaning to Mies’s aphorism “Less is More,” which should now read “Lesser is Moronic”).

The second tactic, which demeans Pius is Bigger and Better Bauhaus Tourism. Both strategies denigrate the founder’s idealism. He wanted ordinary working people to e able to lead fuller lives, and in the midst of Heinrich Zille’s 150th birthday jubilee, we can see again how tacky life could be for the workers and their families in early 20th Century Berlin. Dr. Schraber and his vegetable gardens did more for the poor back then than any cultural eminence.

Hellmut Seemann and Michael Siebenbrodt, the twin Mephistophelic figures in my reinterpretation of “Faust,” think that bigger museums and more tourists will better achieve Pius’s vision. They couldn’t be more wrong. It must be thrilling for a minor league intellectual like Seemann to achieve the marvelous “brand” of a co-MOMA exhibition. And Siebenbrodt busies himself with the relatives of lesser and lesser figures from the 1,200+ Bauhaus student alumni, collecting more and more “junk” to fill his imagined $30,000,000 museum. (Think of how many Schraber Gardens could be built with that money!) And the Thuringian legislature is not about to give S & S the megabucks it would take to buy a Klee or a Kandinsky today.)

The good news is the two other members of the Quadrumvirate running this show today really know how to honor Pius. Yaeggi’s first two books tell us about the tortured professional life of our hero. And Akbar’s canny “Kollege” for mid-career professionals is a melioristic strategy of great subtlety. Last month in Berlin he held a Tagung addressing the rhetorical question: What are our Starchitects doing for the homeless! The short answer, of course, is NOTHING!! Pius would have found such defection immoral and contemptible. As I read him, he had no use for the Prussian or Junker mentality.

In short, his aim was to de-bourgeoisify Germany’s cultural life. S & S want to rebourgeosify it, a la Thomas Krems at his many Guggenheims, now multiplying like a metastasized cancer tumor! I fear the imminent Dubai-ification of Western cultures, wherein those who made millions making our big cities of the so-called “developed” world unlivable, can fly off in a Boeing Dreamliner to play golf in the Emirates, with a mini-Louvre at hand to make them seem cultivated to themselves.

There are more humane alternatives to his S & S-ifying passivity! Alice Rawsthorn, that funky feminist who chides her class every Monday in the International Herald Tribune, recently pointed out the moral and esthetic scandal of 90% of the world’s design professionals serving only 10% of the world’s population. And Cameron Sinclair’s Architecture for Humanity is assembling the professionals (“Design as If You Gave a Damn!” is the most important book of our generation) while Millard Fuller in little ole Americus, Georgia is massing amateurs to build houses for the poor who are willing to help in its building, in his Habitat for Humanity gig.

And bless Jimmy Carter’s generous soul. He returns to the Mississippi Coast ravaged by Hurricane Katrina May 11-16 for the 25th annual “Build with Habitat.” During that week some 1,700 volunteers will build 10 homes in Biloxi and 20 in nearby Pascagoula. 30 other homes will be rehabbed or repaired in Gulfport. (I was there in the Navy in 1945, and fell proud that some fellow Americans are doing there much more than the shameful George W. Bush didn’t do three years ago when it was most needed.) See their website,

Now it’s decanonization time. It may please you Germans to learn that is was an American who undermined Pius’s vision. The devil in this Faustian encounter is Philip C. Johnson (1906-2005), a Cleveland parvenu who lived much too long, spouting his nonsense about the Capital A for Art in Architecture, all the while genially admitting he was the biggest “whore” around (his word—I’d prefer “cynical conniver”). And there were alas too many other American architects and urban policymakers also cooking up this vile Brothel.

A little bio so that we can convene the Sacred Office to take away his undeserved Sainthood: His father was a nouveau riche lawyer for the steel industry. And since I took my Ph.D. in Cleveland (Western Reserve, 1957) I know very well the imperviousness of their parvenu-hood! And little Philip had a Germany nanny—so he spoke fluent German. After graduating from Harvard in philosophy (No architecture until he studied under Gropius beginning in 1938!—and this lack shows!).

He was also gay, and his happy forays in Europe were half devoted to the sexual freedoms of Berlin that he couldn’t find in morally straitlaced Cleveland and half with Henry-Russell Hitchcock looking for a Modernist brand they could set up for MOMA, founded in 1929. Meanwhile, the prospective first director of MOMA, Alfred Barr, Jr., was simultaneously prowling Europe looking for all the Modernisms in general he could patent, “branding” them for his new MOMA.

In 1926, Barr got an agitated call from PCJ, saying he had just found the greatest Modernist building ever; in Dessau, an hour’s train journey from Berlin. (He obviously hadn’t yet seen, if ever, Max Berg’s Centennial Hall in Breslau.) PCJ was a great overgeneralizer, facile and glib, but never fully informed. He was rather a good soothing sayer.

He had of course discovered the Dessau Bauhaus, “designed” by Pius, construction supervised by a much greater architect than either WG, Adolf Meyer, or PCJ, namely, Ernst Neufert, whose multi-volume series on the industrialization of architecture (1938) remains in print globally in thirteen languages. Peter Mittmann, an inspiring, unelected public servant and an innovative Modernist, to judge from his homage to Neufert (The Blue Box in folk talk) in Gelmeroda, just 3 km South of Weimar, which Lionel Feininger made famous by his lovingly obsessive images of their local church.

Peter Mittmann has turned this little town into the Santiago de Compostela of early German Modernism. I’ll never forget our dinner on the balcony of the oldest house in Gelmeroda (1804), viewing PM’s Lichtskulptur, venerating LF’s benign obsession. It was the best dessert imaginable. Mittmann also rehabbed the 1929 house Neufert had built there to confirm the principles of his theory of industrialized architecture, built while he was dean of the Fachschule which finally, in 2008, became under architectural historian Gerd Zimmermann, our Bauhaus Uni. Mittmann was a Wessi from Cologne, who’s parents fluckteten aus Ostdeutschland aus Halle (Saale) in 1950, who became the planning partner in the Cologne firm of Neufert, Graf and Mittmann. After the Wende, PM moved to Gelmeroda to rehab the properties for Nicole Delmes, Ernst’s granddaughter. The Neufert in NGM was Ernst’s son, Peter.

Omar Akbar has made another inspiring shrine of the rehabbed Dessau Bauhaus. You can overnight now in the Atelier House at 25 euros for a single. It started as backup for Tagungen and morphed into a hotel / hostel for anyone into the Bauhaus! I’d like to found a Marianne Brandt Fantasy society in which when the current members at breakfast believe your fantasy of spending the night with the greatest artist who ever attended the Bauhaus you are allowed to enter her Society! (Heh, retired professors have to do something with their battered old imaginations!)

It is a continuing scandal at how shabbily the Bauhaus Patriarchate treated MB. She did rise to be the first woman to head a workshop, but when Gropius impulsively handed over the reins of the Bauhaus to the Swiss Communist Hannes Meyer, MB followed Pius to Berlin. (He was pissed that his Startists wouldn’t take a 10% pay cut as the city government drifted rightward faster and faster, and he was being hassled by a local newspaper editor for double dipping—his director’s salary as well as fees for guiding the development of Törten, a worker’s suburb for Junker Aircraft workers. MB got caught in a double whammy of political change in East Germany. First, the Nazi’s judged her entartete, or “decadent.” Then the East Germans said she committed the “felony” of Formalism. Her hometown Chemnitz became Karl-Marx-Stadt. PCJ never mentioned her as far as I could find.

Nor could PCJ have talked to the Dessau students and professors who were actually using the buildings at Dessau instead of merely gawking at them, only fancying how they might appear in the “canonical” exhibition he and Russell-Hitchcock were already fantasizing over. Those poor folks who in them complained bitterly that they were too frigid in the winter and sweaty in the summer! Ah, yes. What I call the Barcelona Pavilion syndrome. Too much glass when you move the venue, say, from semi-tropical Barcelona to Plano, IL; you’ve got problems.

I’m talking of course of the house (1950) Mies made outside Chicago for his weekend girlfriend Dr. Farnsworth. When their romance cooled, Dr. Farnsworth took Mies to court for excess energy charges! She lost, but not in the court of international public opinion! Strangely, when they finally gave up trying to live in it a few years back, they declared it a Visitor’s Center dedicated to the architectural genius of Mies. Huh? Am I missing something here? They have also just reassigned Corbu’s twins at Weissenhof as another Visitor’s Center, dedicated to the genius of the 17 Mies architects Mies picked to make a name for himself!

That didn’t stop the greatest German Feminist since Hildegard von Bingen packed it in in the eleventh century, one Dr. Marie-Elisabeth Lüders, the first German woman to get a Ph.D. in Politics in Berlin (1910). She headed German women’s work in the defense industries in World War I. Afterwards, she ran a girl’s school in Dusseldorf, and was elected to the Reichstag. Hitler jailed her twice, for having too big a mouth! But the autobiography of this great pathfinder she entitled “Never Fear!”

And that applied to Mies and his Weissenhof apartments (1927). Dr. Lüders had the gall in those still patriarchal 1920’s to judge his apartments from the perspective of a woman and mother! How dare she? In Kinder, Kirche, und Kuche Land. “Never Fear” she told herself and used the Deutsche Werkbund magazine “Form” to indict him as a feminist flop! No room to take off wet clothes. Too much glass at both ends of the abode so that the floor was a pneumonia generator for tykes scrabbling around there. Indeed the exterior staircase had gaps through which children could fall many stories down. And when you opened the kitchen door the wind blew out the flame on the stove. Hmmm! As a moderately generous grader of term papers, I’d say Mies got a D+. What’s going on here?

Short of a complete psychiatric evaluation, I’d say these things: Mies had a crippling inferiority complex as the son of a mere mason from Aachen. He bitterly resented when he had to report to upper class Gropius in Peter Behrens bureau (1910). The other Azubi that year was Corbu! What a trio! In Weissenhof, Mies was not making a Wohnung. He was making a Kunststück. That is where Starchitecture was born. So is Gehry psychically needy. Changed his name from Goldberg when he moved down from Canada. An interesting comparison and contrast is the great German-American architect Albert Kahn.

He came to Detroit, my hometown, in 1880, the eldest of six children of a Jewish Rabbi from near Mainz. Albert didn’t even finish Gymnasium. He had to work. He was such a gifted designer he became the LiebslingAzubi at Detroit’s leading architectural firm. They so loved little Albert, they sent him for a year to Yurp, to polish off his rough edges. The abstemiousness of his account books in Europe would give contemporary expense account cheaties atrial fibrillation right off. Albert used to say that architecture is 90% business, 10% art!

Just the reverse of the Bauhauslers he had early on dubbed the “Glass House Boys.” In 1942, Kahn convened a conference of foreign architects at the University of Michigan, most of whose main buildings he had designed. The Saarinens (Eliel and Eero) Mies, and Pius Kahn was not an easy grader. He claimed to build a defense factory you analyzed the production processes, and then covered it. Fagus may have struck him as backassward—those famous curved glass corners.

The most important architectural virtue Kahn had that both Gropius and Mies lacked was the centrality of serving the client. Interestingly enough, another German American innovator, Timothy Pfleuger, had the same creed. He invented the idea of a parking garage under an Urban Park, as in San Francisco’s Union Square (1945). Analogously, he designed a high rise Medical / Dental Center at 440 Sutter where the lower floors were for parking, and the higher for doctor’s offices. His most famous creation, Top of the Mark, the grandest 24 / 7 view of SF and the Bay area, saved the Mark Hopkins Hotel from bankruptcy during the Depression.

I’m especially fond of Tim for commissioning Diego de Rivera to paint a mural on the lunchroom walls of the Pacific Stock Exchange, thereby giving bond traders permanent Bauchschmerz! His TransBay Terminal in downtown San Francisco was the first multimodal mass trans complex, until trains stop crossing the Bay from Oakland. Even in America these great architects are known only to the specialists. And even they tend to know more about Louie Kahn than Albert.

To wit, my Greenbelt Knoll house (1956) was designed by Louis Kahn, who was always hard up until the big commissions in Bangladesh came his way in the 1960’s. He designed our house and 18 others in an experiment as the first interracial community in Philadelphia. We only discovered Kahn provenience last year as part of the process of declaring us a local historical site on our Golden Jubilee.

And who is responsible for the skewing, even screwing, of architectural reputations in my architectural Faust? None other than PCJ. In 1950, PCJ made the first Modernist House in Houston for the great De Menil collect. PCJ told them to use only Mies furniture, deployed the way the Master would have it. They told him to take a hike! And never spoke to him again! The poor De Menil children, plagued by a leaking roof, thought the roofers were the architects.

Which leads me to Hazard’s First Law of Iconic Modernism: No modern house shall be called Iconic if its roof doesn’t leak. In a snippier mood I call such houses MODERNOID, to keep the Faithful (those who believe in me) safely away from such flops.

Both Mies and Pius are absurdly over-praised (a function of the Hero Gap after the Nazi adventure). Albert Kahn and Timothy Pflueger are almost unknown.

You do the Math: mommas know what MOMA shows. Behrens and Berg are giants hidden in the shadows of Mies and Pius. Moral? Palaver corrupts. Johnsonian Palaver corrupts absolutely. Peter Blake, the best architectural journalist of our time (whose Anglicized name obscures his German Jewish provenience) believes the total commercialization of American architectural idealism derives from the wider and wider spread of the PCJ virus. I agree.

While he was Pius’s student at Harvard, PCJ viciously badmouthed what he considered Gropius’s obsession with worker housing in private letters. So there we are. A long career of imposing his parvenu obsessions on the innocent. But Mies didn’t always comply. He sneered that PCJ’s notorious Glass House in New Canaan, CN (ahem: just declared a Visitor Center!!) looked like a Hot Dog Stand at night!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Maine College of Art

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Uplifting Centennial

You may want to raise a toast for Harvard’s tri-sesquicentennial or Trailways’ golden jubilee. Tastes differ. I want to say a few words in praise of a neglected centennial; It was just 100 years ago that an anonymous British folk sculptor devised that emblem of female liberation that became for women a detested symbol of male containment. Gentlemen (and ladies), let up praise the brassiere, in whose cups have stood some of the most delectable flesh man is heir to.
It seems odd indeed that this uplifting centennial is going largely unremarked. Indeed, if a compassionate but poorly educated fellow Trailways traveler had not taken pity on my yawns during a particularly desolate stretch of I-10 between Deming, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, she never would have handed me the National Enquirer that contained the full scoop.
The melioristic British described it at first as a “bust improver,” a contraption of silk and wire that looked like two strainers attached. The motive was to free female flesh from the civilized torture of a corset. It was patented the next year and made its American debut—where a Philadelphia firm (ahem) sold them mail order for 75 cents a pair.
The American magazine Vogue is credited with introducing the term “brassiere” in 1907, the word deriving from an old French word for arm protector. That neologist must have foreseen generations of fumbling American adolescents hungering for manhood by trying to psyche out the mind-numbing array of diverse fasteners. A young man can be undone by the shame of such incompetence easily.
The device, however, was still a marginal amenity until the arrival of the energetic Mary Phelps Jacobs on the bra scene in 1913. She didn’t want wire strainers; she wanted midriff freedom with soft, soft materials. Her French maid filled the breach with two silk hankies linked by a ribbon. The device was assuming some character at last. She patented that improvement in 1914, but she couldn’t get it going commercially by herself—so she sold it to Warner’s, the undergarment people.
Not until 1926 did the shaped cup fine tune the idea. Rosalind Klim, the Polish-born director of Kestos Corporation, decreed that two handkerchiefs be crossed and overlapped in front and suspended by shoulder straps. We were beginning to get somewhere.
John Field, Warner’s president, set up a special bra department in 1930s, and things began to move. Sizing (as in A, B, C and D—this is not to be confused with grading, as only American male boobies confuse quantity with quality) was established in 1935, thereby giving underendowed (in the gray matter department) comics like Nora Ephron and Joan Rivers a chance to take pot shots at themselves, or more precisely, at presumed lacks in themselves.
But it was only after World War II that Warner bra sales outreached those of girdle and corset. (Thank you, once more, Rosie the Riveter, and all your working sisters, for putting convenience over convention.)
Alas, in the blandness of the Eisenhower era, this led to the pseudo-rise of Jane Russell and all those other cashmere cuties that gave thinner sisters nightmares about their putative absence of charms. From such gross malpropping of the female anatomy, it was inevitable that some conniving European savant of sales, say Rudi Gernreich, would dream up the no-bra swimsuit, thereby triggering the liberationist frenzy of burning the bra, as foolish a political maneuver as ever our sisters undertook to extricate themselves from the unfair patriarchal yoke.
For, sisters, listen: Bralessness brings out the latent beast even in the most domesticated of males. You don’t have to wet your T-shirts, sisters, to trigger lust even in the casual passer-by.
I know that’s our problem. But as we celebrate the centennial of a commonsensical device to contain the more errant parts of your anatomy from random diversions, please have mercy on the male of the species. Unless you’re on the uninhibited make, please confine your bralessness to garments that diminish the bobbling about of your boobs. Concupiscence must be nipped in the bud.
From Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, September 8, 1987

Friday, 12 August 2011

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Buy Mosel Wine from the Vintner, Mosel Vineyard A. Scheuer & Son

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A Loveable Nut

Gil Spencer was to my tabbie love what Gilbert Seldes was to media crit. Those Op Eds he printed were the highest point of satisfaction of my writing of every kind. He was a loveable nut and the greatest palavering pleasure I have yet had.

Monday, 8 August 2011

"I don't write against anything, I only show what's there." ÖH Motto, Schloss Museum, Murnau

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Memories of a Rail Junkie in Budapest

Call me a Eurail junkie. In 1985, when they extended the pass to include Istanbul, I endured the “longest” day-long train ride in the world—between Salonika and Turkey. It was a sedentary purgatory that prepared me for the heaven of the Blue Mosque.
So when Eurail tacked on Hungary last January, I knew I couldn’t resist. After eight days there, I’m eager to tell other Eurailers the ropes.
For a start, don’t use the Eurail pass inside Hungary. Every day you have a Eurail pass ticking away, you lose money in Hungary because the distances are short and the internal fare cheap. (The trains themselves are old and dirty, and the amenities poor.) So buy one of those new-fangled passes in which you have so many days to burn off a limited number of train days.
And pay for your trips in Hungary with forints (60 to the U.S. dollar when I was there, at banks and IBUSZ, the state travel agency; you can get 80 to 90 on the street, buy Youth Hostelers warned me that the exchangers mix Czech and Yugoslav paper currency in with the Hungarian).
And you can get $100 a day’s worth of forints with your Visa card at the modern-looking bank, MKB, across from St. Stephen’s Cathedral in downtown Budapest. Ask MKB for their other locations if you intend to roam about the country.
Don’t get caught with a lot of forints at the end of your stay. It’s a hassle to get them changed back into hard currencies. I unloaded mine at Gyors, the last big city before Vienna—taking a shave (400 forints) and some brandies, which are sold in the ABC state supermarkets from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Don’t bother to get a travel visa in America. The Hungarian consulate in Vienna will give you the documents inside an hour for only a few extra schillings ($18 for the fast service), and the consulate is only a short tram ride from the West Train Station.
Finding a place to stay is the hardest part, unless you’re willing to pop for $200 a night at the five-star hotels that line both sides of the Danube. Being a professional skinflint, I spent my first night at a three-star (the Astoria at $70) and the next four days “with a family” at $10 a night, contracted through IBUSZ.
Alas, after I took the metro and a bus to “my family,” I discovered I was staying on the far outskirts on the sixth floor of a public housing high-rise with a 40ish widow who left at five a.m. for her factory job. She spoke no English, and her German was marginal. So my hope to learn first-hand about the flight of Hungary away form communism was denied.
There are two ways to avoid this. Insist that they put you in the neighborhoods closest to downtown, with a family that speaks English. Or haggle with a family person at the train station: They meet the three trains a day that come from Vienna to rent rooms.
The Hungarian News Agency publishes a free four-page Daily News in English that’s full of leads on what’s going on. The day I left Hungary, the lead story was the return of a printing press to the leading clandestine organization. International Herald Tribunes don’t arrive until 4 p.m. the day of publication, and the concierges of the big hotels tend to refuse to sell you one if you’re not registered.
One news-starved afternoon, a suave diplomat from Ghana kindly let me get my daily fix from his reserve copy. “Just put it in the slot for Room 612 when you’re finished,” he said genially. And while I couldn’t afford the five-stars’ rooms, I had afternoon drinks on the lovely Danube side terrace of the Intercontinental and coffee at the Hilton. Remember: The best way to feign upward mobility is to take the buffet breakfast at the first-class hotels.
Getting around Budapest is a snap. There are three subway lines (five forints—12 cents—a pop) and many new, clean and frequent buses and trams (six forints). You can get a day-long pass for 48 forints. Be sure to get a map of the city with the subway and bus lines showing.
Don’t be turned off by the opacity of the Hungarian language. (For more than a thousand years, the Hungarians have guarded their uniqueness by hanging on to their difficult language.) I found an ingenious “dictionary” for 99 forints—it consisted of plastic strips, on one side of which was English / Hungarian and on the other side Hungarian / English. Believe me, you need one when a place to eat is not called some variation of “restaurant,” like in the rest of Europe, but “eeterem.”
The language barrier means you should go to a train station with the time and destination of the ticket you want to buy. Each of the three main train stations has white sheets with complete schedules. The lines for this information at IBUSZ are cruelly long, so plan to get to the train station early enough to jot down the numbers of the schedules you need. You’re supposed to be able to buy the consolidated train schedule handbook, but I never found one for sale.

Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, November 28, 1990

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Peter Mittmann explains his saving Ernst Neufert's Model House (1928), Gelmeroda

Friday, 5 August 2011

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Hafez (Persian Poet) Memorial, Beethoven Place, Weimar

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Memorializing Civil Rights in Montgomery

At the Visitor Center on North Hull Street, a centerpiece in an evolving historical district in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, the introductory video strikes the theme of “surprising Montgomery.” They’re right about that.

The first time I paid a substantial visit to the city (in 1982), I entered the public library and encountered a scrawled note informing patrons that the library would be closed that Monday (Jan. 19) to honor Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

Aha, I mused to myself, what a natural opportunity for a Festival of Reconciliation—a joint birthday of two idealists, Lee and Martin Luther King, who suffered divergent tragic fates. I made the proposal the keynote of my Deep South visit—“A Not Entirely New South”—an article, which, alas, alienated both blacks and whites who read it. Reconciliation is a tougher sell than strategic hates and fears.

Well, Montgomery had some pleasant surprises in store for me on my latest visit—to participate in the dedication of Maya Lin’s Civil Rights Memorial in front of the Southern Law Poverty Center.

I vowed to track down Joe Azbell, the Montgomery Advertiser reporter praised as crucial to keeping the lid on violence by the sane even-handedness of his coverage of the civil rights era (if he’s still around, I thought, expecting some ancient figure long since sent to pasture).

It turns out he was only 26 at the time, the precocious city editor on the city’s main daily. He says the reporters he kept sending out were, to put it bluntly, scared shitless. So he had to cover the mess himself.

Black Selma University had already awarded him an honorary doctorate at the tender age of 24 for organizing a home for Negro syphilitics who were often blind and so disgustingly sore-ridden that the local health community averted their eyes.

Joe now works for the weekly Independent, where he sounds off in his column and runs political campaigns for those who are interesting enough to command his attention. And he pioneered another bit of political journalism recently when he ran a “How Sweet It Is” ad affirming his jubilation at managing the election of a long-shot probate judge.

Joe is kind of a Jackie Gleason with hominy grits, come to think of it. Fleshly (I have never seen a man enjoy Southern fried chicken and black-eyed peas and collard greens with so much relish) and jocular, he hides the depth of his seriousness with a devil-may-care insouciance.

“You see those guys sitting over there?” he asked as we sat at Charlie’s, a Joe Six-pack beanery. “Black and white, and never any problem. But go a half hour into the countryside, and it’s still as segregated as it ever was.

“Downtown is nothing but black stores,” he continued, affirming something I had noticed in my Southern travels: Interstates and shopping malls allowed a kind of segregation but just as psychologically isolating.

His palaver turned to Morris Dees, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who commissioned 30-year-old Maya Lin to follow up her Vietnam Memorial with a second act. For $700,000 (only $25,000 of which went to Lin), he got an emblem that will go down in history as an aide de memoire as powerful as the participatory Vietnam Memorial.

Dr. Carol Goodman, mother of one of the three civil rights martyrs murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., got it exactly right: “It’s poetry in granite.” It was more than touching to see some of the 600 relatives of the martyred trace their fingers on the names chiseled into the clockwise disc that intersperses important dates in the movement—from Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) to King’s assassination (1968)—with the 40 honorees.

A thin sheath of water turns the memorial into a mirror, increasing the respect-payer’s sense of unfinished business we all need to contribute to. Lin is a genius. The black altar-like center rests on a forecourt of white granite, a visual metaphor for the segregation that keeps us all from fulfilling the American Dream together.

“How did you choose the 40?” I naively asked the Center’s press aide. “Choose them?” he replied. “Most of them were unknown because the media didn’t think a black murder was worth recording. We discovered the 40 in our research.”

That’s not the only history that’s gradually emerging from the obscurantist mists of the crisis. Joe Azbell told me how he was witness to an instance of King’s non-violent philosophy in action when he went over to King’s home after it had been firebombed.

An angry mob of outraged blacks was moiling with chains and clubs and firearms. “But Martin calmed them down, reminding them how dangerous it would be to stoop to the enemy’s tactics in achieving the movement’s aims.”

Joe doesn’t suffer fools gladly—or make heroes easily. But Morris Dees is clearly a titan to him. “He’s a genius,” Azbell exclaimed. “When he was still an undergraduate at Tuscaloosa, he and Millard Fuller dreamt up a birthday cake scheme for undergraduates that grew to a direct mail marketing company that was the envy of national media.” Ultimately Dees sold out to the Times-Mirror syndicate and, with the millions he received, he has started doing good as he sees it.

Perhaps the most noted recent success of his Center was its obtaining a judgment against the Ku Klux Klan for murdering a black in Mobile. The dead man’s mother got the Klan’s headquarters buildings in Tuscaloosa and a multimillion-dollar settlement. The Center’s Klanwatch is a kind of B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League monitoring racist activities in the South.

When a Washington reporter asked a shirt-sleeved Julian Bond why the Memorial should be in Montgomery, he grew impassioned, waving his arm at landmarks in the vicinity.

“Down the street is where the Confederate Army high command telegraphed Beauregard in Charleston to fire on Fort Sumter. And over there as well in Court Square is where Rosa Parks boarded that fateful bus that led to the boycott.

“And over there is Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where King preached. And a few streets away is the Confederate White House. This is the best place in the world for the Memorial. History was made here. Let’s make some more.”

Morris Dees wants to do just that. In the Sunday Advertiser, he had an op-ed piece urging the creation of a Tourism District combining Civil War with Civil Rights History. He’s staking $100 million to turn the moribund downtown into a high-I.Q. theme park.

As much as I loved the idea (it even echoed my hostilely received outsider’s suggestion of a join Lee-King Holiday) I had my doubts, which I shared with Joe Azbell. But don’t be surprised if soon downtown Montgomery becomes the Disneyland of a Once Divided America. That would really be making lemonade out of historical lemons.

From Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, January 31, 1990

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Van der Velde's great Art School (1904-11), now Bauhaus Uni HQ.

Monday, 1 August 2011