August 27, 2009 | Beginning in the second quarter of the 19th century, the Gothic revival style took hold in the United States, impressing upon domestic and public structures a romanticized rendering of medieval life. Inspired by the movement abroad—primarily in England—the revival was first championed in the United States by Alexander Jackson Davis, a designer whose influential books included Rural Residences, which was, according to Virginia and Lee McAlester, the first house plan book ever published in America. One of the best-preserved examples of domestic Gothic revival architecture is Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut.
Roseland was commissioned in 1846 by the New York City entrepreneur Henry Chandler Bowen, a native of Woodstock who made his fortune through several successful business ventures, including Bowen and McNamee, which specialized in silks, ribbons, and fancy goods. As a Republican, Congregationalist, and active abolitionist, it is fitting that Bowen chose to build his house in the Gothic revival style, which was believed to have moral value relating back to the piety of the original Gothic architects of the late medieval period. He chose for the task the English-trained architect Joseph Wells, who had already demonstrated his mastery of the Gothic style through several structures—most notably the First Presbyterian Church of 1846 on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The estate, built on the village green, consists of a main house with a large servants' wing, an icehouse, a garden house, and a carriage barn with a bowling alley, all set among a 21-bed parterre garden. While analysis has revealed that the house exterior was originally painted a dusty purple, the cottage's vertical board-and-batten wood cladding has been coral pink since the late nineteenth century.
July 30, 2009 | "Living in the desert is the spiritual cathartic a great many people need. I am one of them." -FLW
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the iconic Fifth Avenue building designed by seminal architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The museum's golden anniversary has inspired a year-long series of events beginning with the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward (through August 23), which highlights the scope of Wright's work from demolished and un-built structures to private residences to the museum itself. Of particular interest is the companion exhibition Learning by Doing—titled after Wright's fundamental pedagogic principle. Featuring seven decades of desert shelters designed and built by students of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (founded in 1932), the show transports viewers to one of his most inventive architectural creations, Taliesin West.
July 16, 2009 | As one of the most important American portraitists of the twentieth century, Nicolai Fechin is especially revered for his depictions of Native Americans and the New Mexico desert landscape. Of equal merit is the house he built for his family in Taos, New Mexico. A charming combination of styles, it is now home to the Taos Art Museum, and a visit reveals much about the history of painting in New Mexico, as well as about Fechin himself.
Born in Kazan, Russia, in 1881, Fechin studied at the Kazan Art School and the Imperial Art Academy in St Petersburg. He was particularly interested in indigenous cultures, and by 1904 his work focused primarily on portraiture, capturing the customs of peasant farmers in exuberant colors. After earning a gold medal for painting at the Munich International Art Exhibition, Fechin gained international attention. In 1922 his work caught the eye of New York art patron W.S. Stimmel, who arranged for his emigration to the United States. In 1923 Fechin arrived in New York City, along with his wife, Alexandra, and their young daughter, Eya, and he began teaching at the New York Academy of Art. In 1924 he was awarded the Thomas Proctor prize for portraiture, and in 1926 received a medal in painting at the Sesquicentennial International Exposition in Philadelphia.
Socialite and art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan lured Fechin and his family to Taos in 1927. They stayed briefly at Mabel's Palace, before purchasing a traditional adobe house—a two-story structure with a total of eight rooms that satisfied the Fechins neither functionally nor aesthetically. During the next five years, Fechin renovated the house himself with help from local Pueblo workmen, transforming the interior into an asymmetrical Pueblo, or Mission revival style house with twenty-four-inch thick adobe walls. He added arched bay windows of rolled and beveled glass, metal light fixtures, and handcarved architectural detailing using Russian design motifs. The windows were planned to take advantage of the natural surroundings, juxtaposing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with Fechin's growing art collection.
July 2, 2009 | Quarters C, the second-oldest residence on Admiral's Row—the compound built between 1853 and 1901 to house the officers of the former Brooklyn Navy Yard—collapsed almost entirely on June 18. Although the building had previously suffered irreversible damage from fire, recent heavy rains felled a fatal blow, causing the walls to give way, leaving little but the facade intact. Given this dire situation, it is worth considering the significance of Admiral's Row, its preservation, and the current state of development plans for the site.
Admiral's Row consists of ten residences, built in a range of styles from Italianate and Second Empire to Queen Anne, as well as a timber shed, dating from 1838, in which wooden ship masts were stored and cured. Surrounded by a high brick wall, the complex once also included tennis courts, a convertible stable/ice-skating rink, fruit trees, a communal vegetable garden, and parade grounds. Lisa Kersavage, Senior Director of Advocacy and Policy for the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), notes that the residences "were built on a grander scale than other similar buildings in navy yards across the nation, and the timber shed is likely the only remaining structure of its kind in the United States." The elaborate interiors are testament to the major role played by the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and both World Wars. Pieces of that history have already been lost with the destruction of the Navy Yard itself in 1966, and now, the residences, which were inhabited until the late 1970s, face a similar fate. Their preservation has sparked a heated debate.
The U.S. Army National Guard Bureau is in the process of selling the property to the City of New York and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC). The BNYDC proposes to demolish the eleven buildings—all eligible for National Register landmark status, and occupying only 25 percent of the six-acre site—to make room for a large-scale grocery store, parking lot, and retail space.
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All