Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Last March, #MeToo finally came to architecture. While the specifics of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Richard Meier, white-haired lion of the New York scene, were indeed shocking, many in the discipline were wondering what took so long.

In the months between the accusations that brought down Harvey Weinstein and others in Hollywood, comedy, and media, women in architecture asked one another, “Who will be ours?” Via back-channel messages we speculated about prominent and charismatic figures with reputations for bad behavior. Which architectural heavyweight would be first to fall?

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It would be cliché if it wasn’t true. On a day hazy with smoke from the Woolsey fire, Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas is grumbling about L.A. traffic. Specifically, the two hours it took to get across town on a Friday.

Sitting in the cushy lobby of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, Koolhaas is a cautionary futurist. He once called multimodal Los Angeles a prototype habitat for the future of all cities because of its flexibility, networks and mobility.

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Guiding the transition of San Francisco’s Presidio from military base to national park may be the standout accomplishment of the landscape architect and parks administrator William Penn Mott Jr., who assumed the helm of the U.S. National Park Service in 1985, but it’s a little “monster” from early in Mott’s career that has received renewed attention.

In 1952, when Mott was parks superintendent for the city of Oakland, he commissioned the artist Robert “Bob” Winston to create a unique play structure on the sandy banks of Lake Merritt. Sculptural and organic, the chartreuse green piece was known as the Mid-Century Monster. It was one of the first designs in the United States to depart from conventional swings or slides and celebrate imaginative play, and from its opening, children climbed on and hid inside the Monster’s many haunches and niches. Read More …

The new book The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit? offers lessons for today by looking at Biosphere 2, 1970s ecohouses, and other microworlds.

Of all the terrarium-like experiments included in Lydia Kallipoliti’s The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit? (Lars Müller/Storefront for Art and Architecture), Biosphere 2 is the most infamous. A steel-and-glass structure baking in the Arizona desert, it represents the hope and hubris of re-creating Earth on Earth. The project was launched by an alternative living group with a taste for theater, and tanked by disastrous management by Steve Bannon (yes, him). As such, it illustrates the risky arc that courses through Kallipoliti’s 300-page volume—visions of utopia bending toward ultimate failure.

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The crude kitsch of fast-food diners is being abandoned in a bid to communicate sustainability, community and health

Back in the ’90s, when I was a grad student at SCI-Arc, my class was sent out to the desert to meet art critic and raconteur Dave Hickey, who was then teaching at the University of Las Vegas. We met at the Hilton Sportsbook, a cavernous room where, even in the middle of the day, there wasn’t a sliver of natural light. With a backdrop of screens lighting up the gloom, Hickey shared his philosophy of Mediterranean architecture, which applied as much to the Mojave Desert and Los Angeles, as to the coast of Spain or Italy. Shadow. Darkness. Escape the sun.

Radical interiority – the concept flies in the face of California Modernism, which obsessively blurs boundaries between inside and out, and defies conclusions of Learning From Las Vegas by ignoring the exterior. To illustrate his point, perhaps, Hickey took us to The Peppermill Restaurant & Fireside Lounge, a kitschy Vegas establishment that, true to its ’70s roots, features a sunken living room, purple carpet and 24-hour breakfasts. Time doesn’t simply stop here, but congeals. If fast, fresh, and light are core tenets of contemporary food culture, the Peppermill rejects all of them.

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Artist Janna Ireland is on a hunt across Southern California for Paul R. Williams. For nearly two years, she’s searched out buildings to photograph — mansions and housing projects, churches and banks designed by the Angeleno architect who died in 1980.

Ireland has her work cut out for her. Williams was prolific for decades. From 1923, when he became the first black member of the American Institute of Architects, until retiring in 1973, he produced a broad body of work that spanned different styles from Mission Revival to Midcentury Modern. He built homes for Hollywood elite such as Frank Sinatra, and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Adam, where he was a member of the congregation.

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Robert Venturi, the Philadelphia-based architect whose buildings and writings championed “messy vitality” above the rational order of Modernism, died last week at age 93.

For generations of architects, “Learning From Las Vegas” by Venturi, his wife and longtime collaborator Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour is a seminal text, as important as Le Corbusier’s 1923 essay collection “Toward an Architecture.” Published in 1972, the bestselling book used research and analysis to dissect the most lowbrow of subjects, the Las Vegas Strip. It provided guidelines for how to understand American postwar cities and the growing suburbs that defied the traditional architectural logic of the East Coast or European cities. And importantly, especially for Angelenos, it gave architects the freedom to enjoy the symbolic, everyday roadside architecture — like Randy’s Donuts or Tail o’ the Pup — that they’d previously been taught to despise.

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Consider this a postcard from “Ugly Valley”. You know this place: it isn’t a downtrodden Catskills resort or the smoky grey Valley of Ashes from The Great Gatsby, which so forbearingly illustrates modernism‘s grim after effects. This is an anti-picturesque spot on the fringes of mainstream taste populated by the detritus of the 20th Century.

Here, Michael Graves’s Portland Building sits alongside Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s AT&T Building. Ugly Valley (just a hill over from Uncanny Valley) is a place bounded by temporality.

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In recent times, events in the US have raised an awareness of the connections between the built environment and questions of justice, equity and political agency

In 2003, architect and critic Michael Sorkin wrote: ‘All architecture is political’. While the intervening decade and a half has shown a certain lassitude in the field of architecture to embrace this position, events in the US over the last few years, from the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement to the 2016 presidential election, provoked a renewed awareness of the connections between the built environment and questions of justice, equity and political agency. Read More …

On a Sunday afternoon this past fall, a small group gathered in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, one of the oldest parks in Manhattan. Architects and artists, curators and academics, neighborhood residents and stage moms—all had come for a performance of Marching On, a collaboration between architectural designers and scholars Bryony Roberts and Mabel O. Wilson, and the Marching Cobras of New York, a Harlem-based after-school drum line and dance team.

With a start, the sound of drumbeats cut through the autumn air. Dancers dressed in white and musicians in military-type fatigues filed into the square, their camouflage capes flapping with each high-energy move. For the next few minutes, the audience was united by the beat and transfixed by the performers’ shifting formations. Just as quickly, it was over. After a couple rounds of cheers, the team marched off and the audience dispersed. Read More …