Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Ezra Stoller photographed postwar U.S. architecture with the rigor of a true believer. His images—published widely in numerous trade magazines as well as in House Beautiful and House & Garden—presented modernism not as an avant-garde or utopian vision, but as a movement in situ, one born fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s skull. Yet a global war and an ocean unequivocally separate early twentieth-century experiments undertaken at the Bauhaus and by Le Corbusier from the postwar embrace of modern architecture by corporate leaders and the cultural elite in the United States.

In Stoller’s crisp, black-and-white prints, boxy-shouldered skyscrapers like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (1958) or Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s building for Union Carbide (1960), both in New York, proudly rise above the city grid—steel and glass curtain walls towering over masonry edifices. These were depicted as the heroes of a new age. Stoller, always precise about natural light and time of day, photographed Mies’s structure at dusk; every floor is illuminated, and the building seems to glow with industry. His image of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1959), taken looking straight up into the cylindrical belly of the building, freezes Frank Lloyd Wright’s experiential design of spiraling ramps into an iconic composition—modernism’s dynamism temporarily tamed.

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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 …

The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., designed in 1980 by Philip Johnson (with his partner John Burgee) for Christian televangelist Robert H. Schuller, was both a destination for the faithful and a broadcasting studio for the pastor’s weekly Hour of Power television show. Reverend Schuller was an architectural connoisseur (the AIA named him an honorary member in 2003), and the 78,000-square-foot steel-and-glass-building attracted thousands of congregants, including some local architects, who would drive south to Orange County for The Glory of Christmas, a spectacular holiday pageant on the scale of a Broadway show, with music, lights, and even live camels. Read More …

It’s easy to picture Philip Johnson seated in his regular booth in the Grill Room at the Four Seasons; his back to the windows, his bespectacled eyes on the door, he’s confident and at the top of his game as he presides over a room of his own design.

Now imagine him jittery and hesitant in a different room on a different coast. It’s the late 1950s and, faced with a University of California, Berkeley researcher trying to uncover the secrets to his creativity, Johnson uses his ample verbal and social gifts to upend the interview. In a typed report, the researcher would later write, “He showed many classic features of the manic: self-centered, irritable, jumpy, flight of ideas, arrogance, use of humor to defend against serious consideration of anxiety-producing topics.” Read More …