Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

At the heart of Exhibit Columbus, a biennial-like exhibition of 17 architectural installations and pavilions that runs through November 26, lies the question: “What can architecture do for a community?” The community in question is Columbus, Ind., known as the birthplace of Vice President Mike Pence, the home to diesel engine manufacturer Cummins, Inc. (the region’s largest employer), and, most prominently, the site of industrialist and philanthropist (and former Cummins chair) J. Irwin Miller’s experiment in municipal modernism. Read More …

How one responds to the exhibition now on view at SCI-Arc may very well depend on the ability to distinguish between a duck and a swan. “The Duck and the Document: True Stories of Postmodern Procedures” begins with a wall-sized construction drawing for a fountain in the forecourt of Michael Graves’ Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando. The drawing at first seems to be a graphic representation of Robert Venturi, FAIA, and Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA’s definition of “duck”: an emblem of architecture’s most valiant form-making impulses. Read More …

In early January, I visited the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA), on the first day the new building opened for classes. Students searched for their assigned rooms as the final stages of construction unfolded around them. An orange traffic cone in front of a pair of glass doors signaled the entry to the 52,000-square-foot building.

It was a quiet afternoon for this self-proclaimed “transdisciplinary lab for creativity,” which will be far less subdued when it opens to the public on Feb. 24. The Moody Center is a hybrid, both in its mission and its architecture. An education space (with 4,000 square feet of classrooms) and maker spaces (including wood and rapid prototyping shops), the building will also be a cultural arts hub, with a theater and galleries. “Academia has gotten quite siloed,” Alison Weaver, the center’s executive director, told me. “How can we cross-pollinate again? Our goal is to be less a cabinet of curiosities and more a conversation.” Read More …

The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), whose swooping form hugs the bank of the Tagus River in Lisbon, Portugal, welcomed 22,000 visitors on its opening day in early October. Designed by British architect Amanda Levete and commissioned by the EDP Foundation, the cultural wing of gas and electric corporation Energias de Portugal, the museum is the latest addition to the foundation’s historic campus, which includes the renovated Central Tejo power station, whose main building and old boiler and turbine halls have been converted into galleries and art spaces. 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 …

Robert Irwin is all about context—or, more to the point, our perception of context. For close to four decades, he’s made art about how we see place and atmosphere: His gallery installations transform lowly fluorescent tubes and fabric scrim into otherworldly environments, and his carefully attuned landscapes offer up meditations on color, light, and time. His precise placement of one light bulb or one tree might lead viewers to reconsider their understanding of a window, a painting, or even the sky. So it’s a wonder to learn that the artist’s studio is no place of any note—a rental unit among a series of roll-up doors in a nondescript warehouse just north of La Jolla, Calif. Read More …

It’s hard to believe that the Salk Institute is nearly a half-century old. Louis Kahn’s masterpiece, perched on Pacific bluffs in La Jolla, Calif., has always had a conflicted relationship with time. Critic Esther McCoy, in a 1967 issue of Architectural Forum, wrote that “Kahn has said that he builds for today, not the future, but Dr. [Jonas] Salk maintains that in the laboratory building the future was built into today.”

The Salk Institute might be enduring in its design. But even icons age. Today, the landmark needs significant work on its concrete and glass façade, as well a plan for maintaining the limestone courtyard. Kahn couldn’t have predicted that fungus spores would drift on marine air from nearby eucalyptus trees and take root on the building, discoloring and eroding the teak window screens.

Which is why the Salk teamed up with the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) to develop a long-term preservation strategy for the site. Based on a condition survey, historical research at the Kahn archives in Philadelphia, DNA testing, and surface treatment analysis on the building’s façade, CGI came up with a conservation methodology. The Salk Institute Conservation Project, as it’s called, is a model field study within the Getty’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI). Read More …

Rojkind Arquitectos transformed the Liverpool department store on Mexico City’s Avenida de los Insurgentes by wrapping three sides of the building in a 10-foot-deep layer of programmable hexagonal pods.

“Can architecture serve as a way to reconnect parts of the city or enhance human experience?” asks architect Michel Rojkind, founder of Mexico City–based Rojkind Arquitectos. The question is ambitious, even a little outsized, considering that we’ve sat down over coffee to discuss the firm’s remodel of an outpost of Liverpool, a Mexican department store. But Rojkind is sincere and determined to create designs that give back to the community.

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Arch. Dome. Vault. The terms are relics of architectural history, but in Southern California they are also the building blocks of suburbia, where Mission-style McMansions flaunt endless stucco arches and vaulted foyers. Principals Sharon Johnston, AIA, and Mark Lee of Los Angeles–based Johnston Marklee, however, have updated the archaic and used vaults to rethink a beach house in Oxnard, Calif., just north of Malibu. Read More …