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Charles Gwathmey, Architect of the Modernist School, Is Dead at 71

As the owner of Consulting For Architects, I have had the opportunity and privilege to work with the architecture firm, Gwathmey Siegel from the mid nineties to present as a provider of staffing services.  Mr. Gwathmey’s passing is a loss for his family, friends, firm and the profession and I hope to bring together some of the things others have said about him recently in regards to his passing.

From the New York Times:

Charles Gwathmey, part of a generation of architects who put their own aesthetic stamp on the “high Modernist” style, died on August 3. He was known both for residential work — he built living spaces for Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jerry Seinfeld — and sometimes controversial public buildings.


In the New Yorker Magazine architecture critic Paul Goldberger said:

Postscript: Charles Gwathmey

In 1965, Charles Gwathmey, three years out of the Yale School of Architecture, designed a house and studio for his parents, the artists Rosalie and Robert Gwathmey, on Bluff Road in Amagansett, on eastern Long Island. Gwathmey was twenty-eight, an age when most architects are toiling away in large corporate offices and hoping for the chance to renovate a friend’s kitchen. When Gwathmey’s project, a pair of crisp, sharply angled structures covered in cedar siding, was finished, a year later, it became one of the most influential houses of the decade: a composition of cubes, cylinders, and triangles, it was a study in inventive modernist geometries. It cost somewhere around thirty-five thousand dollars, and it inspired a generation of beach houses in the Hamptons and elsewhere.

Architectural careers generally develop slowly, which made Gwathmey’s particularly unusual, the architectural equivalent of the young writer who comes out of nowhere and produces a brilliant first novel. In some ways, Gwathmey was the architecture world’s Norman Mailer, with the same bravado, the same raw talent, and the same career-long anxiety about whether he could continue to equal his spectacular first performance. Over the years, Gwathmey’s work became more complex than the house and studio in Amagansett, and vastly more elaborate. The cabinetry in any Gwathmey kitchen was certain to cost several times as much as his parents’ entire house.

A few years after the house in Amagansett was finished, Gwathmey and his architectural partner since 1968, Robert Siegel, designed an apartment at the El Dorado, on Central Park West, for Faye Dunaway, and over time they became the architects of choice for clients in the entertainment industry who were sophisticated enough to want something other than an interior decorator’s French Provincial. The firm of Gwathmey Siegel designed modernist houses and apartments for David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, and Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, not to mention grandiose modernist villas for Michael Dell, the computer maker, and Mitchell Rales, a Washington, D.C., industrialist, for whom Gwathmey also designed a private museum, Glenstone.

By the time the large villa that Gwathmey had designed in East Hampton for François de Menil, now owned by Larry Gagosian, was completed, in 1983, it was clear that Gwathmey had become not the avant-garde architect that his early success had promised but something closer to a modernist Stanford White or John Russell Pope. Gwathmey’s modernism, by then, had become not so different from what a Georgian manse was in the nineteen-twenties: a symbol of refinement and sophistication more than of cutting-edge sensibility. Maybe it didn’t matter: after all, his houses were impeccably designed and exquisitely crafted, and his clients were not just any rich people but ones who knew the difference between a Gwathmey house and someone else’s.

Still, Gwathmey hated to be thought conservative, and the unspoken theme of his career was the struggle between his desire to continue to make buildings that were new and different and his passion for a kind of classic modernism, which as time went on seemed ever more to be a part of history. He never copied anything literally, and he couldn’t bear to think of himself as one of those architects who replicate the past. He kept trying, over and over, to find new ways to rearrange the basic geometric shapes he loved so much—he was earnest, almost innocent, in his passion for pure architectural form—and his late work, if not dazzling in the way that his parents’ house was, had a striking richness to it. He tried new surfaces, he tried new materials, he tried new shapes, but there was always the same kind of sleek, crisp formality to his work. If there is such a thing as blunt intricacy, Gwathmey’s architecture has it.

He was at his best at small scale, which made him the opposite of almost every other major architect of our time. He did a few towers, none of which were great, and several institutional buildings, few of which equalled his best houses. (He was almost alone among first-class architects in making houses a central part of his practice, even when he had plenty of bigger, more lucrative projects.) Toward the end of his career, he poured his heart and soul into a non-residential commission he cherished, the restoration and expansion of the Art and Architecture Building at Yale, by his teacher Paul Rudolph. The Rudolph building is an impossibly difficult neo-Brutalist masterpiece from 1963, and Gwathmey made it look better than it has in forty years. His addition is smart and well planned on the inside, and too complex and overwrought on the outside. It tells you all you need to know about its architect, who couldn’t bring himself to sit quietly beside his mentor. Gwathmey paid loving homage to Rudolph in the restoration, and then he wanted to get into the ring with him. I don’t think he was trying to show his teacher up. He just worried about what it would look like if he didn’t assert himself. He never wanted anyone to think that he didn’t have the right stuff.

More from the New York Times:

While in his 20s Mr. Gwathmey became a sensation by building a house for his parents on the East End of Long Island. The house, completed in 1966, was consistently described as one of the most influential buildings of the modern era. Two years later he and Robert Siegel founded Gwathmey Siegel & Associates.


Perhaps the firm’s best known work was its addition to Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of the Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side, the rectangular tower beside the building’s famous spiral.


Mr. Gwathmey’s Astor Place condominium tower drew criticism from those who said it was insufficiently deferential to its surroundings.


Mr. Gwathmey in 1976, outside of Whig Hall at Princeton University. His renovation of the building was known as one of his more daring projects.


The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.


Mr. Gwathmey created a proposal for the World Trade Center site, along with Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman and Steven Holl.


Mr. Gwathmey in his apartment in Manhattan.


Via New Yorker Magazine and NYT

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Photos of the Remota Hotel in Patagonia, Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales-Chile by Germán del Sol

This is a special building.  I’ll let the photo’s speak for themselves…


Check out the rest of the photos courtesy of the Daily Dose blog.

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Big Dig House: Recycled Residence Reaches Completion

The Big Dig was a carbon footprint disaster, but it’s salvaged materials helped seed a few green sprouts.


If the walls of the Big Dig House could talk, they’d tell you that it’s comprised of 600,000 lbs of recycled materials that were rescued from the Big Dig highway project in Boston. Inhabitat last reported on the striking modern residence in 2006 when it was still in its planning stages, and it has since come a long way from being a pile of rubble and recycled materials. We may now behold what stands today — an elegant and modern private home in Lexington, MA with an exciting backstory.


At a final cost of $150 per square foot, most of the materials for the Big Dig house were free, minus the expenses to ship the materials to Lexington, MA. Set in an area of Lexington called Six Moon Hill, the finished Big Dig House has joined other modern homes that are well known to the area.

To save time and energy, Single Speed Design, engineers and designers of the Big Dig House, used most of the salvaged materials from the Big Dig in the condition in which they were found. Using the structural materials “as is” equipped the house to take on a much heavier load than standard building materials. As such, the house features an elaborate roof garden above the garage. Slabs of concrete reclaimed from the highway support three feet of soil, and the entire garden is designed to use recycled rainwater.

The house’s exterior is elegantly clad in cedar siding and glass, giving it a clean and modern finishing touch without disguising the exposed steel tubes and beams. They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The Big Dig House is a perfect example of the treasure to be found in recycling and reuse.

Via Inhabitat

architects, architecture, green buildings, modern architecture | 3 Comments

Dancing Living House, Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan


Designed as a single-family residence combined with a dance studio, this three-story reinforced concrete building is private and open to the sky, and best of all it has plenty of parking, which comes at a premium in Japan.

Dancing Living House, Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan, by Junichi Sampei, for A.L.X. (Architect Label Xain)
via: What we do is Secret

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Skyscraper of the day

The Federation Tower (Russian: Башня «Федерация») is a skyscraper currently under construction as part of the Moscow International Business Center in Moscow, Russia. When completed in 2009, it will become the tallest building in Europe. The complex will be two towers connected to one another via a high-rise bridge.  The East Tower is designed to have 93 floors and stand at about 506 m.  The West Tower is designed to be 62 floors and 242 m tall.  The spire soaring over 506 m, will have a 360° view out its elevators which will move as quickly as 18 m/s.

Origionally posted on Skyline Blog

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Dubai development may be down, but it’s not out

A BREAK IN THE ACTION: Stalled cranes and shells of structures stand in contrast with the exuberant building boom of the last two decades along Sheikh Zayed Road.

A BREAK IN THE ACTION: Stalled cranes and shells of structures stand in contrast with the exuberant building boom of the last two decades along Sheikh Zayed Road.

Many of the city-state’s bigger-than-life projects may be in a holding pattern, but don’t look for its mega-growth world influence to be contained any time soon.

By Christopher Hawthorne, Architecture Critic
June 21, 2009
Reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates — If a city can be spectacularly quiet, this waterfront city-state has certainly qualified in recent months. Hundreds of abandoned construction cranes languish above Dubai’s gated communities and beach-side developments and, most dramatically, up and down Sheikh Zayed Road, its high-rise spine. According to a recent estimate in the Middle East Economic Digest, projects worth a staggering $335 billion in the United Arab Emirates — of which Dubai, with a population of about 2 million, is the largest member — are stalled or have been canceled outright.

Dubai’s residents, roughly 85% of them expatriates, have been left to wonder if the current crisis is merely a pause, a recessionary lull that will be painful but temporary, or closer to a fundamental reckoning that will entirely reorder the emirate and how it does business. The same question is being asked in cities around the world, of course. But it’s a particularly acute, even existential one here, since it goes right to the heart of Dubai’s self-image.

Full article via Los Angeles Times 
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Kindergarten Sighartstein – Can You Hear the Grass Growing?


Kadawittfeldarchitektur just completed their competition-winning kindergarten building in Sighartstein, Austria.

Gerrman architecture firm kadawittfeldarchitektur recently completed their competition-winning kindergarten building in Sighartstein, Austria.

The kindergarten is integrated into the landscape like a chameleon (including a crèche) for 4 groups. Kadawittfeldarchitektur’s proposal for the building won the 1st prize in the public architecture competition in 2003. The project was realized between 2008 and 2009 with a budget of €1.2 million ($1.7 million).

Full article and additional photos via Bustler Blog

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Daniel Libeskind designs prefab

Daniel Libeskind

Daniel Libeskind’s recent project, a series of signature prefabricated homes, is a drastic change from his usual commissions. Although a smaller project (5,500 square foot), the residence strongly speaks his language of design with drastic angles, strong geometries and seamless transitions between spaces.  In this ever-growing age of prefab dominance, Libeskind’s villas will be able to be shipped to almost any location in the world within months, and will be assembled on site by a team of experts within weeks.

Full article via Architecture Daily

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Featured Architecture + Design Blog of the Week

Inhabitat “Design will save the world” Blog

Studio Shift’s honorable mention submission for Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control

Studio Shift’s honorable mention submission for Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control


Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future.

Inhabitat was started by NYC designer Jill Fehrenbacher as a forum in which to investigate emerging trends in product, interior and architectural design. Mike Chino is the Managing Editor; Emily Pilloton, Olivia Chen, Evelyn Lee, Abigail Doan and Jorge Chapa are Senior Editors. The site was designed by Jill Fehrenbacher and runs off the fabulous blogging platform WordPress.



Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future.

With an interest in design innovations that enhance sustainability, efficiency, and interactivity in the home, Inhabitat’s attention is focused on objects and spaces that are eco-friendly, multi-purpose, modular, and/or interactive. We believe that good design balances substance with style. We are frustrated by the fact that a lot of what we see being touted as “good design” in magazines and at stores is all style and no substance. A lot of contemporary design merely imitates the classic Modernist aesthetic without any of the idealistic social agenda that made Modernism such a groundbreaking movement back in the early 20th Century. The flip side to this is that oftentimes real technological innovations – the ones which will eventually change the way we live our lives – are often not packaged into enough of a stylish aesthetic to move beyond niche circles and crossover into mainstream popular taste.

Likewise, we are frustrated at seeing an emerging category called “Green Design” – as if sustainability is somehow separate from good design in general. We believe that all design should be inherently “Green”. Good design is not about color, style or trends – but instead about thoughtfully considering the user, the experience, the social context and the impact of an object on the surrounding environment. No design can be considered good design unless it at least attempts to address some of these concerns.

We believe in the original modernist ideology that form and function are intertwined in design. Style and substance are not mutually exclusive, and Inhabitat is here to prove it!

ABOUT & MISSION statement via Inhabitat blog

architecture, architecture critic, buildings, construction, Featured Architecture + Design Blog, government architecture, green buildings, Green Built Environment, modern architecture, modern buildings, new buildings, skyscraper | | Comments Off on Featured Architecture + Design Blog of the Week

The ten most creative people in architecture

BY Cliff Kuang
Tue Jun 9, 2009 at 11:00 AM

Which architects have the most unusual, influential visions for the field?
1. Will Alsop, ALSOP Architects

Few architects have been so dedicated to such an unusual design aesthetic as maximalist Will Alsop. And fewer still have been as successful at building their designs. His nearly completed “Chips” building was inspired by piled french fries; his extension for the Ontario College of Art and Design is one of the strangest, most exciting buildings in recent memory:
ALSOP Architects

ALSOP Architects

Architects 2-10 via Fast Company
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