I was driving from Chur down to Milan last week and came upon this rest station nestled in the Swiss Alps. The contextual architectural roof against the backdrop of the white and green mountains creates a striking presence as you pull off the highway to park. The interior is clad with natural and raw wood timbers and continues the notion of undulating hills inside of the space. In addition to a shop with local artisan meats and cheeses – there is a cafe and dining area and a convenience store.
I just saw that Günther Domenig had passed away last week at 77. I had the opportunity to work with him for a few years starting in 1994. I had seen a show of his drawings at the Storefront for Art & Architecture in SOHO when I was a student at RISD and the work captivated me and was reminiscent of Egon Schiele – another favorite artist of mine. I called his office about a potential job and eventually sent a fax from Florence, where I was studying. Luckily his assistant spoke English well and I was invited to Graz to meet with Mr. Domenig. This was one of those college experiences that most of us have had or everyone should have at the very least – I took a train with my last 400 dollars to Graz. Basically if I did not get a job – I was screwed and it was the largest gamble in my life - at that time.
The morning I arrived, we sat down with his assistant and worked out that I knew Friedrich St. Florian and Raimund Abraham – two of his former classmates from Graz and I was betting everything on getting this job. I was hired and started that day on a competition model and had my first job in an architectural office. During my time with Domenig – I met just about everyone in architecture – since they all had a habit of coming through this small town to teach or meet with Domenig – Zaha Hadid, Lebbeus Woods, Gaetano Pesce, Massimiliano Fuksas, Rem Koolhaas and others. One week I was asked to drive around Brian Eno – who was in town for an architectural jury. We had some memorable conversations that week and all of these collected experiences helped define the designer I am today. I met some incredible people in that office when I would return each summer – and will always have a connection to Graz and to Austria. I always felt that Domenig went out of his way to include me in meeting some of the great architects of the world and made sure I had a holistic and impactful design experience in his studio.
Years later I read about how his family was involved in the SS as his father was a Nazi judge during the war. His polemic work was the information center that cuts through Albert Speer’s Nuremberg Hall - in interviews, Domenig spoke about how this freed up his past from who he was as an artist and architect. Domenig was well aware I was Jewish when I worked with him – as were my colleagues in Graz aware – but it was many years later when I read the NYT piece about this past that I realized that as the sole American student in his office for those years – my role was also part of a healing process that he was working out constantly in his own life. The Nuremberg project was the manifestation of facing his past in a built work. Much of who I am as a designer was defined by my years in Domenig’s office – his generosity, intensity, creativity and sheer talent is something I always ask about myself when I am working with students or my peers. I also know that someone cannot be judged for what their parents or family did in another time – I think Domenig transcended this past and through his teaching as a Professor and leading an architectural practice – he left plenty that he can be judged on and measured by.
I had the unique opportunity to step inside a former scottish rite masonic temple, with murals by Millard Sheets, in los angeles this afternoon. it was a perfect rainy overcast day to enter this looming travertine behemoth – that I have been waiting to go inside for all the many years I have live in los angeles. it did not disappoint – some of the spaces were like stage sets from a david lynch film – in others you could sense the 1970′s masons gathering on the upholstered furniture and smoking cigars while speaking about running the city. I have probably watched every freemason documentary – probably since I am a builder too – and this was a special experience…
I always make a point to visit the V&A in London whenever I am in town. They have one of the best collections of contemporary architectural models by architects that I have seen second only to the MAK in Vienna. I like to see these types of models up close as they are so much more about process than a final presentation model that the typical museum or gallery has on display…
I finally realized summer is the only time I am going to do any major house design projects since the endless hours and LA sun certainly help to get the most of 12 hour workdays. this year it was installing new hardwood floors, building a tv cabinet and installing some new light fixtures and some other smaller tweaks. I had the pleasure of finally visiting Anderson Plywood, which I had passed a couple dozen times over the decade or so in LA but I had never ventured in. well worth visiting as the staff is the most knowledgable I have met. They are mostly all South African and seem to know everything there is know about wood, plywood, machine tools and finishing. They work with you as well and are non-confrontational- which typically when you work with experts – they have a way of talking down to you if your don’t know their ‘shorthand’. They guys were far better than that.
The projects were completed in two weeks and have made our home a far better environment. Until next summer…
this is the av cabinet I built in the livingroom out of both birch plywood and walnut laminate plywood
we have had the pleasure of visiting our friend’s house in tieringen – near stuttgart – the past couple of years. the house overlooks a valley and traditional german village. it is a crisp glass box that nestles itself along a hillside and the upper level cantilevers in a gesture to the valley below. surprisingly it is a very livable dwelling – perhaps it is because we know the family so well who is already living there. the house is designed by werner sobek and is a sustainably designed – it is a fully zero emissions and has zero energy use as well.
from architectural record:
“…From the slope to the south of the house, one immediately apprehends its straightforward parti. A glass-and-steel volume, approximately 23 feet deep and 56 feet long, devoted to the living, dining, and kitchen areas, rests on a deeper, steel-framed base, containing bedrooms, roomy baths, and an office. Enclosed by charcoal-black, non-load-bearing, precast-concrete panels, this volume is about 31 feet deep and 54 feet long. Operable, double-paned, narrow windows, between 16 inches and 3 feet in width and a little over 8 feet high, bring light and air into these lower-level quarters. A third, beige-precast-concrete volume, linked by a terrace and roof deck, contains the garage and service equipment for the 4,200-square-foot residence.”
one of the first things I visited shortly after moving to LA – was the new cathedral of los angeles, which had taken the place of the former st. vibiana’s. I was working over a few years in the office of josé rafael moneo – so I was fortunate to see the project evolve over the years in our small office in madrid. I remember the first visit of the cardinal mahony – who greeted each of us at our drafting boards – to the many, many models and sketches that followed. any project you work on is surreal to finally walk through and experience in a physical reality – this was no different. as I have lived here a decade or more later – I think it’s more of spain and rafael then of los angeles but I still feel assured when I drive the 101 and see it high above overlooking parts of the city…
from the cathedral’s website:
The challenge in designing and building a new Cathedral Church was to make certain that it reflected the diversity of all people. Rather than duplicate traditional designs of the Middle Ages in Europe, the Cathedral is a new and vibrant expression of the 21st century Catholic peoples of Los Angeles. Just as many European Cathedrals are built near rivers, Moneo considered the Hollywood Freeway as Los Angeles’ river of transportation, the connection of people to each other. The site is located between the Civic Center and the Cultural Center of the city. “I wanted both a public space,” said Moneo, “and something else, what it is that people seek when they go to church.” To the architect, the logic of these two competing interests suggested, first of all, a series of “buffering, intermediating spaces” -plazas, staircases, colonnades, and an unorthodox entry. Worshippers enter on the south side, rather than the center, of the Cathedral through a monumental set of bronze doors cast by sculptor Robert Graham. The doors are crowned by a completely contemporary statue of Our Lady of the Angels.
A 50 foot concrete cross “lantern” adorns the front of the Cathedral. At night its glass- protected alabaster windows are illuminated and can be seen at a far distance. The 151 million pound Cathedral rests on 198 base isolators so that it will float up to 27 inches during a magnitude 8 point earthquake. The design is so geometrically complex that none of the concrete forms could vary by more than 1/16th of an inch. The Cathedral is built with architectural concrete in a color reminiscent of the sun-baked adobe walls of the California Missions and is designed to last 500 years.
We ended up finally getting chickens last year from my son’s kindergarten class. each spring the students in our local school hatch eggs the chicks are available for ready and willing parents and neighbors. we got 2 chickens to start and once they got larger than the original wooden wine box they were living in as chicks – it was time to build a more substantial home. the majority of the project was repurposed content from my wood shop, fallen fence elements and a lot of borrowed aged wood timbers from my neighbor’s yard. the approximate size is base on a 24×48 standard size. there are 4 beds and a sort of side sun room on the side.
After months of use and a rainy LA winter – the house has performed extremely well – it has stayed dry inside and cozy and the chickens use the side room to stretch in the morning and let us know when they would like to be let out. We have recently added some new birds and I foresee the main coop getting an addition this summer.
Update: after a year of having the chickens roam totally free on our property – I decided to add a chicken run to keep them a bit more contained. Chickens like to eat all plants and everything green – and the love to dig in dirt. The new chicken run is mostly 2×2 redwood studs with 3 shades of green paint and an accent orange. We reused our former kitchen screen door as the entry – and they seem very happy and content with their new property