by Christopher Coe, AIA
CEO of COE Architecture International
I first met Charles Gwathmey when I was selected as the AIAS student representative on the 1983 National AIA Honor Awards Jury that he chaired. Of course I knew his work well, Five Architects was my primer in school. Three weeks later I moved to New York and started my architectural career at Gwathmey Siegel, even before finishing architecture school. It was the greatest education I could have received.
With Charles there was always great certainty about the approach to the work, that Modernism still had much to offer and that it could accept change and invention without losing its inherent power or meaning. In art, certainty this is hard to come by, but Charles was unrelenting in his beliefs about how he approached the work. There was certainly investigation and exploration, but always within that strict framework of belief. For a young architect beginning his career and looking for his “way” in the world, this was obviously appealing and inspiring.
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When the Parrish Art Museum—a fixture on the tony east end of Long Island since 1898—decided to build a new gallery more than twice the size of the original a few years ago, the plan was as ostentatious as the stock market was strong at the time. With a budget of $80 million, Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron envisioned a village of buildings modeled after a selection of the art studios that dot the surrounding area. When the market plunge slashed the budget to a mere $30 million or so, the design morphed into a long, low "horizontal structure nestled discretely in the landscape, consisting of two parallel wings joined by a central circulation spine running the length of the building," as the Parrish Art Museum release describes it in glowing terms. New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff is a bit more dismissive in his characterization: "a major step down in architectural ambition ... It is a creeping conservatism—and aversion to risk—that leaves little room for creative invention." He concludes with an oddly forced induction: "It makes you wonder if the cultural consequences of the financial collapse will be as liberating as some have predicted."
Renderings by Herzog & de Meuron.
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Matthew Fochs, the director of design and outreach programs with the American Institute of Architecture Students wrote this to everyone here at the AIA national component headquarters recently: "President Barak Obama has declared that this year will mark the inaugural “9/11 Day of Service.” In Washington the day is being organized by the Greater DC Cares program. I am thinking about participating and wanted to see if anyone else from the office would like to join me (I know a few of you are traveling at some point that day). You can read more or sign up for the day of service by visiting the Web site."
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