Whistler and Peacock Blue

Saturated Space, September 2015

In the summer and autumn of 1876, visitors to the London home of shipping magnate Frederick Richards Leyland, at 49 Prince’s Gate in Kensington, stopped short when they came to the dining room. There they were met by the sight of a dandyish man, with a shock of white hair, painting on a ladder in a state of frenzied concentration. His two young assistants moved in and out of the room, carrying pails of paint and sheets of gilt. There was so much gilt that it got into their hair and shimmered on their skin. At one point the artist mounted a scaffold or a sling under the ceiling, and painted it on his back.

Leyland, the owner of the house, was away on business. He knew only that the artist, a close friend, was touching up his new dining room.

Full story

Don’t Ruin Waffle House

The Underappreciated Architecture of Waffle House

CityLab, May 26, 2015

“Why would you eat your grits anyplace else?” That’s the title of a song on the Waffle House jukebox, and it’s what I think to myself every time I dig into breakfast at the greasy-spoon chain, a personal favorite, which has some 1,500 locations from Delaware to Arizona.

Waffle House is not Chartres Cathedral, admittedly, but it has a certain architectural je ne sais quoi. The classic Waffle House is minimalist in design, with a lemon-yellow strip running around the top, above a wide band of windows and, often, a red or red-striped awning. The interior is outfitted with retro globe lights and red-and-chrome stools. Unlike most fast-food joints, Waffle House has an open kitchen, so you can watch the cooks as they scatter and smother your hash browns.

But the Waffle House experience, little changed since it debuted in Georgia in 1955, may now be in for an overhaul. Earlier this month, the chain revealed the design for a new restaurant it will build on Canal Street in New Orleans. “It’s probably going to be the fanciest Waffle House you will ever see,” a company representative told the New Orleans Board of Zoning Adjustments.

Full story

Filthy Lucre

Bird of Prey: A Macabre Twist on James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room

Architectural Record, May 18, 2015

Painted by James McNeill Whistler in the 1870s, the Peacock Room, on display in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is one of the most celebrated interiors in history. Decorations in teal and gold swirl over every surface—even the ceiling and shutters.

Now, in a twist worthy of The Picture of Dorian Gray, the Peacock Room has acquired a doppelganger. New York-based artist Darren Waterston has made a full-scale, warped replica of Whistler’s masterpiece, with broken shelves, smashed pottery, and gold paint pooled on the floor. This dark homage, called “Filthy Lucre,” is the heart of a larger exhibition called Peacock Room REMIX, on view through November 2016 in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art—next door to the Freer and steps away from the room that inspired it.

Full story

Broadgate Exchange House

AIA Twenty-Five Year Award: Broadgate Exchange House

Architect, May 2015

The Big Bang, at least the British version of it, took place on Oct. 27, 1986, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher deregulated the London stock market. Very swiftly after that, the City of London morphed from an insular old-boys club into a modern, global financial center. Foreign banks rushed in, and they needed somewhere to go.

Broadgate, which had broken ground a year earlier, became that somewhere. With 14 buildings planned for a 32-acre site east of the Barbican and St. Paul’s, it was the largest-ever office development in Britain at the time. Working with Rosehaugh Stanhope Developments and British Rail (BR), Arup designed the initial master plan and several buildings, while Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) designed the rest.

The main challenge facing SOM was that the land, then owned by BR, was covered by tracks going in and out of Liverpool Street Station, a major commuter hub. The trickiest part of the site was the “throat” of jumbled tracks on the north side of the station. The brilliant way that SOM solved this problem in building the Broadgate Exchange House—by spanning the tracks with parabolic steel arches, which it happily exposed—has earned the firm this year’s Twenty-Five Year Award. The award is given each year to a building that has stood the test of time, and the Exchange House—completed in 1991—is the first building outside of the United States to receive it.

Full story

Pablo Bronstein

The Artful Façades of Pablo Bronstein

For artist Pablo Bronstein, the avant-garde has become so institutionalized that history seems radical.

Architect, June 2014

Several years ago, the artist Pablo Bronstein published a new edition of Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto, with a cover he had drawn by hand. Walpole, an 18th-century English aristocrat, is perhaps best known for his country estate Strawberry Hill, which is credited with beginning the Gothic Revival. In the main reception room, visitors admired elaborate fan vaulting, copied from Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey—only at Strawberry Hill, it was made of papier-mâché. It was the kind of stagecraft that undoubtedly attracted Bronstein to Walpole. Just like his subject, Bronstein prizes artifice, and the meaning it can bring to his work.

Full story

Photograph by Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich