Water World

Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

When the rain is coming down during winter in L.A. (like it is today, finally!), the Skirball takes on my favorite look: wet. Much has been made of Moshe Safdie’s signature materials—glass, steel, and water—and how they reflect the sun, sky, and mountains. [To learn more about Safdie’s design aesthetic, visit Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie.] Those of us who live/work in one of his environments know the special secrets of how the concrete walls look wet, the patterns of raindrops on the pond, the sound of a storm against the glass, and the occasional leaf floating in a puddle.

It is with these moments in mind that I decided to create a spotify playlist—a soundtrack, if you will, for those stormy days, when the archaeology dig is closed and the buildings’ exteriors take on a mellowed hue. I invite you to pick up an umbrella and admire the Skirball in the rain with your headphones tuned to this playlist.

The Taper Courtyard.

The Taper Courtyard.

“Hljómalind” by Sigur Rós from Hvarf/Heim
The organ at the beginning always reminds me of a church organ, but the song is anything but a hymn. It’s written in Hopelandic, the imaginary Icelandic-like language the band has invented to focus their listeners on sounds rather than words, I frequently think that Jónsi is singing “you saw the light” and “you shine on us.” At the same time, for me the nonsense syllables call to mind the interplay of wet flagstone and sky in the Taper Courtyard. The final moments of the song remind me of a toy piano. Follow along with the Hopelandic lyrics, here.

“Eple” by Röyksopp from Melody A.M. (but I most prefer the Black Strobe remix off their Eple 12″ EP)
In Beaux Art architecture, in order to create a successful fountain, one needed to ensure that anyone strolling by would hear the sound of water on water, water on stone, and water on metal. Certainly on a rainy day one can hear that all of that at the Skirball. “Eple” seems to reflect the romance of falling water in at least all three of those states, plus the drama of grey skies. I think here at the base of the mountains and Mulholland Drive we benefit from a very special climate. If you’ve ever watched the clouds roll into the mountains here and become fog, you know what I am talking about. See the Röyksopp music video, here.

“Tinseltown in the Rain” by The Blue Nile
The classic but defunct indie band The Blue Nile knew a thing or two about rain: their home base was Glasgow, Scotland, a city that receives nearly fifty inches annually. While their song is not about Los Angeles but the impermanence of love, I love comparing the idea of the wet Victorian buildings (ubiquitous in Glasgow) to the Skirball’s rain-streaked modern architecture. Plus the song showcases Paul Buchanan’s plaintive voice to brilliant effect. I often sing the song to myself while I walk out the Skirball’s front door towards a rainy Sepulveda Blvd. The repetition of lyrics is a nice accompaniment to watching windshield wipers of cars stopped at the traffic light. Watch it performed live, hereContinue reading

Today is National Chili Day!

National Chili Day_Zeidlers_SkirballHappy National Chili Day! I absolutely love chili. I love the spices, the variety of topping choices, and—since I am vegan—the fact that it constitutes a well-balanced meal filled with protein. Every year for the Super Bowl, I make my own chili from scratch. Most people think it’s difficult, but all you are really doing is throwing everything into a pot. The spices are key, especially cumin, and when I make it myself I can customize the chili to my taste.

The tradition of making chili actually arose from my mom’s chili-layered dip. Using a baking pan, she would spread chili evenly over the bottom and then layer it with sour cream and a healthy portion of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. The dip is then baked until the ingredients are hot and the cheese is melted. However, due to my vegan lifestyle, while I follow the tradition, I focus my attention on making a delicious chili topped with avocado, chopped red onion, pickled jalapenos, and sometimes my own vegan sour cream. While Super Bowl Sunday comes only once year, I crave the dish on a regular basis.

Fortunately, I work at the Skirball Cultural Center and am able to enjoy the vegan chili that is served at Zeidler’s Café whenever I’m at work! Zeidler’s chili is perfectly seasoned, has the precise bean-to-liquid balance, and I can get any toppings that I want. The recipe even contains some meatless crumble, which makes the chili even heartier. Lucky for us, I was able to get my hands on the recipe, which is posted below. I plan on cooking the chili for the first time tonight in order to truly celebrate National Chili Day.

 

Vegetarian Chili
(Makes 6–8 hearty servings)

1 12-oz. can vegetarian chili beans
1 12-oz. can vegetarian black beans
2 12-oz. cans vegetarian pinto beans
12 oz. marinara sauce Continue reading

Architecture Knowhow!

Every year, the Education department at the Skirball partners with teaching artists and a local school on a series of creative and collaborative workshops centered around an exhibition. For the current exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, we created a six-week in-school residency with fourth graders from Annandale Elementary School in Highland Park that focused on design and architecture. Our goal was to encourage the students to engage in problem-solving through a “design-based learning” process that linked to Global Citizen and also incorporated elements of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). The teaching architects, Justin Rice and Kagan Taylor of the fabrication laboratory and design studio Knowhow Shop, knew just how to excite the students about designing, building, and learning.

Our first step was to figure out what the students already knew about architecture. It turns out they knew quite a bit! Chalkboard circle chart

Next, the students took an architecture tour of the Skirball campus and visited Global Citizen to learn about the center’s architect, Moshe Sadfie.

We were inspired by Sadfie’s Habitat ’67 and by the natural beauty of the Skirball campus.

We were inspired by Sadfie’s Habitat ’67 and by the natural beauty of the Skirball campus.

On another day, they took a walking field trip to the Knowhow Shop, where Justin and Kagan showed them some of the shop’s projects and special tools.

Justin carved a pumpkin on the CNC machine while the students watched. And Manny demonstrated how a laser cutter works.

Justin carved a pumpkin on the CNC machine while the students watched. And Manny, also from the KnowHow Shop demonstrated how a laser cutter works.

Continue reading

What’s New in the Museum?

The Binding of Isaac, Torah Curtain and Valance, Austria, 1878. Silk with metallic and silk threads. Gift of Judge Michael Linfield in honor of his father, Seymour Linfield SCC59.97.a,b.

The Binding of Isaac, Torah Curtain and Valance, Austria, 1878. Silk with metallic and silk threads.
Gift of Judge Michael Linfield in honor of his father, Seymour Linfield
SCC59.97.a,b.

The Skirball is proud to announce the recent donation of a very rare Torah ark curtain and valance saved from destruction during World War II.

An American paratrooper during World War II, Seymour Linfield, found this Torah ark curtain in an abandoned synagogue in Austria, which had been in use as a stable. He rescued the curtain and passed it on to his son, Michael, who recently donated it to the Skirball Museum for conservation and posterity.

The curtain depicts the biblical episode of the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, as portrayed in the Book of Genesis. The curtain and valance feature hand-sewn silk construction and intricate metallic thread embroidery. The Hebrew inscription at the top of the curtain, above the decorative fringe, reads “sound the shofar at the new moon,” which is derived from the New Year liturgy, when the scriptural reading from the binding of Isaac is read. This suggests that the curtain was specially made for the Jewish High Holy Days. The Hebrew abbreviation “Crown of Torah,” as seen on either side of the embroidered crown, refers to the sovereign authority of the Torah (the five books of Moses), which Jewish tradition ascribes to divine origin. The Hebrew inscription below the scene identifies the congregation of origin: Tagendorf (possibly a transliteration of Techendorf, a lakeside village in the south of Austria). The Hebrew numerical abbreviation just below that states the Jewish calendar year 5638, which translates to the secular calendar year 1878.

Before agreeing to accept this object as a contribution to the Museum collection, the Skirball contacted the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (USHMM), for guidance on accepting items brought home by US soldiers during World War II. According to the USHMM, both they and the Library of Congress accept such items as long as the object is fully documented and thorough provenance research is conducted. Items looted by Nazis or their sympathizers, on the other hand, are repatriated as a matter of policy to community, synagogue, or family of origin. Continue reading

Valentine’s Day Playlist

Beth Lapides on stage—one of her great loves.

Beth Lapides on stage—one of her great loves

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is almost here—again! At the Skirball, we have a tradition of commemorating this special yet infamous (and totally made-up) holiday with a comedy storytelling event hosted by Beth Lapides from Uncabaret: Say the Word: Bleeding Hearts. This year’s show is on February 7 and features humorous and heartfelt stories from writers/comedians Merrill MarkoeCindy Chupack, Richard Kramer, Stirling Gardner, and Lauren Weedman.

So many of our memories of love and relationships are associated with songs that uncannily illustrate our experiences and thus become part of the soundtrack of our lives. I asked comedy maven and goddess of love Beth Lapides to share some tracks from her own life soundtrack by creating a Valentine’s Day playlist. It’s not your typical list of sappy love songs, which is just what we should expect from Beth.

1. Best song to listen to… if you are a senior in high school thinking about taking the next step with your new not really yet a boyfriend, parked outside his dad’s loft, where he is house sitting, while his dad, whose name is Ken, is out of town with his girlfriend named Barbie, and you are thinking about how you are totally not a Barbie, but how you really like this new boy a lot better than the last boy, who did sort of want you to be a Barbie. And you are feeling hopeful but a little melancholy because in the best-case scenario it goes amazingly and you end up falling in love and then having to leave each other at the end of the year. “Suzanne” by James Taylor

2. Best song to listen to… if you are lying in bed weeping from unbearable heartbreak and can’t imagine a time when you will ever feel differently and yet you know you will feel differently, but maybe you won’t, but you definitely will, but you might actually have to change and figure out a way to make yourself feel better, but you are admitting that feeling pain is at least feeling and you have been trying to numb yourself for the past decade. “Prayer of St. Francis” by Sarah McLachlan

3. Best song to listen to… if you are driving south on Laurel Canyon in the late afternoon light with the thrilling feeling of leaving a dead relationship and the excitement of starting over. “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

Continue reading

Peace in a Polar Vortex

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I was determined to augment my usual schedule of visiting dozens of museums and eating a gigantic pile of Ethiopian food with an architectural adventure: a visit to a Moshe Safdie building that I had never seen in person before. As the managing curator of the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie at the Skirball, I had been singing the praises of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Headquarters, one of my favorite Safdie designs, in tour after tour. Now I wanted to see it for myself. So on my last day in the District, I braved a polar vortex that plunged temperatures below zero degrees and set out for USIP, located next to the National Mall.

The Department of State on the left and USIP on the right—located next to one another on the National Mall.

The Department of State on the left and USIP on the right—located next to one another on the National Mall.

After a quick ride on the Metro from Logan Circle, I took a ridiculously cold walk on 23rd Street toward the Mall. Along the way I passed several office buildings, including the staid facade of the Department of State. As I approached USIP, I immediately noticed that the structure both blended in with and stood out from its bureaucratic neighbors. The windows facing 23rd were not altogether different from many office buildings, but the warm color of the stone was a nice contrast to the grey tones that dominated nearby facades. I reflected that this was a nice example of “progressive contextualism,” Moshe Safdie’s philosophy of using cues from a building’s physical and cultural surroundings in its design.

Arriving at the front of the headquarters, I caught sight of one of its best features: translucent glass sails held aloft by a steel frame. Skirball_safdie_Institute of Peace 2Safdie intended for the sails to bring to mind the wings of a dove, symbolizing the USIP’s mission of promoting peaceful resolutions to international conflict. To me, they exemplified one of my favorite things about Safdie’s work: while his buildings blend in with their surroundings, they are entirely unique entities. The USIP Headquarters was definitely unlike any other building or monument on the Mall.

I hurried to the entrance excitedly, ready to see those sails from the inside. My enthusiasm was quickly tempered by reality, however, when the guards informed me that I couldn’t go inside without an appointment. Continue reading

But Did We Cut It?

The Skirball is one of the few institutions I know of where the exhibition designer takes an active role in the production and installation of the exhibition itself. One of the tasks of my job that seems to invite a lot questions is the production and installation of the exhibition text on the walls.

Here at the Skirball, exhibition wall text is made out of cut vinyl. The vinyl comes in a wide variety of colors and levels of transparency. The adhesive used to place it on the wall ranges from extremely temporary to nearly permanent. It’s versatile and looks clean, which is why it’s a favored material for displaying text and other graphic elements on walls.

Although I favor cut vinyl over other methods of displaying text (printed panels, handbooks, etc.), installing it is a fairly intensive process that involves many steps. First, the curators send me the approved text. I then decide on the right font and size (color is usually determined beforehand). “Draft” files are then sent to the plotter, which uses a small knife blade to cut the outlines of the letters into a sheet of thin adhesive vinyl.

A wall quote ready to be cut.

A wall quote ready to be cut.

The plotter begins cutting.

The plotter begins cutting.

 

The parts of the vinyl that aren’t used are then loosened and pulled away in a process called “weeding.”

The negative spaces left after letters are removed.

The negative spaces left after letters are removed.

 

Since the width of the roll of vinyl is limited to the size of the cutter, really large sections of letters are done individually or have to be pieced together directly on the wall.

Skirball_exhibition prep_cut vinyl

 

After the weeding is completed, a low-tack adhesive “transfer” sheet is applied on top of the vinyl and its backing sheet (or “release paper”).

Skirball_exhibition prep_cut vinyl

 

I then apply the different versions to the wall to determine which style to choose. It doesn’t usually require putting every version up to get a sense of what works best.

Skirball_exhibition prep_cut vinyl
The letters or sections of letters are taped the wall and the backing is removed, leaving only the vinyl and transfer sheet. Continue reading

Intersections between Architecture, Math, and Science

When I look at anything, I see mathematics in it. There is not an object or natural phenomenon that does not seem mathematical in nature to me. According to cosmologist Max Tegmark—as quoted in the July 2008 Discover story Is the Universe Actually Made of Math?—”There is only mathematics; that is all that exists.” Though the way I see the world may be strange to some, I am not the only one who sees it this way!

Taper Courtyard pond at the Skirball. What principles of geometry apply here? Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Taper Courtyard pond at the Skirball. What principles of geometry apply here? Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Every exterior and interior of every structure at the Skirball Cultural Center has a mathematical aspect, as well as a cultural purpose—from the geometry of the slate tiles in the Taper Courtyard (where music fans gather for Sunset Concerts and other programming) to the “tent of welcome” in the Ziegler Amphitheater.

Recently, I’ve been working to create a Math Trail through the Skirball, a walking tour in which students and teachers use the sights and sounds of the campus to complete mathematical challenges. The project is inspired by the Skirball’s current exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. One example of math in architecture that we’ll be using on the Skirball Math Trail can be found in the Ziegler Amphitheater.

Ziegler Amphitheater, on the south side of the Skirball campus. Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Ziegler Amphitheater, on the south side of the Skirball campus. Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Slope = rise/run = change in height divided by distance moved forward = 5.5 in/12.5 in = 0.44 = 44/100 = 11/25

Slope = rise/run = change in height divided by distance moved forward = 5.5 in/12.5 in =
0.44 = 44/100 = 11/25

Problem: Begin at the stage and measure the height and depth of a stair step. Estimate the slope of the stairs. Describe your process. Continue reading

Seduced By Shteyngart

I first heard Gary Shteyngart speak at the Skirball in 2010, on the book tour for his novel Super Sad True Love Story. That evening, at the end of his reading, I dutifully made my way to the signing table to get my copy autographed.

I first heard Gary Shteyngart speak at the Skirball in 2010, on the book tour for his novel Super Sad True Love Story. That evening, at the end of his reading, I dutifully made my way to the signing table to get my copy autographed.

I first heard Gary Shteyngart speak at the Skirball in 2010, on the book tour for his novel Super Sad True Love Story. That evening, at the end of his reading, I dutifully made my way to the signing table to get my copy autographed.

“Ah, to Jennifer,” Shteyngart said, smiling and raising one eyebrow as he signed my book—the raised brow he employs occasionally when photographed. (Years later, I would learn the significance of my name to Gary, the cause of that raised eyebrow, but I am getting ahead of myself …). That elevated brow boomeranged back at me a few years later, in the headshot sent to promote Shteyngart’s January 16 reading of his new memoir, Little Failure—again at the Skirball. There was that same damn eyebrow arching over the rim of Gary’s eyeglasses, a straight gaze into the camera, a smirky half-grin, chin cupped in hand.

Shteyngart headshot © Brigitte LacombeEver since I saw him at that first Skirball talk, Shteyngart has always just seemed THERE. Every few months I’d come across one of his really funny short stories in the New Yorker, Travel + Leisure, or the New York Times.

And the guy sure has a way with the literary blurb! It feels like for nearly every book I’ve even considered reading in the past year or so, Shteyngart has already been there, read it, and come up with a hilarious, tweet-worthy blurb. There’s even a Tumblr feed dedicated to his masterful blurbs.

This went on for YEARS. So in December, in preparation for his upcoming Skirball reading, I cracked open the preview proof of Little Failure with anticipation. After all, Andy Borowitz, an eminent judge of funniness, declared the book to be “hilarious and moving” in the New York Times. I expected some witty, excellent writing and a good social misfit story. I also expected a lot of weirdness. Continue reading

#SafdieSnapshots: Share Yours!

The first contribution to our #SafdieSnapshots photo album: “You never know who you might see at the SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands: if you’re an early riser, you might just be lucky enough to see a world-famous architect swimming laps in the infinity pool he created!” (Julia K)

The first contribution to our #SafdieSnapshots photo album: “You never know who you might see at the SkyPark at Marina Bay Sands: if you’re an early riser, you might just be lucky enough to see a world-famous architect swimming laps in the infinity pool he created!” (Julia K)

Here are two good New Year’s Resolutions for us all: (1) travel more; and (2) organize the thousands of photos we all store on too many devices, hard drives, and clouds. If you’ve managed to do a bit of (1) and need help achieving (2), then share your #SafdieSnapshots!

Since opening the retrospective Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, many gallery visitors have raved about their personal experiences of an actual Safdie building. What about you? Been moved at Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum? Gone to Habitat ‘67 or Crystal Bridges or the Peabody Essex? Or (lucky you!) have you swum in the infinity pool way up high atop Marina Bay Sands?

Well, here’s hoping you took a camera with you. We invite you to contribute your fave pix to our #SafdieSnapshots photo album. E-mail your contributions to blog@skirball.org—or share them via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #SafdieSnapshots. Continue reading