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

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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.

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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

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#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

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President’s Greeting: Jan/Feb 2014

Skirball Campus with Moshe_Safdie and Uri_Herscher

Standing with my friend and architect Moshe Safdie in front of a wall-sized reproduction of a photograph of our location on the Sepulveda Pass, before we started construction on the Skirball. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

The year 2014 is like no other year in the history of the Skirball Cultural Center: for the first time since our birth, we are no longer under construction. Our campus, Moshe Safdie’s first architectural project in the United States, is now complete. Our buildings and courtyards are built; our gardens and arroyos are planted. Our current exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, celebrates our architect and his magnificent achievements. It is glorious to behold.

And yet, in the most important sense, our building is not finished. It can never be finished. For what we are seeking to build is a community where no one is a stranger, a society both just and compassionate, a world where all can live in freedom, dignity, and safety. That is the mission of the Skirball Cultural Center. It is a construction project that has only just begun, and has very far to go. And if it is ever to be achieved, in any measure, it will take each of us, and all of us, to build it. Continue reading

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Richard Meier Designed the Getty… and This Hanukkah Lamp

The designs of Hanukkah lamps often incorporate architectural forms. In 1985 the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, invited leading architects to submit designs of Hanukkah lamps for an exhibition entitled Nerot Mitzvah: Contemporary Ideas for Light in Jewish Ritual. The hanukkiah pictured below was designed by Richard Meier, the architect of the Getty Center just down the road from the Skirball.  An original is on view in the Skirball’s core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America

Each of the chess piece–like candleholders represents architecturally a place where Jews have experienced major crises. These historical events are arranged chronologically by branch from left to right.

Each of the chess piece–like candleholders represents architecturally a place where Jews have experienced major crises. These historical events are arranged chronologically by branch from left to right.

Branch 1
The obelisk on the far left represents Egypt—historically the period of slavery culminating in the Exodus story.

Branch 2
Second is a column of Roman style, representing the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

Branch 3
The third branch is a castle-like tower representing England, from which there was an expulsion of Jews in 1290. Specifically it may be the Tower of York where there was a massacre of Jews in 1190. Continue reading

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Architectural Centerpieces (Florals Are So Last Year)

At a recent donor dinner at the Skirball, these sculptural centerpieces showcased beautiful photographs of our campus, designed by Moshe Safdie. You can also spot one of the vivid green metal art panels off the Taper Courtyard, created by Vera Ronnen.

At a recent donor dinner at the Skirball, these sculptural centerpieces showcased beautiful photographs of our campus, designed by Moshe Safdie. You can also spot one of the vivid green metal art panels off the Taper Courtyard, created by Vera Ronnen.

A common feature of Moshe Safdie’s projects is his integration of open-air spaces into his very monumental concrete and granite buildings. [In this ArtInfo interview, Safdie explains how the landscape influenced his design for the Skirball campus.] Here at the Skirball, Safdie created a series of courtyards that harmoniously link each building so that as you work your way from Winnick Hall (home to Noah’s Ark at the Skirball™) at the south end of our site toward Ahmanson Hall and Herscher Hall at the north end, you encounter blue skies and lush landscapes. As the Skirball’s founder, Uri D. Herscher, has said, Safdie “married his architecture to the hills.” The natural is as important as the architectural in creating the open, welcoming environment we have at the Skirball.

Recently the Skirball hosted an evening gala for our founding donors to celebrate the completion of our campus. The sculptural centerpieces we produced for the event are a love letter to the Skirball’s architecture. We worked with designer Gabe Gonzales at Astek Wallcovering—the firm that created the whimsical wallpaper for our recent exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open—to develop the build of the sculpture. Essentially each centerpiece features thirty-four interlocking round disks. Twenty-six of them display a different image on each side. Depending on how you look at the double-sided disks, you can see four different sets of images. Here are the other three views of the centerpiece: Continue reading

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Moshe Safdie: Rain or Shine

Designed by Moshe Safdie, the National Gallery of Canada was the first venue for Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Updated to include some of Safdie’s many recent projects, the exhibition makes its U.S. debut at the Skirball today. Image by Timothy Hursley.

Designed by Moshe Safdie, the National Gallery of Canada was the first venue for Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Updated to include some of Safdie’s many recent projects, the exhibition makes its U.S. debut at the Skirball today. Image by Timothy Hursley.

About three years ago I woke up in Ottawa, Canada, to a driving rainstorm. It was the morning after the gala opening of the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie at the National Gallery of Canada. I was there to represent the Skirball, where the exhibition would be traveling next, and I had plenty of company—not only museum colleagues, but donors, press, media, and government leaders and dignitaries from throughout Canada. The gala was a major event, and today’s lecture by Moshe Safdie seemed like an afterthought. It was scheduled for Friday midday, not a great time for a public program in any case, and certainly not when the rain was lashing the streets and sidewalks. I lamented the poor planning and the unlucky weather. It would be embarrassing, after such a triumphant opening, for Safdie to address an empty hall.

The wind was whipping the rain sideways. By the time I turned the corner, my umbrella was inside out and I was drenched. So were the people I suddenly noticed queued up in front of me, standing patiently, if wetly, in a line stretching for blocks. I couldn’t believe it. There must have been 500 people standing in the rain, an hour before the lecture, waiting to hear Moshe Safdie. The hall wasn’t empty; it was sold out. These people were waiting to get in. Not all of them did. They watched the lecture instead on a video screen outside. In the rain.

No rain here! Lucky ticketholders for Moshe Safdie’s sold-out lecture at the Skirball this past Sunday queued up in the sunshine with a view of autumn leaves.

No rain here! Lucky ticket holders for Moshe Safdie’s sold-out lecture at the Skirball this past Sunday queued up in the sunshine with a view of autumn leaves.

By the way, it was worth it. Moshe Safdie is a gifted, dynamic speaker with a rare combination of humility, humor, and grace. But I knew that. What I had failed to appreciate, Continue reading

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Architect Moshe Safdie Likes Legos (Breaking Bad Fans Do, Too)

Here’s my attempt to build Habitat ’67 out of Legos like Moshe Safdie once did. My preschooler wanted her Duplo® back… and I longed for stronger spatial skills.

Here’s my attempt to build Habitat ’67 out of Legos like Moshe Safdie once did. My preschooler wanted her Duplo® back… and I longed for stronger spatial skills.

If you’re a parent of a young child, like I am, you likely have LEGO® in your house. With some relief—since Legos are a fairly wholesome, harmless distraction—and maybe even pride, you’ve watched your kid stack and lock those distinctive bricks of plastic for hours on end. You’ve probably gotten down on the floor to join the fun. [Less fun: stepping on a Lego.]

Lately it feels like I encounter Legos in more places than my living room. In early summer, I kept hearing about an exhibition, The Art of the Brick®, on view at a surprising venue: Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. At its hilltop museum, my family and I eyed thirty awe-inspiring sculptures by “brick artist” Nathan Sawaya, who used thousands of Legos to handcraft each work. A few weeks later, two separate groups of friends reported that the new hotel at LEGOLAND was actually pretty cool. In mid-July, I stumbled upon a story on NPR.org probing why the Danish toy company had launched a product line specifically for girls. The reporter concluded with the right question: “Would it be so hard to develop—even market—toys for girls and boys to enjoy together?” On his “Thinking Brickly” blog, David Pickett studies the Lego gender gap more closely.

As summer waned, Legos continued to pop up in my life. Lost in a Breaking Bad internet vortex as the series finale drew near, I learned that a Lego imitator, Citizen Brick, quickly sold out of its controversial “Superlab Playset,” featuring “minifigs” of Walt (in yellow lab suit), Gus (in Los Pollos Hermanos button-down), and Mike (sporting grey stubble but looking far less hard-boiled as on TV).

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s underground “office” = totally disturbing plaything

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s underground “office” = totally disturbing plaything

Eventually Legos became a topic of conversation at work, as we geared up for our fall exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, opening October 22. As it turns out, the renowned architect, who has designed and built our Skirball campus in four phases over thirty years, used to toy around with Legos early in his career. In his book The City After the Automobile: An Architect’s Vision (Westview, 1998), Safdie describes how he began to develop a new concept for urban housing:

I began constructing large models out of Lego, stacking plastic blocks representing houses one on top of the other, each one forming a roof garden for the unit above…. This would lead two years later to Habitat, a project I designed and constructed as part of the 1967 world’s fair in Montreal.

Each of the units kinda does look like a Lego, huh? Habitat’67. Construction view. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

Each of the units kinda looks like a Lego, huh? Habitat ’67. Construction view. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

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