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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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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Visiting the Southern Relatives: A New Safdie Museum Opens in Arkansas

View across the water from the restaurant

The newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, designed by the Skirball’s architect, Moshe Safdie, has made big news in the art world. Here’s a photo I took when my family and I visited earlier this year. Pictured is the museum’s “gallery bridge” as seen from inside the “dining bridge.”

On a recent trip to visit my husband’s family in northwest Arkansas (my annual pilgrimage to the South, which a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey like me approaches with a healthy mix of excitement and Woody Allen-esque trepidation), I got a chance to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Bentonville, Arkansas. I’d visited the site a year ago, when only the shapes of the museum’s future buildings were visible from a viewing platform in the forest. Now, after five years of planning and construction, the new museum—which opened in November of last year—is revealing itself to be unique in design and mission, but similar to the Skirball in some very significant ways.

Legend (and New Yorker reporting) has it that Alice Walton, Walmart heiress and lifelong art collector who founded and funded the museum, came to the Skirball (incognito at first, or so another version of the story goes) a few years ago when considering architects for her new museum. She visited the Getty Center and other significant buildings designed by working architects in Los Angeles, but came away from L.A. feeling that she’d found her man in the Skirball’s Moshe Safdie. Something about Safdie’s emphasis on built environments that encourage gathering, his signature commingling of structure with the natural environment, and the light and openness of the Skirball’s spaces seemed to Ms. Walton the ideal architectural point of view to take to house her burgeoning collection of American art.

Skirball Architecture

The Skirball’s main courtyard, which shows that we’re right to describe our site (as we often do) as “nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains.” Photo by Timothy Hursley.

Museum view from entrance

Crystal Bridges, located on property long-held by the Walton family, as seen from the entrance.

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