This beloved NYC Beaux Arts masterpiece is about to get a $300 million renovation to increase efficiences of services, streamline its budget, centralize it operations, and open the upper floors not currently in use. But not everyone is thrilled with the Norman Foster design for the modernization of this treasure. We have updated this article to reference architectural critcs' reactions to the now unveiled concept. New York Times architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, weighs in after having viewed the new drawings.
Everyone who visits New York City soon discovers a favorite building--one that invites you in and heightens your appreciation for how architecture shapes experiences. The city has a multitude of architecturally significant buildings in a wide range of styles. There is universal recognition of the Manhattan skyline, home to some of the tallest buildings in the world. The Chrysler Building (1930) and Empire State Building (1931) have distinctive ornamentation and are considered some of the finest examples of the Art Deco style. The character of New York's large residential districts are defined by elegant brownstone rowhouses, townhouses, and tenements that were built during a period of rapid expansion from 1870 to 1930. In contrast, neighborhoods such as the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, single-family homes are common in Tudor Revival and Victorian styles, as well as handsome old warehouses being transformed into chic lofts. And a distinctive feature on many of the city's buildings is the wooden roof-mounted water tanks. Last week, Texas residential architect, Steve Chambers, visited New York City and found a new favorite.
Our friends, John Langdoc and Denyce Clancy, recently remarked that the main New York Public Library (NYPL) at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street was near the top of their list. We hadn’t heard much about the building, other than it was a colorful locale in films and television--Ghostbusters, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Seinfeld--and guarded by two enormous lions, named Patience and Fortitude. After a little research about its design, restoration, and new addition, we realized that this Beaux Arts structure would be well worth a visit and it’s own blog. And it was.
Last February, we visited two grand European Beaux Arts structures, the Musee d'Art et d'Histoire in Geneva and the Kunst Museum in Bern, which gave us a basis for comparison with the main NYPL. Yet, the museums in Switzerland, did not prepare us for the overwhelmingly exquisite character and scale of the New York edifice. All three buildings have the same grand entry with double staircases, but the NYPL was designed to support services for a far greater number of people. It impressed us as a grand palace of collected knowledge for all people. It’s intention is to inspire a love of books, welcome its visitors to remain within, and provide vast reserves for research. We expect art museums to elevate what’s inside by enveloping their works within ‘jewel boxes.’ With its craftsmanship and detail, the NYPL is an adoring homage to the humble book and the manner in which it elevates individuals and society as a whole.
Following an open competition among the city's most prominent architects in the early 1900s, the relatively unknown firm of Carrère & Hastings was selected to design and construct a new library for New York City. This pinnacle of Beaux-Arts design was dedicated in 1911, the largest marble structure ever attempted in the United States. Between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors toured the building the first day it was open. Immediately, the New York Public Library became a vital part of the intellectual fabric of American life. Its earliest beneficiaries were the recent immigrants to New York, for whom the Library provided contact with the literature and history of their new country, as well as the heritage that these people brought with them.
The NYPL is renowned for its comprehensive historical collections, as well as a commitment to free access to all those who wish to use its resources. It houses some 15 million items, among them priceless medieval manuscripts, ancient Japanese scrolls, contemporary novels and poetry, as well as baseball cards, dime novels, comic books, the first Gutenberg Bible to come to the United States, and the original Winnie The Pooh stuffed bear which inspired the books. Its collections are vast, diverse, and not easily characterized. They range from priceless ancient rarities in the Rare Books and the Manuscripts and Archives divisions to current newspapers from all over the world. More than 1,200 languages and dialects, ancient and modern, are represented in the collections. The NYPL has lower galleries that function as exhibition space. On the day we visited, the art of thirty artists who illustrated Charles Dickens’ characters were on display, as well as a notebook Dickens kept regarding names and traits of potential characters.
In addition to collecting the rare as well as the ordinary, it has, since the very beginning, acquired materials often regarded as controversial or even offensive. For instance, during the height of McCarthyism in the late 1940s, it actively acquired materials from the Left and the Right, despite the objections of government and citizens' patriotic groups.
Over the years the library has been periodically restored. But in 2008 to prepare for the 100th birthday of the building, the immense main reading room, the size of two city blocks, was given a greatly needed rehabilitation of its marble, wood, gilding, and ceiling fresco. This spectacular restoration was unveiled in 2011. And in spite of the proliferation of information through technology, this century old grand dame remains as relevant today as it was when it opened by affording equal access to computers and its vast reserves at no cost to all who enter its doors.
We also noted and photographed the stunning contemporary addition to the building completed in 2004 Davis Brody Bond, LLP. The project, a new 42,500-square-foot, three-story structure, fills an existing open south courtyard of the Library and accommodates the library's public education program as well as staff offices, an electronic teaching center, and auditorium. In the same manner that the Library keeps books relevant, the elegant modern addition winningly contrasts and flatters the building that came before it.
The New York Public Library was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
In the gallery, below, photos by Steve and Stephanie Chambers of Chambers Architects highlight the quality of original craftsmanship, original building details, an early drawing, the seamless integration of the new addition, and views to iconic architecture of the Manhattan skyline that surround this Beaux Arts masterpiece.
Miracles seem to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar, but upon our perceptions being made fine. For a moment, our eyes can see and our ears hear what is always there about us.
― Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
Our interest in the moradas of the Penitente Brotherhood of Northern New Mexico arises out of their importance as a form of sacred architecture. A review of photos of their buildings reveals a consistency of form and massing, as though there was guided intention in their planning. These structures evolved without the involvement and direction of a conventional orthodox organized religion. They are a folk vernacular with elegant form, developed outside an organized central hierarchy. They appear to have arrived out of “necessity” craftsmanship, an impulse to create place. The manner and style are similar to Outsider Artists who have no formal training, yet produce art just for the sake of making art.
The Spaniards who settled Northern New Mexico brought with them a strong connection to their Catholic faith. Daily life was guided by their religion. Planting and harvesting cycles often coincided with commemorations of saints, resulting in many celebrations on their feast days. The shortage of priests in the remote northern areas of New Mexico made it difficult to serve the Catholic faithful. Many men in these communities were members of the Brotherhood of the Penitentes and stepped up to be lay ministers for the church.
Their ceremony was at its peak during Holy Week, when services took place inside the moradas (gathering places). In the mid-1800s, Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Salpointe decried their ‘stations of the cross’ re-enactments--carrying life-size wooden crosses over many miles of highway, staged crucifixions, and blood-letting. The Brotherhood was renounced by the mainstream Roman Church as being an extreme profession of faith and the sect was dissociated from the Church.
In the 1940s, the penitentes were again invited to participate in Catholic services, which they accepted. Their devotion and some traditional rituals continue into the present day; the Catholic Church requests that their practices be conducted in private gathering places created by the sect. The morada is one place where the brotherhood can come together and worship. Currently, they open their doors to the public once a year and invite them to participate in Holy Week services. Much curiosity remains about this sect, whose mystery may cease to exist when the current generation passes on.
Our architecture firm is more interested in the artististry and craftsmanship that the Brotherhood of Penitentes contributed to the built environment of our country. We make it a practice not to judge the beliefs and traditions of those whose architecture we study, preferring to understand the specific aesthetic of their distinct styles, forms, and functions of their structures.
During the process of our early research here in Northern New Mexico, it was our good fortune to identify, talk to and meet leaders of the Penitente Brotherhood in Chimayo, Truchas, and Abiquiu. Brother Isabro in Truchas graciously invited us into the home he is crafting by hand from the inside out. The house where he lives is directly across from the morada he oversees and is obviously still a ‘construction zone.’ The 60-year old Isabro tells us it “may be finished in the year 2040.” The tools of his trade--saws, clamps, paint, stacks of lumber--lay beside his CDs, drum set, and elaborately hand-carved pantry. The most complete and beautiful ‘room’ in the home is an altar that this outsider artist carved and sensitively rendered with highly-pigmented paintings.
It’s easy to like this warm gentle man, whose serenity and wisdom are akin to a shaman. He’s proud of this work-in-progress and attributes his apparent talent to inspiration and guidance from the Divine.
We make plans to visit other moradas further up the high road north. We’ll let the gallery below speak for the creative endowment of this artist and craftsman, wherever its source lies.
(Note: the day after this blog was posted, we received a call from the Lifestyles editor of the New York Times, who was interested in doing a feature story on Mr. Ortega. We received a call yesterday from a very excited Isabro--the New York Times spent the entire day with him. Click here for their take on this story.)
In the gallery below: (3 photos) first structures in Truchas built by Spanish settlers in the mid-1700s who created a "compound" to protect themselves from attacks; Isabro's home where doors, walls, staircases, and whole rooms are carved out of Ponderosa Pine, willow, cedar, and cactus--then brightly painted to highlight the patterns; the "altar" room with cactus 'wood' inlaid cross on door and depictions of Capilla de Nuestra de Senora Fatima and the Crucifixion; niches for pottery.
In the second gallery below, a "handwarming" fireplace at the front door; Isabro points to his view on the world; Steve and Isabro walk to the ornate chicken coop with carved ceilings inside; a rabbit hutch built by Isabro and his father when he was a boy; blue double door to coop; across the street from Isabro's home is the Truchas Brotherhood Morada; Steve and Isabro say "goodbye" at the front door; finally, the Abiquiu Morada...look for the story in a later blog
Tom Potthoff jumps in his Kawasaki Mule and drives along the fence line of his East Texas development, Dogwood Trail, to enjoy the brisk early October morning. He works to keep his property as natural and undisturbed as possible, but today he is about to be amazed at how wild it still is. He is about a third of the way down the fence near the Lake Athens spillway when he spots a rather large bird flapping its wings about twenty feet away, close to the enormous tree he calls his Granddaddy Pine. He can't see the bird’s head and assumes it is a vulture. About ten feet from the bird, it stops flapping, drops its wing and a large white head with a yellow hooked beak pops up to look at him. Tom’s jaw drops. It's a Bald Eagle and he realizes that he should leave this national treasure alone. There is probably a nest nearby. Tom first noticed eagles on his property about six months ago, 'patrolling' a cove near the spillway for fish. On the way back to his lot, Tom doesn't see the bird and assumes all is okay.
Back at the lot and site for his new home, Tom meets with his wife, Anne, builder Danny Tidmore, landscape architect Shane Garthoff, and Rick Carns, a Tyler landscaping contractor, concerning saving and moving larger dogwoods away from the construction. The weekend lake home was designed by Stephen B. Chambers Architects (link here to sketches for the home). Garthoff and Carns want to see the back portion of the property, so Anne takes them on a tour. This time, they see the Bald Eagle and notice that he is injured and unable to fly over a fence. Rick Carns says that he will inform Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWL) about the eagle when he gets back to his Tyler office.
Around 4:30 p.m. Tom receives a phone call from an eagle rescue organization in San Antonio. He is informed that an experienced rescuer lives in Ennis and that he should wait for him to pinpoint the spot where he found the bird. The rescuer arrives at 6:30 p.m. It is already dark, but the Potthoffs and neighbors begin a search to find the eagle. When they near where it was last seen, they can hear his chirping. A neighbor makes it to the top of a hill and looks across the Lake Athens emergency spillway and there the eagle stands on a large pile of fallen trees. His silhouette in the distance is imposing, even more than 200 yards away. Tom and the rescuer walk nearer and crawl into the brush pile to extricate the bird. The rescuer cautions Tom that eagle talons can crush a man’s femur. But, if their eyes are covered, they become docile and submit. The rescuer throws a blanket over the eagle’s head and steps in to sweep up the bird, grabbing his legs...the eagle is landed. The Bald Eagle is a small male around three feet tall with a wingspan of 6-7 feet, already identified and banded by the TPWL for tracking purposes.
The rescuer takes the wrapped animal back to the jeep to puts him in a cage for the ride back to Ennis and ultimately to the San Antonio clinic. We will keep our readers posted about the rescue organization and how the Potthoff eagle is doing, when we make a trip to San Antonio in December. When the bird is rehabilitated, he will be returned to Lake Athens. Since they mate for life, hopefully the female will still be there, waiting for her partner to come home.
We are encouraged by the expertise and continued service of the Texas Parks and Wildlife service on behalf of Texas' endangered animals. The video, below, produced by TPWL illuminates how the service rescued this American symbol from the brink of extinction--Texas now has 200 mating pairs, up from 4 pairs.
In early American rural life, communities raised barns for each other because many hands were required for these large, yet necessary structures. In areas that were sparsely settled or on the edge of the frontier, it was not possible to hire carpenters or other tradesmen. Barn raisings formed a social framework of cooperative interdependence. Rural communities often shared bonds going back several generations, trading with each other, buying and selling land, sharing labor, seed, cattle, canned foods and other homemade goods. They celebrated together, cities being too far away to visit by horse and wagon. Despite our American tradition of independence, self-sufficiency, barn raisings were necessary for the survival of most settlements.
The Parker County Cutting Horse Ranch project integrates two antique log homes and a timber frame Scottish barn from the Revolutionary War era into a more modern ranch home. Of the many ways to design a ranch home, recycling pre-Industrial age historic structures is one way to capture the authenticity, character, and hand-of-the-craftsman aesthetic so apparent in work of this period. Chambers Architects will photograph this ranch project in stages and provide its blog readers with updates on the erection of these antique structures, creating a “virtual barn raising!"
In gallery below: the log homes are in various stages of reconstruction onsite at Heritage Barns; the barn timbers showing "marriage marks" in order to fit the correct timbers together; Michael Taylor of English Heritage Homes, project contractor, discusses the adjustments with Kevin Durkin of Heritage Barns that need to be made to the antique structures in order to to integrate them into the modern design of the ranch; Bill Siebert, architect with Chambers Architects, inspects the vintage woodworking tools used to shape the timbers; mules and draft horses are still used at Homestead Heritage to work their fields. Drawings for the design of this entire project, as well as photos documenting the progress of the ranch construction, may be found at this link: http://chambersarchitects.com/cutting-horse-ranch-in-parker-county.html
Abiquiu home of Georgia O’Keeffe, the O’Keeffe Museum, and O’Keeffe Research Center devoted to the study of In July, Chambers Architects visited the American Modernism in order to get a sense of how this artist attracted to the solitary Southwest landscape shaped her personal living space and studio. We also spoke with Dale Kronkright, Head of Conservation and Preservation, at the O’Keeffe Research Center where the letters, photographs, and personal property of Georgia O’Keeffe are archived. Mr. Kronkright is currently in the process of documenting the current condition of the O’Keeffe home at Abiquiu for future preservation efforts.
In his book, Landscape and Memory,Simon Schama documents his trek across an extensive panorama of world geography and comes to the conclusion that humanity will always make room for the sacredness of nature. It took Georgia O’Keeffe almost half a century to identify which among the many ‘landscapes’ that she tried on fit her the best. When she was living and painting at nearby Ghost Ranch, she kept returning to Abiquiu, a rugged area settled in prehistoric times that sits on a plateau overlooking New Mexico’s Chama River Valley. O’Keeffe was drawn to a dilapidated uninhabitable Spanish colonial structure that eventually became her home and studio. It was the ranch’s garden and surrounding landscape, on the property and beyond, that pleased her enormously. After 15 years of negotiation for the purchase of the Abiquiu house, she bought it in 1945 for $10 from the archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Santa Fe, with the understanding that it be restored in the same adobe design and in the original footprint.
As agreed, O’Keeffe rehabilitated the original adobe building at Abiquiu. Though clearly a restoration, we could also see influences of her 1950s modern aesthetic in the century-old structure. Adobe fireplaces and walls, and the viga-and-latilla ceilings, typical of New Mexican Pueblo-style architecture, either remain as originally built, or were replaced where they had deteriorated. Interior furnishings are utilitarian and modern. One example of the architectural modernism of her time is that thick adobe walls were opened with large expanses of fixed glass; several glass sections were mulled together at the corner of her bedroom. This gives the appearance of no support to the thick adobe wall, parapet, and roof above. A steel pipe column was set back inside the corner glass to provide the support. The resulting corner window offers an unobstructed view of what she called her “backyard,” a breathtaking view of vast red-and-yellow cliffs in the east and the river valley below. In her studio, modern white-stained vigas with sleek oval shapes replaced the original vigas which had collapsed. Neat white-stained latillas and a skylight and light-color carpeting amplify light reflected inside.
While little of her art is displayed in the home, the things that touched her, branches and bones, rocks and other found objects that she scavenged from the landscape are found in many of the rooms, as she left them. The hand-hewn wooden ladder to the roof, where she often entertained visitors and slept under the stars, is still propped against an outer wall. A cedar wall ledge in her bedroom displays shells and rocks, more reminders of her attraction to simple natural forms and contours of nature. Her paintings immortalized her landscape: the home’s doorways, shadows, and courtyards; vistas of the Pedernal, her “private mountain;” a nearby morada; the “white place” a few miles from Abiquiu; the plants, flowers, bones, and rocks she discovered on long treks. The lasting impression of O’Keeffe’s legendary life is that art was the means by which she communicated what it’s like to make one’s home in the natural world. Because she magnified the objects she encountered there, each subject became abstract and monumental.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s ashes are spread over the Pedernal landscape.
In the gallery, below, are photos by Stephanie Chambers of the Abiquiu Penitente Morada, uninhabited historic Abiquiu structure, the Abiquiu Church, and the "White Place," all painted by Georgia O'Keefe. Following this gallery are more photos of the O'Keeffe home and studio at Abiquiu. For more about Georgia O'Keeffe's homes, see "Georgia O'Keeffe and Her Houses: Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu."
We love the old original Pueblo Style New Mexican homes, but the push in 1912 to boost tourism in Santa Fe, ushered in more architectural control and a resurgence of the Pueblo-Spanish style, which became known as the Santa Fe Style. Many of the wonderful 1880s era brick structures and early Craftsman-style bungalows fell out of favor and were demolished to make room for the Pueblo Revival homes. Fortunately, an array of architectural styles that define the history of this unique American Southwest city still remain. The National Historic Trust has named Santa Fe one its Distinctive Destinations in America, citing the city’s individual architectural style, well-preserved historic districts, and dedication to cultural conservation.
Santa Fe’s characteristic architecture reflects the diverse cultures that left their influences on the region: the ancestral Pueblo dwellers, the Anasazi, built stone dwellings at the bottom of canyons and inside caves and Northern tribes built pueblos; the Spaniards brought their portals, enclosed patios, dramatic sculptural shapes, arches, bell towers, Moorish heavy doors and elaborate corbels; the Anglo wave via the Old Santa Fe Trail in the 1820s and the later gold boom of the 1860s contributed the neo-Grecian, Victorian, and Craftsman-style influences of millwork and trim, and the most dramatic change to the architecture of this region, the double-hung window.
Pueblo-style architecture evolved from the adobe homes of the Native Americans and became the basis for traditional New Mexican homes: walls of sun-dried clay bricks mixed with straw for strength, mud-mortared, and covered with additional protective layers of mud. Roofs were supported by a network of vigas -- long beams whose ends protrude through the outer facades -- and latillas, smaller stripped branches layered between the vigas and covered with 18” of dry dirt. Other adapted Pueblo architectural elements include plastered adobe-brick kiva fireplaces, bancos (adobe benches that protrude from walls), and nichos (small indentations within a wall in which religious icons are placed). These adobe homes are characterized by flat roofs and soft, rounded contours.
The Spaniards integrated many of the Pueblo style elements into their missions and colonial haciendas. And another New Mexico architectural phenomenon: homes were added onto year after year. Doorways were typically low and floors rise and fall with the natural contours of the earth. Hacienda-style homes were built without windows facing outward, with many small rooms and doors opening out to a main interior courtyard. The Spanish also used canales, or spouts, to carry off rain and melting snow from the flat roofs.
In the 1830s, the architecture of NM was influenced by the arrival of wagon trains on the newly-opened Santa Fe Trail that brought new tools, wood pediments and moldings for windows and doors and glass for windows. In 1850 New Mexico became a U.S. territory and became more exposed to building materials from the outside world. The influence of these tools and technology can be seen in the change of the architecture from the Spanish pueblo style to what is known as the Territorial-style. Brick coping defining the flat roofs and protecting the adobe parapets were typical of the Territorial style. Millwork on doors and wood trim around windows and doorways and Victorian bric-a-brac began to appear on the homes.
As the railroads expanded westward around the 1880s, other more modern building materials became available. Larger pieces of glass, ready-made doors and windows, metal roofing and hardware, and larger quantities of brick characterized the Northern New Mexican style. Metal roofing allowed for steep pitched roofs on most homes seen in the villages of northern New Mexico where snow is more abundant. Development of the brick facade, pitched metal roofs, large double-hung windows and the extensive millwork of the Folk Victorian and Craftsman Style era further defined the Northern New Mexico style.
We spent our entire trip to New Mexico this year focusing on the architecture, relishing the wealth of architectural styles and discovering the subtle differences everywhere. We encountered an ox-blood floor, for example. An old Spanish tradition, ox blood is mixed with dirt and spread in layers to dry, hardening into a glossy finish that's known to last centuries. We saw coyote fences -- thin cedar posts lined up side by side -- a system early settlers devised to ensure safety of their animals. Winding around homes and buildings we still see the acequias, ancient irrigation canals maintained by locals for watering crops and trees.
Gallery, below, shows progression of Santa Fe architectural influences from Pueblo, Spanish Pueblo, Territorial style, to the Victorian and Crafstman style bungalows. Photography by Stephanie Chambers