Friday, November 20, 2009

Greatbatch Pavilion Honored by the AIA

Toshiko Mori Architect's Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion was the recipient last night of a 2009 Design Award from the American Institute of Architects Buffalo / WNY Chapter.  Already celebrated by the media, this project can now add to its laurels recognition in the "New build under 25,000 square feet" category from this prestigious, professional organization.  The jurors' comments invoke what made the Greatbatch Pavilion stand out among the other entries in this category:
This is perhaps the only building we reviewed that wanted to recede into its context and pay homage to a greater presence.  The pavilion focuses the visitor on the matter at hand - the Darwin Martin Complex.  The language represented in the design seems to respect and offer a tip-of-the-hat to many of the 20th century's great architects, while the reflections in the almost invisible glass envelope redirect our attention back to Frank Lloyd Wright's work.
On-hand to receive the award was TMA Project Architect, Sonya Lee, joined by MHRC Executive Director, Mary Roberts, and  Board member and Dean of the UB School of Architecture and Planning, Brian Carter.  Other notable award recipients for 2009 included:  Robert Coles, FAIA (The Robert and Louise Bethune Award), Gwathmey Siegel and Associates' Burchfield-Penney Art Center (New build over 25,000 square feet), and Iskalo Development's Electric Tower Lobby (Historic Preservation award).
The MHRC is delighted that the Greatbatch Pavilion is among such esteemed company, and thanks the AIA for its recognition of this inspiring new addition to the Martin House campus. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

See That Clip?

By E. Jackson-Forsberg, Desk Supplies Desk

In the pre-digital age of Darwin D. Martin (1865-1935), the everyday was awash in paper - newspapers (remember those?), letters and documents of all kinds. With all this "treeware" piling up, the paper clip was an essential tool to keep it organized. To this end, Darwin Martin seemed to be on a quest to find the perfect paper clip - or perhaps the perfect tool kit of clips for various jobs, large and small. His papers, reassembled at the University at Buffalo Archives, feature a collection of clip samples (no less than forty) and related advertisements and correspondence: an impromptu exhibit ready for the OCD Museum.

Martin's paper clip collection presents an interesting survey of a number of clip styles that are extinct or rarely seen today: the Staples version of Darwin's theory of natural selection. Some, including the "Eureka" clip, "invented for Bankers, Lawyers, Students and Business Men," were elegant brass constructions with a decidedly Victorian bent (no pun intended). Others show the evolution of the object as the mundane exemplar of "form follows function," resembling the common, lozenge-shaped "Gem" clip of today. Martin's collection is affixed to index cards and other paper ephemera, providing an accidental illustration of which would rust over time, and which would not stain one's documents.

Perhaps Martin thought that finding the ultimate source for quality (and cost effective) paper fasteners would revolutionize the Larkin Company's filing just as his application of the index card filing system had revolutionized their client records. In such a light, this quirky collection is not so trivial. Antiquated? Yes. Dry? Sure. But not trivial.

Now, if you happen to print out this post, please affix it to your other Wright-related documents using a fine Clipiola Italian paper clip, the official paperclip of the Weekly Wright-up.

Click HERE for a fascinating online (paperless) survey of historic paper clips from the Early Office Museum!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Genius and the Mere Mortal

It is hard for ordinary mortals to put up with geniuses. In the field of architecture,
it is hard for geniuses to put up with us ordinary mortals.

This observation was made by famed New Yorker critic and man of letters Brendan Gill, at the 1986 dedication of the Darwin D. Martin House as a National Historic Landmark. Gill was speaking of Frank Lloyd Wright's erudition and charisma as "bewitching" to the practical-minded Darwin Martin, but the statement inspires a much wider discussion of the visionary, superhuman artist (and architect in particular) fettered only by the conventional values and expectations of his client.

Extremes of this characterization can be found in both ancient tradition and contemporary culture. Consider the Old Testament description of God the Father as the "architect of the universe," or the mystification of gothic builders through the traditions of the Freemasons (inspiration for Dan Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol). In recent years, the architect as superhuman puppet-master was portrayed in the figure of "The Architect" in the Matrix movies: a technocratic, grandfatherly figure who appears in the narrative as an abrupt deus ex machina and bears a striking resemblance to Freud (or many a nineteenth century architect, for that matter).

Above: William Blake's illustration of God as an "architect,"
with calipers.

Left: The "Architect" from The Matrix Reloaded.

Outside the realm of pure faith or pure fantasy, none of these figures ever gets to build a world on the scale or level of control that their implied omnipotence would suggest. Architects from Michelangelo to Louis Kahn have been thwarted in their attempts to re-make entire cities, their designs relegated to the utopia of the drafting board. But, should we blame the field of architecture for delusions of grandeur which clash with the realities of the checkbook and the construction site, or should we cite the tenacious cultural traditions that encourage us mere mortals to deify architects and their power to shape space?

Gill made a good point: Wright didn't shy away from assuming the guise of the god-like artist, and Martin may have been spellbound by this shamanistic role. One can even find a parallel between Wright's personal escapades and those of the philandering Olympian gods. But to keep Wright on Olympus obscures a full understanding of his work. He may have been a genius architect, but his visions were only accomplished through dialogue and partnership with "ordinary mortals" like Darwin Martin. And, at the end of the day, Wright was one as well.