Very prominant along the GTA skyline are the “Marilyn Monroe’ Towers. On our last trip to Ontario we decided it was time to stop and have a look at these towers and their very unusual, non-rectilinear massing.
Their undulating shape is the design of young Beijing-based architect, Ma Yansong, and his firm, MAD Architects. Ma entered an international design competition hosted by the tower’s developers Fernbrook Homes and Cityzen, and was awarded the project in 2006.
Within days of the announcement, the taller building had been nicknamed the “Marilyn Monroe” tower due to its curvaceous, hourglass figure likened to actress Marilyn Monroe. Burka Varacalli Architects, a Toronto firm, was hired as MAD’s local partner in April 2007.
The building represented constant challenges. In most towers, all but two of the floors are exactly the same, said engineer Yury Gelman. In this building, none of them were the same. The larger of the two towers twists 209 degrees from the base to the top. The towers are 176 metres and 158 metres tall respectively.
It was worth the detour off the Toronto freeway to see these towers in person. They are absolutely magnificent and beautiful to look at. They are indeed works of Art.
The design highlight of our recent trip to Los Angeles was a self-discovery architectural tour of Silver Lake. I had no idea Silver Lake was such a hot bed of architectural activity. So many of the houses, mid century modern in style, were designed by very well known architects, including Rudolf Schindler, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and Frank Lloyd Wright to name a few.
The icing on the cake was a stop at an open house perched in the hills overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir. The house was beautifully decorated and according to the real estate agent, Gisele Plouffe, the owners styled the house themselves. The owners of this house have really good taste. Before we take a closer look at the house I’d like to share a story told to us by Gisele.
Gisele described a party she attended given by the current owner of Silvertop, the Lautner designed house in the hills just behind her listing. Evidently the owner, in his 90s, told her the story of how John Lautner and Richard Neutra both had houses under construction on opposite sides of the Silverlake Reservoir, and how they tried to hide their projects from one another. As an architect, this rivalry didn’t surprise me in the least. Architects are famous for being protective of their work. If I hadn’t stopped at this open house I would never have learned about this little known, classic story.
John Lautner’s Silvertop House showing the dramatic driveway up and views to the Silver Lake Reservoir from the patio.
Here is the story in Gisele’s own words:
“This story was told to me at a cocktail party at Silvertop, by the original owner of the home. Talk about the perfect setting for a Lautner/Neutra story! It all started when John Lautner was building “Silvertop” in 1957. It is such a huge masterpiece at the top of the hill, on the West side of Silver Lake. As you can imagine at that time, it stood out for all to see. This area is known as the Moreno Highlands, named after Antonio Moreno, actor, who had a huge estate there with his mistress in a home down the street. That’s another story. “At the same time that Lautner was under construction, his rival architect, Richard Nuetra, was in the process of building a large project on the East side of Silver Lake. A cul de sac, lined with his homes. Name of the street – Neutra Place.
Silver Lake is very hilly and surrounds the lake, which enables homes to view each other from across the lake. There was quite a competitive spirit with both of these men, as well as a jealousy and mutual admiration, I suppose. Well Lautner did not want Neutra glancing across the lake to see what he was doing, perhaps stealing any ideas. So he had to do something to calm his concerns. From the street, driveway entrance to the property, you see nothing, but from across the lake it was a front row seat. He had a huge tarp designed and had it hung up to block any view to his work away from Neutra specifically. The owner thought it was ugly and ridiculous, but Lautner left it there until completion. The end.”
One of Richard Neutra’s houses in Silver Lake
The Open House:
By the way, the open house was lovely, with sweeping views of the hills and the reservoir. The house had its own putting green off the master bedroom. The owners had a fabulous collection of vintage art mixed with mid century modern pieces. In one bedroom the paintings were original, romantic, vintage Hawaiian.
The whole house was a sophisticated and eclectic mix of colour, art, quirky historic artifacts and whimsical touches, well worth the steep hill and stair climb. If you need a real estate agent in the Los Angeles area, and want to hear some interesting stories give Gisele Plouffe a call!
The second innovative house project, involving female clients and well-known architects, is the Schroder House, in Utrecht, Netherlands. The house was designed by Gerrit Rietveld for Truus Schroder in 1923-1924.
This house is of particular interest to me because as an architecture student I made the pilgrimage to The Netherlands specifically to see it. I was studying in London when I made the trip to see this fine example of the De Stijl (aka Neoplasticisim) movement and icon of modern architecture.
It took a while to find it and when we did it was smaller than I had imagined but so beautiful. There it stood in all its acontextual beauty like an exotic alien species against the backdrop of austere traditional dutch architecture.
The Schroder House house looks like a 3 dimensional Piet Mondrion, De Stijl painting. The two are often compared to one another and arise from the same geometric theoretical principles of pure abstraction of horizontal and vertical forms expressed using only primary colours to achieve a kind of universality of form and expression. Ironically the Schroder, while in stark contrast to its historic neighbours, still expresses the Calvinist severity and clarity of the Dutch mind.
Truus Schroder was a young widow with 3 children when her family moved into the house. She had a vision of family life in the modern world. Friedman describes this saying “the house had a double personality-playful and carefree on the one hand, yet disciplined and even moralistic on the other-reflects the complex personalities of architect and client, and the unique nature of the collaboration between Rietveld, who had never built a building before, and Schroder, a well-to-do women with strong ideas about how and where she wanted to live.”
The house was an opportunity to break free of ‘repressive traditions and rules-both social and architectural, and create a totally modern environment. The use of bright coloured elements represented freedom and choice.
Truus Schroder and Gerrit Rietveld went on to work together on a number of important projects together during the 1920s and 1930s. “The work Rietveld and Schroder did together was not simply to communicate this new sense of life but literally to guide body and mind toward clearer and more actions and thoughts”
The Red and Blue Chair was designed in 1917 by Gerrit Rietveld. It represents one of the first explorations by the De Stijl art movement in three dimensions.
All Photos are from Google Images. All quotes are from Women and the Making of the Modern House by Alice T. Friedman
American heiress, Aline Barnsdall commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design Hollyhock House because she wanted to build a theatre for her newly formed theatrical company. Her goal was to use her experience and vast wealth to establish a centre for art theatre in American to rival those found in Europe. She wanted a place where her architect, Frank Lloyd Wright “could build a theatre, a community, and a home that would match her dreams with a boldness and individuality of their own.” Aline Barnsdall hoped her experimental project for an American theatre community would grow and prosper in California.
This collaboration between Frank Lloyd Wright and Aline Barnsdall during the period of 1915 and 1923 was unusual because it called for a rethinking of building types and challenged the “notions of house design, family life, and domesticity.” Hollyhock House was not designed for the private life of a family but rather as a centrepeice in a public garden, and a theatre complex. This freed up architect and client to push the boundaries of architecture including the experiences of monumental form, theatricality, and how the house framed the landscape.
The hollyhock is used as a central theme to the house, with many symmetrical decorations adapting the plant’s general appearance. Planters are decorated with the motif and filled with the plants themselves, and Wright’s stained glass windows feature a highly-stylized hollyhock pattern.
Alice T. Friedman contends that Hollyhock has a lot to teach us about “creativity and about the sorts of new experiences that become possible when conventions of social behaviour, program, and planning are challenged.”
Disillusioned by the costs of construction and maintenance, Barnsdall donated the house to the city of Los Angeles in 1927 under the stipulation that a fifteen-year lease be given to the California Art Club for its headquarters, which it maintained until 1942.Hollyhock has been used by various organizations and has had restoration work done over the years. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated Hollyhock House a National Historic Landmark in 2007 (Wikipedia)
Why were independent female clients such powerful catalysts for innovation in the modern house?
Women and the Making of the Modern House, written by Alice T. Friedman, is a thought-provoking book that answers this question by exploring two seemingly unrelated topics: gender roles, and architecture.
Specifically, the book focuses on 6 innovative projects, involving female clients and well-known architects. These projects are the best-known examples of unprecedented architecture that had female clientele at the forefront of each project’s innovation. It combines social and architectural history to investigate the roles played by both the architects and the clients, and explores the processes of collaboration and negotiation through which decisions about program and design were made.
A conviction shared by modern architects and their women clients was that the essence of modernity was the complete alteration of the home – its construction, materials, and interior space.
“Not only did women commission avant-garde architects to provide them with houses in which to live out their visions of a new life, but these visions rested on a redefinition of domesticity that was fundamentally spatial and physical. A powerful fusion of feminism with the forces of change in architecture thus propelled these projects into uncharted realms of originality”
The 6 innovative houses are:
Hollyhock House, Los Angeles, 1919-21, by Frank Lloyd Wright for Alice Barnsdall
House 2: The Schroder House, Utrecht, the Netherlands, 1923-24, by Gerrit Rietveld for Truus Schroder
House 3: Villa Stein-de-Monzie, by Le Corbusier, was constructed from 1926-1928 and it is located in Garches, France.
House 4: Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Plano, Illinois, 1945-51
House 5: The Constance Perkins House by Richard Neutra in Pasadena, California, 1952-55
House 6: Vanna Venturi House by Robert Venturi, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, 1961-64
Stay tuned to learn more about these houses and how their women patrons of architecture were catalysts for innovation.
Everything is designed, even household objects we use and look at everyday. Have a look at some of the beautiful everyday objects that I found at Vancouver Special on Main Street.
The ceramic bowl above, has a beautifully fitted wooden lid. The carafe, the juicer, and the bottle opener are all designed by Alessi, an Italian Design House. Alessi products are part of many permanent museum collections, which speaks to the quality of the designs they produce.
According to Alberto Alessi, “a true work of design must be able to move people, to convey feelings, to trigger memories, to surprise, to go against the grain… We work on expressive languages and on the expressive potential of the items… From this point of view, design intended… to conjure up images in people’s minds, which makes them a bit happier, still has tremendous potential. ”
I especially enjoy these objects’ mixture of utility and whimsy that puts the fun in functional.
The unique ‘crumpled paper’ cups above are another example of a witty twist on the expected. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they feel good in your hands. The wooden spoons’ simple geometry are a departure from what we’re used to, but very functional and attractive. The toilet brushes and scrub brushes are all designed with wood and natural bristles. The toilet brush in particular has a kind of material gravitas that allows this often hidden object to be tastefully displayed.
You won’t feel the need to hide the broom and scoop below because it is nice enough to show off.
This carpet is made from felted balls. Each carpet contains hundreds of felt balls, and will definitely brightens up any room while imbuing it with a hand-made human scale.
These classic vases are designed by Finnish Architect, Alvar Aalto, in 1936, and are still produced by Iittala. From the Iittala website:
“The Aalto vase dates back to 1936 and was first presented at the Paris World Fair the following year. Its fluid, organic form is still mouth blown today at the Iittala factory. It takes a team of seven skilled craftsmen working as one to create one Aalto vase – an icon of modern design, Alvar Aalto is undoubtedly one of the greatest names in modern architecture and Scandinavian design.”
It’s truly amazing how clean, modern design continues to feel fresh 77 years later.
Next time you are about to buy an everyday used object think about how it is designed and why you chose it. For me this kind of thoughtful connection with the design, and the designer, is part of a life well-lived.
This is Rochelle’s fabulous home. Rochelle and her family have recently moved back to Canada after living abroad for the last 23 years, and in Hong Kong, for the last 7. Rochelle’s interior design degree from Parson’s in New York has served her well as is evident through the house. Wanting a pied-à-terre in Vancouver while her kids finished school, Rochelle and her husband took an old Kitsilano house and undertook a massive renovation.
They maintained the exterior character of their shingled Kitsilano house to respect the context of the neighbourhood. Only the large modern front door hints at what lies on the other side.
Typically homes of this vintage are comprised of small rooms where one must pass through one room to get to another. To offset this rabbit warren feel, Rochelle has opened up the rooms and totally modernized the aesthetic. The living room, dining room and kitchen are all one large space. She recognized that with so much openness, ample storage would be a must. So all along one wall are built in storage cabinets setting a clean datum line for art and accessories.
The stairs are pure sculpture. Glass rails are bolted with stainless steel fasteners transparently enlarging the space.
Cleverly tucked away behind the kitchen is the generous ‘back of house’ where laundry, more storage, and home office reside. Recognizing that life happens, here the kids can drop their backpacks, shoes and what-have-you without impacting the pristine interiors of Rochelle’s home.
Of particular beauty is Rochelle’s homage to China and Hong Kong, manifested through artwork, ceramics and the cinnabar high-gloss tiles in the powder room.
The couple are avid art collectors, and have acquired work ranging from graduating artists at Emily Carr to eclectic pieces that span the globe.
Above is the Scandia Easy Chair, 1957, by Hans Brattrud of Norway. Their sophisticated design aesthetic clearly shines in their collection of classic modern furniture pieces, right from the entry porch with its Verner Panton chairs through to the Saarinen dining table with Tulip chairs, nicely rounded out by the Arne Jakobsen Egg and Saarinen’s Womb chairs.
Even family time is design accented as the family plays backgammon on a Jonathan Adler tapestry board in the casual attic lounge.
This 1950s ranch-style home in Sherman Oaks was completely renovated for Foofighter’s bassist Nate Mendel. This Mid Century Modern, was one of my favourites on the Dwell Home Tours. The home had an eclectic, tasteful decorating style with hits of colour throughout. Although the house has a new two-story studio guesthouse addition, from the street-side point of view the house sits low and unassuming. A wood-clad box demarcates the entrance. A hedge of Japanese blueberry provides privacy on the street side, “where a translucent gate opens onto a splashing fountain, and a bridge to the front door spans a sunken bed of succulents in lieu of a pond” (from Garden Design, read more).
Polished concrete floors ground the interior along with warm wood accents, while huge windows and sliding glass panels offer great views of the entire Los Angeles Valley, with a backdrop of the Verdugo and San Gabriel mountains beyond. According to the Architects, Scrafano and Gus Duffy Architects, the muted accents of a gray palette provide relief from the brilliant Los Angeles sun. The client’s desire for environmental sustainability influenced all material choices, construction practices, solar technologies as well as lighting and water fixtures (from Scrafano Architects website). The project is a collaboration between Scrafano Architect, Gus Duffy Architects and Mark Tessier Landscape Architecture.
The bits and pieces:
All photographs have been taken by me unless noted on the individual photos.
This modern guest house built in 2012, was designed by Architect Noah Walker “to take advantage of the views without blocking them, and also connect with the impressive tree canopy on the site. There are125 coast live oak trees on the property.”
The guest house and concert hall as seen from the trees. Photo: Nicholas Alan Cope
The guest house consists of a low barn, extensively renovated, which is used as a living room and a concert hall for classical music. Adjacent to the barn is another structure described as a ‘glassy tree-house’ overlooking the nearby canyons. The main house is currently under construction and was not part of the home tour we took.
As we approached the house, we were first drawn to the gorgeous vintage brown Mercedes, parked in front of the house, and perfectly matched to the house’s aesthetic. It was a nicely appointed grace note for the whole experience. Although a large part of this house was a renovated barn, the whole project felt new. The materials, concrete floors, glass railings, open living, and floor to ceiling glazing made this guest house a jewel in the landscape.
Skylight in the upper bathroom.
Chandelier in the concert hall rafters.
Of all the houses we saw on the Dwell Home tours this was the one that my daughter emotionally ‘moved into’. When I asked her why – she said it was the house she could see herself living in very comfortably. Not to mention, ‘it’s so cool.’
Little did I know when my daughter suggested we have a drink at the Chateau Marmont, after a day of home tours in the Canyons, that it was the quintessential Los Angeles Hotel. Apparently the Eagles’ 1977 song ‘Hotel California’ is rumoured to be about the Chateau Marmont.
I have to thank the Vancouver Art Gallery’s latest show called, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life for enlightening and informing me of the hotel’s notorious reputation for being the ultimate hedonist’s hangout. Without seeing this exhibition, I doubt I would have delved further into the seedier history of Los Angeles. Although I knew something was up when the hotel staff asked me to put my camera away. Anyone who knows me, knows, this is very hard for me to do. I did manage to sneak a few pictures, but my friends were nervous about being thrown out, so I had to limit my shots. We did see some recognizable faces in the courtyard so I assumed this request was in deference to their guest’s privacy. Evidently the Chateau’s tradition of carefully guarded guest privacy dates back to its opening in 1927.
The hotel was loosely modeled after the French Loire Valley’s Chateau d’Amboise and was purposely built and envisioned, as a place where entertainment industry talent could feel at home. The hotel was designed to allow guests to come and go discretely, resulting in the Chateau’s reputation as a place for intrigue and indiscretion. Most importantly, guests could come and go without being observed by the press.
The Marmont was originally conceived as a deluxe residential apartment complex. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, changes to the business model were required, so the Chateau became a hotel instead. The new owner capitalized on the flagging economy by purchasing antique furniture from estate sales, resulting in the Chateau’s distinctive style, so loved by visitors.
In the late 60s and 70s the Chateau Marmont was very popular with musicians and became the locus for the emerging Los Angeles music scene based in the Laurel Canyon. According to the exhibition, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, the Marmont was a retreat for some of the most famous musicians of the folk-rock revival, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Jim Morrison, The Mamas and the Papas, and the The Byrds. The Marmont emerged as the place to meet, hang out, jam and engage in a variety of shenanigans.
The exhibition further explains, “The stories are legendary: Janis Joplin wandering the halls at all hours of the night in a drug induced haze; Jim Morrison, in a fog of Jack Daniels and LSD, falling from his second-storey window and injuring his back; Led Zeppelin, in a juvenile gesture of rock ‘n’ roll tomfoolery, famously riding their motorcycles through the lobby; and Alice Cooper engaging in a spirited game of nude football. The Marmont assumed a tawdry feel in the 1970s, becoming a place to score drugs, entertain suicidal thoughts or hide from the world for a while.” John Belushi died of a drug overdose in his room, Bungalow #3 at the Chateau Marmont. Below is a 1956 view of the Marmont bungalows.
It wasn’t just musicians who made the Chateau Marmont their home. It also was a favourite place for old Hollywood from the 1930s through the 1950s. “Deals were made, careers established and destroyed, and relationships were forged and broken within the hallowed walls of the Marmont.” The founder of Columbia Pictures is known to have told young actors, “If you must get into trouble. Do it at the Marmont.”
Personally, we found the service to be incredible. When we were indecisive about which wine to order, our server brought us 3 varieties to try! I want to thank my agents provocateurs, Shelina, Devon and Paisley for making our Chateau Marmont experience so memorable! When in Los Angeles, pay the Chateau Marmont a visit, and if you are in Vancouver, go see the show, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life.