Monday, August 20, 2012

Saarinen-Kahlo/Rivera-Andrew (20-26 August)

Eliel Saarinen, Finnish-American architect, birthday 20 August 1873
Eero Saarinen, Finnish-American architect & industrial designer, birthday 20 August 1910
Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, Mexican painters, anniversary of 1st marriage 21 August 1929
Hurricane Andrew, Category 5 storm, anniversary of landfall in Florida 24 August 1992

Imagine getting a telegram letting you know that you are one of five finalists in a competition for a major national monument project.  Then halt your elation to receive a second telegram two hours later notifying you that in fact it was, not you but your son who was the finalist (with whom you also share a birthday).  What would you do?  Well if you were Eliel Saarinen, open a second bottle of champagne and toast to your son’s success.  This was the scene during the competition for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.  As testament to his talent, as magnificent as the arch is, it is only a small sampling of what Eero was able to accomplish.  It could be said that, as a juror, he returned the favor to the universe when he saved Jørn Utzon’s entry for the Sydney Opera House from the discard pile.  He captured the spirit of flight with the TWA terminal (now utilized by Jet Blue) in Los Angeles. 
His design of the “Womb Chair” provided a seat to Hugh Hefner for the momentous photo commemorating the premiere issue of Playboy.   It could be argued that with all these achievements that the most prolific are the Tulip chair and Pedestal table.  Again, for personal reasons, I long for Eero’s giant white marble topped pedestal table in my dining room as many do.  No wonder Eero’s designs are still offered in major showrooms around the world. 

If we will entertain the imagination a moment longer, let’s envision being mentored by a well-respected and renowned artist of the 20th century.  Then have that relationship blossom into mutual respect and admiration leading to a matrimonial union which promises to elevate your work.  Thus is what would evolve into the first marriage between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  It was actually Diego’s third marriage and their subsequent years together would degrade into a tempestuous relationship rife with extramarital affairs on both sides and eventually lead to divorce.  Later the two will remarry each other once more which would thrive due to the fact that they lived in a house where they didn’t actually have to live under the same roof.  Their notorious home connected by an open-air bridge between the wings never overshadowed their separate and extreme talent.  Frida’s work was equally grounded in traditional Mesoamerican themes and deep  
intrapersonal struggles.  Diego’s work was socio-political banners for revolutionary causes.  Both were geniuses in technique and product which established themselves independently as essential artist of the era.  It is simply natural that two great contributors to modern art would be drawn both intellectually and romantically together as their passion for the work was reflective of their passion for life. 

A unique and seemingly counterintuitive feature of modern South Florida homes is the out-swing front door.  Nothing can be more unwelcoming than hitting your guests in the face when you answer the doorbell.  When Hurricane Andrew made landfall in south Florida twenty years ago this week, the storm forever changed the architectural landscape including this annoying feature to keep the door from blowing in.  Largely to blame for the extensive devastation were greedy developers who took dangerous short cuts in speedy home construction that lead to the near complete leveling of Homestead.  Since then, Miami-Dade County was successful for once and got something right: creating stricter building codes to protect the public which have become the model for multiple municipalities along the east coast.  As an architect I enjoy the opportunity to rebuild every few years but, I don’t want to give the impression that my eyes light up at the thought of mass destruction.  On the contrary, a native Floridian like myself understands how to prepare for the occasional “hurrication” the same way
someone in the north knows how to prepare for a blizzard or a Californian knows how to duck into a doorway when the walls sway.  It is a part of life and provides the opportunity to reflect on the glory of electricity while grilling everything perishable from the refrigerator on the back porch with your neighbors.  It also makes for a tougher licensing process for architects in Florida and for that I am even more grateful.

The Gateway Arch Memorial in St. Louis, MO
Images of The Gateway Arch during construction 
Eero Saarinen pieces at Knoll 
Eero Saarinen pieces at Design Within Reach 
Eero Saarinen pieces at MoMA, New York City 
PBS documentary of Frida Kahlo 
PBS documentary of Diego Rivera 
The Complete Works of Frida Kahlo 
The complete works of Diego Rivera  
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration 
Miami-Dade Product Contol main page  
Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation 

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