Museum of Jewish Heritage and “Designing Home Exhibition”
36 Battery Place, Manhattan
When it rains it pours… and today it was a soaker, but our undaunted crowd of avid Archtober followers were treated to an abundance of architectural and design riches in our “double header.” Kevin Roche, now a magisterial 93 years of age, introduced the planning complexities of the original hexagonal Museum of Jewish Heritage, that landed its faceted ziggurat onto the shore of Battery Park City in 1993.
In planning since before the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., the New York building was seemingly the survivor of the squabbles of the great Jewish real estate families of New York. In fact, Roche told us, the D.C. museum benefited from the splinter group that took their aspirations down to the nation’s capitol. All of the sixes refer to the six million.
I’ve seen Roche present his master plan of the Met, and his presentation to our group was very similar. With clear drawings, grainy photographs of chipboard study models, and atmospheric water color renderings, he presented what he called “a simple building, not too flamboyant in any way, that serves its purpose.” The design evolved over time, he said, with the major real estate developers offering many opinions along the way. Not to mention the Battery Park City Authority Design Guidelines, the State of New York, and all of the other parties to this quite modest undertaking. The original building was a $5,000,000 project, and it came in on budget. Even after herding all those cats.
The Robert M. Morgenthau Wing, was an addition to the ziggurat and it opened in 2002. With a restrained façade on Battery Place, this tour was led by Howard Lathrop, who joined the tour for the walking component. He had been the partner in charge of the project from Roche Dinkeloo. The addition doubled the size of the exhibition space, added the swell auditorium where we were held rapt by Roche, as well as program areas and social spaces. A dark funnel lined with jet mist granite connects the two bright lobbies of Jerusalem limestone. We walked through floors of exhibitions, both historical, and contemporary, reminding us of the atrocity of Hitler’s final solution and the breadth of his particular sociopathy.
It was a good thing that Donald Albrecht came to the rescue, because I started brooding when confronted with the bright red Nazi flag. Our second tour of the twin bill was of the Designing Home: Jews and Mid -Century Modernism exhibition now on view. Curated by the indefatigable Donald Albrecht, who has gone from a drafting room companion at Philip Johnson’s office in the late seventies and early eighties to the lauded Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of the City of New York, with a side business doing great shows for other institutions. This is another one: with a focus on the networks of connections between the Jewish designers, American academic institutions, publishers, and advertising, “Designing Home” traces the achievements and productive output generated by the interrelationships of Jewish furniture designers, architects, graphic designers, ceramicists, fabric designers.
Featuring the work of Anni Albers, George Nelson, Richard Neutra, Alvin Lustig, Saul Bass, Ernest Sohn, Paul Rand, and more than 25 others, the exhibition is comprised of a varied collection of furniture, housewares, advertising spreads, magazines, film clips, logos, and other objects of interest to a general and Jewish audience. These folks who originated in Europe, many at the Bauhaus, found a future in the United States at places like the Black Mountain College, the Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, and Pond Farm in California. A nifty infographic in the introduction gallery charts that web of connection. “So all those logos were designed by Jews?” asked one tour participant. Yes, all!
Cynthia Phifer Kracauer is the Managing Director of the Center for Architecture and the festival director for Archtober: Architecture and Design Month NYC.