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Friday, August 22, 2014

Back to Work: Design Still Gives Me Hope

Pioneer Place
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

The return from our three-week holiday in France and the United Kingdom has been more disorienting than usual. First, we had to give up wine at lunch! Then we gave up wine on school nights. Being self-employed means I can’t travel without internet access at each hotel, house, or apartment we stay in. So we never really get away from the tumult.

Before we left for Europe, the battle for Gaza upset me tremendously. While it is pretty clear to me who is occupying whom, it still means civilian deaths on all sides. It’s hard to see a peaceful resolution, given the violence. Trying to make sense of the conflict practically requires a degree in Mideast history.

We returned home to the tragic news about Bay Area resident Robin Williams, who was universally adored. It seems that everybody here has a story about meeting him, seeing him live, or working with him. Although his politics were always left, he volunteered to perform for U.S. troops overseas. It didn’t matter whether he agreed with the politics of a specific conflict, he empathized with the situation the soldiers found themselves in. They didn’t start the stupid wars; they need support. Of course, they need it when they get home, too, but that’s another story. It is strange how ubiquitous Williams was, and yet none of us knew him or the depth of his struggles. Let’s remember his lesson: compassion.

Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

The Gas Company
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

Museum of the African Diaspora
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

The images from Ferguson are connected to the historic oppression of African American males by largely white male forces. This is old news to black folks, but maybe this time white folks will get it too. I remember years ago attending a reading at Black Oak Books with Walter Mosley. An audience member asked innocently, if naively, whether indeed the situation in America wasn’t better for African Americans than it used to be? And Mosely said something like, “No. Every night in America, a black man is beaten by a white police officer.” Not only has the systemic mistreatment of African Americans been pointed out, we are also seeing how our police have become militarized. Another outcome of the Military Industrial Security Corporate Complex that the Republicans built in the wake of 9/11. The enemy has been misidentified.

1984 Los Angeles Olympics
courtesy: sussmanprejza.com

And then yesterday, in the design industry where many of my friends work, the death of Deborah Sussman, the noted graphic designer. She was 83, though that was hard to believe. She was a protégé of the Eameses and grew to become a brilliant designer in her own right. Her graphics for the Joseph Magnin stores illuminated my childhood and adolescence. What she could do with mall architecture! During the 1990s, she used to come to the ELS office to work on retail projects, and the whole place felt a surge when that little lady came up the stairs. Those spectacles! Her work for the 1984 Olympics not only branded the Olympics, but it also helped rebrand Los Angeles. Although her work was temporary and largely based on color, it had a permanent effect. Los Angeles became a leading global city after the Olympics. Amazing what a bit of colored paper can do. Looking at Sussman’s work cheers me up and helps me get back to work, which means sharing the work!

Deborah Sussman
Photo by Laure Joliet for the NY Times

Other articles to look at:


Monday, August 11, 2014

Postcard from Tucson

Tucson remains the strangest of cities. Surrounded by the Sonoran Desert, majestic mountain ranges, pockets of charming neighborhoods, and the most hideous of American boulevards. On this trip, we were encouraged because downtown Tucson is buzzing. The Hotel Congress and the Rialto Theatre have long anchored one side of downtown. There was a good restaurant in the old train station and a few other decent eateries scattered around, but it didn’t seem to hold together.

Hotel Congress from Connect coworking space

Inside the Connect coworking space (CoConnect)
in the Rialto Building (designed by FORSArchitecture)

But now with the new housing complexes (which are rather bland) and several well-designed new restaurants (many created by our pals Miguel and Sonya at FORSarchitecture + interiors), there is a new vibrancy downtown. There was even a pop-up shop outside the FORS office. Folks are out at night despite it being summer and the University not being in session. A handsome large coworking space upstairs at the Rialto just opened. Rather like New York or San Francisco.

While downtown, we stopped in at a party for the magazine Edible Baja Arizona, which comes out six times a year. The publication is beautifully produced and celebrates the emerging food culture near the border. It includes recipes, reviews, and interviews. Weirdly enough, it’s free. We found out about Whiskey Del Bac, which is being produced right in Tucson. Worth a sip! The new Sun Link streetcar will connect downtown to the university. Hopefully, this will mean fewer cars for students. If only the entire town had rail service. I know, one step at a time.

The Arizona Inn remains largely unchanged. They no longer bring a glass of water when you sit down at the pool. That was a nice touch. We miss the free breakfast that used to happen in the summer too, but we still enjoy the free afternoon ice cream, although I wish they served it up a bit earlier than five o’clock.

Arizona Inn

Shortly after we arrived, there was a monsoon, which cooled things down, brought up the humidity, and also brought out that beautiful desert creosote smell. My second cousin, Carolyn Burns, came to visit for a day with her new husband, Raed Haddad. Carolyn met him in Phoenix just after she signed up for a year of teaching in Egypt. Despite this obstacle, their relationship flourished, and they married when she returned to Arizona. Raed hails from Amman, Jordan, and it was fascinating to hear the stories about his homeland and family. For many years, Raed wanted to come to the United States because of educational and career opportunities, and the University of Arizona was one of the only universities here that responded to his inquiries. Although he is a well-paid engineer at Intel, he drove an Uber car for a few months because he wanted to understand the business model. We look forward to seeing them again when they venture out to California at Christmas.

On July 4, we visited Miguel’s sister Anna and climbed up on the roof of her William Wilde–designed midcentury house. We watched the fireworks and, most interestingly, some kind of laser-light show on the Santa Catalina Mountains. A big family BBQ is the best way to celebrate Independence Day.

Pool at Anna's house
Celebrating the 4th

We also drove up to Mount Lemmon, which we had never done before. The hoodoos on the drive were exceptional, as were the views. The town of Summerhaven, at the top, was destroyed by a fire in 2003, but the settlement that has been rebuilt is forgettable. Because of rain, we didn’t go for a hike.

Hodoos on the road to Mount Lemmon

The great discovery this trip was the work of architect Juan Wørner y Bas. He was one of the favored architects of local developers John and Helen Murphey. They found him when they stayed at his Continental Hilton in Mexico City. (Torn down in 1985 after the earthquake). His work in Tucson might be considered critical regionalism in that he combined modernist ideas with the local vernacular, or colonial vernacular. He loved introducing statues into the mix, sometimes atop his buildings! His annex to Josias Joesler’s quaint Broadway Village shopping center is an eclectic masterpiece. Butt-glazed windows, tiled arches, and ceramic statuettes atop the columns. What’s not to love? I just hope it doesn’t get renovated out of existence.

Broadway Village Plaza Annex
by Juan Worner y Bas

One of his best works is the fountain at the entrance to Catalina Foothills Estates No. 7, which reminds me of Barragán’s work. Apparently the water blew all over hell and gone and they turned it off. It feels like a modernist cactus marker. He also designed two condo developments near Campbell and Sunrise. One of them even has plaster longhorns decorating the wall next to the pool. Next to the pool is a koi pond, and in the distance, a view of the Catalinas. Might be a good spot to read books in my retirement.

Catalina Foothills Neighborhood entry fountain
by Juan Worner y Bas

Koi pond and plaster long horns
at Juan Worner y Bas designed condo.

Bibliography: https://preservetucson.org/architect/juan-wørner-y-bas