INTERVIEW : THANKS FOR THE VIEW, MR. MIES, EDITORS
Lafayette Park is the Cinderella of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s bold roster of work. In the heart of Downtown Detroit, it is one of the city’s most economically and racially diverse and stable communities, but has never received acclaim equal to that of Mies’ similar projects, due in part to its residence in a struggling, iconic American city some would like to turn away from.
We love Detroit, and we are equally in awe of Mies’ otherworldly alchemy of earthly grandiosity and ethereal refinement. After a recent book launch for Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies: Lafayette Park, Detroit — published by Metropolis Books — at Project No.8 off the Ace New York lobby, we interviewed editors Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar and Natasha Chandani of Placement about this communal glass house, its maker and what it all means.
In contrast to other planned Modernist communities being tested at the time, Lafayette Park seems successful on many levels such as sensitivity to scale and circulation by pedestrians and automobiles alike. But the beautiful integration of landscape design throughout the project is remarkable. How much is known of the collaboration between Mies and Alfred Caldwell, the landscape architect for the project? Did Mies envision the long term importance of the landscape design to Lafayette Park?
Yes! The landscape design is a huge reason that Lafayette Park is such a great place to live. There is a bit of research on the relationship between Mies and Caldwell, they collaborated on many projects and were both on the faculty at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. When Lafayette Park was first built in the late 1950s/early 1960s there was not enough of a budget to buy grown trees, so they planted saplings. The landscaping really became a lush, green environment in the late 1970s. Today the trees attract migrating birds and it’s become a kind of active habitat for wildlife.
When I first visited Lafayette park I was struck by how tidy all the window dressings and interior decor as seen through the expansive windows were. Le Corbusier had a famously adverse reaction when residents of his Pessac housing project decided to modify and decorate his rational modernist sculptures (and windows) to their personal tastes. In Lafayette Park does the architecture inspire the residents to neatness or do rules do this?
In the high-rises in Lafayette Park, residents have to use vertical blinds on their windows, but in the townhouses there are not actually any rules about what kinds of window treatments people can put up. That said, people are generally motivated not to obstruct the view. But, as with every neighborhood, some people are neat and some are messy.
In the end architecture is for the people who inhabit it and for the cities that they together create. The title of your book may imply more that just what you ‘view’ through the glass but thanking Mies for his view on how we should live. What are some of the key lessons architects could learn from this project through the point of view of the residents who have lived happily in Lafayette Park through the years?
The neighborhood’s designers –- Mies, Caldwell, Ludwig Hilberseimer, the urban planner, and Herbert Greenwald, the developer -– were clearly very aware of the importance of designing spaces that would encourage strong relationships between residents. But in the high-rises, which are rentals, it’s clear that the building’s management is of equal, or greater, importance to the health of the community in that building. In the townhouses, which are co-operatively owned, the neighbors’ reliance on one another is what creates strong bonds.
We’re not sure how Mies wanted people to live in his buildings, but there are many people who don’t share the minimal/spare side of his aesthetic who love living in the spaces he designed. The views through the windows contribute to the relationships people have with the city, the trees and each other. That said, as one resident who lives in the neighborhood put it to us, people “come for the architecture, but they stay for the neighbors.”
Efterklang and friends in the photobooth nestled in the Ace New York lobby last night after their gig at the Met. They played records and surprised us with a short acoustic set early in the evening. Pictured here are Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen, Rasmus Stolberg, Peter Broderick, Katinka Fogh Vindelev, Budgie, Katinka, Casper, Peter’s mom and our very dear and only Ashton Anders.
In honor of ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror festival this weekend in New York, we introduce Quintron & Miss Pussycat of New Orleans, Louisiana — two weirdos who make the world turn. Catch them plus Dirty 3, Frank Ocean, Philip Glass and The Roots — we have a friendly deal on rooms and tickets here.
Quintron has been making genre-defying noise and Swamp-Tech dance music in New Orleans for over fifteen years. Psychedelic New Orleans soul and garage R&B filtered through a distorted Hammond B-3 and a cache of self-made electronic instruments have become his creative signature. A genre-less oracle of sound, Quintron has produced strange soundscapes based on inner-city field recordings of frogs and neighborhood ambiance, and holed himself up in The New Orleans Museum Of Art for three months to create the epic “Sucre Du Sauvage”. His most significant creation has to be the The Drum Buddy — a light activated analog synthesizer that creates murky, low-fidelity, rhythmic patterns — used by Laurie Anderson, Fred Armisen and other people in the know.
Miss Pussycat is Quintron’s permanent collaborator — a master puppeteer, vocalist and maracas shaker. Hers are complex, beautiful crafted stagings, with electronically pixilated soundtracks, seedy characters and trippy black light effects (a holy trinity if we ever saw one).
Tell us what you’ve been up to.
We just released a live album on Third Man, Quintron invented a weather-controlled synth called the Singing House, our song “Chatterbox” was nominated for a Grammy and we are currently working on a new puppet film called “The Mystery in Old Bathbath” due out in November.
How do you feel about playing in New York this weekend?
We feel good. Our excitement level is currently medium but we expect it to be raised to “very high” as the magic hour approaches!
Who else are you excited about seeing at IBYM?
Phillip Glass (huge, huge fans), Magic Band Magic Band Magic Band!!, Makeup, Oh Sees…everything.
What’s your most memorable New York show to date?
C-Squat has to be up there at the very top. We left the show after we played and came back an hour later to find everyone playing our instruments.
If you were curating the festival this year, name three bands you would pick to play the stage with you.
The Residents might be first pick (they are Louisiana natives after all). And we would actually try to get Bohannon…he is still alive and living in Georgia and he just put an amazing new record out….this dude is basically responsible for modern house but he does it with a real band. We would get Cave (Chicago prog) and ZZZ (awesome Netherlands organ psych rock), King Louie (any one of his legendary bands would do — Kajun SS, Missing Monuments, Persuaders, One Man Band, etc., etc.), and oh man….we would go nuts. The Oblivions (with the Quintron line-up of course) and so much more.
Of course we would also get some New Orleans Bounce! Vockah Redu, Big Freedia, Katy Red (the OG and best of em all), etc…all awesome!
Sorry…that was more than three.
What have you liked about ATP events in the past?
We played one of the first events in England, and the most impressive thing was that the television in all of the cabins was curated as well. We would DEFINITELY do that! Just fill up 72 hours of psychedelic puppet films from all over the world…we have an enormous collection of that kind of thing.
What record are you currently listening to?
Bohannon’s “Dance your Ass Off” and a psychedelic kids’ christmas album called “Chester The Chubby Elf” (narrated by Percy Penguin).
Tavi Gevinson is starting to become just Tavi — like Cher. She could be a Bob and would still be THE Bob. She’s just insanely special, and we were head over heels honored to collaborate again with Tavi and her team at Rookie for Fashion Week this year to celebrate Rookie’s one year anniversary and the launch of their new book, Rookie Yearbook One, at Ace Hotel New York. Bob took some time out of her creative hurricane to talk to us about what Rookie means to her, trying to relax and what the future holds.
You’re living an unconventional life for a teenager — absorbing and experiencing stuff way beyond the confines of what high school can offer. If you were to invent a Rookie school, what would the curriculum be like? How do you think elements of that could be imbued into normal, every day high schools to change the lives of teenage girls, boys and everyone else?
I’m not comfortable even theorizing about How to Change the Schools of America, but Freaks and Geeks and Daniel Clowes’ work each blessed me with a sense of appreciation for human misery, and that outlook certainly changed what I get out of my school experience. Also, one of my teachers once told a story about his dad taking him shopping at Wal-Mart when everyone else in his school wore Ralph Lauren polos. He was horrified by the prospect of someone from his school seeing him there and him feeling embarrassed, but realized that in order for one of his peers to see him at Wal-Mart, they, too, would have to be at Wal-Mart. High school is terrible but learning is good and people are interesting and we’re all in Wal-Mart together.
Rookie has had a couple of articles that mention transgender, gay, lesbian and queer folks, but not a huge amount of content. The magazine is “for teenage girls” — does this ever feel clunky or ill-fitting when you think about reaching a trans, queer or gender variant audience of young people?
We’re always looking to expand the definitions of what girls can do and be, and looking for readers to share their stories through Rookie as well, so while our first year has meant a lot of figuring out who our audience is and what they would like to see from us, it doesn’t feel clunky at all to welcome all kinds of people into Rookie. Supporting girls also means sometimes questioning what it means to be a girl (or a boy), and we’ll keep on doing that.
How do you make time to daydream, create, space out and do nothing/everything with such an insane schedule? A lot of people don’t have to learn that skill until they’re much older, and most of us still struggle to figure it out, present company included. Do you think “success” ever takes a toll on your creative life or your psyche?
For each day I have different time units, like Hugh Grant in About a Boy: school, Rookie, friends, relaxing, my own creative projects, etc. I usually have to sacrifice at least one of these units on a regular school day. I’ve learned that I prefer the stress of trying to do everything I want, to the stress of wondering if I should do everything I want. I’ve also learned that it’s better to just do things all the time than sit around and think about how much shit I have to do and what to do next.
I asked S.E. Hinton a similar question when I interviewed her for Lula, not about her schedule specifically, but about the downsides of success in general. She said simply that success didn’t feel like as big a burden as no success would feel. My life is very stressful, but a lot of it comes from expectations I have for myself. I don’t feel like I got talked into anything or signed up for something I didn’t know I couldn’t handle. The fact that I even get to do all this and people will look at it is an extreme privilege, so it’s stressful, but I’m not complaining. I don’t really feel like my “success” takes a toll on my creative life or my psyche because all the projects I do that technically make me successful are my creative life and psyche — they’re creative outlets and places for me to express myself.
Tell us about some of your hopes and dreams for Rookie in year two.
I always want us to be bigger and better and all of that stuff, but it’s too scary to delve into the details right now.
Photograph of Tavi by Emily Berl for The New York Times