April 21, 2013

Cass Gilbert’s Buildings (among others) in Newark, NJ

Demolition proceeds across from Military Park, Newark

Demolition proceeds across from Military Park, Newark



Broad Street Storefronts across from Military Park, Newark









A couple of blocks of buildings along Broad Street, facing Military Park in Newark, are being demolished in 2013. These blocks included stores where many people once shopped, but have been vacant for quite a while. Apparently, the Prudential Company plans to build more office space once the land is cleared. As is often the case with a key economic stakeholder in a city, Prudential has shaped much of downtown Newark. An ensemble of Prudential buildings by George Browne Post was demolished in 1957; these dated from 1890-92 and were steel-framed and limestone-clad, in Romanesque Revival style. In 1926-27, when Cass Gilbert constructed the Gibraltar building for Prudential adjacent to the Post buildings, he designed elevated bridges to connect his structure to those of G.B. Post. When Post’s buildings were torn down, so were the bridges. Gilbert’s 14-story Gibraltar Building was renovated in 1997 by Grad Partnership and currently houses the Superior Court of NJ.


Gibraltar Building, Newark



Bridge between old Prudential Building and Gibraltar Building








A few blocks from the Gibraltar Building, Gilbert designed the Kinney Building (1913-15, altered 1928). This steel-framed, limestone-clad building has a granite base and still stands at 788-92 Broad St (at Market). At twelve floors, it was an investment building on land owned by the Kinney estate; the Hedden Construction Co. was the contractor. The foundation was planned to carry four additional floors, but they were never added. Just down the block from the Kinney, at Broad and Mechanic Streets, is another Gilbert building, the National State Bank (1912).  In 2012, this structure was supposedly being rehabbed into a boutique hotel; construction appears to be ongoing in 2013. The ten-story Scheuer Building at Broad and Commerce, designed in 1905 by Gilbert for a firm of importing grocers, has been demolished.


National State Bank, 1912



Kinney Building










Gilbert’s massive, ground-hugging American (Fire) Insurance Co. Building, at 70 Park Pl, was built 1902-05, altered 1921-24, and was also demolished, in 1980. While its stone structure certainly looked fireproof, the changing needs of insurance companies and a gloomy financial situation brought the wrecking ball.

Essex County Courthouse, from Market Street

Essex County Courthouse, from Market Street


John Haviland's 1838 courthouse was replaced by Cass Gilbert's

John Haviland’s 1838 courthouse was replaced by Cass Gilbert’s








The first decade of the twentieth century also witnessed the design and construction of many of Newark’s public buildings. The City Hall of 1902-08 was built at 920 Broad Street (John and Wilson Ely, archItects.) The Newark Public library of 1901-03 faced Washington Square; the competition for the Essex County Court House was won by Cass Gilbert in 1901 and completed in marble and Tiffany glass in 1906. Gilbert’s courthouse replaced the 1838 vaguely Egyptian Revival structure by John Haviland. On the axis of Market Street, the courthouse is visible from the commercial center of Newark. The sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, created a “Seated Lincoln” in 1911 for the plaza in front of the courthouse. Newark-raised writer Philip Roth mentions this statue in his 1998 novel, I Married a Communist (p. 91) and just today in the New York Times (April 21, 2013), Roth eulogized his Newark high school teacher on whom the central character of that novel was based. Neighboring Hudson County officials liked Gilbert’s design so much that Hugh Roberts, a local New Jersey architect, closely modeled his design for the Hudson County courthouse (1910) on it. The restoration of the Essex County Courthouse by Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch took place in 2005.

Ernest F. Guilbert and James O. Betelle started off their architectural careers in the New York City office of Cass Gilbert. By the second decade of the 20th century, they had joined in practice in Newark, creating many schools in New Jersey as well as adjacent states. While Guilbert died in 1916, the firm continued under that name, designing the Essex Club in 1926 (the current home of NJ Historical Society). This Federal Revival, domestically-scaled building faces Military Park, and is just down the block from the Robert Treat Hotel (1916), also by Guilbert and Betelle.


Other buildings that we did not have time to look at on our tour of Newark, include:

  • Trinity & St. Philip’s Episcopal Cathedral at Broad & Rector Streets, 1809; base of tower dates from 1744; Josiah James and Richard Upjohn
  • Peddie Memorial/First Baptist Church, 1890, 572 Broad St., William Halsey Wood (Newark architect)
  • Newark Public Library, 1903, Rankin and Kellogg, 5 Washington St. (now has NJ Historical Collection)
  • North Reformed Church, 1859-68, William Kirk, at 510 Broad St. (by library)
  • Newark Museum, 43-49 Washington St., founded 1909, and includes the 1884 Ballantine House; Michael Graves addition, 1989
  • Grace Church, 1847-48, 950 Broad St, Richard Upjohn
March 23, 2011

Responsive Architecture

I had the good fortune to hear Tristan Sterk talk the other night in Champaign. He’s teaching now at the Art Institute of Chicago, and came down at the invitation of Therese Tierney, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture at the U of I. Tristan is principal of the Office of Robotic Architectural Media and the Bureau for Responsive Architecture (ORAMBRA). His background in thermal performance provides a solid foundation, as it were, for his architectural experiments, kind of like a technology start-up company, he said, with the goal to produce scalable systems. He described his approach as “anti-architecture,” or what architecture would look like if we didn’t let form drive the project. Other phrases he used: open, egalitarian, new vernacular, built from available technologies, bottom-up. He encouraged us to give up authorship. I found myself thinking of the wonderful work of Michael Rakowitz, whose PARAsite project collaborated with homeless individuals to create inflatable structures with the vented air in cities.

Tristan has prototyped a Prairie House, an “iPod to live in” that adapts and changes to human and environmental conditions. He aims to integrate environmental controls with the spatial system, changing the nature of space itself. This house has a tensegrity system (Tristan showed cool videos of models in motion) with a skin that changes in response to various conditions. Other variables that the Prairie House takes into account: softness, rigidity, color, permeability, volume, shape, insulation levels. Videos are on Tristan’s website featuring him in action on a recent Intelligent Infrastructure panel.

Yona Friedman informs some of Tristan’s thinking, and he read an excerpt from L’Architecture mobile (I think.) This from a chapter he (Tristan) has written for a book due out soon called Persistent Modelling, edited by Phil Ayres (Routledge, 2012.) The key concept that excited me was a series of systems that would be actively given over to occupants, who could manipulate and change these systems to meet their needs. This architecture would be built from a few standard pieces, but used in many ways, with performance driving form. David Hays asked about the threshold cost of these structures…at what point does the expense outweigh the benefits?

March 21, 2011

Regional Relationships

The collaborative artist team, Regional Relationships (RR), has just launched its first edition! Matthew Friday, the first artist commissioned by RR, has been working in southern Ohio with flooded mines. He writes of “interlocking networks of abandoned mines” that number about 12,000. A bacteria has colonized the flooded underground areas and, as part of their digestive process, they “free” the acidic sulfur in the leftover coal, thus leading to acid mine drainage. “[S]everal thousand gallons of toxic sulfur hydroxide every week” flow through the ecosystem. Together with an environmental engineer from Ohio University, Dr. Guy Riefler, Matthew produced a neutralized tube of paint from the mine runoff; it’s ochre-colored. He provided a brush, a pen, and a tube of pigment, plus a sheet of paper, and invited participants to diagram their own relationships with nature/culture, what Matthew describes as “entangled collectives that make up the world [and] cannot be separated into neat categories….” To spark creation of diagrams, Matthew posed these questions: “Where does your water come from? What systems contribute to its production? What histories are folded into current form? What futures are being produced by the way we make use of it?”

My graduate seminar in Architecture happened to be discussing R. Buckminster Fuller last week, and Bucky’s ideas about Spaceship Earth. It seemed like as good a time as any to create a diagram about water in central Illinois, riffing off of the Buckminster Fuller Institute‘s Challenge, “an annual international design Challenge awarding $100,000 to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.” We listed various aspects of the water cycle and watched the video about Jennifer Monson’s Mahomet Aquifer project that is linked from the blog. Students Matthew Goyak, Deven Gibbs, Jieyoung Lee, Shellie Halkyard, and Todd Mackinson created this wonderful illustration on March 17, 2011. The brown tint is the pigment from Matthew Friday.

Living Water Cycle

Living Water Cycle

October 19, 2010

“Meating” in WordPress

I know a lot of people who blog. Lately, I have been blogging on other websites, which I think is a delightful way of connecting. Kasalina Nabakooza is a photographer and a recent graduate in Comparative Literature from New York University. She lives in Brooklyn and began an exchange with me via email. Her website includes wonderful portraits of people on the street, in addition to this “interview” that we did.

Today, in time for Hallowe’en, a blog post I wrote on Lady Gaga’s meat dress went live on the blog of University of Minnesota Press. A version of the meat dress by Jana Sterbak, c. 1987, is part of the Walker Art Collection in Minneapolis. It is called “Vanitas.” Thanks to Maggie Sattler for inviting me to blog for the Press.

October 10, 2010

BEE: Built Environment Education

I have been asked about integrating aspects of architectural history into K-12 curricula, which is something I did on a very small scale when my kids were in elementary school in the 1990s. I never went so far as to align the activities we did with state standards, but that’s because I worked closely with teachers.

First, I looked at what the American Institute of Architects (AIA) had done with their Built Environment Education (BEE) curriculum. Searching for it now in 2010, it seems that others have taken it up, because there are a lot of hits online. But Alan Sandler, with whom I corresponded, wrote an article in Art Education (v. 42, no. 5, pp. 13-16) in 1989 called, “Learning by Design: The AIA Elementary and Secondary Education Program.” Illustrated with drawings of buildings by children, the article lays out the steps that the AIA took to integrate principles about the built environment into established curriculum, using teacher training, activity development, and networking. Locally, in Champaign, Gary Olsen and Michele Olsen and their office created the Architeacher program, which still seems to be a going concern.

With young children, awareness and appreciation of the natural and built environments and their interactions, as well as visual thinking and observation skills are probably as, if not more important, than any mastery of content.

For my daughter’s class, we began by measuring the classroom. We then had to scale down the measurements in order to draw the plan, and we made symbols for doors and windows. These steps involve vocabulary building, math and drawing. We talked about how one classroom connected to the hallway, and all the other parts of the building.

I had taken photographs of details of buildings near the elementary school where my daughter went. These were mostly pictures of windows, roof details, foundation stones, porch columns, and doors, which I mounted on poster board and laminated. Groups of about five children and an adult then went on a treasure hunt to match the photos with the buildings around the school, following a map that I gave to each adult leader. Each group headed in a different direction to find their own “treasures.”

There are lots of other activities that relate to buildings and history and connect to basic skills for elementary-level students:

  • The game of “Blockhead” helps kids learn about shapes, loads and balance
  • Children can find shapes, lines, textures, colors and patterns in pictures of buildings
  • School children can make rubbings of different building materials
  • Older children can make bridges and learn about spans and load-bearing structures
  • “Sidewalk superintendents” can learn a lot by visiting a construction site
  • Similarly, students can visit an historic house, an architect’s or contractor’s office

Leal School teachers Colleen Brodie and Nancy Coombs published two books with their classes: Children, Architecture, and History: A Child’s Walking Tour Guide of Urbana (1989-90) and then A Child’s Guide of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1990-91). They include drawings and information about buildings on campus and in Urbana.

Nowadays there are a great many more books available (and easily searchable!), but here are some of the ones I collected, obviously in no particular order:

Forrest Wilson, What It Feels Like to be a Building (1995), ages 4-8

Wilson, The Joy of Building: Restoring the Connection between Builder and Architect (Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, 1979), older kids

Most of David Macaulay’s books http://www.davidmacaulay.com/

Fagg, Sington, How They Built Long Ago

MacGregor, Skyscrapers: A Project Book

Goldreich, What Can She Be? An Architect

Haldane, Faces on Places: About Gargoyles

Balthasar Korab, Archabet: An Architectural Alphabet Postcard Book (Preservation Press, 1992)

Diane Madex, Architects Make Zigzags: Looking at Architecture from A to Z (Wiley, 1986)

Katharine Jones Carter, Houses (1982)

Harriet Langsam Sobol, Pete’s House (1978)

Cobb/Strejan, Skyscraper Going Up

Carter Harman, A Skyscraper Goes Up

Ingoglia, The Big Book of Real Skyscrapers

Jane D’Alelio, I Know that Building: Discovering Architecture with Activities and Games (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1989)

Paolo Donati(illus) and Philip Wilkinson, Amazing Buildings (Dorling Kindersley, 1993)

Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-sections (Knopf, 1992)

The Center for Children’s Books, one of the research centers at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois, has many resources available to help expand these ideas.

August 15, 2008


Holding hands in the subway tile mosaic

Holding hands in the subway tile mosaic

Jane Rendell wrote in 2000: “…[A]rchitecture takes inspiration from other spatial arts. Architects can learn possible tactics and strategies from the work of feminists in dance, film, art and writing, as well as those artists operating in the public spaces of the city, for example, Niki de Saint Phalle, Maya Lin and Suzanne Lacy.”

I want to add “should” in Jane’s written statement above. Jane’s 2006 book, Art and Architecture: A Place Between, offers so many ideas for the design professions, building on her previous work.

November 24, 2007

The Political Equator 2

Champaign, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, and then back again. I was really tired when I got home.
The idea of this event was truly fascinating: “an exploration of the intersection between sociopolitical and natural domains, foregrounding the notion of collective territory, but also a territory of collaboration that transgresses hemispheric boundaries. At the core of such trans-hemispheric sociopolitical and economic dynamics is the conflict between transcontinental borders and the natural and social ecologies they interrupt and seek to erase.” So many interesting folks came together for this mobile symposium, but the end result was disappointing. It took a lot of energy just to move 80-100 people around, and the logistics of being able to hear, have time to pee and eat, and still have time for dialogue were too much. So maybe Political Equator 3 will allow for more time, more silence, more women, and less strutting. The highpoints for me were the show that Nick Brown and Ava Bromberg put together at LACE, “Just Spaces,” and then the bus tour of Tijuana, which was a city I had never seen before. But I came home still wanting to know about the community of San Ysidro, just on the border, and what actually might be happening with the Tijuana River and the watershed in that area. There were no specifics; just a lot of architects and artists networking in what Sarah Kanouse rightly called “transnational intellectual stars.”
On the flight home I read T.C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, a chilling and powerful depiction of undocumented workers nose-to-nose with the wealthy folks who live off their labor.

November 19, 2007

Teddy, Tacos and Talk

One man after another, talking and talking. The tacos were fantastic and Teddy Cruz must be thirty times more tired than I am. What energy and passion that man puts out, bilingually and all over the map. At the start of our journey from LA, Teddy noted our tendency to “hide beneath weird complexity.” It just stayed complex for the next four days…fascinating, frustrating, and fragmented. Probably no other way it could have gone, with 120 people trailing after Teddy’s enthusiasms. Metro, train, trolley, walking, buses, and more walking. Definitely the weirdest for me was the HaudenschildGarage in La Jolla. Suzanne Lacy said she collected “language”–phrases like “archipelago of enclaves” and “critical insertion.” I met Ava Bromberg, New York-based urban planner Al Wei, CCA architecture student John Manzo, Tijuana architect Rene Peralta (who contributed to Here is Tijuana), Emily Scott of the LA Urban Rangers, Christina McPhee, Christina Ulke of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, many of Suzanne Lacy’s students, and enjoyed time with Sarah Kanouse, Nick Brown, Monica Mayer and Suzanne. Almost as a corrective to the train ride from Los Angeles to San Diego, and the party that night in La Jolla (which was over the top), was my bus ride across LA on Sunday, on the Number 33 city bus along Venice Blvd. It felt everyday, and slow…19.62 miles according to Mapquest.