How Nightclubs Became Museum Pieces

WEIL AM RHEIN, Germany — In May 1985, the Palladium nightclub opened its doors to a Who’s Who of the New York art world. Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Larry Rivers were all there to check out the new club billed as a successor to Studio 54, the infamous nightspot that had closed in 1980, known for its wild parties and its unforgiving velvet rope.

The two venues defined New York’s night life in the ’70s and ’80s and had a lasting impact on pop culture: Studio 54 as the disco-fueled hedonist’s playground, and the Palladium as a meeting place for the city’s cutting-edge artists.

The Palladium, designed by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, features in a new exhibition, “Night Fever,” at the Vitra Design Museum here, not far from Basel, Switzerland. Photographs of the venue’s interior capture Mr. Haring’s giant mural of dancing figures and the banks of television screens suspended from the ceiling.

Through a collection of night life artifacts that includes a scale model of the Berlin superclub Berghain, a piece of the dance floor from the Haçienda, the Manchester club associated with the rise of rave culture in Britain, and a mirrored sound installation in which visitors can listen to disco and techno playlists, the exhibition positions the design elements of nightclubs as central to their role as incubators for pop culture.

“When I think about design, whether it’s in a nightclub or hotel, it’s not so much how it looks, it’s about how it makes you feel,” Ian Schrager, the former co-owner of Studio 54 and the Palladium, said in a telephone interview. “You’re not doing it to help you sell something else, the design is there just to lift your spirits.”

“It’s best if you don’t notice a club’s design,” Jochen Eisenbrand, the exhibition’s chief curator, said. “But it actually broadens the notion of what architecture and interior design is about because it’s to do with creating an atmosphere.”

While Studio 54 and the Palladium feature prominently in the show, it also includes ephemera from lesser-known venues. “There’s an existing canon of which clubs are important,” Mr. Eisenbrand said, “but we also tried to show the different aspects that clubs can be important for.”

There is a display from a short-lived New York venue called Cerebrum. Designed by John Storyk, the SoHo venue was open for less than a year between 1968-1969 but it graced the cover of Life magazine, which called it a “cabaret for the mind.”

It was more a performance art venue than a nightclub: Guests were required to don white gowns and were then led by attendants through an interactive experience that featured 360-degree psychedelic projections. Each evening was different; one involved projected images of snowy New England, complete with flakes falling from the ceiling and hot cider for the guests.

“It was a sort of virtual reality environment, if you will,” Mr. Eisenbrand said. “These early clubs created really immersive environments.”

The Electric Circus in the East Village was another club from this time that blurred the line between a disco and an experimental theater. The club, which in a previous incarnation was run as the Dom by Mr. Warhol, was redesigned by Charles Forberg and became known as a place where creativity and counterculture collided. A New York Times report from 1967 described how “a model in a purple and silver polka dot jumpsuit sailed through the air in the Electric Circus discothèque Monday night and landed in the arms of a man dressed as a gorilla.”

What was happening in New York during this period also made its way over to Europe. In Italy, a group of young architects were already using nightclubs as testing grounds for their avant-garde designs. Inspired by what they saw at the Electric Circus, Grupo 9999, a collective associated with the Radical Design movement, went on to open Space Electronic in Florence in 1969.

The venue, housed in a former engine-repair shop, featured a parachute suspended from the ceiling and was furnished using salvaged washing-machine drums and refrigerator casings. During the day, it housed an experimental architecture school; one project involved planting a vegetable patch on the dance floor. “It was an interesting moment in Italy because there was discourse about what a club is,” Mr. Eisenbrand said.

Ms. Rossi attributed venue closures to a general shift among young people from a culture of “hedonism to health,” as well as the rise of dating apps which remove the need to go to nightclubs to meet people.

In 2015 the London club Ministry of Sound commissioned the prestigious Dutch architecture firm OMA firm to design a new venue. The ambitious plans for the project, which Ministry of Sound canceled without explanation, feature in the exhibition.

The multiuse space included mechanical walls that would change the building’s shape. “We organized our project as a collage of different components which represent the anatomy of night life today,” Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, an OMA partner, said. “It was a catalog of all the programs and activities that have been characterized in night life in the past 30 years and combined them all together in an ultimate club.”

The plan was for a building that morphed from day to night and included a vinyl store, a cafe, a VIP entrance and suite, a radio studio, space for fitness classes, and, of course, a dance floor. Mr. Laparelli described the designs as a model for responding to the needs of changing night life. The increasing popularity of upmarket music festivals, as well as early-morning, alcohol-free dance parties such as Daybreaker, suggest that tastes are evolving and, indeed, that many once-nocturnal activities are now taking place by day.

Venues that operate solely as nightclubs are becoming increasingly challenging to run, according to Ms. Rossi. But that, she said, was not necessarily an indicator that night life was in crisis. “The emergence of spaces that operate at different times of day or have multiple functions, suggests there is an ongoing need to go out clubbing,” she said.

“Club culture was born in the explosion of youth culture in the 1960s and we’re now in a different environment, so it does make sense that club culture is changing.”

For Mr. Schrager, the spirit of night life is not all that different to how it was during his heyday of the late 1970s and early ‘80s. And it was quite straightforward back then. “When you put the design in there, the result is more than the sum of the individual parts,” he said. “It creates an alchemy.”

Night Fever
Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany through Sept. 9; design-museum.de.

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Exclusive: A $39.5 Million Penthouse at 740 Park Avenue

After serving in top executive roles at places like Merrill Lynch, John A. Thain is making another big move: He’s selling his Park Avenue penthouse.

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Review: Punk and Futurism Collide in ‘The House of Tomorrow’

As if his name weren’t enough of a burden, Sebastian Prendergast (Asa Butterfield) must also deal with a grandmother, Josephine (Ellen Burstyn), whose controlling ways are capped only by her obsession with her long-ago mentor, the architect and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller.

The two live in “The House of Tomorrow,” a geodesic dome in Minnesota that serves as both tourist attraction and opportunity for Josephine to educate the masses on her beloved Bucky’s futuristic philosophies. This bubble-wrapped existence is punctured when Josephine conveniently has a stroke, sidelining her just long enough for Sebastian to meet and bond with Jared (Alex Wolff), a glamorously rebellious, aspiring punk rocker. Maybe they could start a band!

Working from Peter Bognanni’s 2010 novel, the writer and director, Peter Livolsi, has created a painfully quirky tale that’s so contrived you can almost hear the gears of the plot grinding. Both young men are damaged (Jared has a heart problem), and neither has friends; both are cared for by a single, doting relative. But while Jared’s father (Nick Offerman) displays understandable concern, Sebastian’s grandmother behaves so oddly that she’s more like a jailer. (“You drank soda!” she gasps, almost succumbing to another medical event.)

Buoyed by a bona fide punk-rock soundtrack — the less said about our heroes’ screaming and thrashing, the better — “The House of Tomorrow” is bland and manufactured. Mr. Butterfield’s deer-in-the-headlights naïveté plays well against Mr. Wolff’s charismatic angst; yet less time with either and more with Maude Apatow, as Jared’s smart sister, and Michaela Watkins as his troubled mother, would have made for a much more satisfying movie.

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes.

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Frick Collection, With Fourth Expansion Plan, Crosses Its Fingers Again

“The garden becomes the new center of the campus,” Mr. Wardropper said in a recent interview at the museum. “It’s a beautiful garden — always was. Now we’re going to make the most of it.”

The Frick ended the last design process feeling battered by — and somewhat bitter about — critics who raised concerns about protecting the museum’s intimate scale and preserving the garden.

“Gardens are works of art,” Robert A.M. Stern, the dean of the Yale School of Architecture, said in an interview at the time. “This one is in perfect condition by Russell Page, one of the pre-eminent garden designers of the 20th century, and it should be respected as such. It’s as important as a tapestry or even a painting, and I think the museum is obliged to recognize its importance.”

Had the museum been able to build its addition in the garden, Mr. Wardropper said last week, the Frick would have gained “a proper loading dock” and “we wouldn’t have to close” for an estimated two years during construction. (The museum is talking to other institutions about continuing its activities in borrowed spaces during that hiatus.)

But he said he doesn’t feel as if the museum is settling for less. Instead, he said, the Frick has had to be more resourceful in repurposing 60,000 square feet of existing space and surgically adding 27,000 square feet, in part by building in the rear yard of the museum’s art reference library on East 71st Street.

“We’re able to achieve everything we need,” Mr. Wardropper said. “I think we’ve come up with a more elegant plan and a more rational one.”

The project, which is expected to cost $160 million, is to begin in 2020 and take about two years to complete.

Mr. Wardropper said he still firmly believes in the reasons behind the effort: to increase exhibition space and to improve circulation, amenities, infrastructure and wheelchair accessibility — trying to meet the needs of modern audiences while honoring the building’s jewel-box quality.

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A rendering of the reception hall looking toward the Russell Page garden. Credit Selldorf Architects

The museum’s collection of about 1,400 paintings, sculptures, works on paper and decorative arts — including works by Rembrandt, Goya, Vermeer and Renoir — “has more than doubled since the Frick opened in 1935,” Mr. Wardropper said. “We haven’t added more than 1,700 square feet in 80 years.”

For the first time in its history, the Frick family’s private living quarters on the second floor will be open to the public, helping to create 30 percent more exhibition space — including a permanent gallery for the new Scher Collection of portrait medals — and highlighting the experience of seeing art in an elegant home.

“The Frick has always been one of my favorite museums because you get up close to the art and you can respond to the domestic spaces in your own way,” Ms. Selldorf said. “You’ll be able to come to the museum and do the exact same thing you do today, except that you’ll be able to go up the stairs and see these rooms.”

The new design seems less likely to prompt outrage, given that the garden will be preserved, the new second level will raise the height of the lobby by less than five feet, and the museum is adding just two more floors above the mansion’s music room. Moreover, both of these additions will be set back from the street.

“You will only see it if you’re all the way back at the corner,” Ms. Selldorf said. “The closer you get, the less you see of it.”

The building addition behind the library will be the same height as the library: seven stories.

The renovation’s aesthetic will also be understated and honor the original building’s aesthetic, using materials like Indiana limestone. “You want it to be part of the existing volume, but have its own identity,” Ms. Selldorf said. “It’s not apologetic, but at the same time it’s not about style.”

The renovation will open the reception area, which currently becomes congested, by removing the existing circular stair to the lower level and relocating the gift shop to the second floor. A new staircase will lead down to the new coat check, bathrooms and auditorium. (The current 147-seat music room is acoustically challenged and so small that the museum must constantly turn people away.)

The newly configured underground spaces will eliminate the low-ceilinged galleries that could not accommodate certain works. The current show of life-size portraits by the Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán, for example, had to be displayed on the main floor, displacing a portion of the permanent collection.

The Frick will also get its first dedicated space for the 100 school groups that visit every year. (They will enter the new education center through the library’s 71st Street entrance.)

Mr. Wardropper said the Frick’s $30 million operating budget is expected to increase by $1 million or $2 million after the renovation, and its $22 admission fee is likely to go up by an undetermined amount.

Given its three previous attempts to expand in recent years — in 2001, 2005 and 2008 — the Frick is hoping to get it right this time.

“This is the one,” Mr. Wardropper said.

Over the next few months, the Frick plans to meet with some 75 community organizations and others to present the project. Museum officials have already had initial informal discussions with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has to approve the project since the Frick is in a landmark mansion, designed by Carrère and Hastings for the industrialist Henry Clay Frick.

Three former members of that commission opposed the previous plan, along with a coalition, Unite to Save the Frick, that included architects and designers. Facing what the museum called “protracted legal battles” in pushing its plan forward, the Frick decided to go back to the drawing board.

With this iteration, Mr. Wardropper said he expects some controversy, and he is steeling himself for another round.

“Are people going to have objections? Sure; it’s New York,” he said. “But I believe this is necessary for the Frick, and I’m willing to go up on the barricades one last time to make it happen.”

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Art Review: Seeing Europe’s Houses of Worship in Wild Detail

Markus Brunetti’s enormous photographs pack a healthy jolt of wonder, something more likely felt in the 19th century, when the medium was invented. I felt some of it in 2015 at “Facades,” Mr. Brunetti’s American debut at the Yossi Milo Gallery. It’s still palpable in this second show there, “Facades — Grand Tour,” through April 14.

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Orléans Cathedral, 2008-2016. Credit Markus Brunetti/Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Mr. Brunetti, who was born in Germany in 1965, had worked for about two decades in advertising when, in 2005, he switched to a more singular vocation. He became an itinerant photographer of one of photography’s oldest subjects, the religious architecture of medieval Europe, and used the latest technology to capture the facades of these landmarks with an astounding clarity of detail.

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Amiens Cathedral, 2009-2016. Credit Markus Brunetti/Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Mr. Brunetti began traveling around Europe with his partner, Betty Schoener, and what the gallery calls “a self-contained computer lab on wheels,” making color images of cathedrals, churches and cloisters mostly from between the 11th and 14th centuries. The structures are very large, and so are the images — up to 10 feet tall.

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Trani Cathedral, 2014-2018. Credit Markus Brunetti/Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

The wonder lies in giving the eye more than it can see. The facades are recorded one square meter at a time, from a fixed position; then these tiny images — from 1,000 to 2,000 — are painstakingly stitched together. The final photograph has a bracing sharpness. Every feature is visible, from the narrative reliefs above the main doors to the gargoyles and spires high above, to the color and textures of the stone.

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Joy of All Who Sorrow Church in Lithuania, 2016-17. Credit Markus Brunetti/Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

But that is only part of an uncanny, total focus, which cannot be experienced in real life (except perhaps by insects with compound eyes). Mr. Brunetti’s images are more aggressive than most because his subjects ignore perspective. His church towers do not lean back into the sky as they would if you were looking up at them or seeing a photograph made in a single shot. The lack of normal optical recession gives them an implacable, almost physical presence, especially the really tall cathedrals of Wells, Somerset, England; Orléans, France; or Nuremberg, Germany.

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Lichfield Cathedral, 2014-2017. Credit Markus Brunetti/Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

These photographs are like an architect’s elevation drawings, only much more solid. They also convey how the cathedrals once sat, and in some cases still do, above their towns and cities like large, protective beasts. Some of the buildings come to feel like the architectural equivalents of Barney. You may want to hug them.

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Rem Koolhaas Firm Reveals Design for Los Angeles Temple Expansion

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A rendering of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s campus with the 1929 temple, left, and the design for the Audrey Irmas Pavilion. Credit OMA/Luxigon

Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) unveiled on Friday the initial design for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s community event space, the Audrey Irmas Pavilion.

Named after the cultural center’s lead donor, whose $30 million dollar pledge in 2015 began the capital campaign, the inclined five-story building will slope away from the 1929 historic Byzantine-revival synagogue, symbolizing deference to Los Angeles’s oldest Jewish congregation.

The pavilion will house a ground-level banquet hall, meeting and conference rooms and a rooftop garden, while myriad angled windows will filter light throughout the space and offer vantage points from each room.

“In a city so large and so diverse, we need community, and we need inspiring, welcoming places,” Rabbi Steve Leder said in a statement. “Los Angeles deserves a modern masterpiece that brings people together in the heart of the city’s most diverse neighborhood.”

A committee selected Mr. Koolhaas and his firm OMA in an architectural competition to design the 55,000-square-foot building, which will host events for the congregation as well as Koreatown’s greater community.

The Audrey Irmas Pavilion is OMA’s first commission from a religious institution, and its first cultural project in California. The building will break ground later this year and is to open in 2020. More than 70 percent of the estimated budget of $75 million has been raised.

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Zaha Hadid’s Desert Think Tank: Environmental Beauty and Efficiency

A small, jewel-perfect mosque at the desert end terminates the long, central courtyard, its ceiling covered by a filigreed, computer-generated pattern that recalls traditional arabesque motifs. The mosque is among the few anywhere designed by a woman.

A talent at least equal to her male competitors and a feminist role model for women, especially in the Arab world, Hadid represented a progressive wing of Arab culture. In a country where most women wear the veil and abaya in public, Hadid was more partial, actually, to fashions by Issey Miyake and Yoshii Yamamoto. Her victory in the competition dovetailed with the agenda of a king who, in 2009, founded the coed King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah, where men and women mixed freely on an environmentally green campus, attending classes together.

Susan Kearton, a research center spokeswoman, said the center’s mission to find the most productive use of energy for economic and social progress aligns with “Vision 2030,” which the kingdom’s heir apparent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, recently put forward to diversify and develop the economy away from oil.

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A central courtyard view, with the entrance in the distance. Credit Hufton+Crow

The research center was Hadid’s first design to be entirely driven on the basis of sustainability, but she did not surrender her design passport when she entered the competition. In a culture where architectural traditions can separate the sexes, Hadid used her characteristically fluid spaces to break down barriers and encourage social mixing. During Design Week last fall, women and men, students and princes mingled freely, sharing food and conversation in common spaces. Veils were optional.

When the project started in 2009, King Abdullah was already 85 and ailing, and there was strong pressure to complete the project in his lifetime. The research center leased a floor in an office building in central London, where at peak production 50 architects, 80 engineers and 20 members of the center’s staff worked together. The engineers crunched numbers as everyone produced thousands of drawings.

“Decisions were made very quickly,” Mr. Kang said. “We’d generate a system and give the design to engineers to simulate wind flows and sun penetration in many feedback iterations. The design was shaped as much by the environment as by the basic will of the designer.”

The King Abdullah Petroleum and Research Center was conceived as a legacy project for the king, but, sadly, it proved to be a double legacy, the king’s and Hadid’s. If the building achieves the stature King Abdullah wanted, it was not just another trophy in Hadid’s gallery of triumphs. Always open to change, she had moved on from her successes into new territories. In Riyadh, already in her 60s, she changed direction, becoming an architect she had never quite been, creating a design she had never quite done. Architectural beauty and sustainability were not mutually exclusive. Like her building, she adapted.

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5 Women Accuse the Architect Richard Meier of Sexual Harassment

In 2009, during her first week as Mr. Meier’s 24-year-old assistant, Laura Trimble Elbogen said that the architect, who was then 75, invited her to his apartment to celebrate her new job. When she arrived, she said, he offered her a glass of wine, showed her photographs of naked women he had taken and then asked her to undress.

She declined, left the apartment and said nothing because, she said, she was too intimidated and worried about holding her job.

“The incident felt shameful and embarrassing, even though I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong,” she said in an interview. “I was worried about my co-workers and what would happen to their reputations if Mr. Meier’s behavior was exposed. Speaking up didn’t feel like an option.”

But she ultimately did reveal her experience to management, she said, after she was later laid off in what the company described to her as a downsizing.

Management also heard from Alexis Zamlich, a 22-year-old communications assistant, who reported that Mr. Meier exposed himself during her visit to his apartment that same year. Ms. Zamlich is said to have received a $150,000 legal settlement that required the firm to hold sexual harassment training.

Ms. Zamlich is barred by a confidentiality agreement from discussing the circumstances of her departure, but two people familiar with her complaint and the company’s response — including the former chief operating officer — described the outlines of the settlement.

Ms. Zamlich, they said, had been asked to work at Mr. Meier’s apartment every Friday to help with the architect’s collages, which included images of female genitalia.

According to her account, after several weeks, Mr. Meier pulled down his pants in front of Ms. Zamlich, who quickly departed. The next day, she met with a few other women at the firm, reported what had happened and then told the partners.

Scott Johnson, who served as chief operating officer at the firm between 2003 and 2010, confirmed that he dealt with Ms. Zamlich’s and Ms. Elbogen’s complaints. “We did everything we could to look into the claims and set up a strong sexual harassment policy and training,” Mr. Johnson said, “which everyone, including Richard, participated in.”

Richard Meier & Partners is considered one of the world’s leading architecture firms, with prominent projects like the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Jubilee Church in Rome. Mr. Meier founded the firm in 1963, and in 1984 he became the youngest recipient of the Pritzker, architecture’s highest honor.

“In his search for clarity,” the Pritzker jury said in its citation, “and his experiments in balancing light, forms, and space, he has created works that are personal, vigorous, original.”

In Mr. Meier’s absence, the firm said Tuesday that four associate partners would manage day-to-day operations of the New York headquarters: Vivian Lee, Reynolds Logan, Bernhard Karpf and Dukho Yeon. Michael Palladino, a partner and head of the company’s Los Angeles office, will oversee all of the firm’s operations and projects.

Mr. Meier was long known to have been flirtatious, but the women’s accounts paint a darker picture of a man who harassed women even as he signed on to popular feminist causes, like a petition to honor a woman, Denise Scott Brown, who many think was unfairly denied a share of the Pritzker won by her husband, Robert Venturi.

“He was always chasing women, and nothing stopped him,” said Lisetta Koe, a former communications manager for the firm. “He made an attempt to come on to me, and I turned him down.”

Stella Lee said in an interview that Ms. Koe warned her about Mr. Meier when she started working for him in 2000. “Ms. Koe told me that if anything were to happen, I should write two copies of a letter detailing the incident, and to mail one to myself so that I have an unopened postmarked copy should I have to prove the veracity of the date and the details of the abuse,” Ms. Lee recalled.

Having followed this advice, Ms. Lee said, she kept the letter until a few years ago. “I felt resigned to put this away and forget about it forever,” she said.

What Ms. Lee said she detailed in writing was arriving at the architect’s apartment to find him wearing only a blue terry cloth bathrobe that was open in front, exposing his penis.

“I was petrified when I saw that,” Ms. Lee recalled. “I tried to channel my panic by focusing on the work, but over the course of the day he made several inappropriate suggestions of which a colleague had warned me — that I try taking a sauna in his bathroom, asking if I liked saunas.”

She deflected and the next day told her supervisor that she no longer wanted to work alone with Mr. Meier at his home. She said her supervisor did not ask for any more details.

The supervisor told The Times that she did not recall the incident. Ms. Lee said she thought about leaving but had made friends and enjoyed the work. “It was my first job out of college,” she said, “and I wanted to follow through and see where it would lead me. I felt that it would have been extremely unfair if I were to leave because of his bad behavior.”

Judi Shade Monk said she also had been warned about Mr. Meier’s advances after starting work at the firm at the age of 26 in 2003. “A couple of people at different levels said, ‘Just don’t stay in the office late by yourself,’” she said.

Then at the office holiday party about two months later, she said, while guiding Ms. Monk over to meet two prominent architects Mr. Meier moved his hand from the small of her back down to her behind, where he played with her thong underwear through her dress.

“He started to roll my underwear around in his fingers,” Ms. Monk recalled. “One of the more senior members saw it happen and asked if I was O.K.”

Carol Vena-Mondt, a furniture designer who did not work for the architecture firm, said that she had an upsetting experience with Mr. Meier in the 1980s in Los Angeles, where he was designing the Getty Center, which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary with events like last Saturday’s Family Festival (“make a crown inspired by Richard Meier’s design”).

Mr. Meier invited Ms. Vena-Mondt to a dinner party at his residence, she said, but she turned out to be the only guest. After dessert, Ms. Vena-Mondt said that Mr. Meier forcefully tried to kiss her, and she went to leave. “He grabbed me from the back with both of his arms — and he’s a big man — and started pulling me backward,” Ms. Vena-Mondt said. “I twisted and pulled away from him, and he grabbed one of my arms and started dragging me down the hallway toward the bedroom. I was digging in my heels trying to lean back.

“He pushes me on the bed and lays down on top of me while I’m twisting and pushing him away and saying, ‘No, no, no,’” she continued. “I’d never had anything like this happen. I was pretty aggressive about telling him no, but he wasn’t listening.”

She said she finally broke free, ran to her car and locked all the doors. “Then he was right at the window: ‘Come on, come back in,’ she said. “I got the car started, got to the bottom of the long driveway, stopped and just sat there in my car crying and shaking.”

She didn’t report the incident, she said, because she felt afraid. “I didn’t want to offend him,” Ms. Vena-Mondt, now 70, said. “That’s the era I was raised in.”

In 2004, she finally told her friend Jim Isermann after they visited Mr. Meier’s Atheneum in New Harmony, Ind., on one of their architectural road trips.

“We put 7,000 miles on a rental, and we talked about everything,” Mr. Isermann said in an interview. “I was horrified.”

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A Low-Key Swedish Island’s Shockingly Modern Architecture

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The minimalist plaster box that serves as architect Bolle Tham’s vacation home rises from a ridge above one of Gotland’s stony beaches.CreditMikael Olsson

THE DANISH-NORWEGIAN WRITER Aksel Sandemose was a minor literary figure, a notorious crank, when he wrote the 1933 novel containing a set of commandments that would become one of Scandinavia’s defining social texts. “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks” is a barely veiled send-up of his hometown, Nykobing Mors (renamed Jante) and an uncomfortably close-to-the-bone satire of Nordic conformity. Jante is governed by the “Law of Jante,” rules for living that reflect both Scandinavia’s ethnic homogeneity and its long-held belief that people are happier when both pleasure and pain are spread among all citizens:

You shall not believe that you are someone.
You shall not believe that you are as good as we are.
You shall not believe that you are any wiser than we are.
You shall never indulge in the conceit of imagining that you are better than we are.
You shall not believe that you know more than we do.
You shall not believe that you are more important than we are.
You shall not believe that you are going to amount to anything.
You shall not laugh at us.
You shall not believe that anyone cares about you.
You shall not believe that you can teach us anything.

These days, Scandinavians bristle at the mention of the Law of Jante. Such stereotypes, they insist, no longer have such a stronghold in a modern world, one where Stockholm now leads in billion-dollar technology companies per capita, second only to Silicon Valley.

Yet it is hard not to think of Sandemose as you drive along the winter-deserted roads of Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, a 40-minute flight south from Stockholm. About the size of Long Island and flat as a soccer field, it is the country’s sunniest locale. (Admittedly, that doesn’t say much in a place that spends most of the year in frigid darkness.) And along with Faro, its companion island off its northern tip, it is forever associated with the director Ingmar Bergman, who set many of his greatest films here and lived in Faro for the last decades of his life. In July and early August, Gotland is a tourist mecca; young professionals, starved for heat and light, party in the beer gardens of Visby, a port town of 24,300. An hour or two away, up and down the coasts, are the summer houses of the country’s politicians and business executives, fronting beaches dotted with rauks — gigantic, craggy sculptural formations unique to the area, as ghostly as something from Stonehenge, created by ice-age reef erosions. Scarlet poppies and brilliant blue viper’s bugloss carpet the meadows and line the roadside ditches.

The director Ingmar Bergman’s study, preserved as part of a retreat for artists and writers on the island of Faro, north of Gotland.CreditMikael Olsson

But by late August, tourist season is over. There is no gradual wind-down here, just a sudden deflation, like the circus pulling up stakes in a rush. Unlike the Stockholm Archipelago, a set of islands near the capital that Swedes visit year-round, Gotland seems to disappear like Brigadoon. A number of restaurants and inns outside of Visby, including the minimalist 19-suite Fabriken Furillen, owned by the former photographer Johan Hellstrom, shut down, and the flora dies as well, laying bare the local architecture. So stripped-down and uniform are the farmhouses of Gotland’s interior, no matter what century they were built in they seem to have been drawn by a 5-year-old: rectangles topped with triangular roofs, each with a plain door and a few tiny frameless windows. The summer cottages along the largely unmarked roads are also free of embellishment: low-slung bungalows painted a familiar Falu red, the auburn-hued weather-resistant oil pigment derived from the copper mines of Dalarna, in central Sweden, during the 16th century. “People have always come to Gotland to get back to tradition and nature,” says Joel Phersson, a 35-year-old architect who works and lives on the island. “If you were to tell your friends in Stockholm that you’re going to your family’s vacation house here, you’d perhaps be telegraphing that you are well off but very low-key. Ostentation is a high crime.”

But recently, a generation of homeowners and architects, including Phersson’s firm Skalso, have started not just ignoring, but defying the Law of Jante. Working around restrictive zoning laws that prioritize “protection and preservation” of the island, which was settled more than 9,000 years ago as an agricultural hub, they have spent the last decade building contemporary houses as distinctive as the topography. From cast-concrete bunkers to glass-framed aeries, the new houses shock, subverting long-established order with a cool blast of modernity, while also paying homage to the island’s chilly dignity.

At left, the residence by married architects Hans Murman and Ulla Alberts is wrapped in a scrim printed with life-size photographs of the surrounding juniper trees. At right, a 43-foot missile silo contains a three-floor-deep marble-lined hammam inside a former Cold War bunker transformed into a home by the firm Skalso.CreditMikael Olsson

HANS MURMAN AND his wife, Ulla Alberts, architects who own a firm in Stockholm that often designs health spas, were in a perfect position to experiment on Gotland. The secluded parcel on which they built their Juniper House is owned by Alberts’s family; she spent barefoot summers in her parents’ still-standing red cottage. Before conceptualizing their own house, the couple designed a number of structures for relatives on the 2.2-acre plot, inadvertently creating a sort of stages-of-man evolutionary chart of their aesthetic. In addition to a studio that they made as newlyweds — little more than a shack — the property includes her brother’s unadorned two-story limestone farmhouse built in 2002 from plans that the 54-year-old Alberts drafted in architecture school, as well as a 1,700-square-foot, midcentury-inflected villa with a peaked wooden roof and bright orange accents that the couple finished in 2014 for Ulla’s sister. Over a decade ago, they completed the home that would become their ultimate statement, a dwelling in dialogue with the thicket of 15-foot juniper trees in which it hides. To create its innovative cladding, the 71-year-old Murman photographed the conifers, then had the images transposed in 1:1 scale onto a vinyl scrim. The mural wraps around the building’s wooden exterior on a galvanized steel frame about two feet from the walls. The house, a mere 540 square feet puzzled out with the ingenuity of a yacht to accommodate their two sons, recedes into the forest during the day — somewhat of a poke to local officials who fretted that a modern structure would mar the landscape — yet glows at night like a botanical Noguchi lantern. “We are in our own world here,” Murman says. “Among these houses there is every era, every generation. Just walking around you can travel through time.”

A 45-minute drive away, past a weathered windmill and fields of sheep fat with winter wool, Asa Myrdal Bratt has come from the mainland to meet me at her house. Built right on a rarely traveled road, it seems to rise from an empty field like a giant charred barn after a merciless prairie fire. That is precisely the effect that Stockholm-based architect Jens Enflo was seeking when his firm built it in collaboration with Deve Architects several years ago: “I wanted it to seem as though the land was just growing all the way through it,” the 42-year-old Enflo says. Clad in nearly black stained pine, a hue virtually unseen on Gotland and one that suggests shou sugi ban, the ancient Japanese burnt-timber treatment, the structure plays with proportion and transparency in a painterly way, contrasting against the flat, tree-void site. Almost 80 feet long but just under 15 feet wide, with a peaked 22-foot ceiling and a single lofted bedroom, the house’s front and back walls are partially glass, as are most of its interior walls; the central area between the living room and the small guest wing holds a covered courtyard, completing the illusion of a raw, skeletal frame. Myrdal Bratt — a brand consultant in her 50s, who, with her husband, a doctor, bought the house in 2014 — says that the place is warm, even cozy, despite its openness; from the outside, it appears provocatively barren, a stripped-down interpretation of the working livestock barns that you can see in the distance.

Gotland’s typically flat meadowland seems to flow through the barnlike house created by Jens Enflo’s firm and Deve Architects.CreditMikael Olsson

NOT ALL OF the several dozen modern houses on Gotland are entirely at peace with the island’s natural and agricultural history; some, in fact, actively challenge the surrounding landscape. Consider the harshly reductive house that the 48-year-old architect Bolle Tham’s firm built for his family: From the outside it resembles army barracks, with an exterior of local plaster, colored with carbon and troweled smooth atop a masonry core. Inside, all of the rooms face a central courtyard, giving it a snug, insular feel, though there are several wall-size windows that swing out like barn doors on summer days. Although it’s one level, some of the rooms demand several steps — a necessary design quirk after Tham resisted blasting the underlying rock to lay a uniform slab; he felt the house should follow the landscape’s topography. The living areas are nearly naked, the bedrooms cell-like, the finishes plywood. “Gotland’s vacation homes had become cliché, so we thought it was time to do something that wasn’t a replica of an old limestone farmhouse,” he says. “We wanted to be in conversation with the past, but not just repeat it.”

Still, Tham’s shed-like edifice seems recessive, even humble, compared with a collection of homes being built on the island’s Bungenas peninsula, a few miles from the seven-minute ferry to Faro. In 2007, the 49-year-old real-estate developer Joachim Kuylenstierna bought a gated 400 acres that had originally been a quarry and then, during the Cold War, the site for 100 bunkers.

There are now more than 30 homes on Bungenas, in addition to a coffee house, a six-room hotel and a concert venue converted from an old barn. All the businesses and a majority of the homes have been designed by Skalso, the firm Kuylenstierna founded with Phersson and his fellow architect, the 38-year-old Erik Gardell, because there wasn’t anyone on the island who could shape the sort of avant-garde vacation community they desired. The commune alludes to the Sea Ranch, the meticulously planned 1960s utopia in Northern California — albeit modified to include Gotland’s bunkers, some of which Skalso modernized by scooping out enough earth on one side to allow for an entry, making them a kind of Swedish hobbit dwelling. Most of these subterranean residences, which owners tend to furnish with a sparseness that borders on clinical, are less than 600 square feet, a size that the economical Swedes deem sufficient for a family of four.

To follow the natural curve of the land and avoid blasting into dense rock, Tham, the architect, designed the concrete floors of his near-bare dwelling to rise and fall from room to room.CreditMikael Olsson

But one owner, a Swedish industrialist who bought one of the largest bunkers in the development six years ago, asked Skalso to take the firm’s concept to astonishing depths, both aesthetically and literally. On approach, his house appears to be a one-story ultra-Brutalist box, made from concrete — a material rarely used for houses on Gotland — that had been poured into wooden molds to lend it a grain. Yet the 1,300-square-foot building that’s visible above ground, which includes hushed, honed public spaces in dark wood, a welded metal kitchen and two minimalist bedrooms, represents less than a fifth of the total living space: The rest is beneath grade, on three floors, descending nearly 50 feet.

The excavation and underground construction process felt like laboring in the mines. Skalso preserved and exposed as much of the original concrete structure as possible, connecting a series of high-ceilinged, lavishly spare, skillfully lit rooms with a spiral, matte-black steel staircase. In addition to a vast dining room, there is a large, round marble-lined hammam installed in a former missile silo; the sky is visible through a glass porthole three flights above. Next to it is a “spa” with custom rubber sofas. Despite how sleek and chillingly soundproof the place is — you half-expect to hear muffled screams from somewhere in the depths — the owners, who, incongruously, have two young children, are clearly aware of their house’s inherent drama: In a niche along one of the subterranean corridors, Skalso added a metal shelving unit stacked with cans of baked beans and bottled water, a wink to contemporary survivalist clichés.

It is an extreme way to live, but in the end Gotland, despite its reputation for placid beauty, is pretty extreme itself: remote and wind-whipped and fierce — with, finally, a corresponding architecture. There are more contemporary houses in the works on the island over the next decade, including a streamlined enclave of a dozen on the island’s northeast inlet anchored by the Fabriken Furillen inn. The Law of Jante, it turns out, especially its final tenet — “You shall not believe you can teach us anything” — is no longer true here, amid the quiet farmhouses, the monochrome of Falu red, the biblical sky that never ends. Subversion, it seems, takes its most intriguing form when there is something beautiful and pure to bend. “You need the right background to change the way people think,” Enflo had said, staring out at the field from the wide-open house he designed. “It’s that contrast that makes you free.”

Related:

Where the Swedes Go to Be (Really) Alone

Cold Comfort at the Edge of the World

Not All Scandinavian Design is Minimalist

Bornholm: Crafts and Sunshine on the Danish Isle

Nancy Hass is the writer at large for T Magazine.

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Top Architecture Prize Goes to Low-Cost Housing Pioneer From India

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Balkrishna Doshi, the winner of this year’s Pritzker Prize for architecture.CreditVSF

Balkrishna Doshi doesn’t talk just about his buildings. This architect, urban planner and educator talks about how his buildings aim to foster a sense of community, how space can promote inner peace, how cities can contribute to the health of a society.

Considered a pioneer of low-cost housing, Mr. Doshi, 90, is thrilled to have been awarded the 2018 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor, which was announced on Wednesday. He is the first laureate from India, and worked with the 20th-century masters Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn.

“It is a very wonderful thing that happened,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Ahmedabad, a city that was once the center of the nonviolent struggle for Indian independence. The award will be bestowed on Mr. Doshi, the 45th laureate, at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in May.

But Mr. Doshi’s 70-year career has always been about much more than prizes — of which he nevertheless has many — or international renown, of which he had relatively little, given that he is not a household name.

Aranya, a low-cost housing complex of houses, courtyards and pathways, aims to empower “the have-nots to realize their dreams through ownership,” Mr. Doshi said, “improving their quality of personal and community life.” CreditVSF

Mr. Doshi has been consumed with larger issues like social good and sustainability. And he bemoans a culture and profession that he sees as overly concerned with the bottom line. “One is all the time looking at financial returns — that is not only what life is,” he said. “I think wellness is missing.”

What Mr. Doshi means by “wellness,” he said, are considerations like how we can “connect with silence”; how “life can be lived at your own pace”; and “how do we avoid the use of an automobile.”

The architect has brought this type of philosophical thinking to projects like his Aranya Low Cost Housing in Indore (1989), where more than 80,000 low- and middle-income residents now live in homes ranging from modest one-room units to spacious houses, with shared courtyards for families.

He also designed mixed-income housing for a life insurance corporation in Ahmedabad (1973), which combines income groups on three floors of a pyramidal housing block approached through a common staircase. The Vidhyadhar Nagar Master Plan and Urban Design in Jaipur (1984) features channels for both water harvesting and distribution. (The Vidhyadhar housing plan recalled Mr. Doshi’s work with Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, with its wide central avenues, and a study of Jaipur’s Old City.)

“Housing as shelter is but one aspect of these projects,” the Pritzker jury said in its citation. “The entire planning of the community, the scale, the creation of public, semipublic and private spaces are a testament to his understanding of how cities work and the importance of the urban design.”

Mr. Doshi’s emphasis on communal spaces is reflected in his own work studio, Sangath (roughly translated as “moving together”), which includes a garden and outdoor amphitheater, spaces designed to foster the exchange of ideas. The mosaic tile in his studio also appears in the undulating roof of Mr. Doshi’s underground art gallery in Ahmedabad, Amdavad ni Gufa (1994), which features the artwork of Maqbool Fida Husain.

The undulating underground art gallery Amdavad ni Gufa in Ahmedabad (1994) features the work of Maqbool Fida Husain. Mr. Doshi called it “a challenge between an artist and an architect to give birth to the most unexpected.”CreditVSF

Mr. Doshi described the gallery project as “a challenge between an artist and an architect to give birth to the most unexpected.”

“Searching the uncommon meant raising fundamental questions,” he added, “meaning of function, meaning of space, meaning of technology, structure and form.”

Education is central to Mr. Doshi’s work; he has taught and lectured all over the world. The architect said he has founded six schools, including the School of Architecture and Planning in Ahmedabad (1966-2012), where he is the dean emeritus. It was renamed CEPT University in 2002.

His educational buildings include the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (1977-92), a series of interwoven streets, courts and classrooms inspired by traditional, mazelike temple cities in southern India.

Born in Pune, India, in 1927, Mr. Doshi began his architecture studies in 1947 at the Sir JJ School of Architecture in Mumbai. He then moved to London and to Le Corbusier’s atelier in Paris, where in the 1950s he helped work on Chandigarh, the experimental Modernist city about 150 miles north of New Delhi. Mr. Doshi ultimately settled in Ahmedabad, where he helped supervise the construction of Le Corbusier’s Mill Owners’ Association Building (1954) and worked on other Corbusier projects, including the Sarabhai House in Ahmedabad (1955).

In 1956, Mr. Doshi founded his own practice, Vastushilpa — now Vastushilpa Consultants — which has five partners and 60 employees.

The firm’s more than 100 projects include the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (1962), on which Mr. Doshi worked as an associate for Louis Kahn — an occasional collaboration that lasted more than a decade.

His work is deeply evocative of Indian history and culture, drawing on the grandeur of shrines and temples, the bustle of city streets and the local materials from his grandfather’s furniture workshop.

The Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (1977-92), inspired by traditional Indian cities and temples, integrates “nature as well as human activities,” Mr. Doshi said.CreditVSF

He does not set out to design an iconic structure. Rather, Mr. Doshi approaches his projects with an eye toward seeding miniature societies that its residents can expand and animate over time.

“Architecture is not a static building — it’s a living organism,” he said. “How do we add on coffee shops, restaurants, bookshops, so you can use the building? Can we bring life into what we create?”

“What is the role of an architect today?” Mr. Doshi added. “Are we going to be a service provider working for a client, or are we going to be useful to the society at large?”

Robin Pogrebin is a reporter on the Culture Desk, where she covers the art world, architecture, cultural institutions and occasionally theater. She has also worked on the Business Desk, where she covered the media, and on the Metro Desk. @rpogrebinFacebook

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