Comment 71360

By H+H (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2011 at 13:32:18

I'm pasting in some information about the New Formalism style of architecture, of which the BOE building is an example. In my opinion, a good example. The text appeared as part of the exhibition I did on the Board of Education building at HIStory + HERitage a few months ago. Thought it might help put the BOE building in a broader context.

Understanding the New Formalism Style

The New Formalism is a style of architecture developed in the mid-1950s as practitioners of modernism sought new modes of expression not so tightly bound by the rigid formulae of the American version of the International Style.Also known as Neo-Formalism, or just Formalism. A maturing modernism grasped the many commonalities with classicism, such as emphases on structure and a uniform construction grid, a carefully organized hierarchy, and clarity of geometric form. Searching for symbolic meaning, modernist architects of the mid-1950s through the early 1970s embraced Classical precedents in establishing building proportions, in the use of the arch, stylized classical columns and entablatures, and in use of the colonnade as a compositional device, as well as the elevated podium.

Characteristics drawing on classicism include rigid symmetry, use of columns and colonnades or arcades, and use of high- end materials (such as marble or granite), yet works in this vein also characteristically use the flat roofs common with the International Style.

Traditional rich materials such as travertine, marble, or granite were used, as were manmade materials that mimicked their luxurious qualities. On a larger urban design scale, grand axes and symmetry were used to achieve a modern monumentality. Primary in developing the New Formalism were three architects: Edward Durrell Stone, Philip Johnson and Minoru Yamasaki, all of whom had earlier achieved prominence working within the International Style and other modernist idioms. Stone's well published American Embassy in New Delhi (1954) is considered by many to mark the origin of the movement.

Edward Stone produced his first southern California design in the mode of New Formalism in 1958. His local masterpiece, the Stuart Pharmaceutical Company Plant and Office Building on East Foothill Boulevard in Pasadena was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The complex includes landscaping by eminent landscape architect Thomas Church. Stone was responsible for some of the best examples of the style locally, others of which are all single, freestanding buildings. The cultural and performing arts centers, and other civic construction that became so significant a part of the American public landscape in the postwar era, encouraged by a wealth of government incentives, were often the product of the New Formalism's union of Classicism and Modernism.

The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in NewYork was at the forefront of this development. Planning for the Lincoln Center commenced in 1955 and its first element was completed in 1962.The Center is organized around a public square of ceremonial proportions, framed by colonnades and an arcade on three sides, opening to the city on the fourth. The three travertine sheathed performance halls, Philip Johnson's New York State Theatre, the Metropolitan Opera House by Wallace K. Harris, and Avery Fisher Hall by Max Abamowitz, form a unified enclosure for the highly formal plaza designed by Phillip Johnson.The complex explicitly recalls the formal order of Michelangelo's Piazza del Campodoglio in Rome.The complex also includes the Vivian Beaumont Theatre by Eero Saarinen, and Pietro Belluschi's Julliard School of Music.The body of scholarly study of the Center has been steadily expanding and the complex was recently determined eligible for inclusion in the NRHP. "The success of the New Formalism in the America of the 1960s is not hard to account for ; in an affluent society it lends itself to the use of expensive materials (as well as materials that only look expensive); in a society that aspires to culture it flatters the spectator with its references to the past; in a conservative society it suggests that the old forms need only to be restyled to fit them for new needs" (Whiffen p. 260). The style was embraced by the local arbiters of establishment taste. For each of the three major arts complexes completed in the United States during the 1960s, the Los Angeles Music Center, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in NewYork, and Edward Stone's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the New Formalism was employed as an appropriate synthesis of civic authority and Classical monumentality.

In southern California the style was applied mainly to auditoriums, museums, and college campuses. Completed in 1964, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was designed by William Pereira and Associates.The LACMA complex was originally comprised of two large galleries and an administrative/auditorium building placed upon an elevated podium and arranged around a formal central plaza that opened to Wilshire Boulevard. The University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, California Institute of Technology and Ambassador College in Pasadena, and Harvey Mudd College in Claremont all possess significant works of New Formalism by major architecture firms. Other significant examples of New Formalism in Los Angeles include the Ahmanson Center Building on Wilshire Boulevard, Beckman Auditorium at Caltech, and Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena. Excerpted from Historic American Building Survey prepared by Teresa Grimes.

Examples of the New Formalism

US Embassy, New Delhi, India JFK Center for the Performing Arts,Washington Lincoln Center, New York City Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles Stuart Pharmaceutical, Pasadena State University of New York at Albany

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