Mad for Zou Bisou Bisou

If you watched last Sunday’s season premier of Mad Men you may have found yourself singing this tune all week. Apparently this song is part of a 1960s French movement called Yé Yé Pop. FlavorWire has a great article on the movement.

Zu bisou bisou was originally sung by 16-year-old Gillian Hills in 1961 (below).

Of course, you can always check out Megan’s version on YouTube… if you can tear your eyes from Don’s fabulous new pad.

New Renzo Piano Wing Illuminates Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Isabella Steward Gardner Museum officially reopened this past thursday, January 19 and I was lucky enough to be one of the first visitors.

I must admit a strong bias in favor of all things Renzo Piano. T and I have travelled from Dallas to Basel  to view examples of his work… and yes, I admit, I actually have a ragdoll cat who shares the same name. He does not share the same design instinct but does have a fondness for lying on construction drawings.

my renzo piano

Needless to say, I was thrilled to have a Renzo Piano Workshop building so close to home and this did not disappoint. The ISG has always been a special museum … a small quirky museum defined by its patron. Like the Sir John Soane Museum in London, the Gardner represents the taste in collecting and display of one individual and has not been altered since her death. The extension adds space for additional educational, entertaining, musical and curatorial programming while leaving Gardener’s palace intact. It preserves and connects the original while successfully standing on its own.

The exterior on a snowy saturday

“This new wing is an extraordinarily elegant workshop, a bustling counterpoint to the historic building’s serenity. Here, the thinking and the work of the Museum is performed, so that the Palace, which had been put to uses for which it was not equipped, can once again give visitors the experience Isabella Stewart Gardner intended: a personal confrontation with art.” (Anne Hawley, Norma Jean Calderwood Director of the Museum)

The new entrance to the museum is through Piano’s glass, copper and steel additional. It is in direct reference to the greenhouses which this structure replaced. In Piano’s words, “The material choices were made in mind of the levitation of the volume and to welcome the public with informal activities. Like the greenhouse–there is nothing more informal than a greenhouse! But it’s part of this institution; this lady [Ed: Gardner] used to have a greenhouse, moving flowers to the palace courtyard and back again. The lobby is funny, it’s almost all a greenhouse.” (Dwell)

The scale of the space is both intimate and grand. You are led from the entrance into a hallway which contains a “living room” (for browsing) and “dining room” (cafe) but also a grand steel and glass staircase leading to the upper floors. The combination of materials — metal, glass, wood, brick and patinated copper — creates light but also a sense of warmth and comfort. The surrounding buildings and landscape are also very much in evidence and add to the sense of interior comfort, especially on a cold snowy day.

Calderwood Hall

From this space, the visitor is then led through a glass tunnel from the new building into the heart of the original 1903 Museum. The tunnel appears square at first but once inside you notice the slight barrel vault of the glass ceiling bridging the architecture between the new and old. In many ways this creates a grander entrance to the palace than before… the structure transports you back in time. At the end of this tunnel of light is magnificent courtyard, my favorite feature of the original palace.

One of the most spectacular features of the new wing is Calderwood Hall, a 300 seat, cube-shaped, 3-balcony concert hall. It allows the museum’s music program to expand beyond the drawing room of the palace but still preserves the experience of intimacy to the musicians and fellow concertgoers found in the original. During the opening last weekend, people were sitting and lingering in the hall without any entertainment but each other. The detailing of every aspect of the hall from the split corner railings to the laser-cut floor numbers on the wood wall panels is exquisite and typical of Piano’s work.

It is a pleasure to have such a wonderful addition to Boston… I anticipate many return visits.

For more on the project, visit the the ISG Museum building project site. You can also download RPBW photos, floor plans and more at museum’s online press area.


Greene and Greene Realize Our Dreams in INCEPTION

Interior of The Gamble House, Greene and Greene

Last night I watched Christopher Nolan’s Inception for a second time. I can’t say that this time it all made sense, but I was able to let the plot go and focus on the amazing visuals and architectural references including some of my favorite designers — Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Henry Greene. (Upstaged by Design has explored this in The Architects of Simplicity). My favorite dream space has to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s imagined Arts and Crafts style home within a contemporary skyscraper. How cool is that?

While watching the film I was impressed with the quality of the interior space used for Cobb’s home… it was either an amazing recreation or more likely an existing house. Turns out the movie was filmed in a “real” house in Southern California by none other than Greene and Greene. The house used is the Freeman A. Ford House at 215 S. Grand Avenue in Pasadena, designed in 1907. The house is privately owned and few photos exist, but you can see that the door detail in the film is the same in early exterior photos. You can view additional images of the Freeman Ford House here. (from Greene & Greene by Randell Makinson)

left: Freeman A. Ford House; right: still from Inception. Notice the door detail.

Charles and Henry Greene received international acclaim for bringing the Arts and Crafts movement to America and are often identified with California bungalow style architecture. The level of craftsmanship and artistry in their work is rarely seen today… one reason I was not surprised that the “set” used in the film was actually the real thing. Their most famous masterpiece is the Gamble Mansion in Pasadena, just a short distance from the Ford House. It was done in the same period (1908) and shares similar design elements. If you ever have to opportunity to be in Pasadena, two times a month the house is open for a “Behind the Velvet Ropes” 2 1/2 hour tour which is truly amazing. T and I travelled to Pasadena to do this several years ago and it was well worth the trip. This house is a gem and the extended tour allows to you feel what it must have been like to live there. The exquisite detail, warmth of the wood, and soft light surrounding you is truly transporting.

The Gamble House in 1:12 scale by Noel and Pat Thomas. © Copyright Noel and Pat Thomas.

The architects of Inception are not the first to replicate the genius of the Greene brothers. A miniature version of the Gamble House was created in 1987-89 by artists Pat and Noel Thomas who specialize in creating 1 inch to 1 foot scale architectural models that show the patina of age. “Their work is more that of painters than of builders, in that they work to create a ‘feeling,’ an illusion of reality that evokes memories from those viewing their work.”

Whether dream or reality, the work of Greene and Greene takes us to a place of timeless beauty dappled in warm California sunlight… something those of us on the East Coast sorely need right about now.