26
Jul
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Exhibition: ‘Knud Lonberg-Holm: The Invisible Architect’ at Ubu Gallery, New York Part 1

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 30th September 2014

 

I am so excited by this monster two-part posting about the work of architect Knud Lonberg-Holm. Not only are his drawings and models incredible but his photographs of industry and skyscrapers, taken mainly between 1924-26, are a revelation. The textures and inky blackness of his Dazzlescapes and the New Photography images of skyscrapers (both in Part 2) mark these images as the greatest collection of photographs of skyscrapers that I have ever seen. More comment tomorrow but for now just look at the dark Gotham-esque photograph The New – The Coming, Detroit, Streetcars (1924, below). The streetcar reminds me of the armoured trains so popular during the inter-war years and during World War II. And what a title: The New – The Coming…

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Ubu Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Lonberg-Holm was the first architect in my knowledge ever to talk about the ultimately invisible architecture. In 1929, when I first met him, he said the greatest architect in history would be the one who finally developed the capability to give humanity completely effective environmental control without any visible structure and machinery.”

.
Buckminster Fuller

 

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'The New - The Coming, Detroit, Streetcars' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
The New – The Coming, Detroit, Streetcars
1924
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 73
Vintage gelatin silver print
3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches (8.3 x 10.8 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'View from the roof' Detroit, 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
View from the roof
Detroit, 1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
2 3/4 x 4 1/2 inches (7 x 11.4 cm) approx.
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit
1924
reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 71 (top)
Vintage gelatin silver print
3 3/8 x 4 3/8 inches (8.6 x 11.1 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit, A New Street' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit, A New Street
1924
reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 71 (bottom)
Vintage gelatin silver print
3 3/8 x 4 3/8 inches (8.6 x 11.1 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

 

“Ubu Gallery is pleased to present Knud Lonberg-Holm: The Invisible Architect, a debut exhibition devoted to this overlooked, yet highly influential, 20th Century modernist. Never-before-seen photographs, architectural drawings, letters, graphic design, and ephemera from Lonberg-Holm’s remarkably diverse career will be on view through August 1, 2014. The exhibition, which consists of selections from the extensive archive assembled by architectural historian Marc Dessauce, will solidify the importance of this emblematic figure in early 20th Century cultural and architectural history. Metropolis Magazine, the national publication of architecture and design, will publish an article on Knud Lonberg-Holm to coincide with this groundbreaking exhibition.

Born in Denmark, Knud Lonberg-Holm (January 15, 1895 – January 2, 1972), was an architect, photographer, author, designer, researcher, and teacher. Lonberg-Holm’s early work in Denmark and Germany initially associated him with the Berlin Constructivist and Dutch De Stijl groups. An émigré to America in 1923, Lonberg-Holm was a fundamental correspondent with prominent European architects and their modernist counterparts in the U.S. The exhibition will feature a selection of letters to Lonberg-Holm from a pantheon of the European avant-garde including László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Gropius, Theo Van Doesburg, Buckminster Fuller, Hannes Meyer, J.J.P. Oud, El Lissitzky, and Richard Neutra.

From 1924–1925, Lonberg-Holm was a colleague of Eliel Saarinen at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he taught a course in basic design modeled on the famed Bauhaus Vorkurs, the first-ever introduced in U.S. design schools. An agent of inter-continental communication, his reports on the state of American architecture appeared abroad. Lonberg-Holm’s 1928 article, Amerika: Reflections, featured buildings on the University of Michigan campus and appeared in the Dutch avant-garde publication i10, which employed Moholy-Nagy as its photo editor. The article not only contributed to international discourse on the building industry, but also touched on the “time-space convention,” a subject Lonberg-Holm would explore throughout his career. This publication, among others, will be on display.

Lonberg-Holm’s interest in American industry is best viewed in his collection of photographs taken between 1924-1926. These works document his pioneering views of industry and technology in burgeoning, jazz-age New York, Detroit, and Chicago; they would appear later, un-credited, in Erich Mendelsohn’s seminal 1926 publication Amerika, the first book on the ‘International Style’ in American architecture. Thirteen vintage photographs reproduced in Amerika will be on exhibit, as well as additional early photographs depicting technological advancements, such as cable cars and radio antennae, American culture in mass crowds and billboards, and the commercial architecture of skyscrapers and factories. Backside-views of buildings and fire escapes, rather than historicist ornamental facades, are presented in their “unselfconscious beauty” in opposition to traditional, pictorialist architectural photography. The content of the works coupled with progressive view points, like worm’s eye perspectives and extreme close-ups, align them squarely within the then emerging ‘New Photography.’ El Lissitzky wrote that the dynamic photos “grip us like a dramatic film.”1 Mendelsohn’s publication, featuring Lonberg-Holm’s dynamic photography, received immediate acclaim, domestically and abroad.

While still in Germany, Lonberg-Holm created a submission for the Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922. Although never officially submitted, the project was published widely in magazines and newspapers, alongside other prominent architects’ designs. From his office in the historically designed Donner Schloss in Altona, Germany, Lonberg-Holm envisioned a modern construction for Chicago that incorporated references to American mass culture, specifically the automobile. The West elevations on view show the Chicago Tribune sign, which includes circular signage reminiscent of headlights. The Side elevation exhibited clearly demonstrates how the printing plant function of the ground floors of the building, rendered in black, are visually distinct from the offices of the higher floors, rendered in white with black accents for visual continuity throughout the building. Lonberg- Holm’s proposed construction, whose outward visual design distinguished its internal functions, was reproduced in L’Architecture vivante, La Cite, Le Courbusier’s Almanach d’architecture in France and Walter Gropius’ Internationale Architektur in Munich; the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung displayed his building next to that of Mies van der Rohe and a full spread devoted to the skyscraper, featuring Lonberg-Holm’s Chicago design adjacent to plans by Walter Gropius, Saarinen and van der Rohe, appeared in H. Th. Wijdeveld’s November/December 1923 issue of the innovative publication Wendingen.

The drawings Lonberg-Holm created during this first decade as an émigré are striking for their early use of European modernist, particularly Neo-plastic, influences. He was close with the DeStijl movement in Holland, and corresponded with both Theo van Doesburg and J.J.P. Oud, with whom he would continue to work within CIAM, the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Modern. Early renderings done by Lonberg-Holm in the U.S. demonstrate an affinity for DeStijl principles. His plans for the 1926 MacBride residence in Ann Arbor are dynamic and asymmetrical, with intersecting planes in simple primary colors. Surely the first American allusion to Gerrit Rietvel’s iconic 1924 Schröder House in Utrecht, Holland, the MacBride residence is one of the first ‘International Style’ modernist houses designed in the Western hemisphere.

Lonberg-Holm’s importance to and knowledge of European architectural trends resulted in an invitation by Jane Heap to participate in the 1927 landmark New York exhibition, Machine Age, which was heralded as “the first international exposition of architecture held in America.” This exhibition, held at the New York Scientific American Building, May 16-28, stressed the new mechanical world and its key player, the Engineer. Lonberg-Holm’s 1925 Detroit project, Radio Broadcasting Station, was featured. The New York’s review of the exhibition explicitly referenced Lonberg-Holm’s project, noting its “delicacy and exquisite technique of execution.”

Lonberg-Holm worked with the F.W. Dodge corporation for 30 years, first in the division responsible for The Architectural Record (1930-1932), and then as head of the research department of Sweet’s Catalog Service (1932-1960.) At The Architectural Record, Lonberg-Holm acted as research editor and wrote technical news, a precursor to his lifelong interest in data-driven analytics. During his New York based employment, Lonberg-Holm’s involvement with international architectural trends did not diminish. In addition to prolonged correspondence with the various directors of the Bauhaus, including Hannes Meyer, he and his wife Ethel would visit the Bauhaus at Dessau in 1931. In 1946, Lonberg-Holm was also ultimately a candidate to replace Moholy-Nagy as director of the Institute of Design in Chicago.

At the same time, Lonberg-Holm was involved in domestic architecture and building theory. Richard Neutra would reach out to Lonberg-Holm in 1928 for illustrations and photographs to include in his account of the modern architecture movement in the US; he would approach him again in 1932 to lecture on the West Coast. Lonberg-Holm and Neutra were the “American” representatives to CIAM. It was Lonberg-Holm who nominated Buckminster Fuller and Theodore Larson for membership into CIAM in 1932.

What little scholarship exists about Knud Lonberg-Holm briefly examines his nearly twenty-year relationship with the Czech pioneering graphic designer Ladislav Sutnar, with whom Lonberg-Holm worked at Sweet’s Catalog Service. From 1942 through 1960 at the research department of Sweet’s, the bible for all the building trades, Lonberg-Holm and Sutnar revolutionized the catalog by standardizing information techniques. They presented systemized communication through a simple, modern, and intelligible visual language that influenced all areas of architectural and graphic design. Together, Lonberg-Holm and Sutnar co-authored Catalog Design (1944), Designing Information (1947), and Catalog Design Progress (1950).

The vital roles and communication between city planning, architecture, and civil productivity where important to Lonberg-Holm and would be explored throughout his career. In A. Lawerence Kocher’s letter to Lonberg-Holm, the article “Architecture-or organized space” is referenced. This 1929 essay, published in Detroit, addressed the “building problem” in the US – the “an-organic structure of its cities” – and proposed “a new conception of city-planning based on a clearer understanding of the organic functions of a community.” Lonberg-Holm would be an important participant in the city planning survey of Detroit, one of CIAM’s analytical initiatives in 1932-1933. Field Patterns and Fields of Activity, a visual diagram further illustrating the interconnectivity of intelligence, welfare, production, and control in a community, graphically illustrates these early principles.

Collaboration was critical to Lonberg-Holm, who would work with Theodore Larson to improve information indexing and the production cycle. Field Patterns, as well as the visuals for Planning for Productivity (1940), were components of Lonberg-Holm’s collaboration with Theodore Larson. Lonberg-Holm sought to apply some of the theories set forth in Development Index. This collaborative project with Larson was published by the University of Michigan in 1953 and focused on the relationship between community, industry, and education, analytical theories that were proposed by Lonberg-Holm during the formation of the University’s Laboratory of Architectural Research. Lonberg-Holm’s 1949 visual diagram of the relationship between the university, the building industry, and the community, is on view, as well as the Sutnar-designed steps of Planning for Productivity. Lonberg-Holm had returned to the University as a guest lecturer and professor in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the suggestion of Lonberg-Holm, Theordore Larson was among the new faculty hired at the University in 1948, along with Walter Sanders and William Muschenheim, whom Lonberg-Holm had worked with in the Detroit survey.

In 1949, Lonberg-Holm was issued a Dymaxion License and became a trustee to the Fuller Institute/Research Foundation; among the trustees are his contemporaries George Nelson and Charles Eames. Initially meeting Buckminster Fuller in c. 1929, he and Fuller would correspond throughout Lonberg-Holm’s life. Lonberg-Holm was a member of the Structural Studies Associates (SSA), a short-lived group of architects in the 1930s surrounding Fuller and his briefly published architectural magazine Shelter. A number of Shelter issues are on view, many of which have contributions by Lonberg-Holm; the cover of the May 1932 issue was designed by Lonberg-Holm. Planning for Productivity and Development Index were later data-driven projects that furthered the SSA’s and Fuller’s principles – that the evolution of science and technology would influence social progress and could be beneficial to the community only through research, analysis and macroapplication.

Arriving to the US a decade before his European contemporaries, Lonberg-Holm occupied a unique position as a cultural bridge, communicating between the US and Europe in a period when the state of art and architecture was radically changing. He exposed his students and colleagues to European protagonists of avant-garde architecture theory while enthusiastically exploring American industry and building. Exclusively through collaboration, Lonberg-Holm worked to modernize both architecture and design. Integral to Lonberg-Holm’s principles was that technology alone could not suffice as the sole perpetuator of architecture – advancements in building and new designs needed to promote human culture in an ever-evolving manner where new information was continuously integrated into design theory. Throughout his career, Lonberg-Holm embodied the antithesis of the stereotype architect, egocentric and insulated from the community in which his designs were to exist. From his beginnings at The Architectural Record to his final project, Plan for Europe 2000: Role of the Mass Media in Information and Communication, Lonberg-Holm held to the belief that a collective approach, with applied research, could form a generative knowledge base that could be cultivated for altruistic means.”

Text from the Ubu Gallery website

1. Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present, London, Seeker & Warburg, 1982, p. 1.

 

'Portrait of Knud Lonberg-Holm' New York, 1950s (prior to 1960)

 

Portrait of Knud Lonberg-Holm
New York, 1950s (prior to 1960)
Vintage gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 10 inches (17.5 x 25.4 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

'Portrait of Knud Lonberg-Holm' New York, 1950s (prior to 1960)

 

Portrait of Knud Lonberg-Holm
New York, 1950s (prior to 1960)
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 9 1/2 inches (20 x 24.1 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Le Corbusier at CIAM Conference' c. 1954-1964

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Le Corbusier at CIAM Conference
c. 1954-1964
Vintage gelatin silver print
5 5/8 x 8 3/8 inches (14.3 x 21.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Buckminster Fuller, Lonberg-Holm and other' Bayside, New York Nd

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Buckminster Fuller, Lonberg-Holm and other
Bayside, New York
Nd
Vintage gelatin silver print
3 x 4 1/4 inches (7.6 x 10.8 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Photograph of the Dymaxion Car' Bridgeport, Connecticut, July 21, 1933

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Photograph of the Dymaxion Car
Bridgeport, Connecticut, July 21, 1933
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 3/4 inches (19.4 x 24.8 cm)
Stamped on verso
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

In July of 1933, the Dymaxion car was introduced in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where it caused a great stir. Lonberg-Holm can be seen holding the car door open while the artist Diego Rivera (who was in attendance with his wife and artist Frida Kahlo) looks on, coat on his arm.
Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo' Bridgeport, Connecticut, July 21, 1933

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Bridgeport, Connecticut, July 21, 1933
Vintage gelatin silver print
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Radio Broadcasting Station' Photograph of Model Detroit, 1925

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Radio Broadcasting Station
Photograph of Model
Detroit, 1925
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 7/8 x 6 7/8 inches (12.4 x 17.5 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Radio Broadcasting Station' Photograph of Model Detroit, 1925

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Radio Broadcasting Station

Photograph of Model
Detroit, 1925
Vintage gelatin silver print
5 3/8 x 7 1/2 inches (13.7 x 19.1 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Photograph of Chicago's new skyline North of Randolph Street All new since 1926 except Wrigley and Tribune buildings' May 1929

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Photograph of Chicago’s new skyline
North of Randolph Street
All new since 1926 except Wrigley and Tribune buildings
May 1929
Vintage gelatin silver print
2 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches (5.7 x 11.4 cm)
Titled on verso
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

 

Ubu Gallery
416 East 59th Street
New York 10022
Tel: 212 753 4444

Opening hour:
Monday – Friday 11 am – 6 pm

Ubu Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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