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Posts Tagged ‘Marc Kristal’

Marseille’s MuCEM Trades ‘Bling-Bling Brightness’ for Bony Fragility, Sensual Cement

It’s Marseille’s moment. The port city, France’s largest on the Mediterranean coast, is in the spotlight as this year’s European Capital of Culture, with a host of major projects on view. Writer, author, and intrepid flâneur Marc Kristal paid a visit to the new and improved Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean and filed this formidable report for us.


(All photos courtesy Rudy Ricciotti)

Comprised of two 15,000-square-metre structures—the 17th-century Fort St.-John and a new seven-level building by architect Rudy Ricciotti, linked by a slender 115-metre-long footbridge—Marseille’s Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM), is, says director Bruno Suzzarelli, “an outstretched hand from France to the region.” Wishing to refuse the “bling-bling brightness” of signature-building starchitecture, Ricciotti responded to the fort’s massiveness with a “bony, feminine, fragile” design, executed almost entirely in high-strength concrete, and distinguished by a densely-patterned screen that covers two elevations and folds onto, and projects off of, the roof.

Seven hundred and eleven of the 15,688 cubic metres of MuCEM’s signature building material are comprised of fiber-reinforced ultra high performance concrete (UHPC), which proved especially suitable to the project: UHPC’s “closed-pore” compounding renders it virtually impervious to sea spray and other corrosive agents, and the highly “flowable” substance can adapt to the most elaborate molds—ideal for MuCEM’s latticework panels. Ricciotti also appreciated the material for its narrative qualities. “Cement can inspire dread in certain slums and elsewhere touch the sublime,” he observes. “And cement gives off a formidable sensuality.”
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Going Public: Ennead Architects’ Ovation-Worthy Renovation of the Public Theatre

Architectural historian Spiro Kostof described architecture as “the material theater of human activity,” which makes renovating an actual performance space a daunting prospect (and possibly a meta-performance). Enter Ennead Architects, starring in the multi-year production of renovating New York’s Public Theatre. We asked writer Marc Kristal to survey the project’s latest stage.


The New York City landmark’s new stoop and canopy at dusk. (All photos © Jeff Goldberg/Esto)

“This space has always been about community,” says Patrick Willingham, executive director of The Public Theatre at Astor Place, the magisterial 19th-century Renaissance Revival building that, since the late 1960s, has served as a multi-stage venue for founding director Joseph Papp’s vision of a new and groundbreaking American theatre. Architecturally, at least, that has never been more the case: the capstone of nearly two decades of renovation/restoration work, to the tune of $42 million, by Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership), the recently completed revivification of the structure’s entry and lobby have dramatically expanded the Public’s public component–making the place that brought you (among countless theatrical high-water marks) Hair, A Chorus Line, and The Normal Heart a crowd-pleaser in every sense.

Though Papp’s intervention, in 1966, saved it from demolition, the building, at 425 Lafayette Street in Manhattan’s East Village, was hardly insignificant. Completed in three phases (by three architects) between 1853 and 1881, it was commissioned by John Jacob Astor and served as the city’s first free public library. In 1921, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society purchased the property and converted it into a shelter and all-purpose gathering place for newly arrived European Jews; the letters HIAS, in faded paint, are still visible on the northern elevation. Under Papp’s supervision, architect Giorgio Cavaglieri carved out five theatres of varying sizes and configurations, home to some of the great productions of the last half-century. But the communal spaces remained less than stellar: during the HIAS years, the original grand entry podium was lost, replaced by an interior stair that consumed 30 percent of the lobby. And subsequent to Papp’s original renovation, the structure received almost no upgrading until Ennead began substantive work in the mid-nineties.

Without, project architect Stephen Chu, along with design counsel James Polshek and management partner Duncan Hazard, restored the original auspicious sense of arrival with a three-sided grand stair, measuring seventeen by seventy feet and constructed from solid blocks of black granite, protected by a new glass canopy. In addition to extracting the steps from the lobby and enabling theatre patrons to enter at the original level of the three arched front doors, the new stoop serves as a welcome outdoor destination on a street previously lacking one, a magnetized urban gathering place akin to the monumental stairs in front of the Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue (though less imposing and more boho).
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