Feb

29

The Other Wallach

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The exhibition poster

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery is tucked into the eighth floor of Schermerhorn, a place frequented mainly by art history majors and those making the long climb to the women’s bathroom from their classes below. Bwog, having newly learned how to actually pronounce “Schermerhorn,” dispatched resident gallery gal Alex Eynon to find out what was waiting at the top of the stairs.

The gallery is especially quiet on a late weekday afternoon, and the only other person around seems to be the grad student smiling politely from behind her folding table at the gallery entranceThe interior is similarly lonely, with the only company being a set of white alien pods neatly lined up in the center of the room and the strange abstract plans on the walls. These futuristic artifacts make up the current exhibition, entitled “Félix Candela” after the Spanish expat architect and structural engineering pioneer. The egglike pods are models of the many buildings designed by Candela using his signature style and materials—combinations of hyperbolic paraboloids constructed in laminate and reinforced concrete. These models sit in their glass cases with glossy winged awnings outstretched, evoking optimistic visions of the industrial utopia that was supposed to be just around the corner in the 50’s and 60’s. Although this sounds dauntingly complicated, it looks very simple—the modernist structures are at once utilitarian and sculptural.

It is easy to imagine the way this architecture changed the landscape of Mexico City, where the majority of Candela’s buildings were realized. The wide variety within the body of work—ranging from a sports stadium (a geometric dome that looks like an abstracted hedgehog), to a sprawling Bacardi rum factory, to numerous chapels and churches, speaks to the architect’s desire to engage with public spaces of all varieties. Although each structure is unique, it meshes coherently with the others both because of commonality of repeating arches and the uniformity of the reinforced concrete and laminate. Surprisingly, for someone so evidently concerned with practicality,  Candela seems to have been partial to religious spaces, calling them “the best opportunity that one can be given as an architect to try, at least, to make something transcendent.”

As you think about this, and try to imagine what it would be like to be immersed in the swooping interior of one of the models dotting the room, another student walks in wearing a heavy backpack. Which reminds you: it’s time to head downstairs for your next lecture.

“Félix Candela: 1910-2010” runs through March 31.

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