I'm working my way through a giant stack of Craft Horizons magazines from the 1960's and 70's. My research keeps getting sidetracked by all of the amazing finds. I just read an incredible article by Joy Wulke, a sculptor who has spent her career making large public art projects for civic and commercial clients.
One of her early projects was a large-scale carpet that she wove for the Windows on the World restaurant on top of the World Trade Center. Wulke worked with the restaurant's architect, Warren Platner, and his interior designer, Lee Alstrom. The concept was a sixteen foot square hand-woven carpet that would be one of the centerpieces of the space. For anyone who ever worked on a large commisison, Wulke's saga will sound pretty familiar.
After she worked up some samples, the designer told her she had to create the same effect at half the price, with half the wool that she had originally planned. Then, her wool supplier in Pakistan came down with a case of anthrax, so she had to find another supplier. Then, she had to commission woodworkers to build a loom that big in her relatively tiny studio.
After all was said and done, Wulke was left with $1700 to pay for her labor and that of her assistants. That's something like $6000 when adjusted to today's dollars, especially considering the project was so monumental.
I've been thinking a lot about 1970s interiors. It's pretty mind-blowing that a corporate building like the World Trade Center would have a restaurant built around something so handmade...and so... PIMP! Say what you want about the 70's, but the public was definitely receptive to natural textures... and plenty of them. I managed to uncover the original New York Times review of the restaurant's interior (along with another amazing article about the quantity of silverware and other accessories were being stolen by the souvenir-hunting public). Here's an excerpt, and you can download the entire review by clicking HERE.
It is not, in principle, a bad idea. Miesian purism by now is commonly acknowledged to be a style of the past, and anyway it was never very able in its cold rigidity to provide dining spaces that satisfied the imagination as well as the rational eye. Dining in a restaurant is a fantasy experience, and there is nothing wrong with a restaurant's design playing up to this.
And play up this restaurant does. The main dining room of Windows on the World, as the 107th floor is called. is done in soft pastels, with tufted vinyl banquettes, lots of brass, and fabric-covered walls. The room is so lush that even the simple wood-and-cane Prague chairs used at the freestanding tables, a classic modem design, take on a certain voluptuousness.
No mention of our hand-woven rug, but you get the idea. I'm sure it didn't take long for that interior to be replaced by some serious Gordon Gekko-esque gold and black lacquer during the 80's. In 1997, Ruth Reichl had this to say about the 1990's Windows on the World interiors:
"Despite recent renovations, New York's highest restaurant still looks like an airport lounge; if not for the fabulous view, you could be in a bland hotel in the Midwest."
Of course I mourn for the loss of the World Trade Center...but I also mourn for the funky, fuzzy interiors of the 70's. How are we supposed to appreciate fondue without them?