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    Rafael Viñoly on a Sunday

    Javier Arbona-Homar
    Nov 13, '11 3:53 AM EST

    [Updates below. Link fixed to "some" word below.]

    The New York Times features architect Rafael Viñoly on the 'Sunday Routine'

    Says the Times: "He divides his Sundays between the drawing board and the keyboard: he owns nine pianos, and as a child in Uruguay he trained to be a classical pianist. Mr. Viñoly, 67, lives in TriBeCa with his wife, Diana, an interior designer. The couple, whose three grown children and three grandchildren live in the neighborhood, also have homes in Water Mill, N.Y., and London."

    Some select quotes:

    I wear these gray sweat pants that are 35 or 40 years old. They’re like part of my skin. I don’t wash them too much, because they’d fall apart. I play only classical music. My pianos are my only big indulgence, but they’re a necessity. 

    Sunday is a phenomenal day for work. Disgusting, right? Repugnant! But in the office we’ve created this theory that Sunday is a great time to focus on creative projects, so the place is always full of people when I get there. It’s worse than a sweatshop! 

    Anyway, we have this wonderful cook from Brazil, Alex Rosende, and before she leaves on Friday afternoons, she makes a bunch of meals and leaves them so we just have to heat them up. She went to Cordon Bleu and makes these great desserts. The meals are simple, lots of vegetables and soups, but everything is just genius. We like to drink French wine, Haut-Médoc.

    Photo: The New York Times

    Sunday AM update: The architecture community went on what Alexandra Lange described as: "Vinoly story = mass architwitter eyeroll". Maybe it's the fact that, among architects who may be younger than Viñoly's sweat pants, there is so much under- and un-employment that some could literally be in the shoes of—irony alert—Viñoly's cook. They could be his restaurant server. Or bike messenger. 

    At a time when masses of people are protesting wealth inequality, or protesting, oh, the dismantling of schools like Cooper Union, it seems more than immodest to talk about the "one indulgence" of owning nine pianos. Or three homes. (How's that sustainability side of the business doing?) But at least he didn't mention the private jet (or did he have to tighten the belt?)

    Meanwhile, some seem to be saying that perhaps Viñoly would benefit from a little more cover from the spotlight. All of this ostentatious display of wealth could draw scrutiny of Viñoly's period of building for the Argentine junta. There's that little detail that hangs over Viñoly's head—the busy period when he "was so concentrated on the work," he "almost didn’t notice the politics." Remember?

    PS: And also remember how "...For every homeless person, at least four houses are sitting empty"? If at any point in time, two of Viñoly's three houses are empty, then two of him equals a homeless person!

    Are the people like Viñoly the ones that are actually looking after our housing shortage? What do wife Diana and him have to gain from living with even one less house? There's no incentive to change the status quo.


    • How tone-deaf. I really want the NYT to stop romanticizing architecture -- featuring a selected few as they talk about their porsches, cowboy boots, personal chefs, etc... NYT feature an intern or two, give people the real taste of what is like to be an architect.

      Nov 13, 11 10:23 am  · 

      Oh god.  That's just gross.  "Hahaha, it's so cute how my office is a sweatshop yet I go home to a personal chef!"

      The pianos don't bother me at all - successful people should enjoy their success - but these times demand humbleness about one's success.  Tone deaf for sure.

      Javier, your blog makes me angry every single time and I am so, so glad you are doing it.

      Nov 13, 11 10:55 am  · 

      i live in a no window cold basement apartment in manhattan. we share the kitchen counter and the hot plate for cooking and of course the bathroom. it is expensive but, around 1100$ per month, but being close to office in tribeca , a twenty minute walk, surely helps. i wake up around five in the morning just to turn the electric heater on and go back to warm bed for another fifteen minutes until the room gets little warmer. during this time i usually turn the tv on and watch the local news. once i am up, i turn the hot plate to boil some water for my instant coffee and go online to check e bay to see if i am still the highest bidder on those boots or something before the winter settles in. i love buying used clothes, my only indulgence in life.

      once i have my coffee my cat wakes up and i clean her litter and put kibble in her bowl and fresh water for the next 12-14 hours while i am gone working in architect's office where i make half of the rent in addition to what my family sends me to shop.

      we work on sundays because my boss feels creative that day and we are there to make it happen for him. he typically comes to his desk and creatively solve one or two window details before he goes down to play his grand piano. sometimes we even clap him after he finishes a boring but meticulous rendering of some piano music. usually i put my headphones and listen i-pad music and only clap when i see other interns doing it.

      sometimes our boss gets generous and sends couple of us to get 5 dollar domino's pizzas for lunch. why dominos? because there is one down the street and it is one less decision for our boss to make. he says he is allergic to cheese and asks the interns to pick his olive oil spaghetti from giofranco's on the way.

      all day we make computer drawings of our boss' ideas and each time he resolves a detail we hear new concerto from his piano. this goes back and forth for few times until he feels he created enough for this sunday and heads back to his small 3000 sq. ft. condo down the street. he lives in this gorgeous place his wife interior decorated and was published in new york times recently. 

      after he is gone, the work considerably slows down in the studio and people start to disappear one by one. i decide to go when i relize that i have been here for 10 hours already. i stop by hot dog place and pick up those 2fer 1.99 deals albanian guy sells and gohome and repeat what i have done in reverse order of the morning. 

      sometimes i call my parents who want to know if i made my student loan payment this month. they don't know any of this as i tell them project i am working on just won the competition in china. they think my boss is really lucky to have me and i should ask for retirement plan after china project success.

      Nov 13, 11 2:08 pm  · 

      I think Orhan comment here deserves more paper space in the NYT than the boring, insulting and pointless spotlight of Viñoly's lame lifestyle...

      Nov 13, 11 3:31 pm  · 

      Totally agree, MAD.  

      Nov 13, 11 3:38 pm  · 

      Orhan Wins! (Again!)

      Nov 13, 11 3:55 pm  · 

      It has to be said, also, that Viñoly seems to always have two vacant homes for the one he is living in at any particular moment. In other words, For every two Viñoly's, there is one homeless individual. Or put a different way, for every homeless person, four houses sit empty.

      Nov 13, 11 4:09 pm  · 

      I think his ego lives in the other 2 while creative Rafael walks down to work for 30 mins during sundays in his Tribeca studio...

      Nov 13, 11 4:16 pm  · 

      To be clear: I dont think the problem are necessarily the Vinoly's, their piano's, etc... The real problem, I think, is that the newspaper of record (NYT) runs such vapid reports on architecture and architects. It's been a while since they ran excellent criticism (tho, that is slowly beginning again), yet they take the time to tell us about an architect's sweatpants and eating habits. As someone that cares about the profession, I expect more.

      Nov 14, 11 11:04 am  · 

      Quilian--I agree. It's an issue of crafting perception. It undermines the serious work that architects are doing to make the world a better place by pushing this bloated, pretentious stereotype to the forefront of architectural presence in the mainstream media.

      Nov 14, 11 11:38 am  · 

      @emergency exit wound: I see your point. These are the purported "job creators" on which our whole teetering, precarious economy is hanging. And we should be thanking them, surely. Okay. I am sure that the out of work architects should be blaming themselves, while at Viñoly's it seems like one person does the work of two (or three), working massive overtime, perhaps at no extra cost to the boss.

      @Nicole and @Quilian -- Yeah, this is certainly a stereotype that undermines what others might be trying to do. I agree. But it's not a construct out of thin air by the NYT's either. I personally DO think the problem IS the Viñoly's, and they are not by themselves, as part of a real, structural problem that you might be working to change.

      There is a real issue with the "leadership" of a Viñoly who can woo commissions from the likes of governments and universities, and yet has no connection whatsoever to the experiences that people are going through. To even lend themselves to this profile is to acknowledge that they have no idea what's happening around them. Or they don't seem to care. Or it is perfectly okay. And these are the people that are trusted to offer "solutions".  

      Nov 14, 11 12:11 pm  · 

      Amazing.  The profession withers around him and he buys another piano.   I think people should #occupyVinolysOtherHouses

      Nov 14, 11 12:48 pm  · 

      i've held off commenting so far, but where is all this angst and self loathing coming from? look, this is a puff piece for a part of the times magazine that's been doing things like this forever. is this reaction because he's an architect whose name has a fine international ring to it? is it because of the perception that his response is too light, bouncy and seemingly self-satisfying when we should do nothing but remember how tough it is for most of us? so, what should the times do? run an expose similar to what orhan outlined and shame out everyone like vinoly? really?


      orhan - i completely agree your description is all too real. but i could point out that it applies to just about every profession (except financial services and computer programming) in new york. doesn't make it right, but it's far from unique. is the solution to take away vinoly's ill gotten gains? how much should someone like that in new york make? 120k starting out? should they begin their career with enough to afford a 2 bedroom co-op in tribecca and not accept anything less? a 1 bedroom on the 77th? where does that line end?


      javier - i have 2 houses, one here and one in florida, on the water (donna's seen pictures of it i think). its never rented and, hence, rarely occupied. when do i turn the keys over? and does that mean i'll be getting a "i'm a captialist pig" button in the mail soon? in all seriousness - do we know anything about why he has 3 houses? the implication in your critique is that he's somehow screwing over the interns to afford that lifestyle - i don't know either way. the only person i know working there is an intern and they've had an incredible experience so far. but, maybe he does. but maybe his wife inherited one of the houses. maybe he bought them 20+ years ago as a reward to himself for finishing the tokyo forum. it's not my business. (and by the way, my house was inherited through 2 generations - there's no way i could buy that house. and, no, i'm not the 1%).


      people are going through a lot - but i'd argue you can't stop everything else to correct it. you see him having no connection to that - perhaps not. a lot of ceo types can't right now either. so, if you want to burn vinoly and "all of them" (or "us" since i'm a ceo as well), fine. is he tone-deaf at points in the article? sure. but i can't get to a full condemnation based on what's in that piece. and i can't ascribe a puff piece to doing the kind of damage to the profession it seems to be accorded here - by that logic, kill the homes section on thursday as well.

      Nov 14, 11 1:02 pm  · 

      orhan - one quick follow up: the salary most (paid, admittedly) interns make in ny would actually do much better in indianapolis or detroit or even atlanta right now, in terms of lifestyle. ny has a finite amount of real estate and a lot of people who create all different levels of value living in it. if we want to collectively bang on financial firms having an outsize influence and distortion on the local market, that's ok. it's not the 'real' dollars, but the localized purchasing power. and the relative weakness of architecture as a profession (financially) compared to so many others (ie, just because living costs in ny are so much higher, you're not going to get georgia tech to pay more fee for a project just because that's where you're located). i don't know too many public school teachers (or even university professors) starting out that can afford much more than what you've described....

      Nov 14, 11 1:11 pm  · 

      Javier, I agree with you. That is why I qualified my statement with 'necessarily'.

      Like you said, it is a systematic problem -- much larger than any one architect and their lifestyle. What the NYT (and other such publications) should be doing is questioning what you are talking about -- the view that architecture is a simple 'service industry' with a role to satisfy (often) wealthy clients. In that professional context his getting to relate to people's experiences matters little, as they are not his concern. What I wish the NYT was doing is questioning who we build for and why.

      This article ultimately simply ignores all questions while propagating the tiring and unhelpful view of the architect as an eccentric and 'artsy' genius, both things used to cover up elitism.

      Nov 14, 11 1:46 pm  · 

      @Gregory: If I mentioned the houses as an example—as a symptom—it is not meant to say that it's reprehensible to have a vacation house in and of itself. 

      But it seems to me like your post on the whole is saying: 'He can't change things by himself. So let's set him aside. And since this is just a puffy piece in the Times anyway, what do you want the Times to do? Kill the Homes section? Kill this kind of puffery?' Well, yes... They could start with that, actually.

      But anyway, I think you're kind of throwing your hands up and saying 'Don't begrudge Viñoly, he can't fix anything. And don't begrudge the Times for doing what they do.' Or as you put it, "people are going through a lot - but i'd argue you can't stop everything else to correct it."

      In fact, yes—you can stop stuff that's happening. That's exactly what needs to happen. That is what has been happening. That's exactly why people are out there stopping stuff. That is what just happened to that pipe they wanted to run across the United States to bring tar sands oil down South. It was stopped. So, we disagree. A lot of stuff has to stop.

      Nov 14, 11 1:54 pm  · 

      And I agree w/ @Quilian's last comment. Right on: "This article ultimately simply ignores all questions while propagating the tiring and unhelpful view of the architect as an eccentric and 'artsy' genius, both things used to cover up elitism."

      Nov 14, 11 1:55 pm  · 

      quilian - i agree. it does nothing to advance the questions or concerns that you have. but (and javier, you're right, we may just have to disagree on this point), i do think the homes section serves some legit purpose. context matters - if this were being passed off as hard journalism, it would deserve the scorn it's getting. 


      as for what kind of view its propagating.... really? for 60+ years, we've utterly failed as a profession to translate the depth of our skills and value into the broader conversations of society. and you want to bang on this article for not reversing that miserable trend? look, we agree it's a 'let them eat cake' moment. but i can't fault vinoly for not taking the opportunity/moment and turned it into the equivalent of martin luther's theses. perhaps i'm over-reacting to what i see as the perception on this thread, but i just don't quite understand the raw hatred.  


      i think, javier, where we may just be coming at this from different perspectives is that i'm less interested in the ways which design is politicized and/or mobilized for political ends. so, the homes section may not bother me as much. i personally don't have an interest in being 'featured' that way, but it doesn't irk me that someone else does. that may not be enough.

      if you've read much of anything i've contributed to the site over the years. 


      finally, no, i'm not suggesting that we simply throw our hands up. at all. but i'm not much of a protester type. it's probably why i'm writing the kind of blog i am and likewise. there's certainly space for both - all i'm intending with my comment is that making everything simply "stop" is better left to someone else. take that as you wish.

      Nov 14, 11 2:39 pm  · 

      crap - something happened to the thread while posting. there's a stray sentence in there - 

      Nov 14, 11 2:47 pm  · 

      That's great @Gregory! I see it the same way! I think there is room for everything—blogging, protesting, writing letters, going to events, making signs and graphics, curating, talking etc. No one can do all of them.

      But I do think that everything is imbued with politics, whether architects and designers want to talk about it or not. And sometimes when it is not discussed, it's exactly when politics are working to ends that might be detrimental to most in society. I'm not saying everyone has to discuss the politics, for sure! But I think it's worth examining why we might be unable or unwilling to discuss certain things.

      Nov 14, 11 2:53 pm  · 

      I think you can edit your comments now, btw.

      Nov 14, 11 2:54 pm  · 

      nah - i did 3 drafts. paul has a 'three strikes' rule - if it takes that many edits, you're probably just making it worse...

      Nov 14, 11 3:03 pm  · 

      Well, I think the chosen topic says it all.  Here are the stats according to the Dept of Labor:

      "Payroll employment at U.S. architecture firms was in excess of 240,000 at the end of 2007. By the end of 2010, firm employment levels fell to under 156,000.."

      So they have edited the truth about the actual state of affairs of the profession by deciding to run one of these "look everything is OK" pieces, with a nice image to boot.

      I do not mean any disrespect to Mr. Vinoly and his firm, I actually think it's great if they are doing well.  But I would respond this information completely lacks context in our current economic landscape, bad design NYT, bad design.....

      Nov 14, 11 3:08 pm  · 

      I worked for Rafael Vinoly for five years in the 90's. I started when it was a 15 person office.  Rafael and his family are very unpretentious people.  When I worked for him he was the first person in the office in the morning and most of the time when I left he was still there.  He has enormous energy and sleeps very little.  When I worked with him he usually had a bowl of canned Progresso soup with crackers for lunch. He is the hardest working person I have ever known.  I think he deserves to enjoy his success....especially the chef!

       I don't know what the firm has evolved into...but when I worked there we had a lot of fun.  He was a great mentor to me.  We didn't just discuss design...we talked about how to get the job, leadership and collaboration.  It's puff piece...give him a break.

      Nov 14, 11 3:37 pm  · 

      @emergency exit wound: You say  "Is "the serious work that architects are doing to make the world a better place" really so weak, unstable (or whatever the right word is) that a "vapid" NYTimes piece is able to undermine it?"

      It's a valid gut check--you made me question my initial reaction. But I would say that vapid pieces undermine serious work all the time. Isn't that like the Kardashians getting airtime over many other worthwhile projects? When the world is distracted by the vapid, the 'puff', the sugary-sweetness, the missions of smart people lose funding, lose traction and lose steam. We [the public, the consumers of this type of media] are so busy being entertained that we often forget to dig deeper into the forces that are influencing us.

      If you want to talk about harnessing the power of fabulous, I'm all ears. Sure, Vinoly and many others live a great lifestyle, and people are interested in seeing it. You can be glam, or write about people that are glam, and use the attention to direct your audience to the stuff that counts--rather than letting glam be an endgame in itself.

      You also say, "Also, are most of the posts above part of "the serious work that architects are doing to make the world a better place?" To me, it seems worthwhile to engage with other smart folks in the profession [like yourself], especially on a topic which seems to have struck a major nerve.

      Nov 14, 11 4:03 pm  · 

      My oversight, I did not realize this was in the "Homes" section, that sort of softens the message for me.  I bet they get lots of residential inquiries from the Manhattan market.

      Nov 14, 11 8:11 pm  · 

      greg, my parallel anti story is a 'fiction' writing triggered by absurdities and ironies in nyt article.

      Nov 15, 11 12:11 am  · 

      hey orhan - i did get the fictionality of it and actually agree it's probably how more than a few early career professionals are living. i just don't see it being unique to architecture (which seemed to be, as you say, the basis for the critique in the article). 


      keith - it's worse than that - it was in the back of the sunday magazine, in a section they've been running an 'at home with...' piece for 20+ years. which was really the point eew and i were trying to make. 

      Nov 15, 11 9:31 am  · 

      greg, you are right again. sure it does happen to many other professions' interns, i know that too. but in my story, the intern hero and her boss are architects.

      i also noticed the way the proverbial comments in archinect have changed from "this is not about architecture" to " this happens to every profession." i strongly disagree because of the article's location, context etc., it should be ignored or accepted with no reaction or dismissed as a puffy entertainment piece. we are talking serious people doing serious media watch here.

      eew, a lot of architects are still jealous of your work and collection.;.)

      Nov 15, 11 1:03 pm  · 

      I don't know if I'd want any of my coworkers or even my closest friends knowing about my ratty sweatpants - and how gassy I am with all that red wine and broccoli I eat.  unless he's actually showing up at the office in those nasty cheetos-stained  clothes farting his approval to your design schemes, then this seems like something you don't want to share with the general public.  maybe the nytimes is his version of facebook.

      Nov 15, 11 2:14 pm  · 

      In a post-recession, still in shambles world, the fact that people want to display that kind of image IS definitely insensitive and almost irresponsible. Especially when most people are looking to find some balance, specially the ones that carry with the extra expense of higher costs of living with no raises for the past 4 years or so... the fact that the ones that own the companies that we work for keep this standard of living instead of sacrificing a bit to raise the salaries of the people that make it all happen seems unfair.

       What a strange wold this one is.... after 2008...

      Nov 15, 11 6:20 pm  · 

      To Gregory:





      Nov 15, 11 6:28 pm  · 
      eric chavkin

      The Autumn of the Patriarch

      A contrast of two fictions and why this is a Republican Wet Dream.

      The NYT success story fiction to aspire to (artist and connoisseur combined in one) stands in contrast to Orhan's fictional intern, whose social reality is someplace to climb out of...someones dream implies someone else's nightmare.

      The contrast of have and not-have just reeks of Reagan's Trickle Down economics:  with the crumbs and half-eaten leftovers from a Vinoly dinner party sincerely  redistributed to his grateful interns....Let them eat cake was some other refrain...

      Why class warfare can never end.

      Or as Marx spelled out in Capital we recreate the conditions of our existence. The Vinoly at Home piece. Sounds familiar? like the attitudes from some paternalist pre-democratic Latin American oligarchs? Ah yes, the good old days... before this talk of revolution... before the so-called reforms..some more wine please ... I must now  compose...

      eric chavkin


      Nov 15, 11 6:47 pm  · 

      Carolina- huh?

      Nov 15, 11 7:36 pm  · 

      In my New York years, I worked in some sweatshops, but it was worth it because they did amazing work.

      By contrast, I'd always run into people working at Rafael Vinoly's office.  I was shocked that they actually worked longer hours than me--not because my hours were so long, but because Vinoly's work was such crap, to my mind.  But the Vinoly people had a variant of the Stockholm Syndrome: they'd jabber on and on about what great work he did. 

      I've since met a number of those people.  To this day, they use the Vinoly name as if he were Louis Kahn or Le Corbusier.  When I look at his stuff, I see middling corporate architecture. Nothing to justify the awful pretension in his interview, or the weird picture of he and his wife being fawned over by a costumed servant.

      Nov 16, 11 8:11 am  · 

      I couldn't give a shit what Vinoly had for lunch, but what are folks so worked up about? As if a newspaper shouldn’t be allowed to write something that makes you feel sorry for yourself. I was unemployed for 2 years. It doesn’t mean you have to be an oversensitive whiner. 


      Nov 16, 11 11:03 am  · 

      Some other millionaires are at least trying to be more responsible. I am all for accountability....


      Nov 16, 11 7:30 pm  · 


      you sound like a whiner with a job. monkey. if you don't give shit about vinoly's lunch, stay outta kitchen.

      Nov 17, 11 12:54 am  · 

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A bezoar is a mass of disparate pieces and materials. For this blog, you will find something somewhere between tweet-length posts and tumblelogging; inchoate thoughts; provocations and assorted scraps that don't fit anyplace else; criticisms of a political and geographic variety; ecoaffective ramblings; spatial imaginaries that don't conform. On Twitter: @AlJavieera; 1/3rd of @Demilit; bookmarked content: @AJFavorite.

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