New York is no stranger to architectural controversy—the Atlantic Yards, the ongoing drama at Ground Zero—and this month the city will be home to two new plays about the recurring tension between an architect’s grand intentions and a client’s conflicting vision. The problem, according to June Finfer, who wrote The Glass House, arises when powerful people “each have a different view of what should be done.”
The subject of Finfer’s play is Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House—the iconic setting of one of history’s most tumultuous architect-patron relationships, replete with mudslinging, lawsuits, and speculation about an affair. “I wanted to do something ‘meaningful,’” Dr. Edith Farnsworth told House Beautiful in 1953, “and all I got was this glib, false sophistication.”
Oren Safdie also explores the question of an architect’s obligation to serve interests beyond his own ambition. In The Bilbao Effect, a plan to revitalize Staten Island pits starchitect against public sentiment in an absurd trial at the AIA’s Center for Architecture. Metropolis readers may remember some of the witnesses as characters from Safdie’s satirical interviews. “I wanted to find a vehicle for them—all these characters dressed up with no place to go,” he says.
The Glass House runs from May 9 to June 5 at the Clurman Theater, 410 W. 42nd St.; www.theatrerow.org. The Bilbao Effect runs from May 12 to June 5 at the Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Pl.; www.theatermania.com