Ulrich Franzen had a transformative and enduring effect on the Architectural League. As president from 1966-1968, Franzen steered the organization into the vanguard, creating a supportive space for new ideas, attracting younger artists and architects, and calling for more attention to New York City. He appointed the pioneering John Margolies and John Lobell as successive heads of the Current Work committee, each of whom produced innovative exhibitions and programming for the League. Though his official leadership was brief, Franzen was a member of the League’s board for more than four decades following his presidency, always on point and with an opinion about ideas for programs and the level of the League’s engagement with New York and the big issues of the day. In 2006, the League established the annual Franzen Lecture on Architecture and the Environment in his honor.
The following is a short timeline sampling some of the compelling and important projects Franzen was involved with at the League. For a more general biography of Franzen’s life and work, read Suzanne Stephens’ obituary in Architectural Record.
1966: Franzen becomes President of the Architectural League, and moves its offices.
“The Architectural League of New York, under the leader of its new president, has moved its headquarters to 41 East 65th Street, New York City, and has reasserted its purpose as a dynamic educational institution. The League, founded by a group of young architects in 1881 ‘to quicken and encourage the development of the art of architecture, the arts and crafts,’ … was bogged down by the financial obligation of maintaining clubhouse facilities…. To reflect its new sense of purpose, the League has developed a program of events … [that] includes Environmental exhibitions, a series of exhibits … in traditional and new media to transform the galleries into environments which reshape space, giving the viewer a new sense of involvement.”
—Architectural Record, January 1967
1967: Announcement for Environment I, which launched an innovative new exhibition series.
“The Architectural League of New York, which moved out of its rather seedy headquarters on East 40th Street late last year, and into smaller but more elegant headquarters in the American Federation of the Arts building … has started a new series on ‘Environment’ exhibits in the AFA’s galleries unlike any that ever graced its old (or new) quarters before. The series got off to a rather slow start: ‘Environment 1’ appeared to be a random collection of artifacts (or, possibly, facts) randomly and somewhat depressingly displayed…. There was a photelectric pinball machine by the Chilean sculptor Castro-Cid (which conked out) and there were other assorted goodies.”
—Architectural Forum, January/February 1967
1967: Installation of Environment II: Prisms, Lenses, Water, Light
“Prisms, lenses, water and light are the environments offered by sculptor Charles Ross, and USCO. It all makes for effectual viewing, particularly the pulsating lights set up in the rear gallery where visitors may lie or sit on cushions and be bombarded by a barrage of lightworks guaranteed to discombobulate the senses. The rest are optical events of great elegance and control.”
—World Journal Tribune, January 27, 1967
1967: Exhibition of work by Christo at the League
“Christo, who recently made news with his 65-foot bundle of balloons, continues his obsession with ‘packaging.’ In a black room, he invents a rather sinister but clever environment that consists of plastic flowers wrapped in transparent plastic, an armchair wrapped in translucent plastic, a case of bottles each indvidually wrapped in black plastic, and a wheelbarrow with a mysterious bundle. Although perhaps influenced by Man Ray’s 1920 ‘The Engima of Isadora Ducasse,’ Christo continues to systematically explore the ramifications of a very fertile device.”
—Village Voice, January 5, 1967
“Shades of Jonah! I’ve just been inside one whale of a Happening! As part of what it calls its continuing series of environmental exhibits, the Architectural League of New York presented Les Levine’s Slipcover, a ‘Place,’ in its ground floor gallery…. ‘Place’ is the ideal name for Slipcover, which consists of three rooms, the floors, ceilings and walls of which are covered in Mirro-Brite, a mirror finished metalized polyester film…. Asked what was the strangest reaction he had to his exhibit, [Levine] thought for a moment, looking as if he preferred to be elsewhere. ‘Several people told me,’ he noted, ‘that they feel like taking off all their clothes and running around the rooms naked.'”
—The Telegram, April 22, 1967
“Is it a super-sized game for adults? A Minimal Art maze? Is it sculpture or theatre? Is it a jumbo pseudo-experiment more suitable for rats than humans? Is it Art? ‘Corridors,’ an environment now at the Architectural League, is not only a collaboration between John Lobell … and Michael Steiner, it is also a collaboration between them and the participant who weaves his way through a modular labyrinth of L-shaped columns (or free-standing corners)—yellow on one side, red on the other—setting off a veritable ‘white noise’ of taped sounds as he triggers electric eyes stationed at the ends of these implied, diagonal corridors of cool involvement. ‘Corridors’ does not fit neatly into academic categories, and this is its virtue.”
—Village Voice, September 21, 1967
1967: The Diamond in Painting and Architecture, an exhibition of John Hejduk’s work at the League
“The Diamond Thesis by Professor Hejduk is both creative and analytical. It implies new points of view in architectural space. It delineates with clarity the frontal facet of isometric projection in the two-dimensional space of the picture plane of the drawings. This didactic aspect of the Thesis has challenged the students who in turn have advocated its publication…”
—George Sadek, November 1967
1968: Lila Katzen installing Environment V: Light Floors
“‘Light Floors’ by artist Lila Katzen will open at the Architectural League … as part of the League’s continuing series of experimental environmental exhibitions. Each floor of the three-room gallery space will be a construction of acrylic sheet and reflective area with yellow and ultraviolet lights arranged below its surface. The three floors, consisting of different sequences, will nevertheless relate to each other through the repetition of the internal relations in a different format. Miss Katzen exercises complete control over her medium. She states that ‘light in all its aspects is employed. Reflectiveness, transparency, emission, and the transformation from spatial to temporal coordinates is situated.’ The result is that ‘arbitrariness and effect are canceled out.’”
—Architectural League press release
1968: Performance of James Lee Byars’ Mile-Long Garment
“Was it a protest? A love-in? A graduation procession? Or maybe—heaven forbid—a Shriner’s convention? Those were some of the questions blasé Upper East Siders asked last evening as they watched some 130 people march up East 65th Street toward Park Avenue, turn north on Park and wind around the block. What caught their attention was the marchers’ garb. They were joined together in a mile-long communal garment of red acetate, heads poking through holes cut at three-foot intervals…. The divertissement was intended to celebrate the opening of ‘Mr. Byars and Six Plays,’ a series of audience participation events dealing with communications and behavior that will run … at the Architectural League … where the procession originated.”
—The New York Times, September 13, 1968
1969: Announcement for Dial-a-Poem
“Have you heard any good poems over the New York telephone lately? If not, why not dial 628-0400, and hear the voices of thirteen of today’s most experimental poets reading a two-minute poem each? Dial-a-Poem is an experiment by [poet] John Giorno.… It occured to him that to pre-tape poetry and connect it to six automatic answering machine sets would extend a poet’s work to a huge audience all over the world. He approached the lively Architectural League of New York, which promptly agreed to put on the project. Ever receptive to new and experimental events dealing with many sides of contemporary life, the League arranged for a telephone number, connecting ten lines to an equal number of answering sets, each containing one taped poem.”
—Vogue, March 1969
This timeline is part of the feature Ulrich Joseph Franzen (1921-2012). To read more about Franzen’s relationship with the League, click here.