A memorial service for Mimi Lobell was organized by her husband, John Lobell, at the School of Architecture at Pratt Institute on September 20, 2001. (This was just nine days after 9/11, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The memorial had already been scheduled and announced.) The event was made a part of the semester’s lecture series and put on the poster for the series. Invitations were mailed to all of Pratt’s architecture graduates going back to the time Mimi started teaching. John also mailed invitations to all of Mimi’s colleagues and friends.
There was a large turnout, over 500 people, including many of her former students, with many standing. John set up a display of academic and personal items that had been important to Mimi. The dean, Tom Hanrahan, spoke briefly, then the chair of undergraduate architecture, Anthony Caradonna, spoke briefly, then a couple of other faculty members, and then John gave a slide-illustrated presentation on Mimi’s life. That was followed by comments from several people that are on the videotape but not in this transcript.
The event was video taped, and copies of the video are in Mimi’s archive at the University of Pennsylvania. This memorial presentation is a good introduction to and overview of Mimi’s life. This transcript has been edited to removes the awkwardness natural to informal spoken presentations.
Transcript of the Memorial Service
COMMENTS BY TOM HANRAHAN, DEAN, PRATT SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE
I’d like to welcome you all this evening to what we are calling both a memorial and a celebration in the life of Mimi Lobell, a professor who will be missed very much here at Pratt.
I’ll introduce myself. My name is Thomas Hanrahan and I’m the dean of the school. The reason for this self-introduction is that I notice so many people have come here who graduated from Pratt before my time. I have been here for five years. I guess I probably shouldn’t be surprised that so many of you are here because of the kind of person Mimi was. It’s great to have you and I think it says something about Pratt and more importantly it says something about Mimi.
Mimi was a unique faculty member and person, as in fact probably all of our faculty are. An architecture school, or any school I suppose, is defined by its faculty. They are very special people who make the school what it is and as faculty retire or pass away, and Mimi was taken from us at a very early age before her time, the school changes and evolves and it will change and evolve again. So what we are really I think remembering here tonight is Mimi and the role and the importance she played in defining the school of architecture at Pratt.
Mimi came to Pratt at a critical time both in our society and in the school of architecture. She was only the second woman to be tenured as a full time professor here, the first was Sybil Moholy-Nagy. That Mimi was the second signifies something very important both for Pratt as an evolving institution but also with the profession of architecture. Not many architects are women. Mimi led the way professionally at Pratt and she continued to do so the entire time she was here. I knew Mimi for the time I was here; not as long as many of you who have taught with her over the years and of course John Lobell who survives her as her husband and fellow professor at the school, but I did get to know her through the work of her students which was always very exciting.
One thing that strikes me about Mimi’s importance to the school is that she always stressed the importance of each student. Her work in studio was always very unique, and later this evening we’ll hear about her interest in mythology and in non-Western culture and history. Her approach was outside of the canons and norms of how history has traditionally been taught, and again I think that’s part of her unique contribution.
She stressed imagination and creativity in the design process, which her students appreciated, and they did incredible work with Mimi. I think the simplest thing I could say is that students loved Mimi and she loved them back. I think that’s probably why so many of you are here this evening. So I think we should remember Mimi and I think we should remember what she was and what she represented to the school
And now I’d like to introduce Anthony Caradonna who is currently the chair of our department of undergraduate architecture and will speak as someone who has had Mimi as a colleague but was also her student.
COMMENTS BY ANTHONY CARADONNA, CHAIR, UNDERGRADUATE ARCHITECTURE, PRATT SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE (Abrievated)
Welcome everybody. As I saw the faces of the people walking in this evening I imagined that everybody remembers Mimi Lobell in their own way. In my exchanges with people in the 20 years since I came to Pratt a few people have told me about different aspects of Mimi’s life through out the time they have known her, and I have also heard from people outside of Pratt. I’m sure each of us has their own slice or moment of Mimi and our interaction with her, and mine was initially as a student. Probably not everyone knows, but I was a student at Pratt and I believe either my first or second year was when Mimi received tenured and she was quite happy about that.
The prime impression Mimi gave me as a teacher was her sense of the newness of discovery in whatever she taught, whether it was history or design. I was a student of hers in the history survey courses as well as in her Non-Western Architecture course in which no matter how she discussed a culture or time in architecture she always made it seem as though there was something to discover and that each of us could discover something in the way we approached that topic or that era or that culture. I was very inspired after being in the history survey with Mimi and John and other faculty to take her again as an upper-level student in her Non-Western course, in which she was a trailblazer. I didn’t know until afterwards during my graduate studies that she was one of only maybe two or three in the country who are dealing with non Western cultures. She presented a worldview of how architecture is defined by its people and frames the lives of people. She also had an interest in the intersections between the psychology of human beings, the culture in general, and architecture.
In that course which also addressed her interest in spatial archetypes she had a very pointed way of using a diagrams to trigger the ideas that connect back to architecture and she really had a very keen sense of how to take the work of mythologists, architects, historians, archeologists, and sociologist and bring them down into sort of a fulcrum that we can all understand. I remember sitting in class listening to a lecture I’m sure she has given many times, but it always felt as if it was her first time giving the lecture because she was so excited, so passionate and so deeply personally involved. She would say things as if she had just heard them for the first time. That’s how I remember Mimi the best.
In Mimi’s design studio she brought a sense of culture and mission for students to able to explore and find themselves and find their own cultures within find architecture.
Mimi was unique because she really dealt with the student’s individual interest and individual background. She made it a research project so that they could find their way through architecture and I think that’s what she brought to the school and how we all will remember her.
I feel sad for the students that won’t be able to know her, meet her, or be her student because she certainly added a layer to our school, our culture, and certainly to me as an individual as an architect and as an educator. Thank you.
There were comments by Professor Theo David, and by William Chickering, Dean of the Library. Then after John Lobell’s presentation, members of the audience made comments. See the videotape for these.
PRESENTATION BY JOHN LOBELL, PROFESSOR OF ARCHITECTURE AT PRATT INSTITUTE AND WIDOWER OF MIMI LOBELL
(Note: This presentation was richly illustrated with slide. Click here to see the video with the slides.)
I put a quote from Mimi in the flyer that you have that says, “Learn your trade, be yourself, and befriend your shadow.” Pratt’s slogan is: “Be true to your work, and your work will be true to you.” I think Mimi takes it one step further in the remark “befriend your shadow.” She had a very strong sense of the fullness of oneself including the depth of psychology, and then engaging and bringing all of that self into ones work, and that’s something she encouraged her students to do. And so, I’m going to do a little biography of Mimi here and it’s going to be very thorough. You are going to find out a lot about her, just the way she would have encouraged each of her students to find out a lot about themselves in order to bring that into their work.
I’ll start with a couple of thoughts. One is that we just had this experience with the World Trade Center, and Mimi was an avid follower of the news, and I’m sure she would have been just watching TV for three days straight. I remember when Grace Kelly’s funeral took place. I got up around six in the morning, and she had been up all night watching the funeral live. Because of the difference in European time, the funeral was going on all night. When I came into the living room she said, “The Catholics are just like the Buddhists. In Protestantism, the funeral is for those surviving. In Catholicism and Buddhism, it’s to help guide the soul through the various stages that it will be going through after death.” When Mimi died, I called her friend, her Monk, Lobsang so that he could pray for her to get a good reincarnation.
I also recall that just last week, Steve Izenour, a classmate of both mine and Mimi’s, died. He was an associate in Venturi’s office and co-author of Learning from Las Vegas. When I was at his memorial I told Bob Venturi that Mimi had died and he said, “My God, what’s going on, I have this feeling of the passing of a generation.”
Also Pauline Kael just died. Pauline Kael was identified with the way that popular culture was fully engaged in our psyches and with the way movies were in the 60s and 70s and unfortunately no longer are. Mimi and I had our cultural coming of age in that era of a new way of seeing popular culture.
I just want to say a brief word on how Mimi died. People said, “I didn’t know it was that serious,” and, well, we didn’t either, that’s why you didn’t know. She had some bleeding and went to the gynecologist and he said, “You probably will need a hysterectomy, we’ll do some tests.” So she knew for about a month that she had a problem and might have to do something and then all of a sudden things got serious and she knew for about a week that she was in trouble and then she was dead. So it happened very quickly for all of us.
I want to talk about a lot of material here. I also have some of Mimi’s things on the table over there. So if anybody wants to look at it and ask me about it, or about anything I say, please feel free to do so later.
I want to start with Mimi as a little girl. She used to sit in the backyard on the slide that her father had made for her, and she could see a Mobilgas sign over the hedge. She would dream of flying away on Pegasus to lands of adventure and mythology. And the wonderful thing about her life is, that’s exactly what she did. She was in Ireland, Germany, Russia, Bali, India, and on, and on. And you know, when she was in a little better shape, she charged up the Castillo pyramid in Mexico, Borubador, etc. And here she is, just a few years ago on an elephant in India.
And she became a very good acquaintance of Joseph Campbell; She went to all of his seminars and began to absorb his approach to mythology into her architecture and became, herself, a student of all the worlds’ mythologies in a quite serious, scholarly way. She really knew this stuff.
She grew up in Big Sky Country in Indiana and Illinois. I recall a student said to me just last semester after Mimi died, “I grew up in Indiana farm country and Mimi, spoke to me in a friendly way and was so nice to me,” and I said, “Well she grew up in farm country in Indiana too.” Her father had a Victory garden as people did in those days, so she grew up in this very spacious situation.
Later, when she was a bit older, she used to sit in front of the TV, and draw house plans. I love to see the way the things we do when we’re six, seven years old, if we’re really passionate about them, can translate into what we do in our careers.
This is her father and mother. Her mother was a homemaker but also a teacher; very educated, extremely smart, she taught speed-reading. She’d go through a thick novel in a day. And she saw to it that her children were exposed to art; they went to museums, they would go regularly to the Chicago Art Institute, and when they traveled in Europe, they went to all the cathedrals.
Her father was a chemical engineer and an academic: a professor, a chair, and then a dean of engineering. She had two brothers who were seven and nine years older, David and Gordon. Both were like what they look like in these photos: David is sitting in his laboratory, a pioneer of human genetics, and we kid him about why he hasn’t gotten his Nobel Prize yet. Gordon spent many years working for BEMEWS as an electronics engineer, watching for Russian missiles coming over the North Pole. Every one of these people had incredibly high IQs. Gordon’s is off the chart; it can’t be measured. They were very competitive and really enjoyed how sharp they were. They played deadly backgammon and things like that. So in a way, Mimi was a very male identified woman who had these very strong men in her life; big brothers, you know, to take care of her. A lot of women with that kind of background turn out to be very strong in their professions because they feel this support that’s always with them. Mimi’s parents took her everywhere over the summers. What you did on summer vacations if you were those kinds of mid-western people is you piled in the car. Mimi had been in almost every state—I think there were only two states she hadn’t been to.
When Mimi was in the eleventh grade her father got a Fulbright and her parents brought her with them to Europe and after the summer they put her on a train and sent her off to a school in Switzerland. After that she got the sense that she could handle anything because she was totally on her own in Europe. Today we have students from all over the world who have gotten out of Bosnia or something like that, so it’s not so exceptional, but for an American in those days it was quite exceptional to be crossing Europe alone at that age, and it gave her a huge amount of confidence. I think this resulted in the way she was very feminine but also a strong, independent professional—she was into make-up and shopping but she could also lived in a man’s world and worked on the design of the Grand Coulee Dam Third Power Plant in Breuer’s office. She was soft spoken and polite but also had very strong ideas. I think that made her a strong role model for a lot of young women students—they could see in her an independent professional woman who was also very feminine.
She went to Middlebury College. She chose Middlebury because they had a French-speaking dorm and she had just gone to school in Switzerland and she wanted to keep up speaking French and skiing. In Switzerland, gym was climbing the mountain and skiing down it every morning before breakfast. She had always been a little bit heavy, but there were periods in her life when the weight totally came off and that year in Switzerland was one of them. Middlebury was a place where you could speak French and ski and she majored in art history and philosophy. But then when it became clear she was going to become a professional, which probably came from the background I have been describing and her father and brothers and even her mother, she decided on architecture.
At that point her family was living in Delaware, just a few minutes drive from Philadelphia, and she transferred to Penn, and the Penn that she went to was a wonderful place. She didn’t have courses with Louis Kahn but he was a tremendous presence there; he lectured and visited a lot of the courses that she was in and we went to his juries. An extremely interesting person, Dean G. Holmes Perkins, had put that school together, and it was one of the more remarkable schools of modern architecture. Both Bob Venturi and Denise Scott Brown were professors of hers, and she was also very influenced by Edmund Bacon who was a masterful city planning figure. Bacon was probably more influence on her than anyone else because Bacon was a student of non Western material. How was Beijing put together? He was a student of how the key cities developed, what their morphologies were, what their dynamics were, in a very Hegelian sense, an approach that became an underpinning of Mimi’s thought.
One of her projects in Bob Geddes’ studio was a mental hospital and hers got published in Progressive Architecture magazine so she was already an achiever at that point.
Mimi and I met at Penn. She died very quickly and we did not have a chance to talk, but I knew what she wanted. There are two questions I would like to ask her: where is the wedding album, and what is the code to the Citibank bank account. So I don’t have any of our wedding pictures except this that I happen to have elsewhere so I just took this picture from a little bit later. She married the guy at Penn who had the flat abdomen, a lot of hair, black t-shirt, and drove BMW motorcycles. There are some people here who are former students of ours who recall these two professors rolling up to Pratt on an R69S and pulling it into the gate and locking it up. They thought that was really cool to have professors like that.
At that time, every woman architect we can think of, Mimi’s age or older, married an architect. Women architects younger than Mimi no longer felt that need, they were more free. When Mimi got registered one and one half percent of the registered architects were women so it was a really pioneering time.
We moved to New York, which was my idea—she could have stayed in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was already a pretty big city for her and very sophisticated but I grew up on Long Island could not wait to get back to New York.
She worked in some interesting offices, starting with Kahn and Jacobs under Dur Scutt who is a very strong flamboyant Yale graduate. He would churn out designs and he came to love and rely on Mimi because she was a really strong designer and could really grind this stuff out. Later when I would talk to Dur he would say, “If Mimi ever wants to work in an office again, I’ll hire her.”
Then she got enough confidence to go on to a name office and she went to Marcel Breuer’s and worked on some interesting projects including the extension to the Grand Coulee Dam, which was larger even than Russian dams, and the Russian dams were really big in those days. People would say to her “Oh you’re an architect. Do you design houses?” People really said that then to women. Mimi would replay, “No I am designing the Grand Coulee Dam.”
After Breuer, she worked for John Johansen who is still on our faculty, on housing on Roosevelt Island that had an interesting skip corridor design. I had worked on a skip corridor design and I knew that it is the hardest thing in terms of terms of juggling space in your mind that you could imagine. Mimi went back to the office on a Friday after everybody had left and took off the desk one of her associates the drawings for the project and she worked around the clock over the weekend and designed the thing. If she hadn’t, it might never have happened because these things are really complicated. She brought her work in the next Monday and said, “Here is how they work,” and that got her promoted into doing serious work in the office.
Mimi passed all of her architectural registration exams the first time around without even taking a cram course. Anyone who has taken the exams knows how difficult that is. She just got the books and studied. She was like that. We had a student, someone who is here, who was going on to graduate school and was told he had to take the GRE, Graduate Record Exam or something like that and she got really worried became this guy was just not into that kind of stuff. So she went to Barnes and Noble and bought a stack this high of books about the GRE and got him over and drilled him over the weekend, and he got into Yale. She was a very quick study in that sense.
Around this time women were becoming aware of themselves in every field, and then women in architecture began identifying their problems and we saw the emergence of the second wave of the feminist movement, the first one being around the turn of the century. Mimi worked on The Archive of Women in Architecture and on the show that Susanna Torre curated on Women in Architecture at the Brooklyn Museum. She also worked on starting a woman’s office, but it became apparent the women involved weren’t going to get along with each other.
At that time about 1.5 % of registered architects were women. Architecture is not yet like law school where it’s fifty and sixty percent women, but at least women are almost fifty percent in some architecture schools and probably thirty or forty percent of the people taking the exams are women.
At that time there was a debate among women over whether they wanted to be let into the men’s game, or did they stand for something different. In other words are women just as good as and the same as men, or are women different from men and have something different to offer. If you say they are different, then you are implying that “biology is destiny,” which is what the second wave feminist movement was trying to get away from. Mimi came down own the side that women are different.
We got to New York in 1965 at a unique moment known as sex and drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll and art. It was happening in psychedelics and changes in consciousness (that’s Timothy Leary), it was in politics—the war in Vietnam was heating up. We’ve gotten more used to war now since Vietnam and Desert Storm and what’s about to come up but at the time things were heating up and it was very intense both in terms of war movements and peace movements. In rock music, Rock ’n’ Roll—Buddy Holly—was evolving into something very heavy and very serious. As serious as literature in the case of Bob Dylan and Judy Collins, and electronic music. It was really interesting what was happening, including in entertainment: this is Dionysius in 69 on the left and Hair on the right. In sex there were women walking down the street in totally transparent blouses and no bras. Mimi understood that these things were cyclical, but I thought that in five more years everybody is going to be walking around in nothing.
We were hanging out at the Architecture League. Here’s the Architecture League, a show that I did there. There’s the two of us, the way we once looked, Mimi with her Jane Fonda hair.
We were at a party at the Architectural League and Mimi was talking to some guy and all of a sudden he sees her wedding ring, and says “Oh, I see you’re married; you’ve been wasting my time.” This was totally typical of the times. Mimi decided, “Ok, it is time to redefine marriage.” We took exotic drugs, had sex with our friends, got photographed, and wrote a book about it called John and Mimi: A Free Marriage. This is a book that just came out describing that period called Make Love Not War that has a chapter about us.
To this day there is an underground awareness of this book at Pratt and each generation of students is told about these weird professors, and they would come up to Mimi and say “Did you write a book? Can I get a copy?” And she would say, “Not until you graduate.”
So when I had hair and Mimi was thin we were photographed by prominent photographers and published in magazines all over. There was a full page on us in the New York Times. The pictures of us making love included various of our friends. Later I was showing some of the pictures and one of them called me up and said, “I just heard you are showing my pictures and I’m not happy about it.” A lot of people made pictures in the sixties and now hope the pictures don’t reappear.
We saw our marriage as a spiritual path and in fact we wrote a book that was never published called “Marriage as a Spiritual Path,” in which one dedicates oneself to the other totally. Thus my spiritual path is to dedicate myself to Mimi and vice-versa, which makes for a unity like you might see in the Kalachakra engaged couple.
After many decades of quiet, a few years ago Mimi said “I’m just tired of being old and fat” and so she went on numerous adventures, one of which is symbolized in the display here, and some of her lovers might be in this room right now. So she remained active.
Mimi came to Pratt in 1972 and later became the second full time woman in the school of architecture. The first time she was interviewed they didn’t hire her. They asked her in the interview, “Do you believe that architectural drafting should be taught?” Knowing that these were very unstructured times she said, “I think the course should be available for those who want it.” That was it, she didn’t get hired; they were not going to teach drafting. The next year she got hired.
She was hired–typically as we still do today–on a Friday to start teaching on Monday, and so she really went through a weekend of, “If I am leaving the profession because I don’t like it, and then I’m going to prepare other people to go into it, what am I doing?” So the first course she offered was Architectural Alternatives, addressing things that architects could do other than conventional practice. They visited all kinds of interesting people. Just to show she could do it she taught life support systems for a while. She taught comprehensive design studios, first year design studio, non Western, and most recently her courses were lectures in the required history sequence, a lecture course called Myth and Symbol in Architecture, and a design studio she called Riding the Tiger, so I have one of her stuffed tigers in the display along with some course outlines.
We decided not to have children so her students in a way were her children. She was very dedicated and taught to each student as an individual, helping each one reach into their inner creativity in very structured ways. All those things of the 1960s such as guided imaginations and all kinds of psychic exercises from that time, she would harness in the studio.
She respected the students’ cultures. Mimi created an environment where students could bring their culture into their design work instead of hiding that part of themselves.
She was really obsessive, and before computers she would type up something like a course outline on the typewriter and there would be one line with one word left over, so she’d re-type the whole thing. Now with computers you can just reformat it. This is what her course outlines looked like and they were really beautiful. It’s not just the graphics—really serious thought went into these. Here is Mimi with some of her students. She really worked hard to pull together really big and diverse juries for her students.
Around the time she started teaching she was thinking, “I don’t want to live schizophrenically. I’m into architecture, I’m into sex, I’m into spirituality. I’m not going to live three separate things, but how do you pull them all together?’ And she ended up spending the weekend with a woman named Jan who was a Jungian analyst and together they designed a goddess temple. No one was talking about this at the time. They brought together all the psychological principles of the feminine and embodied them architecturally, and this represented for her a bringing together of these parts of herself. What was at the time called left-brain, right-brain, she called technie-logos, for the technological and the rational, and psyche-eros for the holistic. Bringing all of that together became the focus of her approach ever since.
She did a lot of projects just for herself based on these ideas. This is a beach house she did called the Vastu Purusha House based on a set of principles in the Vastu Purusha Mandala. She got involved with a group of women interested in the goddess. This is a magazine called Heresies. Mimi was part of a collective that did this goddess issue, and that group became Mimi’s Goddess Group, her friends and colleagues for many years. They got to know Marija Gimbutas who is the scholar pioneer in the field. They went to conferences and presented papers. Here they are in Malta at a conference on the Archeology and Fertility Cult in the Ancient Mediterranean. There they bumped into Colin Renfrew who is the dean of European archeology, the leading European archeologist. She got into a big discussion with him, claiming that goddess figurines appeared throughout the world, and he said, ok, name the cultures, and she ran through them and named the cultures, so he said, “I’m leading a section next year at the World Conference on Archaeology in South Hampton. Why don’t you come and give a paper on male biased paradigms in archaeology.” So she did a paper on male biased paradigms in archaeology, and she and her warrior women goddess friends all went off to the conference. She and I also got the chance to drive around and see Stonehenge and all that kind of stuff. So it was very heavy times and there was also this real tension between what I like to call the political feminists and the spiritual feminists and I would have loved to see a panel discussion between Mimi and Gloria Steinem but it never happened.
We went to a lecture by Gloria Steinem and I asked a question, something about changes that have been going on, during which I said, “The spiritual feminists hold that women are spiritually and psychically different from men. And the political feminists hold that they are the same.” Now I just used two words that Gloria Steinem does not recognize, spiritual and psychic. In other words, it would be hard to have a discussion because they don’t share a vocabulary. But Mimi had respect for the political feminists and felt that the battles that they fought were needed, but her own interest extended into these other areas as well.
A lot of people have seen some of Mimi’s statues of goddesses and Buddhist figures and wondered, what was Mimi’s religion? Her parents’ church was Presbyterian which they occasionally went to when they thought it was good for the children. When she was a little girl, she and her friends got books on world religions and tried to figure out which one was best for them. We were married in a Unitarian church but I would say what best described her position is a combination of Buddhism, Shamanism, and a very strong interest in the goddess.
In Buddhism there is a real depth sense of the psyche. She was very serious about Buddhism. She was good friends with a Buddhist monk, she studied extensively, and she underwent the Kalachakra initiation with the Dali Lama. Here is Mimi presenting her the work of her design studio students to the Dali Lama. They did a building for Tibet House, a cultural center in New York. This is her friend Lobsang, the monk with whom she worked. She financed him being scholar-in-residents at the New York Open Center for a couple years. But she was not going to sit and meditate two hours a day.
Shamanism was probably closest to what she really felt. You go into your imagination and you encounter these forces like your helper animal, which for her was the bear, so some of her bears are in the display over there. And you see in Shamanism the fundamental human religion or spiritual systems as early as the caves of Lascaux. She saw in Shamanism the archetypes of the systems found in the higher cultures. For example the three levels which become the earth, the heaven, and hell, and the layers of heaven, the layers of hell, exactly as in Dante. So Shamanism lays down a mental architecture which then gets expressed in our culture. And then the goddess is the recognition historically during the Neolithic period that the central deity was a female figure, another term for it being the feminine principle, and that there is something that the female psyche brings to bear that is enriching to the earth. Here is a goddess from fifteen thousand BC. Mimi also appreciated these because, as she said, her body was of the Neolithic persuasion.
These are Shamanic images from the caves of Lascaux and we still have teddy bears, which brings this Shamanic energy into our time. Here are Mimi’s personal little Shamans. This is Mimi as a girl with her dog Pat. These are cats we had in the 60s, Jules and Jim and Kathy. Kathy did not get along with Jules and Jim, so Kathy found another home. Later we had Cindy and Charm who died maybe five years ago. Charm was a gift from Arthur Edwards, a colleague of ours at Pratt. Mimi was very close to Charm.
Mimi kept little folders with picture, and this is one of the ones she liked with herself as a child of the universe. She once said, “I have total faith in the universe.” I said, “What if you get hit by a bus” and she said, “All the molecules will be just fine.”
When we were in the hospital, the night that the doctor said “Uh-oh,” the three of us were chatting about this and that. I left the room for a few minutes with the doctor and he said, “Did she understand what I said?” I said “Well yeah, she’s just not afraid of dying. She’s not interested in pain and suffering but she’s not afraid of dying.” She had a sense of this total interpenetration between herself and the universe, it’s how she lived. If you asked what was her religion, that’s what I would say.
She expressed these ideas in lectures and courses she gave at the New York Open Center, which became sort of a home for her ideas. She also gave lectures and courses at the Jung Foundation as well as other places.
Now I want to briefly talk about Mimi’s approach to architecture. On the left is New Grange Passage Mound, about 3,000 BCE. It’s a Neolithic structure and what do we see? You enter into the mound, and the plan has a cruciform shape. Here’s a Gothic cathedral from 1,200 CE, 4,500 years later, with the same form in the plan, the archetype of which was laid down in the Neolithic period.
Just the way Shamanism lays down the architecture of the mind which then gets expressed in form in the high cultures, so this Neolithic architecture laid down the basic forms or the seeds of all of the architecture of the high cultures.
Similarly these are both pyramids that she climbed. Here we are at the Castillo pyramid in Mexico, a stepped pyramid, temple on top, stairs on four sides. Here we are at Borobudur, a Buddha stupa in Indonesia, a step pyramid, temple on top, stairs on four sides. Not only that, you get to the bottom of the stairs, and in both cases there’s a head of a snake, the mouth is open.
Following Joseph Campbell’s approach to mythology, Mimi developed a comparative approach to architecture. Post structuralism holds that rationalism is over and the world is chaotic and unknowable which is ultimately a nihilist position. Mimi, on the other hand, held that rationalism is a small subset of a larger system, and that larger system is knowable by absorbing the patterns that you see in cultures, and you get to know those patterns by being a student of these cultures.
By the way, orthodox academia handles the mystery of these similar pyramids by saying that you if you are a Mexican specialist, you are not allowed to have anything to do with Borobudur, and vice-versa. You cannot comment or publish outside your specialty or you will not get tenure or you’ll lose it. Being at Pratt, we are allowed to do anything, and that is a wonderful thing about Pratt, and Mimi was well aware that nowhere else would she be allowed to pursue these approaches. She could look at all these cultures, and she mastered everyone of them at a level just short of what the specialist in each field did.
In her approach she described a succession of patterns in culture: The sensitive chaos of the hunter-gatherers, who did not make permanent architecture, but laid down this architecture of the mind. The Neolithic period of the early agricultural societies, here are Maltese temples, about 3200 BCE, and does that look familiar? That’s the body of the Neolithic gods. The emergence of the four quarters; these are the Bronze Age warrior chieftains. And it was mind blowing, we were at a bookstore and Mimi found a book that had a plan of a Peruvian palace that was a Megaron, there was the four columns, there was the pot of fire, it was the exact plan of the Greek Megaron, but in Peru, because it’s appearing at the same period culturally. Pyramids were not just in Egypt, but were representative of a certain stage in culture. Louis XIV was not the only Sun King, every emperor was a Sun King, and their empires had similar qualities. The industrial commercial grid that we live in today has existed before and we can understand our culture more deeply by studying this same period in Rome and Peru. And then finally disillusion, which is the death of a culture, and understanding it in the past can enrich us in understanding how our own culture will die.
Mimi was interested in using the Chakra system for understanding levels of architecture, a system much more specific and fine grained than “firmness, commodity, and delight.” She gave her students this nifty list here, a contrast between Heroic Architecture and Oracular Architecture. Heroic Architecture is an aggressive architecture that gets you in the magazines. Oracular Architecture is an architecture that comes out of the depth of your honest exploration of your own psyche.
And finally, outside of architecture, Mimi’s mind was always active. She would have preferred never to sleep. When school didn’t force otherwise, she would go to sleep around ten o’clock in the morning. I would get up at six or seven, and she’d just be starting to roll, sitting at her computer, just knocking out this stuff, having a ball. She would say, “I don’t want to go to bed.” And we discovered between being grown up and not having any kids, you can do anything you want. This is a book by John Naar, called Living In One Room. This is a beautiful room she had when we had a brownstone in Manhattan, and it’s just filled with her stuff. Here are color photographs of that room, and all these interests lining the walls.
She played the harp, and music would waft through the apartment and it was just the most beautiful and peaceful thing. She was fascinated with Taro cards, and she would do Taro readings for her students. Taro for her is a form of psychology and she had about 300 Taro decks, which I’ve given to a Taro organization. The best Taro deck, the one she always went back to, was the Rider-Waite deck, the illustrations for which were done by a Pratt graduate, and it was just coming up on its 100th anniversary and she was trying to get Pratt to do an exhibit of the Taro cards since it was a Pratt grad’s work, and it had become such a big phenomenon.
She was fascinated with astronomy. She had a fine telescope and she totally understood it all, she had sky charts and we’d go to my parent’s house in Connecticut, you know where you get away from the city lights, and go to the neighbor’s lawn because they didn’t have any trees, and we’d set up the telescope and our niece would come over. We’d be spotting everything and she’d know what it all was. She had sky charts on the wall in the bathroom to know what the sky was going to do each month. She was also a student of archeo-astronomy and was part of the organization that studied the impact of astronomy on cultures, such as Stonehenge, which is aligned to various stuff. She knew all the main people in that field.
She was avidly into rubber stamps. She had over 3000 rubber stamps and several hundred that she made; she would carve them out of erasers.
She was incredibly into needlework. It’s a field that of interest to a lot of women, but I think its understudied, we are under-aware of it. When we were driving across the country she would get books about things of local interest. For example, we were in Kansas where there is nothing, its 110 and the wind is blowing, everything is flat, there are no trees because they can’t survive the climate. So the pioneers lived in sod houses. And the fence posts were made out of stone with barbed wire strung on them because there was no wood. So were going to the local museums of the area and getting all these books on stone fence posts. She was just endless avidly interested in everything. One of the books we picked up in Indian country was a biography of a woman who was an important weaver. In their culture the girls were not allowed to touch the loom until they were nine years old. So this girl just sat in the back of the loom, watching her mother’s fingers tying the knots as she’s weaving Navajo rugs. The moment she was allowed to touch the loom, she was a Mozart; rugs were went flying out, one of the great Navajo artists. Her stuff is very collectable. So there’s something about the mind of some people what is into weaving, and Mimi just churned out these complex sweaters and all these clothes, and everything. We have a couple of mini storages with stuff and there are just bags and bags of her needlework, and for many years earlier in our marriage she made a lot of her own clothes. I just happened to have this piece lying around the apartment so it’s on the wall outside. This piece here, she was just fooling around and she made this beautiful little woman sitting in front of a book. Here’s a photograph of one of her collections of yarn.
So what does Mimi leave us? She produced a remarkable book on those spatial archetypes I was talking about. It’s pretty much finished, it just needs illustrations, and so it’s my job is to finish it. Her papers are going to go to an archive, and they are delighted to get something this complete because we have all of her school projects, her notes from our classes at school, her course outlines since she started teaching at Pratt, so there’s a rich trove of material that I’m putting together for them.
And three architecture deans at Pratt very generously gave her her own room, room 210 upstairs, in which she had hoped to build a study center and have a library of books, and a coffee pot, and she would spend time with her students. So the stuff was there but she never finished putting it together but this is a little emblem she made for that room.
Dean Chickering at the Pratt library has been generous enough to help me arrange the movement of a lot of her books to the library. I am keeping some for stuff I am working on. I will give them to the Pratt library later. I made this little book plate, this is just a sketch, it’s going to go to a designer, it’s going to be very nice. It will be in every book, plus you can go to the computer catalogue and just say “Mimi’s books,” and you will get the whole list. Because we’re not in a position to have her own room, they are going to be integrated into the collection, but they will be identified by this plate.
It was interesting that I chose Michelangelo’s Libyan Sybil for the plate, it was a choice between that and The Goddess of Transcendental Wisdom from the National Museum in Jakarta. These were two of her favorite works of art. This one is a woman in a non-western culture, and this is a woman but we all know that Michelangelo used male models to do his women, and just sort of stuck breasts on them. So which to choose to represent her femininity, but she just found the Libyan Sybil so beautiful, she had little post cards of this in so many of her wallets and everything. It really did represent strongly the sense of her books.
I gave about 300 of her books to the library at Tibet House and they are going to get The Goddess of Transcendental Wisdom in their bookplate, so we will have both of them. Look at The Goddess of Transcendental Wisdom closely sometime. Mimi considered this the greatest work of non Western art. In the west, we have a sense of character in the individual, and in the east there’s a sense of transcendence.
To end my talk I just wanted to say that one of her favorite comic books series is Asterix. Asterix is about a Gaul village that has resisted conquest by the Romans and are continuing to fight on. In each comic book they have some adventure where they have to beat up the Romans. The hero is this little guy, Asterix. Here’s his buddy Obelix, he’s a menhir delivery guy. Menhirs are the kind of stones that Stonehenge is made out of. And he has this cute little dog, and they go off and they fight the Romans. Every comic begins with the village in total turmoil where, you know, “You’re selling me rotten fish, etc.” Mimi had her frictions with her colleagues, like all of us do, and she thought of it as the turmoil that you would expect in our village. She suffered conflicts and disappointments at Pratt as all of us have, but her father had been an academic her whole life, he was first a professor and then a chair, and then a dean and then even when he retired he taught abroad for several years. Everything that happened to her at Pratt that wasn’t good had happened a lot worse to her father. She said “I grew up in academia and I know that’s the way it is.” What ever happened, ultimately she’d get over it. So when she was in conflict with her colleagues, she thought of it as still her village. In Asterix, after the conflict, they all get together at the big banquet table and it’s still our village and we have defeated the Romans.
And now what I would like to do for just a few minutes is show some slides and play a piece of Mimi’s favorite music, the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”
My response to all of this? That was incredible. Let’s do it again in lifetimes to come.