Donald Olsen. Photo: Helen Olsen.

DONALD OLSEN’S passionate commitment to modern architecture was confirmed when he arrived at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design to study with Walter Gropius in 1946, following Olsen’s early indoctrination at the University of Minnesota. Under Gropius’s radical leadership, Olsen internalized the school’s values, and he embraced its intellectual ambitions to reform the culture of building. After a brief stint in the office of Eliel and Eero Saarinen in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Olsen chose to return to Berkeley to begin his own practice and remained for decades a much-esteemed yet singular player in the modernist circles of Northern California. His first exposure to the Golden State had occurred even before his graduate education, in 1942, when he was hired in the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond to design infrastructural buildings. There, by his own admission, he designed more structures than he did throughout the rest of his career. That year, he also met his future wife, Helen, who survives him.

His work as an architect in the military-industrial complex was a portal that allowed him to comprehend the meaning of what the modernist master Mies van der Rohe famously described as technology’s ability to express the essence of an epoch. Later in his career, Olsen came to know Mies personally and even worked with him on two occasions. Olsen’s closest friends—Ralph Rapson, Serge Chermayeff, and John Winter, among others—betray his intellectual connection to the Northeast and the Old World. And he continued to work in dialogue with all the key figures of the modern movement—Wright, Le Corbusier, Aalto, Arup, Mendelsohn, and Lubetkin, to name a few. Olsen’s allegiance to the European avant-garde of the 1920s and ’30s would continue undeterred in the postmodern era. And he kept a picture of the Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, prominently pinned to the wall of the studio of his own 1954 glass house on San Diego Road.

The fact that Don Olsen had strong opinions could be detected in a matter of minutes in a conversation. He was dismissive of organic architects, with the exception of Wright. The only Kahn worth mentioning was named Albert. And modern architecture was a straight progression. For Olsen, any sentimental return to either history or nature was an inadmissible throwback. He thought of architecture as an extremely serious affair. It had a rational basis and could precisely address human needs. There was no room for capricious expressionism. Architecture was not a game—it was a discipline of ideas. The plans of his projects were tight, purposeful, and unusually inexpensive. And the results are mostly white, a giveaway of the architecture he loved the most.

He reared generations of architects as a design studio professor at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California Berkeley from the early 1950s till his retirement. His unlikely sponsor, William Wurster (dean from 1950 to ’63), introduced him to peers as the other point of view in the school. Many of them saw in him an individual committed to his art and someone recognized nationally and abroad through many publications.

His passing in March of 2015 closes an era of principled architects, individuals whose work is the unmistaken expression of their ideology. But ultimately Olsen was far more than a hard-line ideologue: He was in fact a profound romantic, married to the hypnotic beauty of modern space.

Pierluigi Serraino is an architect and writer based in Alameda, California.

Mary Ellen Mark, 1987. Photo: Martin Bell.

IT IS EVIDENT AFTER LOOKING at just one photograph of Mary Ellen Mark’s that so much of the beauty in her work occurred off camera as often as it appeared on film. Mark, who passed away on May 25 at the age of seventy-five, was a singular talent in her field. Photography is a deceptively difficult medium to master—good technique is nothing without empathy. In the case of Mark, who used her lens to capture everything from prostitution in Mumbai to homelessness in America to the rituals of American prom, she was not only committed to getting the shot—always stunning and sublime, often in black-and-white—but also to immersing herself in another person’s world. A mediocre photographer can sometimes behave like a tourist, skimming the surface, taking only what suits a story or a preconceived idea of a person or place. Mark always went deeper. She preferred spending months, even years with her subjects. And the commitment shows. Her photographs are luminous in their composition, brimming with raw emotion, and even though they capture just a sliver of a second—from the sway of Federico Fellini’s hips late one night on a movie set to the sweet smile on a child’s face—there is always a commanding sense of depth to her eye.

Boundaries need to exist between a journalist and her subject—how can we ever hope to tell an accurate story if we become too involved?—but an admirable trait of Mark’s was that she wasn’t afraid to cross the line if it meant doing the right thing. In 1987, on assignment for Life magazine, she spent ten days with a homeless family who had been kicked out of their shelter. The portrait, The Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, USA, is unforgettable. They stare straight at the camera, solemn and fierce. Dean, the father, has his arms wrapped around his wife, Linda. There is a brutish expression on his face; Linda leans against him. She looks young but empty, slightly haggard. Her two children from a previous marriage sit in the backseat, Crissy’s hand gently touching Jesse’s cheek. We have only each other, the gesture implies. In 1994, Life decided to run a follow-up on the family. After spending months tracking the Damms down, Mark found them squatting in an abandoned ranch house in Los Angeles. The parents, who had always abused drugs, were still using—when the first portfolio was published, Life’s readers had sent the Damms money, a temporary solution to a much thornier problem. None of the children were in school. When Mark arrived that morning, she found the family asleep in bed. “Crissy just looked blank but somehow embarrassed at the same time,” Mark recalled in an interview with the Telegraph’s Richard Grant in March 2005. “I didn’t know what to do so I lifted up the camera and took a photograph, natural light with a little bounce flash. Dean got really angry when he saw the photograph because his marijuana pipe was on the dresser. But look at Crissy’s face. I was sure he was sexually abusing her. I asked her about it and she denied it and denied it, and finally admitted that he had been.” Mark’s work was attached to an unavoidable sense of duty—it was a sentiment that the best of her photographs are able to evoke effortlessly. As she said once, “I did this story to help these children and others like them.”

Mary Ellen Mark, The Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1987, silver gelatin print, dimensions variable.

Mark mourned the changing landscape of documentary photography, observing how the work she published when she was younger, which helped make her career, became increasingly more and more difficult to do. “It’s sad because this is the kind of work I love to do, more than anything else in the world,” she said in the same interview with Grant. “And I was very successful doing it for a long time, and now I can’t make a living doing it. The market has dried up. Magazines don’t want serious documentary photography any more. They want style, fashion, celebrity, surface gloss, or an illustration to sell an idea or a story to the reader. I’m not an illustrator and I refuse to take shallow, glitzy pictures so I’m . . . not a success any more.”

Mark transitioned to fashion and celebrity portraiture later in her career—her photographs in Vogue are exquisite and strange, rare for such a glossy magazine. Her portrait of Agnes Martin in Vogue’s November 1992 issue reveals a kind of control and stoicism that one can find in the artist’s abstract paintings. How long did it take Mark to find it in Martin’s face? Mark also had the privilege of being a longtime staff photographer for the New Yorker.

But she was right, in a way. The appetite for her kind of work has changed. Mark was irreplaceable, and our loss of her is deeply felt. As Francis Ford Coppola wrote about Mark, after hiring her to be the on-set photographer for his films: “One of my pleasures during the making of Apocalypse Now was to watch Mary Ellen Mark, dressed in army fatigues, sloshing around in the mud shooting pictures. That striking black hair, those lovely eyes (often behind a camera), that smile—yes, her pictures were always unusual and beautiful, but so was she.”

Thessaly La Force is a writer and editor based in New York City.

George Balanchine, The Four Temperaments, 1946. Performance view, New York City Ballet, June 20, 2010. Albert Evans. Photo: Paul Kolnik.

“AFTER SPEAKING WITH ALBERT EVANS, a reporter’s transcript is filled with notes like ‘big laugh,’ ‘throws hands up dramatically,’ and ‘mischievous whisper.’ ”

That sentence didn’t make my editor’s cut for the 2006 New York Times profile I did of Evans. But the very three-dimensional idea of his expansive and warm presence always came to my mind when people mentioned him. And it did again when I learned in June that the former New York City Ballet star had died.

It’s a shocking loss, in part because of that big and warm personality, which shone through whether he was performing in one of George Balanchine’s grand ballets or spending an hour in a windowless conference room answering the questions of a young, more-than-somewhat-starstruck writer. And shocking too, because Evans was only forty-six. He was gone a mere five years after retiring from the storied City Ballet stage—a parting that took place in a season full of retirements, as several of the dancers who joined the company in the difficult years after Balanchine’s death in 1983 said their goodbyes.

Evans was a singular presence—artistically and as the lone black principal dancer in either of New York’s two major companies. Before him there had only been Arthur Mitchell, who joined City Ballet in 1955. Evans died just days before Misty Copeland took over the lonely distinction he had once held, becoming the first African American woman promoted to principal rank at American Ballet Theatre.

Evans joined City Ballet in 1988, and his farewell performance in 2010 hinted at the range of repertory he inhabited during his years with the company. He anchored the third variation (“Phlegmatic”) of The Four Temperaments, 1946, a Balanchine masterwork created two years before the Russian-born choreographer cofounded City Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein. And, with the inimitable Wendy Whelan, Evans danced William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman (Pas de Deux), 1992, a hard-edged work that is one of the choreographer’s only performed by the company.

Herman Schmerman shows clearly how Forsythe was then expanding and dismantling ballet, pushing the form in ways no one had done since Balanchine, whose explosion of what classical dance could be and do is everywhere evident in The Four Temperaments. And Evans’s dancing showed clearly his ability to be both classical and contemporary—a trait exemplified as well by Whelan and a crucial element for a company whose daunting repertory, supported by a vast wealth of historical works, is fed by a brisk stream of commissions.

George Balanchine, Agon, 1957. Performance view, New York City Ballet, April 24, 2007. Albert Evans and Wendy Whelan. Photo: Paul Kolnik.

Evans’s slippery elegance simmered in another Balanchine masterpiece, Agon, 1957, which was radical in its day for both its structure and for Balanchine’s decision to cast Mitchell in an erotically charged duet with a white woman, the great Diana Adams. Watching Evans and Whelan dance Agon in recent years, you felt its combustible history as a deeply alive thing. Evans, a masterful partner, was both austere and sinuous.

As great performers do, he fulfilled the demands of the choreography while also fulfilling his own moment-by-moment drama—this is a dancer’s art, and there is nothing else like it. Watching, you feel time doing funny things—moving differently, or stopping altogether.

And then time moves on. That Sunday afternoon in June 2010 there was the typical retirement hoopla: thunderous applause, showers of confetti and flowers, a long line of colleagues and collaborators walking across stage to hug the man at the center. I remember Evans peeling off his slippers and twirling around with all and sundry. Smiling that smile.

In the last few years, his smile had moved backstage, as he transitioned into his new role as a ballet master. (He had also begun to choreograph, while still performing.) I would see him now and again, when writing about Justin Peck’s skyrocket to prominence. He has worked on all of the dances Peck has choreographed for City Ballet; in this way, dance is passed on, the present and in progress corrupting and being corrupted by history. It’s a marvelously impure understanding of preservation, in which everything can last if only you let it change. It is predicated on loss.

I found out about Evans’s death as one often finds out about such things these days: from cryptic and then unmistakable notes of grief on social media. One such comment by the City Ballet principal Sara Mearns came through my Twitter feed: “The 1 thing that can bring my spirits up & inspire me during this sad time is being in the studio w/Alexei Ratmansky. I am so lucky.”

Evans, who was often sought by guest choreographers, also worked with Ratmansky; he was in the original cast of Russian Seasons, 2006, the ballet that began the Russian choreographer’s intense collaboration with City Ballet. To quote a conversation with Ratmansky from that same 2006 profile of Evans: “‘I was really nervous to start,’ he explained, and then laughingly recalled how Mr. Evans calmed him, telling him that he should ‘take it easy’ on his first day.”

Later on in our interview, Ratmansky talked about an earlier, oblique encounter with Evans. The choreographer was then still a dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, which was working on Jazz (Six Syncopated Movements), 1993, by City Ballet’s ballet master in chief, Peter Martins:

“And there was a solo, a wild, wildest solo for a man. And that was Albert’s. And everybody around who knew him said ‘This is so Albert.’”

And now we can only say was. This was so Albert. And also: He is missed.

Claudia La Rocco is a poet and critic based in Brooklyn. A collection of her selected writings, The Best Most Useless Dress, was published last year by Badlands Unlimited.

Charles Correa, 2007. Photo: Lafarge Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.

“I think I became an architect because of toy trains. As a child, I had some Hornby tinplate tracks and a couple of locomotives and wagons. Nothing very ambitious, really just enough to run the trains around your room and the following day perhaps change the layout so that they could run into the next room, under a table, and back again. That was the marvelous thing about those old tinplate rails. They had flexibility. Every time one finished playing, back they went into their wooden box to be reincarnated the next day in a totally new formation.”

Charles Correa in res 34 (Autumn 1998)

“GREATEST” IS A DEBATABLE SUPERLATIVE, but if it describes the ability to resolve seemingly insurmountable challenges through variations on a single form, then Charles Correa was unquestionably among India’s greatest contemporary architects. With unmatched vigor, he succeeded in adapting the limited vocabulary of modern architecture to a country ever at odds with modernist clarity and functionalism. He was also a zealous urban planner who spent more than fifty years reconciling the acute need for privacy with the chronic shortage of space in India’s cities through designs that were often so simple in form they seemed atavistic.

In 1958, at twenty-eight, Correa earned a plum commission to design the Gandhi Memorial Museum at Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad. Mahatma Gandhi lived here for thirteen years, from 1917–1930, and launched the influential anti-British protest known as the Dandi Salt March. Correa’s homage to this luminary was also a proposition about how to build ethically in a new era of social, political, and economic freedoms. Correa divided the site according to a system of modular geometry, using a syncopated box—formed by four vertical columns supporting a pyramidal roof—as the basic element of his design. Sinuous pathways thread together fifty-one of these identical buildings, built from local wood, brick, and stone, thereby creating warrens around open courtyards and so evoking a configuration indigenous to traditional Indian settlements. That this modern isotropic arrangement, in which repeating a single form produces a democratic whole (an approach also common in the design and construction of certain Hindu temple roofs), was driven by Gandhian precepts of equality, balance, and craft production is more than a provocative coincidence. It could well be read as an Indian invigoration of modern architecture’s unresolved socialist agenda. Its vision of social equality in modular design did not foresee the dominance of dehumanizing tower blocks that would alienate occupants from each other and the outdoors.

Charles Correa, Mahatma Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati, Ahmedabad, 1963. Photo: Pranlal Patel.

Can the rigor of the modernist box—an icon of containment—provide a more equitable life, nurture a kinder world? Spurred by this question, dozens of Correa’s subsequent projects extrapolated his impulse toward a polyamorous architecture. He parlayed the difficult Corbusian formula of compaction, community, and repetition into elegant solutions to everything from land-use planning and upscale hotels to art spaces and low-cost residences. Refusing the prescription of high-rises for low-wage residents in Indian cities (because high-rise buildings are also energy-inefficient), his earthbound credo favored low-rise, high-density plans with shared courts and peripheral verandahs. The underlying quest for harmony with the elements through natural means of temperature control—ventilation, shade, and alignment—ultimately led to his architectural mantra of “open-to-sky-spaces.”

Two landmark publications, The New Landscape: Urbanization in the Third World (1989) and Housing and Urbanization: Building Solutions for People and Cities (2000) thoughtfully compile Correa’s two affections: intelligent-empathetic cities and sympathetic housing. Indeed, the two were deeply intertwined: If one family deserves the grace of comfortable living, thought Correa, than why should an entire community deserve anything different? And his designs for single-family homes often included architectural experiments that were subsequently scaled up and recreated in collective housing schemes, though with mixed results.

Charles Corea, Belapur Housing, Navi Mumbai, 1986. Photo: Joseph St. Anne.

Ironically, it was at the only project that represented a truly complete execution of every aspect of his thinking that Correa’s socialist algorithm exposed its own flaws. From 1970–75, during his term as the chief architect of Navi Mumbai (New Bombay), a satellite city Correa and his peers had promoted since the late 1960s as a way to relieve the economic and human pressures on the small peninsula of Mumbai (then Bombay), Correa began designing an inexpensive scheme for mixed-income housing in the central borough of Belapur, where the highest incomes were five times the lowest. The completed project showed lovely terracotta pitch-roof houses clustered as discrete properties around shared courtyards. Their white walls are cheerfully picked out in bright blue doors and yellow window frames. Correa’s insistence on incremental design features factored in the human impetus to continue to build: There were no shared walls between dwellings, leaving free margins for further construction. But only ten years later, messy aggregations left the house plots unrecognizable, whereas the open communal spaces for conviviality, the basic organizing principle of Correa’s spatial apparatus, lay undisturbed like some ancient topographical footprint.

Concurrently, in his design for Kala Academy, Goa (1973–83), some four hundred miles south of Mumbai, Correa was expounding on the idea that minimizing hierarchies can inject pleasure into egalitarian ideals. This cultural center for music and theater is essentially an argument about unrestricted spatial flow. Its open-air lobby is nearly contiguous with a city sidewalk, and a series of unmarked terraces transitions from reception, cafe, and lawn to a public walkway lining the riverfront. Cumulatively, these spaces register as interconnected sensations, as does the surrealist architectural mural on one wall modeled after Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings.

Charles Correa, Kala Academy, Goa, 1983. Photo: Dinesh Mehta.

If the 1980s and ’90s saw institutions and foreign states fêting Correa, it was also a reflective period of intellectual camaraderie. In 1984, he cofounded Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) in Mumbai to expand his ideas about architecture and cultural conservation into a forum for architects, educators, and social scientists. His objective was to play out discourse through practice, pedagogy, and urban policy, and the center remains the most sustained expression of Correa’s role in brokering an architectural revolution in India.

This effort to articulate spatial precepts beyond building continued through Vistara: The Architecture of India (1986), an exhibition shown at the Festivals of India in Russia and Japan, which reflected Correa’s take on architecture as holistic thinking. Yet the almost randomly selected exhibits of tribal, classical, colonial, and modern Indian settings prompted Vinayak Pandit, a prominent socialist intellectual, to term it “an architectural hocus-pocus” that “did not proceed on historical lines, neither developed the theme of climate and terrain, nor did it confront technological and engineering problems, nor did it enlarge upon regional styles.”

Yet while this critique is no doubt valid, Vistara’s false steps also showcase Correa’s importance. Correa’s reputation is synonymous with his self-imposed prism of social conscience. He was perceived as a man of democratic objectives. Though he was perhaps surpassed in executing this goal by English émigré Laurie Baker, whose locally sourced structures including houses for low-income clients in Kerala, south India, are unparalleled for their beauty, frugality, and regional-relevance, Baker fused the vernacular with modern requirements, not a modern vocabulary. In contrast, Correa held the conviction that the original promise of modern architecture had a place in an India that wanted nothing more than to be modern. And this conviction has defined Correa’s influence on policy makers, if less so his sway over institutions. During my time teaching architectural history at a design school in Mumbai, students knew of Le Corbusier but not Correa. His recent passing is bound to change at least how some curricula approach contemporary architecture—armed with his Indian declensions on the idea that the functional vocabulary of modern design holds the magic of an enlightened life.

Prajna Desai is a critic, historian, and curator based in Mumbai.