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April 22, 2005

Architecture Elsewhere

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* John Massengale reports on an absurdly anti-urban new proposal for New York's West Side. Note that the proposal comes from a former Chairman of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard School of Design. I often find myself dreaming about what a happier and more pleasant place America would be if only Harvard disappeared off the face of the planet ...

* Richard Meier is one of the starchitects whose sparkly new buildings are defacing Manhattan's beautiful old Greenwich Village. What a pleasure to learn that his glassy cages are poorly constructed, and leak.

* At City Comforts recently, Laurence Aurbach blogged about a perfectly hideous Thom Mayne proposal for a new Alaska capitol building. Good news: plans to build the new capitol have been put on hold. Finances seem to be the main reason -- but public dislike of the proposal also played a role. Moral: let's keep rooting, louder and louder, against bad buildings and bad urbanism.

* Catesby Leigh is a first-class architecture-and-urbanism critic, especially trustworthy and enlightening on the topic of the various new traditionalisms. His new piece is -- typically for Leigh -- a little prissy but 100% right as well. I hope there isn't a connection between prissy and right ...



posted by Michael at April 22, 2005


Re: the "Jane Jacobness" of the Alex Krieger / Cablevision proposal for the West Side Rail yards

As someone who is very interested in what might be called "applied Jane Jacobism" (and perceptions thereof), I wonder what Krieger/Cablevision was thinking when they declared their project "as being in line with the Jane Jacobs vision"? (And I also wonder what approach Jane Jacobs herself feels might be more in tune with her ideas about city development?)

Here's my guess about Krieger's mindset (judging only from the description and one photo in "New York Magazine"):

1) Kriger felt his proposal was MORE Jane Jacobs-like than the "obviously" un-Jane-Jacobs-like proposed Jets/Olympic stadium/convention center extension, and thus felt comfortable invoking the name of Jacobs. (I put "obviously" in quotes because I believe Jacobs overcame her original objections and wound up supporting [or, at least, praising] the construction of the Toronto Skydome. So, I suppose, she could support the construction of an urban stadium under the right circumstances -- although I don't think the Jets stadium would fit into that category.)

2) The development contains a (planned) mix of uses.

What I find interesting about this, is that it seems to me that a lot of the worst urban renewal schemes from the 1950s and 1960s actually contained SOME mix of uses (Stuyvesant Town, for instance, has a retail strip which Jacobs roundly criticizes as, essentially, inane window dressing). It seems to me that neo-Radiant City planners feel that if they increase the amount and the diversity of the (planned) commercial/retail space, the end product is an actualization of the Jane Jacobs "vision."

This seems to me to describe precisely what has happened at "Ground Zero." Planners appear to think that by importing cultural institutions for a mini-Lincoln Center and mixing them with an airline terminal from JFK's "Terminal City" and a few tower-in-the-park skyscrapers from Sixth Ave., they have -- voila -- created a piece of living urban tissue. (I think the end result will be La Ville Radieuse on acid.)

3) The plan (I'm guessing) probably re-introduces 31st St. (and AUTOMOBILES) through the site.

Planners seem to feel (mistakenly, in my opinion) that this is a key Jacobs idea -- even though Jacobs has also supported the elimination of autombiles under certain circumstances (e.g., through Washington Sq. Park). And presumably Jacobs supports the absence of 41st St. (and autos) from Bryant Park / the NYPL and the absence of 43rd and 44th Sts. (and autos) from the Grand Central Terminal superblock (and the re-routing of Park Ave. around the terminal on a viaduct). (The Grand Central Terminal development is, of course, New York City's, and probably the world's, greatest realized railyard air rights development scheme.)

This misguided, superficial approach (in my opinion) to Jacobs regarding streets again also seems to describe the thinking of planners at "Ground Zero." Somehow they seem to think that by reintroducing CARS through the site, they have "rewoven" the development into surrounding neighborhoods. (And in line with the superficiality of their committment to city streets they seem quite eager to de-map parts of Cedar and Washington Sts., directly south of the WTC site -- where these streets are really needed.)

4) The development includes park land and open space.

Jacobs is extremely critical of knee-jerk open space and park land, but it seems to me that people seem to overlook/forget this for some reason, and they therefore think that if a development has parks and open space it is more Jane Jacobs like.

Again, that would seem to be the case with the WTC redevelopment which seems to have gone crazy with uneeded (and undesirable) parkland and open space (above and beyond the memorial park).

- - - - - -

P.S. -- I like the Catesby Leigh essay, and I also like the other article of his that I read about two years ago. I wonder where, if anywhere, he is normally published? (Or does he just do freelance articles, here and there?)

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on April 23, 2005 06:03 PM

I enjoy this blog but I'm a little baffled by this vitriol towards new architecture. Certainly there's plenty of bad new architecture and urban design around, but it's hard to judge the good from the bad unless you examine these architects' intentions and theories carefully and critique them on their own terms.

In my experiences with Richard Meier buildings, they do tend to be very absorbed with their internal geometry and therefore somewhat disdainful of their context. They can be quite striking out in the countryside (his Atheneum in Indiana is spectacular) but in urban contexts they don't do as well, and I share your worries about Meier in Greenwich Village.

But Thom Mayne doesn't deserve the broadside he's gotten over Alaska. Look, if Alaskans really don't want a building that is visibly contemporary, it shouldn't be forced on them. But I have not read a single convincing criticism of this proposal; the complaints have all amounted to an irrational uneasiness with a state capitol that lacks Roman columns and a pediment. The Morphosis design is very well integrated with the city (street-level public cafe, public passage through rotunda), presents a highly iconic image, respects history through its use of the dome as an organizing element; yet replaces some of the heavy, aristocratic connotations that might have been more appropriate for a 19th-c capitol with lightness, openness, and better use of technology (Mayne's written description mentions a videoconferencing system integrated in the design of House and Senate chambers to allow citizens to participate in government remotely). I can't for the life of me figure out what makes this a "bad building and bad urbanism," but I'd love to hear your arguments.

As for the Catesby Leigh piece, I recently took issue with part of the argument on my own blog.

Posted by: Joseph Clarke on April 23, 2005 06:28 PM

Also see this article on Morphosis's courthouse design in Eugene, Oregon. Judge Michael Hogan initially opposed the design based on the renderings, but is now one of its most ardent defenders.

Posted by: Joseph Clarke on April 23, 2005 06:43 PM

Mr. Clarke:

On your own blog you write (apropos of Mr. Leigh's argument):

To someone seeking the kind of totalizing language that both classicism and modernism proposed, the architecture of today must look dishearteningly aimless. But contemporary architecture is proposing something startlingly different. The absence of absolute aesthetic standards does not have to result in anarchy or stylistic fashion, but can give rise to a genuine evolution of forms, the production of architecture that is radically, creatively new. It is because of this real innovation that architecture is fully an art.

I have two responses to this. First: can you give me an example of a piece of contemporary architecture that amounts to a "genuine evolution of forms"? How can you possibly distinguish such a product from "anarchy or stylistic fashion"? Second: a long term argument of this blog is that architecture, by virtue of its inescapable public presence, needs to be something more than "fully an art." No one on this blog minds people doing any sorts of goofy (or beautiful) experimentation in the context of private art. Most of us consider, however, that architecture is subject to rather more demanding set of social - aesthetic - practical standards.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 23, 2005 07:43 PM

Ooops, forgot something.

And both modernist and postmodernist architecture have generally failed to meet those social - asethetic - practical standards. If that makes us classicists by default, I don't see too many other options.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 23, 2005 07:45 PM

To answer Benjamin's question: I have most often seen Catesby Leigh's work in NATIONAL REVIEW.

I have no affinity for modern architecture myself--but isn't it simply part of the general tend toward nihilism and anti-expressiveness found in all art today? Fortunately, there ARE people who continue to build in a descriptive and representational mode. Steve Bass (like Catesby, a Fellow of the ICA) will have a book coming out in 2006 on PROPORTION IN ARCHITECTURE. In the meantime, he is doing a series of Sacred Architecture lectures at the NY Open Center in May and June.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 23, 2005 08:59 PM

Benjamin -- That's a brilliant (and very funny) set of thoughts and descriptions. I wish I read stuff half so insightful in the professional press. And I couldn't agree more about how bizarre it is, the way some people make use of Jane Jacobs. She's the anti-Theorist. But it seems there are some people who are so intellectually and Theoretically inclined that they'll even turn anti-Theory into some kind of Theory ,and then go apply it. I've spent too much of my life being puzzled by these people and have never made much sense of them. Can you help? I guess all I've come up with is that ... well, some people are incorrigibly intellectual and Theory-inclined. Suggest to them that they're thinking too hard, and they'll start to thinking about how to think their way out of that dilemma. So I shrug, conclude they're hopeless, and pray to god the rest of us know enough to ignore them. But that's probably an unjust and clueless way of making sense of them. Like I say: help. As for Catesby Leigh, I know almost nothing about him. I've run across his stuff here and there -- National Review, Weekly Standard, some other places. And I know he's been involved in Stefania de Kennesy's Derriere Garde group. But I don't know if he's ever had a regular gig. If I were an editor, I'd certainly give him one.

Joseph -- Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I enjoyed reading your posting. I think we cranks here may be the wrong people to ask to engage with the work of people like Meier and Mayne on its own terms, though. We're a little old, and we did our wrangling with the avant-garde long ago. FvB hits what's for the me the key point, though: that architecture and urbanism aren't poetry or music -- they're public acts, and because they are, deference ought to be paid to public preferences. I don't mind avant-gardism and have a lot of avant-garde tastes and pleasures of my own. But they're nothing I'd ever try to impose on the general public, or my neighbors. If I refuse to engage with the architectural avant-garde on its own terms (not that this matters to anyone) it's because -- where architecture and urbanism are concerned -- I reject the whole avant-garde package. Experimenting at the public's expense strikes me as simply the wrong thing to do. FWIW, I'm afraid that we may be entering (or in the middle of) a period that's as every bit as destructive as the post-WWII years were. The same kinds of people today as then (bureaucrats, egomaniacal academic avant-gardists) are putting over large-scale schemes that seem to me to be every bit as deranged and inhuman as the ville radieuses schemes of circa 1950. They may jiggle and twinkle a bit more, but it's essentially the same overintellectual, overplanned crap -- Benjamin's comment above nails the type and the phenomenon perfectly, it seems to me. It's big, it's topdown, and it's nothing any of us need or really want, a few modernist-architecture fans aside. The problem isn't the theory, which is often rather attractive these days, it's that there's any theory at all. Who needs it? Forgive me, I forget: did you ever have a chance to read our q&a with Nikos Salingaros? You might enjoy a wrangle with it. (You can get to all five parts starting here.) Nikos has a powerful and informed brain, and he doesn't hesitate to do battle with the starchitects' arguments. And I'd be curious to hear what you make (or have made) of such books as Rudofsky's "Architecture Without Architects," Frederick Turner's "Natural Classicism," and Christopher Alexander's "The Timeless Way of Building." Great stuff! IMHO, of course ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 23, 2005 11:51 PM

Every time I see those Richard Meier buildings - which is frequently, as I work just a few blocks away - I cannot help but thinking of the Confucian adage about men living in glass houses :)
But seriously, I would imagine that their highly unconventional design makes sense given the highly affluent people who comprise their potential market. If you're trying to see to people who can afford just about anything, selling something radically different may be a sensible strategy.

Posted by: Peter on April 24, 2005 12:36 AM

michael: what could be more anti-urban except a city lacking diversity and the new ideas of creative designers and artists? cities are living and breathing organisms not historic set pieces for your picturesque strolls in a self isolating world. Why should architecture design have stopped in the 19th century?, would you also advocate that we return to 1800's medicine? A kneejerk reaction to anything not aesthetically historical reveils the reactionary nature of your arguments, hidden behind claims of popular opinion .

Posted by: mac kane on April 24, 2005 01:26 AM


I usually don't participate in architecture discussions here (not my field). But I can't help wondering why you think architecture is like medicine. Medicine has evolved since the 19th century. Can architecture be said to have evolved in the same way?

Just asking really. Not a flame. But it does seem an odd and unsupported assumption in your post.

Posted by: PatrickH on April 24, 2005 09:50 AM

To extend Mac's point: Jefferson, Viollet-le-Duc, and Michelangelo were always 'modern' to their contemporaries - and they were celebrated for it. Architectural history is not made up of architects who look backward without simultaneously looking forward. They learned from what had been done before and pushed into territory that had not yet been explored.

This is what our best contemporary architects try to do, allowing architecture to reflect our current condition rather than hearken back to some idealized past that never was.

Why is it that the older cultures of Europe seem to be able to so skillfully integrate new and old architecture and young America is so determined to recreate pseudo-old forms?

Posted by: Steven Ward on April 24, 2005 10:05 AM

Mac writes "...what could be more anti-urban except a city lacking diversity and the new ideas of creative designers and artists?"

One answer might be a city which allowed these "new ideas" simply because someone purporting to be a "creative designer and artist" suggested it.

The cource of the idea is irrelevant -- an interesting city is not a cult of personality. You have to judge each proposal (for a building) according to some fairly objective standard and the standard is not "Did an 'artist' draw it?"

Anyway, these supposedly "new ideas" are simply not.

Posted by: David Sucher on April 24, 2005 10:51 AM

Friedrich, you asked for an example of contemporary architecture that amount to genuine evolution of form. My answer: Calatrava, a hundred times (on his site: San Sebastian vinery as well as Milwakee Art museum). I talked at length about him in comment to the old post regarding his new residential tower in Manhattan. The only traditional thing about him is his Renaissance-Man quality: combination of thorough knowledge of bordering disciplines (structural and industrial engineering, architecture and materials science) that trigger innovation.

He's one of that row Steven Ward mentioned above, singular geniuses who push the whole centuries forward. Which for me is a good thing.

I'd have a chance to express my views here before and unfortunately I see I wasn't able to make anybody to change their position. Mr.Ward said what I repeat here often: architecture should at least reflect the times it was concieved in if not jump ahead of it, to use its level of technology to make the life of its contemporaries more comfortable. It is impractical to have 19c layout with parlor, drawing room and butler's pantry in your dwelling because nobody lives like Victorians anymore: why then to insist on outdated expensive clutter in the name of sticking to tradition?
It's quite funny, frankly, to see same people who drive latest sleek (silver, yes) cars sticking 32 Formglas balusters to their pseudo-Greek Revival (huh! here we go AGAIN) porch in the suburbs and painting their mantel faux Carrara Marble when they can have magnetic leather wall tiles or panels of bubbled aluminum?

Why is it always black OR white, minimalism OR Barocco excess? Why not to use the best of two worlds? I think it's a great pity that architecture, due to political circumstances, didn't develop further from the best period (in my opinion, of course) - Art Deco: technical innovation and at same time human scale and elegantly restrained decoration.

Recently I accidentally clicked onto TV program on "high-rollers suites" in Las Vegas. Millions poured into each of these monstrous tassled and cabriole-legged vulgarities - and they're represented as an ultimate ideal, which no doubt they are for so many people.


Posted by: Tatyana on April 24, 2005 12:07 PM

On the topic of "Poteomkin villages" in architecture: via Blogchik (thank you, Michele!) I had a good laugh at expense of these Russian Design and Innovation Awards finalists. Formally introducing natural/organic principles into their projects, competitors came up with truly amusing variety of what Benjamin Hemric calles window dressing in West Side Stadium project. Frankly, I suspected the whole thing to be a parody - but no!

Folding skyscraper (num.2): authors advise tenants to lie calmly in special beds at the time of earthquake. "When collapsed, a city consisting of such skyscrapers becomes virtually invisible either from the air, or from the ground"

A Green's dream, I tell'ya!

Or consider "Corridors of power", an office building (Num.5)"The author offers a concept of a municipal/governmental building formed of long architectural spaces designed to comfortably accommodate long queues... Sharp turns in the building spaces symbolise the thorny path to the “offices of power”

And the best contender, in my view, is Num.9, a residential project, House-Insectarium. "The whole house concept is immured in a glass envelope covered with a mesh which wraps it like clothes. Butterflies and other bugs fly between the mesh and the house: it is another house but inhabited by insects." The critic's note: -Insects will die soon. Result: xenophobia.

So as the creatures who were watching insects from inside - aren't we all insects, says me?

Posted by: Tatyana on April 24, 2005 04:10 PM

FvB: You asked me to distinguish more clearly between a "genuine evolution of forms" and "anarchy or stylistic fashion." Fashion is always fleeting; anything currently in fashion will eventually be out of fashion and may as well be thrown away. But styles in art are able to resist fashion while still evolving over time. It would be a little silly to write modern harpsichord music in the style of Bach, but not because Bach is "out of fashion," or because there is anything deficient in his work; simply because music has evolved since the Baroque and that specific style is no longer a living tradition. We can still listen to Bach's music, love it, and learn from it. Perhaps there might even be composers who _could_ successfully write modern harpsichord music in his style. But nobody should ever claim that his is the only acceptable style, that all music should be judged on the basis of Baroque music theory and aesthetics.

So much for creating art in anachronistic styles. Your second point, however, is that architecture must be held to more demanding social, aesthetic, and practical standards than most art. I agree about the practical and functional standards, although I really don't think that classical buildings have a lower-than-average percentage of these kinds of problems. And of course architecture must be held to the highest social and aesthetic standards. But it would be simplistic to base our aesthetic judgment purely on whether a building is neo-classical. Don't get me wrong -- there have certainly been plenty of antisocial modern buildings (hence my criticism of Richard Meier). But a project such as Thom Mayne's capitol for Alaska doesn't seem at all antisocial, and to assume that ordinary people would never be able to understand something so "arty" is unfair and would reduce public architecture to the lowest common denominator.

MB: I haven't read Rudofsky or Turner but I'm quite familiar with Christopher Alexander. I like his "Pattern Language" although at times he gets a little too prescriptive for me..

In response to your comments on theory, I find that (in architecture, at least) there's a lot less interest in theory than there was a few decades ago. Thom Mayne, for example, says he is not interested in theory and doesn't claim any kind of esoteric rationale for his designs.

David: You have to judge each proposal by carefully examining its merits, but not necessarily by a uniform and unchanging criterion. I agree that we should not get carried away with a mania for novelty, but we should also not be blind to a perfectly good proposal just because it is innovative. Mac pointed out that a city needs new ideas, and I'm surprised that you seem to deny that. Every living thing - a person, a city, an ecosystem - is constantly in flux; stifling change invites death.

Posted by: Joseph Clarke on April 24, 2005 04:14 PM

I offer you a challenge then, Joseph.

Could you please provide an example of a novel, innovative, "new idea" etc which is useful/helpful in designing a building so that it is pedestrian-oriented? And encourages a walkable street?

(The problem/difficulty with this discussion is that you may be coming at th eissue in terms of a building's physical _appearance_ while I am more interested to how a building _behaves_ and how it induces people to behave.)

Posted by: David Sucher on April 24, 2005 07:19 PM

I do understand what Joseph is saying-- but the trouble is that the modern idiom is anti-aesthetic all across the arts, at least in its most exaggerated examples. No one is contesting the evolution of style, but now we have music that doesn't sound like music, painting that doesn't look like art, and buildings that don't look like anything created by members of the human race. So that in itself tells you that there is something wrong.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 24, 2005 11:06 PM

Peter -- I've lost track of how the various twinkly crystal-cube Greenwich Village projects are doing commercially. At one point there was quite a rush for them -- you're certainly right they seemed to appeal to the fashion-victim, er, glitzy crowd. But word seems to have gotten out that the Meier buildings were poorly made. (I stopped by one day and chatted with a guy on the staff at one of the buildings, who was quite funny about the problems with the place. Leaky windows, too much light, no space for the maintenance staff ...) I seem to be immune to the charms of perfume-bottle buildings myself. But I guess sparkly chic still works for some rubes, er, people.

Mac -- What could possibly be wrong with showing respect for the preferences of your peers, and working to serve them? It strikes me as a lovely way of interacting. I'm all for architecture experimentation and progress, at least as it occurred throughout western history till about 1920. Check out Roman buildings and compare them to Paris (or NYC) circa 1900 -- they're speaking the same language. There's a continuity there. Modernism (and its descendents) represents an attempt to rupture that continuity. To me, it's anything but progress -- it's a dead end, and one I suspect not many people are fond of.

PatrickH -- You make an important point. Even as progress in the industrial age was being made, the pre-modernist architects were intent on folding the new technologies and possibilities back into the existing language of architecture. The Crystal Palace, the Eiffel Tower, and the early American skyscrapers were amazingly beautiful examples of how that could be done.

Steven -- Jefferson, Viollet-le-Duc, and Michelangelo were adding to an existing tradition while respecting it. However "modern" or "expressive" they managed to be, all three worked within the language of classical architecture: domes, arches, columns, etc. Modernism represents a deliberate attempt to break with that tradition.

Tatyana -- Many thanks once again for links: always a pleasure to learn from you. Calatrava's certainly a talented guy. I have my doubts about how all those white swoops will look in 20 years though: flawless abstractions don't generally age well. Hey, let's make a Blowhards date to get together in Milwaukee in 20 years and see how the museum's looking!

Joseph -- I fail to understand why it would it be silly for someone to sit down and write a harpsichord piece in the Baroque style. If someone should feel like doing so, why shouldn't he go for it? Because some prof or critic has decided such a project isn't appropriate to "the age"? That's giving profs and critics a lot of power, isn't it? My larger quibble with your points, though, is that I find your conception of classicism to be awfully narrow. Classicism isn't a style: it's a language. And like a language it can be used to express whatever the user of the language cares to express. Its analog in music would be tonality generally rather than the style of one particular era. The serious-concert-music world seems to be resigned to the fact that atonality (or 12-tone, or whatever) didn't work out too well -- that, however interesting it was as an experiment, it alienated audiences and brought concert-hall-type-art-music to a terrible impasse. Seems to me that modernism (and its descendents) in architecture is an exact parallel -- except that, since it contributed mightily to destroying many cities and ruining many landscapes, it has been a far greater tragedy. Given its record, why should we cut modernism any slack at all? Classicism and the many vernacular traditions supply a ton of options, all of them well-tested and all of which actually resonate with people. I gotta say that any architect who claims to feel constrained or expressively hamstrung by a tradition within which such titans as Louis Sullivan, Wren, and Borromini were happy to work strikes me as so seriously megalomaniac (or ill-educated) as to be completely untrustworthy.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 25, 2005 12:55 AM

Here is an example of a church by John Nash, who was famous for pastiching different styles (church inspired a parodic cartoon):

It's classical, all right (plus a spire!), but I still think it looks pretty damn ridiculous...

Consider, as well, his Brighton Pavilion, once described as "Indian Gothic in the Chinese style". So there were always people who worked in the styles of other locales and eras. But the results were not always particularly salubrious.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 25, 2005 06:39 AM you think that the use of the "language of classical architecture: domes, arches, columns, etc." is determinative in creating pedestrian-friendly streets?

Posted by: David Sucher on April 25, 2005 12:31 PM

David - I am concerned with appearance insofar as it defines the character of a building or environment and thus affects behavior; I don't think the two can be easily separated (the Catesby Leigh piece seems to me to take a similarly holistic point of view). And so if "idea" is taken to mean the concept that drives the entire design, both appearance and function, then I do believe it is both possible and necessary to have new ideas.

An example, from my hometown of Cincinnati, is the Contemporary Arts Center by Zaha Hadid. This building is located right in the middle of downtown where there is already a considerable amount of pedestrian traffic. The museum wanted a design that would respect this condition and draw ordinary people in off the street to view art. I believe Hadid's solution, while it certainly has precedents, is a new idea. The galleries are suspended above street level in opaque boxes. The ground floor of the museum is all glass and contains an information kiosk and museum shop, and the public can enter this floor without paying admission. The floor itself is directly continuous with the sidewalk (the polished concrete even looks like the sidewalk) so it feels like an extension of the exterior realm. But at the back of the museum, the floor curves up and becomes the rear wall of the giant stairwell that leads to the galleries. Spatially, this stairwell also reads as an extension of the sidewalk.

The museum has its share of problems (because of code restrictions, for instance, the grand stair had to be broken up with several glass partitions). But the overall urban idea is a sound one, and, from my observation, successfully connects the museum to its exterior context. This design idea is "new" because (1) it is responding to the contemporary problem of a museum trying to draw more ordinary people to a downtown being eroded by suburban sprawl, and (2) because it would be impossible without the latest construction technologies. Furthermore, I do not believe this concept (transparent ground floor as extension of the street, opaque upper floors) could be translated as effectively to the classical language.

Michael - I agree that classicism is more analogous to tonality in music than to the particulars of the Baroque style. And you're right to say that midcentury atonal music did alienate a lot of listeners. Contemporary music can respond to that condition (it can critique atonality), or it can try to amend atonality and make it work better, but it cannot simply pretend that atonality did not occur. By the same token, I admit that modern architecture had some serious problems, but the solution is to fix or critique them, not to deny modernism altogether.

Posted by: Joseph Clarke on April 25, 2005 02:14 PM

Joseph, If Hadid's plan is your idea of "new" then we are talking at cross purpose indeed; I think her design -- and I have liked the photos I have seen -- meets the Three Rules very well, as does any good urban building. Her work may have some slight twitches to excite the modernist but basically it seems to me to be a nice urban building and could be a corporate/bank headquarters or a Calvin Klein retail store or a Starbucks/Barnes & Noble. And that, to me, is not at all an insult.

Posted by: David Sucher on April 25, 2005 02:53 PM

Chalk me up in the classical column. As much as I am impressed by "modern" urban design, it leaves me cold, and like Michael, wondering how it will look a few years down the road. In my own little town, the new Mam-FW has been touted to be this great wonderful modern design, created by Tadao Ando.
Personally, I just don't get all the "goose bumpy" feelings everyone was shouting about when the first walls went up. It is cold, stark and not particulary appealing. In contrast, I love the Bass Hall design (David Schwarz) , with its gorgeous angels,
and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame building, also done by David Schwarz.
Both of these buildings reflect the very nature of our city and they are "comfortable" if you understand my meaning.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 25, 2005 06:28 PM


I can think of one element of classical design that is "determinative [well, promotive, at least] in creating pedestrian-friendly streets": the colonnade.

Posted by: Chris Burd on April 25, 2005 08:48 PM

Catesby Leigh's article massaged language almost directly lifted from the (casually mentioned) "Architecture of Humanism" and profoundly twists Scott's intention of defending a way of looking and understanding architecture into a silly defense of Prince Charles crap.

Simply because Scott chose Baroque architecture as his point of reference shouldn't compel a close reader to insist on columns and pediments. And although Scott's book has been a balm for lonely classicists for many years, his simple thesis, which he himself italicizes, (and I have to apologize - I'm away from my library and can't go grab my dog-eared copy to get the exact quote) is simply that we allow ourselves to be reflected in the architecture and see our human condition in the stones, the weight, the structure, the play and the light of the architecture - thus it's (the architecture's) humanism.

Scott's few chapters on the several "fallacies" of architecture are bracing antidotes and broadsides against so much that is wrong-headed (and so plainly and willfully ignorant)with current theory...

There is much humanity in Mayne's work. I think Scott warns against analogy, but even if Mayne's humanism has more in common with... oh say, William Burroughs, he is more humane - on a more visceral, alive level than 99% of these New Urbanist twits.

But, that being said, I do have a soft spot in my heart for that hippy classicist, Thomas Gordon Smith.

Peace out...

Posted by: arghitect on April 26, 2005 02:25 AM

Twit? Did somebody say twit?

Posted by: Laurence Aurbach on April 26, 2005 09:53 AM

Chris Burd: how exactly?
Anything but streets, actually: temples, plazas, landmark courthouses, etc.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 26, 2005 10:06 AM

Determinative? Even promotive?

Posted by: david Sucher on May 2, 2005 04:03 PM

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