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April 11, 2007

Love It / Hate It

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Francis Morrone takes a look at a poll of the public's favorite buildings. Result: Only one modernist building makes it into the top 20. Even Frank Lloyd Wright doesn't turn up on the list until #29. Otherwise: traditional, traditional, traditional.

Yet on the architecture establishment goes, designing and constructing ever-more modernist buildings that the public is going to hate ...



posted by Michael at April 11, 2007


As *corbusier said in his comment on a previous war thread - classicist (I wouldn't call them "classical - they are modern interpretations of classical) buildings are easier for the architect and designer to build.
As long as public is going to pay for that kind of building - why not.
I doubt they will - as soon as they discover how much that slavish "beauty" really cost.

At the present I'm closely involved in planning of renovation project of the COurthouse in Brooklyn. The building was erected in 1929, in Neo-Classical style so beloved by traditionalists. Circulation factor in this building is close to 2. That means despite huge gross area of the footprint, almost half of the square footage on each floor is wasted on pompous lobbies and corridors. Maybe it was fine for the amount of various governmental departments in 1929, but definitely not today. I have 28 agencies, in addition to public circulation, to fit in this damn building, and in doing that, to follow contemporary standards of office/courtroom space!

I wish the critics would tried once, just for the heck of it, to do one testfit on their own - and then tell me it costs the same to constract in modern and clasicist styles.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 11, 2007 6:06 PM

Interesting that bridges (The Golden Gate Bridge, The Brooklyn Bridge) are included as buildings in this poll.

But if so, New York City alone has three bridges in addition to the BB that merit being rated as favorite buildings: The George Washington Bridge, The Verrazano/Narrows Bridge, The Bronx Whitestone Bridge. I would add the Throgs Neck Bridge which is extraordinarily graceful, if not that overpowering; but it's probably not that well known nationally.

Which leads to the following speculation. Could it be said that bridge building is the one area in which modernism has produced beautiful and popular structures? After all, the GWB is really only the unsheathed skeleton of a bridge. But what strength! And both the Verrazano and the Bronx Whitestone are minimalist structures. Yet it never fails that when I cross the Whitestone I feel swept up in its arms -- thrilling!


Posted by: ricpic on April 11, 2007 7:06 PM

Maybe some of the $200 million spent on that turd in San Francisco would come in handy?

Posted by: BIOH on April 11, 2007 8:11 PM

Dunno about costs or pragmatic building.

Just know that I thoroughly agree with the list of the favorite 20---although the WTC towers were a bit surprising at #20. I wonder if that is more sentiment than reality. If they were still standing, would they be on the list? Maybe.

Posted by: annette on April 11, 2007 9:23 PM

I think you're making a false comparison, Tatyana, to pick a classical building built in the most opulent era in American history, to the average modernist area. Neoclassical types can be a lot more frugal than that when they need to.

Posted by: Omri on April 11, 2007 10:30 PM

Unlike Annette, I have problems with a number of the top 20. In particular, a lot of the faux-classical-Greek architecture around D.C. is pretty ugly and overblown and not in keeping with the pragmatic, modest sensibility that I associate with the Founders and the best of the American character. The Lincoln Memorial in particular is overbearing, and as cold and impersonal as any modernist structure IMHO. The Jefferson Memorial is smaller, on a more human scale, but still impersonal. I don't think it conveys a sense of the man.

On the other hand, I can definitely get behind Jefferson's own architecture at Monticello and UVa.

Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial -- funny how no one's mentioned it. Totally modernist, yet brilliant, elegant, and moving.

Posted by: Steve on April 12, 2007 12:47 AM

The suspension bridge is essentially the product of civil engineers rather than architects, isn't it?

Posted by: dearieme on April 12, 2007 5:54 AM

The poll was listing the best buildings, or those percieved as best.
If we agree that the paying public have a right to expect the best for their buck, let's compare styles of the given public project. I think a courthouse is a perfect example; I've worked on both, modern (almost...we tried to express continuity with surrounding structures dated from 120 yrs ago, but with minimum of means) - and this reno of a neo-claccical building. I think it's a valid comparison.
1929 was indeed an opulent time - if you forget that was Depression era, and cost of labor was minuscule. All this intimidating opulence cost, maybe, a third what it would cost now if manufactured today.
At least the columns, the oak wainscott, the plaster medallions, and the bronze lanterns are all real. No HM doorframes or vinyl moldings, as the new classicist building will have to specify, inevitably.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 12, 2007 10:26 AM

I would say three out of the top ten are unmistakably 20th century architectural styles, even if they are not orthodox "modernist" -- the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Empire State bldg shows deco influences as well, though not as much as the Chrysler building.

Posted by: MQ on April 12, 2007 7:47 PM

Re Steve's comments, Henry Hope Reed pillories the Lincoln Memorial, too--because of its blank attic, which is I think what may make it cold to some. All I know is I've never visited it without breaking down in tears.

The inclusion near the top of totally modernist works like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Gateway Arch shows that the public is not ideologically anti-modernist. Just that they like their modernism in its place, I suppose. I'm pretty much of a traditionalist but there's plenty of modernist stuff I enjoy.

As for the Empire State Building, I think we can call it "modern" or "modernistic" but *not* "modernist." I associate ideological modernism with, among other things, the rejection of ornamentation.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on April 13, 2007 4:33 PM

That seems like a list of the public buildings people are most familiar with - which has to mean something, too. But, I'm a deco gal and always will be. It's the Chrysler Building for me and here, in Boston, the Landmark Center (is that deco? I always assumed it was)! Seriously, give me the Landmark Center over the red brick and columns any day of the week. Red brick is so slushy and cold and slippery in winter, but with the Landmark you tend to look up, up, up, into the sky. I like it.

Posted by: MD on April 14, 2007 3:19 PM

MD, than you just owe it to herself to come here - and give me a chance to visit again the Chrysler and the Empire, and to stumble upon unexpected Deco treasures while walking the streets. Also, I know a guide who gives thematical Ain Rand excursions; I've been on Fountainhead one - it's excellent.
From one Deco gal to another - howdy.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 14, 2007 4:24 PM

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