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« Un-Masterly Anatomy | Main | Sheepish »

January 29, 2008

Starchitects Win Work

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Zaha Hadid will be designing an art museum for Michigan State University. Have a look at what she's gifting our Midwest with:


MBlowhard verdict: Chic transnational zigzaggy gleamingness -- cozy! But even as a place to park tractors and weed-whackers it seems unfinished.

Steven Holl wins the job of designing some new "design arts" buildings for Princeton. I wasn't able to find a visual of what Holl has in mind for P.U. But here's a recent building that Holl did for the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City:


MBlowhard verdict:

  • When oh when will avant-garde -- er, make that establishment -- architects tire of their fascination with shoeboxes?
  • Where glowy abstract shapes go, I prefer Japanese paper lamps, thankyouveddymuch.
  • Since the 1950s, Princeton has sponsored some of the worst of contemporary architecture. It's as though the people who run the university have been on a mission to deface the beautiful campus that they've been entrusted with. With Demitri Porphyrios' new-traditional Whitman College (largely funded by eBay's Meg Whitman), it seemed for a moment that the university had seen sense, and had even begun to repair the damage -- John Massengale offers a terrific tour of Whitman College here. But I guess today's administator class will always revert to type.

Pretty funny that glitzy loading docks and oversized perfume counters are what our architecture establishment sees fit to sell isn't it? If that's what passes for "architectural excitement," perhaps we'd all be better off without it.

John Massengale raises astonished eyebrows at the pretentious crappiness -- er, make that the "architectural excitement" -- of the Akron Art Museum's new addition.



posted by Michael at January 29, 2008



The reason so many universities commission aggressively unsightly buildings isn't (only) design approval by committee or dysfunctional aesthetic standards. It's also part of the same cultural Marxism that dictates the political correctness orthodoxy in academia.

If they could, our intellectual deconstructionists would level to the ground every old building in the classical or beaux-arts tradition. Symbols of elitism! Products of oppression! Some of them even built through donations by — gah — profiteers from colonialism!

Since they can't destroy these physical reminders of earlier times when racismsexismhomophobiaxenophobia reigned, they can at least see to it that every new building says "up yours" to our shameful past. Since beauty was a proud function of earlier architecture, politically correct design must be a sick dog's breakfast — either studiedly, asymmetrically bizarre or industrially chic.

I predict the next phase will be Third World Revival, multi-story mud-and-tin huts to show our solidarity with the Oppressed Peoples.

Posted by: Rick Darby on January 29, 2008 1:15 PM

Here in Seattle (and probably elsewhere) one noticeable trend is for apartment buildings, and the occasional upscale house, to have warehouse-like cladding. I even blogged about it, but our search gizmo isn't giving me any help finding the item.

But the point I'm edging up to is this: For the better part of 100 years, architects have been borrowing motifs from industrial structures. Tom Wolfe did a nice riff on flat roofs and other off-takes in "From Bauhaus to Our House," for example.

I suppose Holl would argue that an art museum is a kind of warehouse for art, hence his KC MO atrocity. And perhaps he might dismiss inspirational museum architecture as "bourgeois" of somesuch epithet as further justification. Unfortunately, such buildings as his, unlike dog t*rds, aren't biodegradable.

I feel sorry for Princeton. Forty years ago, thanks to those Gothic dorms the Firestone libe, etc., it had edged close to thematic coherence. Now, aside from she southwest corner of the campus, it's kind of a mess. Well, that was my impression 4 years ago when I was last there.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 29, 2008 1:35 PM

Whle I'm not enamored of the examples posted in this ost and others yu've posted in the past, I must add that most pre-Bauhaus, pre-modern, traditional architecture strikes me as no more aesthetically pleasing. Most large traditional buildings aspire ta kind of monumental status but usually end up big, drab and lifeless.

The real problem that both trad or modern styles rarely succeed in overcoming is how to take rectangular inner spaces and make their exteriors look less like a conjunction of polygons than they actually are. My favorite styles, art nouveau and art deco, at least cover the box with a stylish exterior facade.

One approach that's never seemed to gain much traction is to start with non-rectangular interiors, like Fuller's Dymaxion house or the Guggenheim museum.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on January 29, 2008 3:00 PM

"Thematic coherence." What a concept, Donald. At the U. of Georgia, it is an unknown concept...two hundred years of state sponsored higglety-pigglety architectural randomness. At least Princeton has that corner.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on January 29, 2008 5:16 PM

Starchitects are whores, courtiers of the rich and powerful, who are the only people able to fund them. Since the old rule about pipers getting paid and tunes getting called is still on, the question to be asked about atrocities like the above is "what purpose do these buildings serve for those who bankroll them?"

In the old days the rich and powerful could display their superiority over hoi polloi by funding buildings that were beautiful even when they were imposing.

What pikers! The rich today understand that a far more effective way to demonstrate superiority is to inflict UGLINESS. And unavoidable ugliness to boot.

Think of it...people have to look at, walk by, work and live in, these monuments of inhumanity. These 'buildings' keep getting built by architect-toadies for their masters because they work. They "epatent les bourgeois", they grate and stress and sicken, because that is what they're supposed to do. They are exercises in power, pure and simple. We don't like these buildings. Hey, that's the point, sucker!

Architects are eager servants of the New Class, and among its most effective propagandists. Imagine it! A Brooks Brothers loafer grinding the face of humanity...forever.

That's the message of those buildings.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 29, 2008 7:45 PM

I used to live in KC and I walked by Steven Holl's addition to the Nelson-Atkins museum every morning during my daily walk. I couldn't believe how hideous the buildings looked during construction. I eventually sent a letter to the Kansas City Star (they actually printed it) criticizing the Bloch (Bloch, as in H&R Block) addition. I said the addition looked like a collection of shipping containers by day and large, inexpensive lamps from IKEA by night. I caught a lot of flak from a couple of artist friends who told me I needed to hold my criticism until the buildings were completed. I've recently heard from one friend that the interior is amazing. A few others have sent articles about the awards the building has won. I still think I was right.

Posted by: Scott on January 29, 2008 10:46 PM

Are the technologically gifted New Class entrepreneurs whose fortunes bankroll these anti-buildings or shoddy buildings anymore aesthetically confident than the uberrich industrialists of the Gilded Age were? I doubt it.
Whatever their misgivings they go along sheepishly with whatever the reigning doyens of architectural correctness tells them is correct.
The assault on the great tradition in architecture will end only when a successful defense of that tradition is mounted within the walls of the New Academy.

Posted by: ricpic on January 30, 2008 7:03 AM

Rick, I don't think you're entirely wrong. But the rules about money and power haven't miraculously disappeared with architecture. As for "sheepishly going along", I'm sure that happens. But the commissioning of hundreds, thousands of these monstrosities over decades by the same class of people must mean something more than mere intimidation is happening. There is at least some commonality of interests here.

Sigh. Every time I see these New Monstrosities, I can't help but think:

Mohammed Atta, where are you now that we need you?
Posted by: PatrickH on January 30, 2008 12:03 PM

Sorry, ricpic. Confused you with Rick Darby.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 30, 2008 3:51 PM

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