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Morgues for an era that well knows what to do with them
August 21, 2008 3:34 AM   Subscribe

Atlantic Yards is the largest project Frank Gehry, now seventy-eight, has ever undertaken. And if it proves to be his last large project, it will be a fitting capstone to a career utterly blind to the public function of architecture. For how better to assert your dedication to personal expression over context than to have your distinct visual style serve as the emblem for the death of two Brooklyn neighborhoods?
Charles Taylor discusses the anti-humanism of Modern architecture. [Via] [Previously]
posted by Sonny Jim (61 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
FWIW, I used to work across the street from a big Gehry building, and while we all hated it when it was first put up, it seems to have settled in pretty well to the rest of the neighbourhood. The students who learn in it are happy with it, too.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:43 AM on August 21, 2008


Here's the official Atlantic Yards homepage, and here's the Atlantic Yards Wiki page.

In theory, architecture like this and this is pretty interesting, visually arresting and all, but... as a former resident of Fulton Street, a couple of blocks away from Atlantic Avenue Station and the center all this hoopla, I have to say, it makes me sad. It'll be another grandiose planned environment dropped on the neighborhood from outer space, like Lincoln Center was on the Upper West Side many years before. Except this is, of course, much much bigger than Lincoln Center. That the city fathers (and mothers?) are still cheerleading and enabling these schemes is pretty depressing. I hate what's happening to New York.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:20 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I for one welcome the fact that die ruinenwerttheorie is alive and well. These buildings will look awesome in decay.
posted by uandt at 4:46 AM on August 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


If Ghery pays as little attention to the basic functions of a building as he did with the MIT Stata Center - things like keeping the weather out, for instance - the Atlantic Yards buildings will start to look awesome within a couple of years.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:52 AM on August 21, 2008


Most. Overrated. Architect. Ever. Period.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:54 AM on August 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Some of Gehry's buildings (I'm looking at you, Experience Music Project) are confused failures. But some of them are inspiring and exhilarating. The Dancing House in Prague is elegant; it fits surprisingly smoothly into its neighborhood. Even the Stata Center, with its glitches and goofs (there's one especially vertiginous conference room), is still exciting and fun to be in. The grad students I know with offices there seem pretty happy with the place.
posted by grimmelm at 5:01 AM on August 21, 2008


And if it proves to be his last large project,...

...good.
posted by DU at 5:06 AM on August 21, 2008


This article is very good. The Atlantic Yards part is almost a red herring, IMO.
posted by grobstein at 5:10 AM on August 21, 2008


But: will Brad be involved?
posted by mandal at 5:13 AM on August 21, 2008


Hey, come on. This is the guy who designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It's awesome. That sucker was so shiny it was blinding people on the international space station before they sanded it down.

Sure, his designs seem kinda whimsical, but he's just that architect that makes whimsical buildings. Sometimes that's what people want. If he wasn't doing it, someone else would.
posted by mullingitover at 5:18 AM on August 21, 2008


For a project that no one (other than the developers) has asked for, and no one in the area really wants, I can't imagine a finer architect. Gehry's stuff is amazing, but it never really looks like the real world. That seems to be Atlantic Yards in a nutshell to me.
posted by pupdog at 5:21 AM on August 21, 2008


Even the Stata Center, with its glitches and goofs (there's one especially vertiginous conference room), is still exciting and fun to be in.

Yes, it's great to be in, but those of us who didn't work there still had to deal with it. The Stata Center "works" (and works well) as a unitary mini-campus and as a piece of public sculpture, visible from various points in Cambridge. It fails as a piece of public architecture placed in an urban environment. It was supposed to serve as an anchor to turn Vassar Street into MIT's new "main street," but the design of the Stata Center has the exact opposite effect, encouraging Vassar St's "wasteland" status. Photo #3 at Kunstler's May 2004 Eyesore of the Month shows the problem.
posted by deanc at 5:25 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]




BTW, that's a great link, deanc.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:35 AM on August 21, 2008


Kim Jong-Il discusses the proto-mysticism of medieval haircuts....
posted by punkbitch at 6:07 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Heh. When did you start coming to MIT, deanc? Back in my day, Vassar Street was a lot uglier than it is now. That new shiny paving on the North side of the street? The cool building that straddles the train tracks? Even more grim than the pictures on the blog you link. And this was only the late '90s.

And good GOD you should've seen the building that Stata replaced. Stata sucks in its own modern right, but building 20 was one of those lovable, atmospheric WWII era buildings that still blight campuses across the nation. Definitely the Velveteen Rabbit of architecture, despite its historic significance.

But I do, still, hate building 32, and feel bad for the coders twitching away in their social open-plan layouts instead of hiding away in grad student caves.
posted by whatzit at 6:09 AM on August 21, 2008


There are always so many ways to tell a story.

Most buildings are lifeless square blocks indifferent to their neighborhood.
Most developers buy politicians to bypass local communities' opposition.
Atlantic Yards could probably be developed and built as a collection of lifeless blocks.

Then we could have another title: "Architect replaces lifeless blocks with playful and uniquely shaped buildings."

Sure, Gehry buildings are not perfect, but his masterful touch reminds everybody that architecture matters. If Atlantic Yards was just another neighborhood erased by big money developers, nobody would talk about it. The dancing buildings of Gehry makes it a hot topic.

I wish there were a Gehry controversy for every horrible building developed in my town. In every town.
posted by bru at 6:15 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kunstler had some decent points about Stata there, so I thought I'd see what he's saying about eyesores now. Oy.

If I may quote: "Tattooing has traditionally been a marginal activity among civilized people, the calling card of cannibals, sailors, and whores."
posted by echo target at 6:23 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sure, Gehry buildings are not perfect, but his masterful touch reminds everybody that architecture matters.

That's like me cooking you a shit soufflé to remind you that taste matters.
posted by Falconetti at 6:38 AM on August 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Wikipedia: "The centerpiece of the development, according to the developers, would be the Barclays Center, which would serve as the new home of the New Jersey Nets."

Wait wait wait. So now the NJ Nets will be playing on Long Island? While the NY Giants/Jets and the MetroStars continue to play in NJ?

Ok, just checking. Sounds like it's business as usual. Carry on, nothing to see here.
posted by Eideteker at 6:43 AM on August 21, 2008


At the Atlantic Yards homepage, clicking on the "Benefits" tab gets you...oh, Error 404: File Not Found, Page Does Not Exist.

Spot on.
posted by EnjoyBed at 6:51 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It does kind of suck that this will eliminate a lot of the great diversity in the surrounding neighborhoods. But my big gripe is that, aside from Gehry being a one-trick pony, gimmicky design like his ends up looking dated pretty quickly. Downtown Brooklyn will look "new" and "futuristic" for about 10 years until the finishes fade, by which time Gehry's style will have gone the way of fins on Cadillacs, Z. Cavaricci and David Carson.

There's plenty 21st-century architecture in Chicago, particularly One Museum Park in South Loop and The Sterling on the Near North Side, that look modern without dating themselves.
posted by eatyourlunch at 6:58 AM on August 21, 2008


Perhaps instead of large community developments, Gehry is best suited to smaller buildings that help revitalize neglected areas -- his IAC headquarters in west Chelsea (some great pics from Wired New York's forum, scroll down) is beautiful when viewed from the Hudson, and has encouraged other starchitect works nearby.

But like the previous poster said about the MIT center, the IAC building has no interaction with the street and sidewalk -- it's completely uninviting. Not sure how it is inside.
posted by borborygmi at 7:12 AM on August 21, 2008


When did you start coming to MIT, deanc? Back in my day, Vassar Street was a lot uglier than it is now.

I started MIT when tearing down Building 20 was still a pipe-dream. I'm not saying that the Stata center made Vassar St. worse (unless you're into the post-Apocalyptic wasteland look)... I'm saying that the design conflicted with MIT's stated goals for Vassar street and didn't improve it in the way they claimed they wanted to improve it.

The best term I heard to describe Gehry as an architect is "anti-urbanist." It's not just the look of his buildings that is dated, it's the entire mindset-- his buildings seem to always be part of projects that follow the mindset of "urban renewal" projects of decades past where the answer to improving an area is to build a big courtyard and some buildings to attract people who want to buy scented candles. And like South Street Seaport, a Gehry building isn't something you live around, it's something you get into your car with your family and "go to see."
posted by deanc at 7:21 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Christopher Alexander, the anti-Gehry.
posted by asusu at 7:48 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm no fan of Gehry, but any article that starts out claiming that modernism is just like fascism because it's not as comfy as he would like, because it has some utopian ideals, and because it imposes itself on the public, is doing a huge disservice to people who have actually experienced fascism. I doubt very much the survivors of the Holocaust saw this leather chez longue and thought oh god, it's happening all over again.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:51 AM on August 21, 2008 [8 favorites]


Most [of Gehry's] buildings are lifeless square blocks [with crap stuck on the sides to make them look whimsical] indifferent to their neighborhood.
Most developers [for instance, the developers of Atlantic Yards] buy politicians to bypass local communities' opposition.
Atlantic Yards could probably [and will] be developed and built as a collection of lifeless blocks [with useless crap stuck on the sides].


You omitted a few words.
posted by designbot at 7:57 AM on August 21, 2008


As a long-time East Cambridge resident, I say that anything you do to improve the area is welcome. That being said, it still is what it is: an unfriendly place to work and a desolate wasteland at night. As long as the schools and biotech businesses are allowed to chew up the neighborhoods, the erosion of humanity will continue. Yes, it may look good, and interesting if you will, but it's still dead.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:00 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I haven't been paying attention too closely, but I believe they eliminated the "Miss Brooklyn" residential tower from the Atlantic Yards plan, which means one fewer creepily named extremely tall building about to be built in NYC. ("Freedom Tower" still a go.)
posted by yarrow at 8:16 AM on August 21, 2008


I guess I had a very different idea of what Modernism is. Doesn't Gehry belong in some other category?
posted by kittyprecious at 8:19 AM on August 21, 2008


Regardless of where you stand on the artists involved, it's a really interesting article on public art and architecture in general. Nice link! I think I'll mull this over with my coffee today, from the discussion of the Vietnam War Memorial (which I find profoundly affecting):
Lin, unknown at the time, was intent on proving, rather than declaring, herself;
This seems a basic insight into a lot of how we think about identity these days.
posted by freebird at 8:21 AM on August 21, 2008


I doubt very much the survivors of the Holocaust saw this leather chez longue and thought oh god, it's happening all over again.

Hah!

But hey, "art criticism", I'd like you to meet "entertaining hyperbole" - oh, you already know each other? I see. Whoah there, get a room people, sheesh...
posted by freebird at 8:25 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I may quote: "Tattooing has traditionally been a marginal activity among civilized people, the calling card of cannibals, sailors, and whores."

That's a great quote, Echo Target! Kunstler is really in touch with modern mores and ways, isn't he? Did you notice he recently left his aol email address behind? Now that's a man who moves with the times!
posted by miss tea at 8:28 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Gehry's style is not modern, it's deconstuctivist.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:30 AM on August 21, 2008


Even the Stata Center, with its glitches and goofs (there's one especially vertiginous conference room), is still exciting and fun to be in.

Exciting and fun ... unless you care about accessibility. The extent of the retrofits that building needed (and still needs, though hopefully that'll be changing soon) to comply with the ADA is just ludicrous.

[NOT BITTER]
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:33 AM on August 21, 2008


Funny, grimmelm, most of the people I know who're stuck in 32 dislike it. Many of the rooms are unpleasant if you don't like working in a fishbowl, the structural problems have already been mentioned, and there're huge amounts of wasted space where normal furniture doesn't fit well. Plus, there's a big problem with the so-called "Student Street": if you put all of your large lecture halls right next to an open cafeteria, coffee shop, etc. and a large hallway full of booths, tables, etc., the first and last ten minutes of every class are broken up by bursts of noise whenever a late student tries to sneak in or an early student looks in to see if the room's empty.

Along similar lines, several doors to CWRU's Gehry building have to be roped off every winter due to falling ice. There's a similar lack of engagement with the street, the character of the neighborhood, and the character of the inhabitants. But, then, if I'm going to live near and work in a building, I prefer functionality and freedom to modify my space. I'm happy to go visit Bilbao's Guggenheim museum, but I'd rather work in someplace like building 20.
posted by ubersturm at 9:00 AM on August 21, 2008


I guarantee you this building will suck big green donkey balls. It's right across the street from one of the crummiest malls in America, which was built by the same developer. It's an Ebbets Field knock-off on the outside and a factory outlet mall on the inside. It's as charming as dried spit.

Gehry may very well get a fat fee, but it will largely be a fee for using his name, not because he was able to persuade the chintzy, cheesy, cheap-ass developer to do anything grand. Ratner will be buying borrowed fame and then he'll cut every corner he can and then Gehry's name will go on it.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:06 AM on August 21, 2008


Frank Gehry is changing the way building is done. This is not an exaggeration, he is literally changing how buildings are constructed, from the design phase to the hand-off to the owner. Today, as it has been since the introduction of AutoCAD in the 80s (which is really sort of overblown in my opinion, conceptually we've been doing 2D drawings for a longtime), the architect makes the drawings, hands it off to the GC who then bids it to the subcontractors. A lot of times the GC will go to the owner and say, "Hey you know that design element that the architect put in? Well if you take it out we can save you $400,000," and most of the time the design element is a curve or seemingly unimportant detail to the layman looking at 2D drawings. The owner goes, sure, okay! Get rid of it. And you end up with your average suburban Borders, devoid but of all the most obvious architecturally pleasing elements. Don't think this is just low-value projects that face this, even high value urban projects often come back with some HVAC subcontractor unable to fabricate to spec and the building design changing, usually for the worse.

So what is changing? In what seems obvious now, as most great ideas do looking back, Gehry decided to employ 3D modeling. You know that curve in the Atlantic yards? How the building looks organic? Instead of having subcontractors bid it up and begrudgingly figure out how to do it, which is what traditionally was done, Gehry went to 3D modeling and built it virtually. Now they can take it to the GC who can look at it and say, "Oh yeah, and if move this around we can definitely get a lower bid," while still maintaining his vision. I mean creating funky looking buildings is a talent in itself, but anyone can draw these buildings really, actually constructing them is a different process all together. I mean do you think Joe Subcontractor who has been doing metal siding for the last 30 years is going to break his back to bring Gehry's vision to reality? No, he's only make $30k off this project, and probably doesn't even possess the skills to do something so cutting edge in most cases anyway. But you give him something that shows him how to do it, and now he can just feed it into his fabrication machine and give it the plans to the workers.

The AEC is notoriously resistant to change and technology. There's several reasons on both ends for this. They're the last real craft, and because buildings have to be built onsite, you don't gain from the globalization of technology. Even big, international players like Turner have to go local to actually get things built. And if you're installing electrical systems or HVAC and making a nice profit, why the hell do you want to start using 3D modeling? It is not scalable like tech companies where you have optionality built in any investment. Google takes off and stock is 400x what it was when it started. There's only so many qualified electricians and so many jobs, but I'm sort of beginning to get philosophical here so let's get back on topic.

By bringing in 3D models and the concept of building information modeling (BIM) Gehry is sort of throwing this off their usual equilibrium. Buildings can be constructed virtually now, down to the screws, suddenly innovative architecture is no longer reserved for crazy things like modern art museums in top 10 cities. The buildings can be done on computers, changed, adjusted, collision detection is done on the various systems, hey I've even seen complicated lighting setups spray painted on walls using Leica laser surveyors that feed right from the virtual model. This is very high tech in an industry where laptops are a novel concept for many. I'm not joking, I still see people who are just now using their first computer. Much more than this you've got all sorts of technologies and innovations springing from this, notably huge investment in 3G and mobile networking on job sites. This is an efficiency on a massive scale. No change order requests, no ripping out a wall because the piping conflicts with another installation. These are things that are traditionally left up to subcontractor's to decide. Most A&E drawings are surprisingly inaccurate or vague.

So yeah, Gehry sometimes isn't my cup of tea, but he's changing an industry here. The fact that the Atlantic Yards is viable economically is astounding. Usually you see such things only when they're supported as a philanthropic project of public interest or large government funded vanity projects. Yes there are mistakes, but unless you want buildings designed with as much gusto as a shipping container, there will always be something. Find me a large construction project that doesn't have a leaky roof, or tiles falling on cars. Hell, find me an operating system that just works and doesn't need updates. Big complex things rarely achieve optimal efficiency, I don't even think it is possible.
posted by geoff. at 9:53 AM on August 21, 2008 [11 favorites]


Gehry's plan for Brooklyn is awful. That neighborhoods scale is so nice as it is. Using the space is a great idea. making it the focal point of all brooklyn, just because you can? Pointless and overbearing. The classic 3-6 story scale of the neighborhood is already compromised by the incredibly ugly (though popular and useful I guess) Atlantic Center. To push it so far, and to demolish some really nice old streets for this trendy monolith is really going to be painful to witness. Well, at least it wouldn't be as horrible as Gehry's ego-mad concepts for the downtown guggenheim plan from nearly a decade ago.

I'm sick of his corny buildings. Most will look horribly dated very soon. Especially that corny "pontiac fiero" back window fade thing he's been doing lately.
posted by JBennett at 10:13 AM on August 21, 2008


Kunstler is really in touch with modern mores and ways, isn't he?

His earlier books on architecture and urban planning are quite good. But ever since The Long Emergency he's basically gone full Mad Max-We're-All-Going-To-Die, Feminists-Suck, Liberals-Sucks, Everyone-But-Me-Sucks, Get-The-Hell-Off-My-Lawn-mode. It's unfortunate, since TLE does contain some really good insights re urban planning problems in the U.S. that are worth reading, but now Kunstler is having too much fun issuing Abandon All Hope bromides on his blog to seriously discuss possible solutions. After a while, reading it just gets tiring and rather pointless.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:33 AM on August 21, 2008


I agree with many of the critiques of Gehry's work and especially the observations specific to Atlantic Yards; but, Charles Taylor's article is ahistorical hyperbole. "Fascist architecture" is available in any flavor, from Albert Speer's Neoclassicism (this FPP comes, after all, pre-Goodwined) to Terragni's Casa del Fascio. Taylor's facile argument is dismantled by even the most obvious of counter-examples, fascist propaganda campaigns against modernism: The Degenerate Art Exhibit and the most famous modern housing experiment of its time, The Wessienhof Siedlung, to name just two. For me, the only illumination provided by the essay is the realization that Taylor's essay employs tactics similar to these infamous examples.

To criticize a milieu that only rewards the rewarded and exacerbates the worst of the status quo is legitimate. To lay that criticism at the feet of a particular form-language - and all the while carelessly misusing terms like 'modernism' and 'fascism' - is worse than useless.
posted by xod at 10:37 AM on August 21, 2008


I guess I had a very different idea of what Modernism is. Doesn't Gehry belong in some other category?

As someone mentioned, Gehry made his debut as a "deconstructivist" - he was one of the gang of radical theorists Philip Johnson unleashed on the world with his 1988 Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition at the MOMA.

Libeskind and Koolhaas were also part of that exhibition, but its true manifesto-spewing star was Peter Eisenman, whose first major commission, an art gallery at Ohio State University, needed a $16 million retrofit to fix the leaks, prevent further sun damage to the art, and stop the interior spaces from suffering under 40-degree temperature fluctuations.

I've read that Eisenman likes to brag at his very expensive lectures that the funhouse-angled interiors of some of his buildings make people a little nauseous. That about sums up the deconstructivist attitude toward the great unwashed right there.
posted by gompa at 10:52 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


So yeah, Gehry sometimes isn't my cup of tea, but he's changing an industry here.

Definitely.

The industry was changing anyway, but he's driven it forward much faster than would have occurred otherwise, simply by virtue of starpower. BIM stuff started out in industrial projects quite a while back (process piping is an unholy confusing nightmare and if you get it wrong people die), but he's played a big role in making it popular beyond that (large) niche.

Having said that, IMHO, Gehry has become tedious. Oh look, it's a bigass silver curvy thing. Yay.
posted by aramaic at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2008


Sure, his designs seem kinda whimsical, but he's just that architect that makes whimsical buildings. Sometimes that's what people want.

I live in the area, and just took a look at the designs.

I don't want that. Believe me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on August 21, 2008


As a long-time East Cambridge resident, I say that anything you do to improve the area is welcome. That being said, it still is what it is: an unfriendly place to work and a desolate wasteland at night. As long as the schools and biotech businesses are allowed to chew up the neighborhoods, the erosion of humanity will continue. Yes, it may look good, and interesting if you will, but it's still dead.

jsavimbi, perhaps you haven't lived there long enough to remember the gas tanks?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:42 AM on August 21, 2008


There are giant fucking gaps in the stainless steel panels at the Kodak Center. It LEAKS. Gehry may be trying to change the industry, but he is failing, and it's because he doesn't give a shit that the limits of responsible industry can't do what he wants. Industry CAN build his designs, but the bids will be ten to twenty times higher than the highest pie in the sky budget. It's not the Contractor's fault. It's the fault of the sycophantic worship of worthless crap by ignorant pretentious hipsters who run our art institutions. I think a joint venture of Mapplethorpe and Gehry would be appropriate - drown one of his buildings in urine, just before you flush it down a giant toilet to where it belongs.

People call Frank Lloyd Wright a "forward-looking-architect" because he designed crap that could not be built with the technology of the time. He did draw cool looking spaces and structures, no issue with that. But you are a FAILURE as an architect if your designs cannot be built for 40 fucking years because you arrogantly or stupidly just don't give a shit. Many of his concrete structures could not have been built, and the iconic Fallingwater/Bear Run residence should be renamed Falling Concrete, because it is FAILING. Apologists point to the concrete technology of the time - I point to the fact that the pyramids and many other structures - have stood for thousands of years in a state of benign neglect. Spit and tissue paper won't do that.

I have a lot more respect for designers who do cool work that 3rd world countries can build on a budget. Make a cool looking useful functional and economic design that uses cheap native materials. Almost any design student can do it. Few people ask for a structure that values iconism over functionality, and forget the maintenance, but many people seem to get it.

Besides, Gehry is a one trick pony. Ooooooo make a building look like wadded up paper, but in stainless steel. Fuck, I can do that in my sleep, they are called "Origami Boulders" and my wastebasket is filled with them.

Not to detract from Gehry. I think everyone should doff their fucking hats to Gehry. Bend over and worship him, because he has pulled one of the biggest scams in design in the last 100 years. He is the Andy Kaufman of Architecture.

Oh, and one thing, don't think that I am bagging on Gehry's work just because it's iconoclastic architecture. I.M. Pei's Pyramid at The Louvre is the single greatest iconoclastic architectural work in all of history, and it's plain freaking awesome. It really sells the idea that our time is radically different from other times, but we all share the same human experience. It works, and it works because it's jarring. It clearly takes the surrounding space into it's design context, and it clearly rejects it. Gehry's work is just plop art.
posted by Xoebe at 11:42 AM on August 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Astro Zombie said: I'm no fan of Gehry, but any article that starts out claiming that modernism is just like fascism because it's not as comfy as he would like, because it has some utopian ideals, and because it imposes itself on the public, is doing a huge disservice to people who have actually experienced fascism. I doubt very much the survivors of the Holocaust saw this leather chez longue and thought oh god, it's happening all over again.

Taylor never says that "modernism is just like fascism," he says, "modernist architecture has always contained an element of fascism," which is a defensible statement. Modernist architecture is distinct from fascism, but Taylor never claims that they're identical. Not trying to pick on you, AZ, (and that was a funny comment), but I think there's a difference between "is just like" and "contains an element of," yeah? Just saying, let's be charitable to his argument.

Fascist architecture is often a sort of hybrid of classicism (co-opting the values of Greco-Roman antiquity) and minimalism (or Modernism, the reigning aesthetic in the mid-20th century, when Fascism was at its most rampant). Speer's work is a good example. This U. Michigan site has what I think is an illuminating quote on Speer's New Reich Chancellery in Berlin: "There is no opposition in row after row of horizontal lines, only order. Speer's design reinforces the Nazi ideal of order, leaving no space for dissent. Everything is totally controlled." This is propaganda architecture, and I think it's correct to say that the style itself "contains an element of fascism."

Tayor is not saying that a Breuer chair is a Nazi tool, or that rectilinear white boxes are evil; he's saying that certain qualities are shared by modern design and Fascism. This is true of both the aesthetic of Modernist architecture, as in the Speer example above, and its parti. Certain modernist buildings, like a Fascist state, try to control the behavior of their inhabitants forcing one to walk, cook, and sit in a prescribed way.

Of course, it's ridiculous to say, "Corbu wants us to sit on built-in benches rather than comfy sofas! This is equally bad as the spectre of Nazism!" But I think the emphasis on control, order, and regularity are themes in both the political and architectural ideology. I agree with Taylor that an architecture that came of age under Gropius and Mies in the 20s in Germany, dictates user movement and behavior, and eschews niceities like ornament in favor of a simplified machine aesthetic "contains an element of fascism."

P.S. Gehry and Ratner can fuck themselves. Are there any more hearings on this or is it a totally done deal?
posted by andromache at 11:49 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know that curve in the Atlantic yards? How the building looks organic? Instead of having subcontractors bid it up and begrudgingly figure out how to do it, which is what traditionally was done, Gehry went to 3D modeling and built it virtually.

BIM is all fine and good; but in the case of most of Gehry's work, it is in the service of a fundamentally irrational - and subsequently, profoundly inorganic - building system. Given the intent of compound-curves clad in titanium, I would be hard pressed to come up with a more inefficient, irrational and wasteful structural system than traditional steel framing.

In order to obtain the building shell effects of the Disney Concert Hall, the Guggenheim Bilbao, et cetera, two, or more often, three structural layers of profoundly pedestrian steel framing is required. The buildings are essays in structural convention and redundancy.
posted by xod at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2008


I live in New York City but I'm coming to this pretty fresh.

Judging by the website, it's going to be a disaster.

The website itself is a disaster; about a third of the links get 404s, including the "overview" link in the top left-hand corner. There are scrolling pictures on the front page but none of them shows the whole thing - the image gallery, which is also 404'ed, has small, poorly rendered pictures that don't look very promising and a lot of very dull looking sketches of the ground area that shows zero amenities for pedestrians except generic tree/bench combinations.

A building is a machine for living. A lot of modern architects, like Frank Lloyd Wright, haven't understood that.

I talked with the director of a company that had a building designed by Renzo Piano once - I asked him, just to pass the time while we waited and he had a litany of complaints, it leaked! it was cold in the winter! it was hot in the summer! not enough bathrooms! the color-coded painting cost a fortune to repaint!

Then he laughed and said, "But we get a high profile from it. It's even printed on our cards."

When people won't make a society for humans, the buildings will reflect that lack of concern.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Taylor never says that "modernism is just like fascism," he says, "modernist architecture has always contained an element of fascism," which is a defensible statement.

A more defensible statement would be: "Classical architecture has always contained an element of fascism." Modernist architecture was ideologically, aesthetically and programmatically counter to fascism. That is why many of the European modernists aligned themselves with the Soviet revolution and why the Nazis were so threatened by it.
posted by xod at 12:12 PM on August 21, 2008


A building is a machine for living. A lot of modern architects, like Frank Lloyd Wright, haven't understood that.


It's odd to cop a line from Le Corbusier to knock modern architecture.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:30 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The buildings are essays in structural convention and redundancy.

The back side of the band shell in Chicago is fairly nice. Short of building the whole thing out of electron-beam welded titanium struts, they did pretty well. Dunno about Bilbao; I've only seen a couple shots of the superstructure as it was going up.
posted by aramaic at 12:31 PM on August 21, 2008


It's obvious that pretty much everyone in this thread knows more about architecture than I do, but I think the real problem in the Atlantic Yards project is not Gehry, but the plan/project itself. Ultimately he's being hired by a client to do a job, and this specific job is something ill-suited to Gehry's talents (debateable as they are). But, he's got the commission and he's been hired to do a certain thing (make a "Frank Gehry" building) and apparently that's what he'll do. It's got boondoggle written all over it, it's a total mismatch between client, project, and architect.

If Robert Moses had allowed O'Malley to build the "Brooklyn Dome" or whatever it was to be called, this never would've happened :)
posted by cell divide at 12:50 PM on August 21, 2008


I dunno, I like buildings that are products of their times rather than cheesy "timeless" buildings that pretend to have been built during a period where we think the architecture was more "classic". ("Oh look, I was built by Romans....in 1970s Regina!") I love buildings that didn't try to pretend they weren't built in the 60s, and I'm sure one day I'll be nostalgic around buildings that went up around the turn of the century, too. Cities should be a collection of eras in architecture. That's what makes them interesting.
posted by Hildegarde at 12:52 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Modernist architecture was ideologically, aesthetically and programmatically counter to fascism. That is why many of the European modernists aligned themselves with the Soviet revolution and why the Nazis were so threatened by it."

Well, no, not really. Fascists were against modernism, but modernists (like the Futurists and Ezra Pound) were often pro-Fascism.

And the common thread to Nazis, Soviets, Modernist architecture and utopian projects is totalitarianism.
posted by klangklangston at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2008


Modernist architecture was ideologically, aesthetically and programmatically counter to fascism. That is why many of the European modernists aligned themselves with the Soviet revolution and why the Nazis were so threatened by it.

Perhaps we should rephrase the assertion as such:

Modernist architecture contains an element of totalitarianism.

It's a semantic argument anyway, as the broader point of the essay stands. Current architectural trends (as well as concepts like urban development be it cloaked as New Urbanism or not) seem to have strong top-down orientations. It's all about the buildings making statements, or the architects making statements, or developers making statements. No one seems interesting in making, well, places. The very idea of making places where people live, work, love, eat & etc is barely even considered.

In addition, I very much appreciated the point that cities are noisy, dirty and chaotic - because they are, and that's how I like them.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:24 PM on August 21, 2008


The first time is was in this Ghery Building (the Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University), I thought: "Wow, this would be a great place for a shootout." Then this happened.
posted by Faze at 1:36 PM on August 21, 2008


Fascists were against modernism, but modernists (like the Futurists and Ezra Pound) were often pro-Fascism.

Sometimes true, more often not.

Modernist architecture contains an element of totalitarianism.

All architecture, insofar as it in some way orders space, material and its inhabitants, contains an element of totalitarianism.

I agree the essay can generously be construed as a critique of top-down planning. For me though, the broader point of the essay is so general, so categorical and sloppy, it is incoherent.
posted by xod at 1:39 PM on August 21, 2008


I have a lot more respect for designers who do cool work that 3rd world countries can build on a budget.

Ditto. "Compound-curves clad in titanium" where the angle of the curve changes for each rafter don't do it for me. Much cooler are things like Samuel Mockbee's Rural Studio where the students have to use the same affordable, pre-fab parts that every boring building is made from, and just put them together in an innovative way. To me, that's a much more interesting challenge.
posted by salvia at 1:51 PM on August 21, 2008


Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University), I thought: "Wow, this would be a great place for a shootout."

I was just remembering that, too! The SWAT team blamed Gehry's architecture because they "couldn't get off a clear shot." And the police chief had to station somebody on the roof to give directions to the people inside so they could be sure they were systematically searching the building.
posted by salvia at 1:54 PM on August 21, 2008


Most, if not all, high profile 'starchitect' buildings are functionally retarded ego-fests with scant consideration for the environment, location or users. Why can't we use the knowledge we have to create living spaces that are good for the users, environment and location?

As the saying goes - vain means pain, darling. The problem with these architects is that they don't have to suffer the pain of living or working in the buildings they design. Everyone who does suffers the pain.

On a related note, I once saw a documentary in which Richard Rogers described living in the converted georgian terrace house in London that he had remodled. They ripped out the inside and had a 2 storey mezzanine kitchen for Ruth, with a suspended metal staircase up the side leading to the bedroom with en-suite. They said that they ended up spending all their time in the bedroom, the only room that had been left with it's original dimensions. You might think that he would learn something from that.
posted by asok at 7:16 AM on August 23, 2008


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