Prince Charles attacks soaring egos of skyscraper architects
December 13, 2001 2:38 AM   Subscribe

Prince Charles attacks soaring egos of skyscraper architects "Prince Charles also called for the squares beneath skyscrapers to contain real public amenities such as restaurants and shops instead of incomprehensible pieces of art."..."what [the American novelist] Tom Wolfe entertainingly described as 'a turd in every plaza'."
Does plaza art provide anything for you but direction landmarks? Are there any that you like/hate-d (now) ? I enjoy seeing large works here, but also enjoy coming across a nice city piece by surprise.
posted by HTuttle (32 comments total)
In other news, skyscraper architects attack the soaring ego of Prince Charles.
posted by dagny at 4:19 AM on December 13, 2001

It all depends on the art, doesn't it? Some of it is wonderful. It cheers me up (in addition to acting as a landmark).
posted by Badmichelle at 5:04 AM on December 13, 2001

When Chicago commissioned Pablo Picasso to create a sculpture for its new plaza, everyone was expecting a glorious piece of Picasso art.

Instead, when his work was revealed in '67, people laughed. Scoffed. They called it ugly, offensive, stupid, and a waste of space. Thing is, "the Picasso" has become a symbol of Chicago. I think it's a great work - one of my favorites in this city.

I'd much rather have art than another series of chain restaurants and shops. Does every friggin' building have to have a Starbucks on the first floor? Also, by my personal qualifier, the art caused a reaction in Prince Charles - so it's successful. (Please, no arguments about what art is/isn't. 'Sup to you.)

One thing Charles says that I agree with, though:

"And at the top of these new structures, let's see genuine artistry that truly reaches the heart and soul of those who look on, rather than the overblown phallic structures and depressingly predictable antennae..."

I concur. Perhaps part of the problem with a good number of modern skyscrapers is that they're becoming bland. But we've talked about that before.
posted by hijinx at 5:08 AM on December 13, 2001

dagny - sorry, but that was poor, try again.

you need people to criticise, otherwise art, which architecture ultimately is in a way can only become rampantly outlandish or staid.

but let us not forget the ultimate need for functionality as well.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:10 AM on December 13, 2001

Puppy. 43 feet tall.
posted by jeremias at 5:23 AM on December 13, 2001

"...'what [the American novelist] Tom Wolfe entertainingly described as 'a turd in every plaza'."

Hehehh-eh .... Where have I heard that recently?

I seem to recall that architects in most areas are under governmental fiat to set aside a certain percentage of a building's cost in order to include "art" of some sort, which usually translates to: Go out and find some hideous heap of twisted drivel, put a plaque on it, toss it in the courtyard, and call it "art". Generally, it's something a sixth grader with access to an acetylene welder and scrap metal could knock off in 40 minutes.

Anyone even mildly interested in the subject ought to pick up a copy of Wolfe's brilliant expose' "The Painted Word", where he blows the lid off pseudo-artistic poseurs and their inbred conceit in his typical caustic and scathing manner. Priceless.
posted by RavinDave at 5:44 AM on December 13, 2001

As one who often eats lunch outdoors, I value benches over art in plazas.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:54 AM on December 13, 2001

Prince Charles has been famously outspoken for years about his regal disdain for tall buildings.
Given recent historical events, followed now by these written remarks, this all strikes me as being in poor taste.

One can envision him disregarding the loss of life and simply being relieved that two of the buildings he hated most were now disposed of...

Its never too late to get a life, Chuck...
posted by BentPenguin at 6:43 AM on December 13, 2001

Philly has a nice giant clothespin in Center City.
posted by gnutron at 6:53 AM on December 13, 2001

In the US, civic (or public) art has it's roots in philanthropic urban planning and the "City Beautiful" movement of the early twentieth century. Masters such as Henry Moore or Claes Oldenburg defined important focal centers of the large uninteresting spaces with giant, often absurd designs. Sometimes, aptly named, "Accessible Art", public institutions long for these massive giants to break up the monotony of towering business districts. Thereby transforming a bland social gathering space into a focal point of the city. Like it or not, public art plays a large part in the deffinition of outdoor space. Just ask the Italians.
posted by Benway at 7:07 AM on December 13, 2001

Bert: Y'know, Frank Lloyd Wright said much the same thing as Chuck here innumerable times. Thought them akin to cancerous tumors, giant phallic symbols, etc. That doesn't make Charles a world authority, but it doesn't make him an idiot out to slander the victims of Sept. 11 either. Given the WTC's size and height, I think it's fairly obvious that the place was a giant, whopping, obvious target. The Pentagon was a target too, but it's still not one anyone could totally destroy, really. (Which is not to say that's it's an aesthetic mind-blower.) Also, cities are only worth bothering with living in or visiting because of places to eat and shop and cultural events and museums, etc., not gargantuan impersonal buildings fronted by plazas with nothing in them except a sculpture or two.
posted by raysmj at 7:23 AM on December 13, 2001

One can envision him disregarding the loss of life and simply being relieved that two of the buildings he hated most were now disposed of...

Oh please, Bent Penguin, sort yourself out. Opinons on architecture are just opinions. There is no need to resort to that kind of nonsense.
posted by jackiemcghee at 7:40 AM on December 13, 2001

Serra's Arc was really quite a ridiculous thing. This article mentions how Serra wanted to show that "space is defined by something as simple and singular as a wall." Um, yeah. Duh.

On the other hand, there's a really nice Picasso-esque installment in the courtyard of a building just south of NYU's main campus; I walk through there sometimes as a shortcut and I've always found it very enigmatic. I think it's part of the hi-rise apartment tower where dePalma's Hi, Mom was shot but my memory is hazy.

I don't know the artist's name but maybe this post has inspired me to investigate.

As for that NYMag article that HTuttle linked to... "Joie de Vivre" is one of the ugliest pieces of public art I've ever seen. And everyone I've ever taken into Soho to go shopping has LOVED the boobie, uh, I mean "Fertility Goddess" statue on Prince Street.

One last thing, directed to Raysmj: One of the major reasons I live in the city is because I enjoy architecture, plazas, buildings, public spaces. Don't people go to live in the countryside precisely because they like gargantuan impersonal fields with nothing in them but a cow or two? For many people, the same applies for man-made space, I'd say.
posted by bcwinters at 7:41 AM on December 13, 2001

bc: What's a public space without any people, though? Wasn't that Chuck's point? "Impersonal" means the same thing as "ugly" in my book too. At least is an ugly, boring field is something humankind didn't add to the world. It was there to begin with. Nothing you can do.
posted by raysmj at 7:44 AM on December 13, 2001

"I can only assume that, like a bottle of HP sauce, I am to be used as a means of adding a bit of piquancy to the menu. However, I can also imagine that my presence is about as welcome as a police raid on a brothel."

I think he's been watching too much Dennis Miller.
posted by jragon at 7:45 AM on December 13, 2001

Thing is, "the Picasso" has become a symbol of Chicago

it looks like a vulture perched on crag, waiting for some passerby to fall over dead.
posted by tolkhan at 7:46 AM on December 13, 2001

Oh, and people put up with boring fields with cows because they bring people in the city, um, milk. Skycrapers aren't necessary in that regard, even if important and essential work goes on inside many of them.
posted by raysmj at 7:46 AM on December 13, 2001

Richard Serra's Fulcrum in Broadgate, central London, is a thing of beauty that doubles as a convenient public toilet for many.
posted by liam at 8:26 AM on December 13, 2001

does anyone have any record of what charles thinks is "good" art? i'm making no real comment until i see that. but i find this a little offputting. i'm totally into the giant claes oldenberg baseball bat in chicago.
posted by patricking at 8:31 AM on December 13, 2001

I'm all for making the BUILDINGS works of art. Especially the modern ones. Can't have too many gargoyles. *grin*
posted by thunder at 8:44 AM on December 13, 2001

As far as architectural frigidity and scariness go, I think Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY is hard to beat. One almost wishes to see Governor Pataki standing in front of the Cultural Education Center (I swear I'm not making that name up) reviewing troops.

In and around the plaza, I seem to recall a sculpture composed of two intersecting iron cube frameworks about twelve feet on a side, and a galvanized steel "tree" about twenty feet tall. Kinda makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
posted by letourneau at 9:14 AM on December 13, 2001

Here is a recent interview with Léon Krier, Prince Charles's architectural guru - and a wonderfully reactionary theorist - which is well worth reading and places the discussion in context(including the September 11 aftermath).
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:15 AM on December 13, 2001

word up, raysmj!
'Just 30 years ago, western architects celebrated conventional skyscrapers for showing how man could dominate nature. By and large, architects and developers paid no attention to the human or biological costs of their towering creations and ideas like air quality or social worth were simply off the map. '
posted by asok at 10:44 AM on December 13, 2001

My favorites were undoubtedly destroyed with the WTC. There were a couple of life size statues around the WTC plaza, one of a business man looking similar to Rodin's Thinker, and the other of two men playing chess. I was a kid when I first saw them and had to do a doubletake because they looked so lifelike.
posted by EmergencyPenguin at 10:44 AM on December 13, 2001

A VISION OF BRITAIN: The Prince of Wales's concern about the changing face of British architecture prompted him to make a television programme and write a book on the subject. An excerpt: "Everywhere I go, I get a very strong impression that most people know the sort of buildings they like. They are buildings that have grown out of our architectural tradition and that are in harmony with nature. These were the qualities that made our towns and cities such beautiful and civilised places in the past and, with God's help and inspiration, they can do so again. For a long time I have felt strongly about the wanton destruction which has taken place in this country in the name of progress; about the sheer unadulterated ugliness and mediocrity of public and commercial buildings, and of housing estates, not to mention the dreariness and heartlessness of so much urban planning."
posted by Carol Anne at 10:53 AM on December 13, 2001

EmergencyPenguin: Are you talking about this sculptor? There are some of his pieces scattered about in downtown Albany... Although they're mildly amusing, I think they're still a little bit tacky and obvious. Maybe other people like them more.
posted by letourneau at 10:57 AM on December 13, 2001

Of course, the irony is that Charles is late to the table. Architects and urban planners realized years ago that the barren skyscraper plaza was a bad idea. Many of them had to keep doing them for reasons of hard-to-change zoning laws (thoughtlessly mandating "open space"), not because they thought they were a good idea.

Today there's a consensus that street-level parts of buildings and public complexes should be designed with a "human scale", with shops and restaurants to provide reasons for people to be there, with open space used wisely and filled with places for people to do different kinds of activity, from reading to eating lunch with a pal to people-watching to playing chess or skateboarding. These are the things that give a city life, and they are cumulative. Yet for too long they were denied, obliterated, and kept out of the very places they were meant to inhabit. As a result we ended up with awful urban spaces, such as the former "State Street Mall" in Chicago, which had sidewalks so wide they looked empty even at Christmas. We've learned. We fixed that one, and increasingly new buildings are incorporating smarter urban design revolving around the idea of street life.

Charles shows himself as a twit if he thinks he's the first to have this idea and presuming to lecture people about it.

Hmm. Seward Johnson's stuff is clothed and bronze. The original artist in this genre did stuff all in a white plaster look. Of course the idea was much more original-seeming a generation ago: take the human form off the pedestal (in a park or museum) and make it part of the environment around you. Now that these are everywhere it's less surprising. But I still remember my first encounter with a museum guard, who wasn't. Probably around 1971.
posted by dhartung at 12:29 PM on December 13, 2001

I believe that the sculpture at the NYU housing complex IS a Picasso. I had actually wanted to link to THAT for the 'Like' link but couldn't find a photo anywhere on the web.
posted by HTuttle at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2001

It is a real Picasso outside the NYU building, and you can do handstands against it. (Scroll down for a better picture of it.)
posted by liam at 4:45 PM on December 13, 2001

I want shorter buildings, deeper buildings, deeper into the earth.

Who's with me?
posted by holloway at 6:10 PM on December 13, 2001

Great idea, holloway. (plus, we can all be hobbits.)

As far as skyscrapres plazas go, nothing is harmed by the addition of a nice fountain or waterfall.
posted by chiheisen at 9:52 PM on December 13, 2001

My aunt and uncle live in the building at NYU with the Picasso. Not sure if it really is real, I'll ask them. It is neat.
posted by vaca at 10:05 AM on December 17, 2001

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