And the Pritzker goes to…

A house in Ningbo, China, designed by Wang Shu. Photo by Lang Shuilong, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

“Wang Shu, an architect based in Hangzhou, China, on Monday received this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize,” reports the Wall Street Journal on a cool blog about Asian arts called ‘Scene Asia’:

“The fact that an architect from China has been selected by the jury represents a significant step in acknowledging the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals,” Thomas J. Pritzker said in the prize announcement. “Over the coming decades China’s success at urbanization will be important to China and to the world. This urbanization, like urbanization around the world, needs to be in harmony with local needs and culture. China’s unprecedented opportunities for urban planning and design will want to be in harmony with both its long and unique traditions of the past and with its future needs for sustainable development.”

This is the second year in a row I haven’t known much about the Pritzker winner; part of this has to do with the fact that I don’t do a good job keeping up with international architecture news, and part of it simply has to do with the fact that the Pritzkers aren’t going to starchitects like Frank Gehry these days. The world of architecture has decided that it feels guilty for its decades of fawning and is now paying lip service to small-scale development and sustainable design and all that boring stuff.

That sounds pejorative, and it is meant to be, a little bit. However, I do like the work of both Eduardo Souto du Moura and Wang Shu; both deserve their prices.

Then again, so does Steven Holl.

Anyway, here’s a gallery of Shu’s works, here’s a somewhat informative blog post from the New Yorker magazine about reactions to his win, and here’s a video of Shu speaking on geometry and narrative in architecture (the video is like two hours long!):

And one other thing to remember: this prize is the one distributed by the family that discussed in the second part of this post, yeah, the family building the monstrous 50,000 square foot über-mansion overlooking LA. Take the prize with a grain of salt.

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George F. Will weighs in on architecture

This, a model of Frank Gehry's proposed Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC, is the project in question. Image courtesy DCist.

Everyone, meet George F. Will. He’s a syndicated right-wing columnist at the Washington Post (although at the rate things are going, maybe not for much longer) and the author of this recent gem, a jaw-dropping exhibition of architectural ignorance and general idiocy. The full breakdown after the break. Continue reading

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Catching up on architecture: Fixing Penn Station, living large and more

—”What is the value of architecture? It can be measured, culturally, humanely and historically, in the gulf between these two places,” wrote New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman in a February 12 piece in which he presented his own idea for fixing the atrocious Penn Station. He is right that Penn Station is atrocious and that it needs fixing, though I quibble with his insistence on somehow removing Penn Station from below Madison Square Garden. There is nothing inherently wrong with the current system; certainly it’s less grandiose than some would like, but that means that it has some serious potential for the interesting, small-scale contemporary architecture of the future — the kind Kimmelman spends most of his time prattling on about. Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of improving Penn Station. I just wish Kimmelman had approached the issue with more of an open mind. (To his credit, he does make a point in his piece to call the ego projects like the new World Trade Center site PATH station “architectural follies” on which we “waste unconscionable amounts of public money.” Amen.)

Do you like the current Penn Station? If you answered no, congratulations! You're a sane individual! Image courtesy Visiting DC.

—Living large, no wait, scratch that: Living very large. That’s the subject of this Wall Street Journal article on the lives and homes of the ubër-rich. Most of the rather long article can be summed up in the sentence, “Wow, some people just have a lot of money,” but author Juliet Chung does make one quite interesting yet surely unwitting point. She writes extensively about Anthony Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, and a member of the family for which architecture’s highest honor is named (Chung doesn’t note that part). Well Anthony now lives in a 50,000-square-foot house above LA, and from the aerial photo in the Journal, it looks at once gargantuan and uninteresting. So much for being a serious patron of the arts.

—Speaking of tremendous wealth and insular division, remember my last post about Charles Murray’s new book about division in America? Discussion of that book has been absolutely taking off across the web. For you, my loyal readers, I’ve selected some of the most interesting responses to the book:

  • The liberal economist Paul Krugman of the Times unsurprisingly disagrees with much of what Murray presents. Though Krugman’s main thesis, that much of the ‘moral crisis’ Murray describes has its root in poor economic conditions for lower-income people, has some validity to it, many of his arguments are weak, hyper-partisan and lacking in thoughtfulness.
  • The centrist David Brooks, also of the Times, says that both Krugman and Murray stopped actually thinking in 1975. Very, very valid. Score one for David Brooks!
  • The conservative David Frum, of the failing incestuous marriage that is Newsweek Magazine/The Daily Beast, has a five-part takedown of Murray’s new book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Frum is on the offensive and he has his wits about him: the zingers in this review have palpable dead-on sharpness.

For the record, I still have some sympathy for much of what Murray presents. And I’m glad that his book and essay have sparked some lively interent dialogue.

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Murray on division in America

Sorry for not posting in a while. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I promise I’ll do better.

Perhaps the most interesting piece I’ve read in a long while comes from the libertarian scholar Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal: it’s the essay “The New American Divide.”

I recommend reading the whole thing, but for those who don’t, basically Murray argues that we have a massive class divide between upper-level income earners and lower-level income earners that spans beyond income to almost all aspects of our culture. He blames this largely on government entitlement programs but doesn’t present a clear plan for moving forward (this is not necessarily a flaw in the writing).

I haven’t yet read Murray’s new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” which pertains to many of the same themes, but I plan to soon.

Murray’s work has gotten only some of the attention it deserves (here’s David Brooks of the New York Times drawing a nonsensical conclusion from it). You don’t have to agree with all of his conclusions — I don’t — to recognize the validity of a massive phenomenon that he cogently recognizes and presents.

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This not architecture-specific, per say, but I do believe that it has significant implications in terms of both architecture and urban planning. Look forward to another post on that topic soon.

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The Lens: New York’s abandoned subway station

New York's abandoned city hall subway station (constructed 1904) as seen on Web Urbanist. (Photo courtesy Web Urbanist.)

Caucus day: On architecture and politics

A collage of the Republican candidates' houses from the New York Times

In honor of Iowa caucus day, I think the architecture of the Republican candidates’ houses is worth considering. An in-depth breakdown after the break.

Continue reading

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Guess who has a nice web site?

The Yale School of Art! Here’s what it looks like:

On the actual page, those pyramids jump up and down!

But it turns out not everyone agrees with me. Find out more after the break.

Continue reading

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Remember Soviet architecture? Hmmm. All that’s coming to mind for me are massive, hybrid modern-neoclassical apartment buildings from, like, the ’30s.

Turns out there’s more to it than that, at least according to a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:

For a brief, utopian moment in early 20th-century Russia, artists and architects together sought to forge an abstract language of form suited to the politics of the new state. Vladimir Tatlin’s famous model for a Monument to the Third International—envisioned in 1920 as a 1,300-foot-tall ziggurat-like tower rotating on three levels—embodied the visionary, futurist aesthetics and idealism of the movement. The commitment to abstraction and the sense of shared purpose between painters and architects paralleled that of the Bauhaus, and in fact some of its members traveled to Moscow. Yet while the Bauhaus is enshrined in the history of European architecture and modernism, the Russians are often sidelined, and only a few protagonists—such as Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky—are widely known by nonspecialists.

The piece, by Cammy Brothers, a professor at the University of Virginia, is definitely worth a read.

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AND COMING UP ON CONCRETE ASPIRATIONS: The year of 2011 in architecture.

Already, the LA Times’s Christopher Hawthorne has his take and the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin has his favorite developments of the year and his least favorite. But my take is something entirely different.

COMING SOON

Remember Soviet architecture?

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The Lens: Farnsworth House

A stunning building and a stunning rendering (no, this is not a real photograph). I like it so much I made it my desktop background. Photo courtesy Evermotion: Marlasinger.

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The economics of government spending on architecture

We’ve been in all-out government-slashing mode since last year’s elections. The dialogue goes something like this:

Democrat: Let’s cut spending to reasonable levels and figure out ways to pay for what we really need.

Republican: Let’s brutally slash spending on programs that help people and then cut taxes for rich people!

Can someone remind me again why Americans elect Republicans? Even the most intelligent conservative economists understand that what Republicans in Congress are currently proposing would damage the economy and help only the wealthiest. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, that lonely voice of intellectual conservatism, has taken a step back from its usual cheerleading of antitax-ism.

Some basic economics — and how they tell us that government should spend money on public goods like civic architecture — after the break. Continue reading

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