Category Archives: Civic

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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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.)

On civic architecture

A painting of the New York Public Library by Carrère & Hastings. Graphic courtesy Gothamist.

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the New York Public Library’s main branch, a fantastic example of early 20th century Beaux Arts architecture. The famed building stands as a testament to civic pride — to the government’s unique role as an overarching organization ideally dedicated entirely to the public good. More after the break. Continue reading

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The way(s) forward for urbanism, part V

Too often the debate about urbanism revolves only around function and not about form, as if architecture and urbanism were divorced and unrelated. That is, of course, not the case at all. Time for round five! You can find the first four parts here, here, here and here.

The new West Hollywood Library. Photo courtesy LA Times.

More about the new West Hollywood Library after the break.

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Rothstein takes on the King Memorial

Edward Rothstein, the critic-at-large for The New York Times, had an excellent review of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. the other day. (It seems that Michael Kimmelman, the paper’s new architecture critic, will not start until September.) It’s only fair to point out that Rothstein makes some of the exact same criticisms that I made here. Read on for the full review.

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A New Memorial on the Mall

The National Mall in Washington, DC is chock-full of monuments of various sorts and various levels of architectural quality.

At the top of my list are the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and of course the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, all of which obtain greatness by expressing defined meanings and ideas through tangible, architectural means. At the bottom of my list, by far, is the relatively new (2004) World War II Memorial, which is a disgustingly exaggerated and filthily official example of knee-jerk historicism.

The National World War II Memorial is downright horrible. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Now a new memorial is joining the mix. Read on past the break to read about my opinions of the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. Continue reading