Category Archives: Criticism

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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Paul Goldberger criticizes Apple’s new HQ

So this is my first blog post in a rather long while. My apologies. I promise I’ll blog much more often.

A rendering of Apple's proposed headquarters. Graphic courtesy KlingPost.

Remember my post about Apple’s unfortunate new headquarters building a few months ago? I quoted Christopher Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times’s architecture critic and one of the first to review the building, quite extensively in his criticism. Now, Paul Goldberger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times and current New Yorker architecture critic, joins the cause (actually he posted this a while ago; I just didn’t see it until now). Check out what he has to say after the break. Continue reading

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Two weeks…

…since I last posted. Wow. Don’t worry: I wasn’t being lazy; I’ve just been very busy. To attempt to make up for my absence, I have a huge pile of interesting links today:


Michael Kimmelman on New York’s public architecture: An excellent piece that makes a very similar point to the one I made a few months ago in this post about architecture and politics — fundamentally, building is an act of faith in the future, an act in accord with the liberal value of an active government.

Kimmelman on the power of place in the Occupy Wall Street protests: I have my reservations about the protests, but the article is certainly worth reading.

And in today’s Times, another piece, again by Kimmelman, about the power of architecture to help the world’s disadvantaged population. This piece cements my view of Kimmelman as avoiding ‘starchitects’ in favor of looking at the role of not-so-high-profile architecture in social change. I disagree with his disparaging of starchitects — I miss Nicolai Ouroussoff — but I do think he’s been doing a good job with these pieces.


An interesting piece by Christopher Hawthorne on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s disparate campus. I’ve never been there, but Hawthorne’s writing about the place is insightful and thought-provoking.

Architectural Record:

Daniel Libeskind’s new museum of military history has opened in Dresden, Germany. It consists of a massive steel v-shaped form cutting apart a neo-classical building (surprise, surprise). I like that Libeskind takes risks, but I don’t like how they all look so similar and how at times they feel arbitrary and meaningless. For me, the jury’s still out on this one.


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Ross Douthat vs. modernism

In today’s New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat attacks modern architecture in order to remember the late Steve Jobs. Yes, you read that right.

The whole breakdown is after the break. Continue reading

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Crosbie gets it wrong in the Courant

In an October 2 op-ed in the Hartford Courant, architect and chair of the University of Hartford department of architecture Michael J. Crosbie gets modernism seriously wrong. Continue reading for the full breakdown. 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.

Continue reading

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2 reviews

In the last week or so, there have been two architectural reviews in major newspapers of significant interest.

The first, the first architecture review by new New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, I blogged about already. I stick to my initial judgement that the review is really not so great, even if it’s nicely put together. I miss Nicolai.

The second is by Ada Louise Huxtable, the nation’s first real architecture critic and practically the inventor of the profession. She now writes once every couple of months for the Wall Street Journal. Read on past the break for more. Continue reading

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Architecture on the front page of the times?!

Yes, that’s right! On the front page!! (Though below the fold.)

It was this review of a new housing project in the Bronx by Michael Kimmelman, the new Times architecture critic. The good news? It was on the front page and Kimmelman is at least reasonably adept at reviewing architecture. The bad news? He resorts to some seriously unnecessary ‘starchitect’ bashing — “The profession, or in any case much talk about it, has been fixated for too long on brand-name luxury objects and buildings as sculptures instead of attending to the richer, broader, more urgent vein of public policy and community engagement, in which aesthetics play a part,” he writes.

That sort of self-righteous talk certainly makes people feel good about themselves for ‘addressing social issues.’ But the truth is that things are not as simple as that. Though certain high-profile architects have gone too far in their separation from social issues, in general that is a non-issue. He should know better. Good old Nicolai sure did when he wrote this article a couple of years ago.

Well anyway, it was good to see architecture on the front page.

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The way(s) forward for urbanism, part IV

Welcome to round four! You can find part one here, part two here and part three here.

In this round, I’m going to explore the role of the preservation movement in the future of cities. Now I, along with many academics and critics, am often quick to decry preservationists as simpleminded and focused on preserving the past at the expense of reality. And that is often true. The requirements for building a skyscraper in New York City are rather ridiculous — Jean Nouvel’s new tower next to the Museum of Modern Art recently had its top 200 feet chopped off, because it top apparently wasn’t good enough to be up there with the Empire State Building. That argument is, of course, silly. And dangerous. The idea that what we create now cannot match or surpass what we have done in the past is one I have sharply criticized repeatedly on the blog.

But the truth is that not all preservationists are that simple. Read on past the break for more.

Continue reading

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On blogs

In my opinion, the best thing about blogs is that they give people who otherwise wouldn’t have much of a voice a microphone. That’s also my least favorite thing about blogs.

The thing is, many people think they have something real to say, yet only a small fraction of them seem to actually follow through. The internet is full of some of the world’s most pointless blogs — thoughts from people whose thoughts no one in his or her right mind would want to know about. But it also has given rise to some excellent ones, both about architecture and in a much wider sense.

Read on past the break to see my collection of favorite blogs. Continue reading

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