Tag Archives: Michael Kimmelman

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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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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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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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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Washington and Koolhaas

All right, I’m back from Washington, D.C. and will now resume blogging. In Washington, I visited a good number of buildings that I had not seen before, and had a good time. The state of contemporary architecture in Washington is concerning, though. The few contemporary buildings near the city’s center are limited to the boring and/or downright bad (Museum of the American Indian, Word War II Memorial, Newseum). Washington needs a Rem Koolhaas building to shake things up.

The CCTV Buidling is twisted, contorted and expressive. Image courtesy Panoramio.

Speaking of Rem Koolhaas, here’s a new review of his CCTV Building in Beijing. The reviewer is clearly quite taken with Koolhaas and his ideas (as am I).

And no, the review is not by Michael Kimmelman. It’s by Nicolai Ouroussoff. I was under the impression that he was gone, but maybe he’ll stay through the summer until Kimmelman’s start in the fall. (This story just won’t go away.)

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Kimmelman is New NYTimes Architecture Critic

Well it’s as The Architect’s Newspaper reported. Michael Kimmelman is the new Times architecture critic. Blair Kamin, of the Chicago Tribune, released culture editor Jonathan Landman’s memo on the matter. Read on past the break to see the memo.

Michael Kimmelman. Image courtesy artsjournal.com

Continue reading


Page C-Something: Inside The New York Times (UPDATE)

Haha — get it? It’s like the new documentary Page One: Inside The New York Times, except that architecture reviews are never on page one. Probably rightly so.

But the question remains: who will replace departing architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff? He was supposed to be gone at the end of June; his last review was published on June 27. (Fortunately, it was a good one.) UPDATE: It was not his last review. Another one appeared on the front page of NYTimes.com in the evening of June 5 and on the front page of The Times‘s arts section (C1) the next day. It’s about Zaha Hadid, one of Ouroussoff’s favorites, and it’s also quite good. This could be it, but maybe there is still more to come!

Read on past the break for the lowdown on potential replacements, including my own personal pick. Continue reading

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