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weblog archives
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Wednesday, February 02, 2005
The ongoing emasculation of a design: Will the Freedom Tower's Spire Survive? Philip Nobel's (a things alumni, no less) new book, Sixteen Acres, is subtitled Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero. Clay Risen's review of the book in the New York Times notes that its central theory is that the 'art' of architecture is ultimately subsumed by commerce. Modern architecture's obsession with the grand statement, with style triumphing over substance, ill equips it to deal with the commercial imperative, which, inevitably, will triumph.

True, there was an outpouring of the architectural avant-garde in the weeks and months following the destruction of the towers, culminating in a show at the Max Protetch Gallery entitled 'A New World Trade Center'. From Risen's review, "Nobel mercilessly needles the participants in the January 2002 show at the Max Protetch Gallery, who presented a cornucopia of avant-garde architectural wit but also a ''fatal distance from public need,'' unbuildable designs that responded to problems ''too conjectural, too personal, too obscure, too sensational . . . to be of much use when utility comes calling."

Nonetheless, the Protetch show set the bar high and raised expectations that the new scheme would be something special. And so the debate began, see-sawing between avant-gardism and naked commercialism, with the mutterings over the spire just the latest in several legal spats. Nobel's book has come perhaps too soon to unravel the true story; there will be others.

Perhaps surprisingly, Philip Johnson didn't take part, even though Nobel notes he went to lunch with Protetch as the gallery owner was gathering initial support. Johnson was an opportunist, but even he, maybe, would have been aware of the paradoxes in generating instant icons for such a potent site. In the early modernist period, Johnson was instrumental in propogating the image of architect as superman, yet the wild disparity between his early politics (see Form Follows Fascism) and later commercial asuteness ('whoring', as he termed it) seem to confirm the slow death of the architect as all-encompassing creator, a Roarkian figure to whom we all must kowtow.

Over at Archinect, Javier Arbona has written an angry rebuttal of Andrew Saint's 'venomous obituary' for Johnson in the Guardian, accusing Saint of homophobia: 'Nevertheless, [Saint's] message goes something like this: architecture with a social commitment is difficult, requires consistency and can only be produced by very masculine men, not fairies; leave the decorating to the queer eye.'

Arbona's anger and offence is understandable, yet I think he's being unfair to Saint. Johnson never abrogated his social responsibility, any more so than the architecture world's 'masculine men' (suggestions, please, as to who they might be). Instead, he was just more astute, realising that the statement architecture of the 70s onwards was International Modernism's true destiny, the corporate HQ as icon. Mark Stevens goes further, claiming that "Mr. Johnson's main flaws as an artist - his tastes for razzle-dazzle and overweening scale - are equally the weaknesses of American secular culture. His main strengths - his openness to change, playfulness and urbane rejection of the Miss Grundys of the world - are equally it's strengths."

*


Other things. Tiny pong / learn to drive on your PC with 3D Fahrschule. Although it seems to play fast and loose with geography (and architecture) / a passion for American motors at Arctic Boy / ongoing, a weblog / civil unrest in the World of Warcraft / the $498 knob (via daily jive). Because "micro vibrations created by the volume pots and knobs find their way into the delicate signal path and cause degradation". So there.

The Custom Fibonacci Spiral Generator, via Panabasis, the weblog of the Janus Museum. Every now and again you stumble on a weblog that seems to perfectly encapsulate a way of life, an environment, people, characters, whatever (although the Janus Museum is not all it seems, we think).