Bulldoze or rebuild Mack?

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The Mack in better days. (Casandra Philpott/Mack Photographic Archive)

A horrific second fire in four years at Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, completed in 1909, has elicited predictably cockamamie calls to demolish rather than to again rebuild the Scotsman’s masterpiece. Its restoration had been 80 percent complete when fire struck a week ago. It would be a tragedy to see all that work go to waste.

My post “Devastation in Glasgow” linked to an evenhanded piece by Oliver Wainwright in the UK Guardian, “Bulldoze or rebuild: architects at odds,” that quoted architects both favoring and opposing restoration. That triggered a flood of reaction from the TradArch list, an online discussion group on classical architecture. Here is one by architect Jeremy Fass that is especially inspired. First he quotes a bit of tomfoolery from Wainwright’s article, then he makes a number of very insightful points, concluding with two questions opponents of rebuilding will find it easier to ignore. Here it is in full:

“If bodged, could be another act of reckless ‘facadism,’ an insult to Mackintosh by keeping his hollow stone mask as a redundant husk of history.”

Is that an insult? I think it’s an even greater insult to Mackintosh to regard those surviving fragments of his work as a “hollow stone mask as a redundant husk of history.” I’d hope that the people of Glasgow would disagree vehemently with that statement.

What’s that block of Glasgow going to be in 10 years? Buildings often outlast the transient intellectual arguments of a select few. I think the best possible outcome will come from an accurate reconstruction – essentially a “cleaner and refreshed” version of the Mackintosh building. Anything besides will be derided as an architectural failure by default – an alien invasion of the building site, and a naturally arrogant attempt to fill a very specific type of void with something entirely different and unfamiliar.  As others have pointed out, the building (pre-fire) is amply documented.

As far as the intellectual bases for reconstruction vs. restoration: What is a reconstruction but a restoration running at a much faster rate? Presuming a surviving building is old enough and has been through many piece-by-piece restorations, perhaps a faithful historic building stands today with no original building elements left at all. At that point, is it no longer of cultural value? A disingenuous copy? Certainly most people who enter the building wouldn’t think so.

IMO, a restoration of the building would be the most exciting architectural project of the decade, bar none.

For those against, I ask two questions:

1.       Some claim that a reconstruction would be an insult to Mackintosh. So if you, as an architect, had your own beloved project destroyed in a fire, how would you react to the idea of a team of people pulling out your old drawings and reconstructing that building, with love, out from the ashes?

2.       If a building that a modernist loves – say the Chapel at Ronchamp [by Le Corbusier] – was destroyed by fire, would that modernist oppose a proposal to reconstruct it?

These questions answer themselves.

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Corbu’s rant at Neimeyer

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Design of United Nations Headquarters (1949) from later stage of process, memorialized by Hugh Ferriss, hired by U.N. to sketch work of panel of designers as project proceeded. (U.N.)

Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect who died in 2012 at age 104, is best known for designing Brasília, the sterile über-modernist new capital city that arose in the Brazilian outback in something like three years in the late 1950s. Its design mostly abandoned the curvaceousness that was the best quality of his work, and which makes him among the least unbearable of the early modernists (or the late ones, for that matter).

He also participated in the design, perhaps his second best known, of the United Nations Headquarters along the East River in the Turtle Bay district of Manhattan. Of course, the U.N. could not have been designed by anything but a committee, and the prima donna Le Corbusier was lead architect on a multinational team of ten members. Nevertheless, Niemeyer produced the design for the complex that the committee strongly preferred.

I was aware that Corbu and Niemeyer butted heads during this contentious process. I was still astonished to read Martin Filler’s description, in Makers of Modern Architecture (Volume II, 2013; Volume I, 2007), of their spat. Filler’s chapter on Niemeyer, after describing the positive reaction of the committee to the Brazilian’s proposal, continues:

Le Corbusier disagreed: in his notebook he labeled a thumbnail sketch of his own proposal “beau” and Niemeyer’s “médiôcre” [sic], though in fact it was quite the reverse. As the oldest, most eminent member of the panel, Le Corbusier pulled rank and at one meeting, according to [design committee chairman Wallace Harrison’s assistant George A.], Dudley, “blew his top and shouted, ‘He’s just a young man; that scheme isn’t from a mature architect.'” Though Le Corbusier could not get his own proposal [for a single tall building] accepted, he cowed the twenty-years-younger Niemeyer into altering his configuration, eliminating the open areas between buildings the Brazilian had called for, and thereby grievously diminished the ensemble’s spacial qualities. … Though the participants had agreed that the U.N. Headquarters would be credited as a group effort, Le Corbusier tried to claim sole authorship, and evidently altered and backdated his sketches to support that fraudulent impression.

This behavior on the part of Le Corbusier is entirely predictable for those who have read Malcolm Millais’s Le Corbusier, the Dishonest Architect (2017). But it probably would surprise anyone whose familiarity with Corbu comes from the groaning shelves of hagiography published over the years that treat him as a god with no hint of clay feet. It is indeed surprising that Filler, though unblushingly reverent toward almost everything by any modernist upon whom he has bestowed the blessing of a chapter in his book, would include something as catty as this. Good for him.

(The image up top is by noted architectural renderer Hugh Ferriss, who was hired by the United Nations to sketch work of architects stage by stage during design process. I was unable to locate the sketches in Corbusier’s notebook mentioned in the passage above. If any reader has such a sketch, please send it, or a location for it, and I will put it in.)

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Brasilia, Esplanade of Ministries. (photo by Vesna Petrovic/Getty)

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Devastation in Glasgow

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Main facade and entrance to Glasgow School of Art before 2014 fire. (Guardian)

Shattering news from Scotland, where architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, completed in 1909, has just suffered a catastrophic fire, just as its restoration after a catastrophic fire in 2014 was nearing its final stages. No! It cannot be! I cannot believe this.

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Last Friday’s GSA fire. (Scottish Fire Service)

As usual, I opened my trusty ANN – ArchNewsNow.com – and started reading a story about how sprinklers had not been fully installed even at this late stage of rebuilding the school. “Glasgow School of Art: sprinklers had not been fitted after first fire,” read the headline of a story by Libby Brooks, of the UK Guardian. “Idiots,” I thought. How can they be this far along without that? The subhead read “Hopes rise that Mackintosh façade can be saved amid questions over why sprinkler system was not prioritised.”

Huh?

The first paragraph of the story read like some sort of Groundhog Day joke. Even now I was unaware there was yet another fire, last Friday. I thought somehow I was reading about the 2014 fire, déjà vu all over again:

Hopes have been raised that Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building, which was gutted by fire on Friday, can be saved as it emerged a new sprinkler system had not yet been fitted as part of the restoration following an earlier blaze.

“Gutted by fire on Friday”? So then it finally hit me. Another fire.

I don’t know how to process this. I cannot imagine the horror of Glaswegians, or of people connected with the school, its restorers, Mackintosh fans around the world who have been following the restoration for two years …

This fire is even worse than the 2014 fire, torching almost the entire building, leaving only the exterior walls intact, or at least salvageable, maybe.

But in the smoke and ruin some good news. In the process of restoring the building after the first conflagration, a comprehensive modeling had been performed on the entire building and all of its details and fixtures. Plus, much of the restoration piece-work for the Mackintosh Library, which had been destroyed, had not yet been installed and was still safe in storage. But the big problem is that the cost of restoration this time might exceed £100 million on top of the last restoration’s cost of £35 million.

Whether to restore just the exterior and build something new inside is a possibility that cannot be rejected outright. But I for one do reject it outright. As for building it anew “for our time” – perish the thought!

So here we go again.  Another story in the Guardian, “Bulldoze or rebuild? Architects at odds over future of Glasgow School of Art,”  has a sub-head that reads, “Ideas about what to do with the charred remains of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s [icon] range from restoration to a building ‘fit for the 21st century’ ” Architects no doubt prefer the latter. This is typical:

“From what I’ve seen, restoration is not an option,” argues Alan Dunlop, a Glasgow-based architect and alumnus of the Mack. “We’d be talking about replication, which is totally against what Mackintosh stood for. He was an innovator, working at the cutting edge. He would want to see a new school of art fit for the 21st century.”

Wrong. Don’t be daft. Mackintosh would want his building rebuilt. Was he not a human being? Why set his spirit spinning in his grave again? These boo-birds who think that the best way to honor someone is to destroy his masterpiece – they make my skin crawl. Those of us who love Mackintosh had to listen to their caterwauling the first time around; now we’ll have to wait while they have their innings again. Rebuilding is the only option.

Oliver Wainwright’s “Bulldoze or rebuild” quotes a lot of poppycock, but it is even handed. Here is a more sensible view of the debate:

“I see no argument for why you wouldn’t rebuild the school of art as it was,” says Roger Billcliffe, author of a number of definitive books about Mackintosh. “It has been voted Britain’s most important building several times over, and we have all of the information needed to recreate every detail, following extensive laser surveys after the first fire. People are saying, ‘Let’s get a good modern architect instead,’ but we’ve already had one in theory, and we got that Steven Holl monstrosity across the road.”

Holl’s green-tinged glass extension of 2013 has been widely criticised, looming opposite the Mackintosh building with all the elegance of a discarded fridge. It won Private Eye’s Sir Hugh Casson award in 2014 for the worst new building of the year, and was damned as a “crude and insufferably arrogant essay in minimalist neo-modernism.”

Yeah, sure. Let’s have another one of those. Slap ol’ Mack upside the head again. Damn him twice by fire then, after teasing him with inspired flattery, damn him again, and for good. Yup. That’s what he’d really want.

(Cue the heavy sarcasm music.)

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Reid Building (left), by Steven Holl, opened in 2013 across from GSA. (Archinect)

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The battle of the Frick

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Rendering of latest proposed addition to the Frick Gallery, in New York. (Selldorf)

The question of how to expand the Frick Gallery, on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, without threatening its architectural integrity continues following a May 29 hearing of the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission. Four hours of testimony for and against the latest design were heard. The commission listened, and put off its decision.

The new plan, by Annabelle Selldorf, is quite judicious and temperate, and with two minor tweaks should be accepted and built posthaste. It saves the beloved Russell Page-designed garden and pond along 70th Street and the reception hall by John Barrington Bayley. Their elimination was the bane of a 2014 plan by Davis Brody Bond, which was otherwise respectful of the Frick’s palimpsest of classical stages.

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Frick’s Russell Page garden. (telegraph.co.uk)

I originally supported the Bond plan because of its classicism. The public must be exposed to examples of classical additions to classical buildings so as to open minds to the obvious alternative to decades’ worth of contrasting modernist additions. (Go to my blog’s search engine and type in “Frick” to track my evolution on this topic.)

The Bond proposal would have accomplished this, but at a very heavy cost. An email from Andrew Reed, a nephew of the late classicist Henry Hope Reed, a Bayley friend and collaborator, caused me to rethink my support for the Bond proposal. Then in 2015 a counterproposal by architect David Helpern offered a way rescue the garden and reception hall. That led to the cancellation by the Frick of the Bond proposal and the emergence of the proposal by Selldorf, which would also save the garden and the reception hall.

Although under the Selldorf plan, expansion from north of the garden would push in its direction, the expansion would not invade its space. It would eliminate a long-existing service area. Controversy here seems mainly over trees that might no longer serve Page’s goal of providing the garden with a perception of greater depth. Overall, the expansion would not add to the height of the accretion of past expansions, and with two exceptions the detailing fits into the Frick’s vaunted classicism by Carrère & Hastings in 1914, John Russell Pope in 1935, and Bayley in 1977. (Selldorf’s detailed plan gives a magnificent illustrated history of the accretion of additions.)

The two exceptions are horizontal sets of windows that add a floor above the reception hall and vertical sets of windows that act as a seam to connect the east and west segments of the expansion. Both of these sets of fenestration read as modernist; that reading should be edited to fit them more elegantly into their setting.

But beyond that, the Selldorf plan seems to square the circle quite well. It places before the public the benefits of a classical expansion much better than the Bond proposal did. And it also puts on full display the benefits of a counterproposal – that of David Helpern – which got the Frick’s board to wonder why two beloved past additions could not be saved. (If only Trump had heeded the counterproposals that offered relief to the public from the absurdist Frank Gehry memorial to Frank Gehry – oops, I mean Ike.)

Now it’s time for the Landmarks Commission – whose idea of historical preservation has not been a friend to the classical revival – to do its job. If it knows what its job is.

Addendum: I am informed that in addition to the fenestration problems, and far more serious, are changes to the interior of Bayley’s reception hall and the elimination of the Music Room, which harks back to Pope. These must be addressed before the Selldorf plan is acceptable.

Increasingly, I lean toward the idea that boards of directors like that of the Frick are odious mechanisms whose evolution compromises the purpose of almost every institution in modern America. Does the Frick suffer from mission creep? Instead of building expansion, maybe a severe reduction of programming is in order.

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Selldorf addition is light beige with black outllines, last of plan’s history of changes. (Selldorf)

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Original 2014 Davis Brody Bond proposal for addition to Frick.

Below are views (excluding underground portions) of Davis Brody Bond proposal (at left) and alternative suggested by David Helpern, whose team had no contact with Frick in its development of a counterproposal to Bond.

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Newport’s newest cottage

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The new Welcome Center at The Breakers, in Newport. (NewportRI.com)

Yesterday’s ribbon-cutting for the Welcome Center at The Breakers unveiled a tourist attraction in its own right. That’s saying a lot in Newport.

It is that beautiful.

In the weeks leading up to its completion, I kept trolling online for recent photographs to get a hint of its appearance. All I saw were the same pretty renderings – which meant nothing, as projects often slip between cup and lip. The Preservation Society of Newport County kept such a tight lid on that I felt some concern the building might not look as lovely as promised by its renderings. But when I stepped through the gate on Ochre Point Avenue and glanced left, my sense of relief was almost punishing – O ye of little faith! My relief was as great as my joy at its loveliness.

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Gateway into the Breakers. (TripAdvisor)

Just beyond the caretaker’s cottage, the Welcome Center sat beneath an undulating roofscape of hand-shaped copper tiles held down by crossed copper ribbons. It was the first hint that this was no ordinary tourist services facility. It was a work of art whose virtuosity grew the closer I approached. Each delicately mullioned window featured a surrounding structure of multiple levels of molding, attesting to the designers’ recognition that this was “false history” at its finest. When is the last time you enjoyed a new building that wallowed in a profusion of its own detail? The Welcome Center does exactly that.

“False history” is a concept that modernists use to demonize new buildings inspired by the best techniques of architecture’s past. Modernism prides itself on its refusal to learn the lessons of history. The lessons of history are exactly what new traditional buildings embrace. They try to strengthen rather than to weaken a city’s brand, and that’s what the Welcome Center does. Among remarks by society grandees under a nearby tent, PSNC chairwoman Monty Burnham noted its “complete harmony with The Breakers.” Precisely.

The Welcome Center and The Breakers, designed by Richard Morris Hunt in the 1890s, are very different in style, but their styles are an outgrowth of centuries of tradition, which is why they harmonize naturally. Part of this is aggressive attention to detail. That’s why the builders at Behan Bros., the architects Alan Joslin and Deborah Epstein, the landscape designers of Reed Hilderbrand, and a large host of subcontractors – all of whom brought the project in on time and on budget – got such spirited applause when they were recognized under the tent for their work. Their work proved, said society director Trudy Coxe, that “you can put a beautiful building on a historical property without ruining it.” They sure did.

Posted below are photographs I took yesterday, except for one. The shot atop this post, which captures a telling angle I missed, is from NewportRI.com. Ditto the wide shot, from Newport Buzz, just before the last. At the end is a rendering by Epstein Joslin from 2013, after a design was chosen and before groundbreaking, delayed by opposition, led to completion in barely a year.

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Taking wing on Westminster

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From left to right: Trayne addition, Trayne, Wit, and Lapham buildings. (Cornish)

Arnold “Buff” Chace, Providence’s pioneering redeveloper of downtown, has another major project in mind for Westminster Street. He has announced the renovation of the Lapham, Wit, and Trayne buildings, erected in 1904, 1925, and 1893, respectively. To the Trayne will be added an extension to its east of four stories, which amounts to a new building, and one of gently evocative traditional design. This new building will stretch some 20 feet into the vacant space (now used for parking, bocce and free films) where W.T. Grants (1949) used to be. Also razed next door in 2005 was an almost entirely disfigured Stephen Waterman House (1823) by John Holden Green.

The Trayne, by the way, should be the Train, after Alice and Elizabeth Train, for whom it was built, according to the state preservation office’s 1981 survey of downtown. Or maybe they got it wrong and Buff or someone else dug up the correct name of the building and sisters.

I am eager to see the Wit fixed up, since it still has its 1950s faux-modernist sheathing on its second floor. So ugly! That blessed work is to be done by Union Studios, in the Peerless Building nearby. The Wit’s elegant cornice, inscribed “Wit Building,” has long suffered from its tatty garb, which still did not scare away tenants, including the Black Repertory Co., which painted it black. At the bottom of this post is a photograph of the Wit’s predecessor, taken, it seems, during the 1890s after the Train Building opened.

This project will add 52 new apartments and six new commercial spaces to the increasingly robust Westminster streetscape. Chace and his development firm, Cornish Associates, have already rehabilitated the Smith (1925), Alice (1898), Peerless (1873), Wilkinson (1900), O’Gorman (1925), Burgess (1870), Kinsley (1912) on and near Westminster. Recently, Chace rehabbed buildings along the Clemence Street alley for commercial purposes. Chace also added several restaurant spaces to the Washington Street facade of the Biltmore Garage. He also developed office space in the Harkness (1906), Gardner (1915) and One Empire Plaza (1981).

The booing and hissing you hear is for the latter, where the infamous 38 Studios fiasco (a joint public/private effort) unraveled. Too bad the horrid thing wasn’t razed but rehabbed. Now it houses Roger Williams University’s Providence campus – relocated from the Kinsley Building – and offices for the Social Security Administration, which I visited recently.

Have I left anything out?

Yes!

Chace has proposed a new six-story building of traditional design between Fountain and Washington streets, in the Journal’s parking lot (which he owns, along with the building where I worked for three decades). It’s on the agenda of a subcommittee of the Downtown Design Review Committee next Tuesday, June 19. Its materials and façade details will be considered. Chace foresees 145 apartments above a grocery, two retail shops, two restaurants and a coffee shop on the ground floor. Across the street sits the Journal Building, where edgy new businesses are moving into space vacated by the shrinking paper, which was sold in 2014 and has not had to squeeze much to fit onto the second floor of a building it once stuffed to the gills.

This is a roundup of work by Buff Chace and Cornish, but leaves out much else that is happening along Westminster and elsewhere downtown. The list of new restaurants and other businesses would simply exhaust readers. But I will only mention one more recent project – the new meeting house added to Grace Episcopal Church. Lovely!

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Proposed 78 Fountain St. on Journal parking lot at Fountain and Mathewson. (GCP)

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The recently completed Pavilion at Grace. (weddingwire.com/Socliari Photography)

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Predecessor of the Wit Building to right of Train Building, with curved corner. (Shorpy)

 

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Cover-up on Canal Street!

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Rendering of Edge College Hill 2, as revised, looking up North Main St. (Greater City Providence)

Some people might think the “cover up” in the headline refers to the legally dubious swap of air rights for extra height that would have enabled 15 stories for Phase 2 of the proposed Edge College Hill apartments on Canal Street.

No, I refer to another cover up.

The most important function of Phase 2 is to cover up Phase 1.

Edge College Hill 1 is a plug-ugly 15-story tower with ridiculously stacked windows that’s already under construction. How did it manage to swing 15 stories? Did it do a swap? And why didn’t opposition to it materialize, since its aesthetic flaws were no secret? Good questions! Anyone?

Opposition to Phase 2 has thankfully led its developer to shrink the tower from 15 to 11 stories. Good! But don’t go too far. Eleven stories is tall enough to block views of Phase 1 from along important street-level view corridors. At the Downtown Providence Design Committee meeting on Monday, revisions were announced that will lop two stories off the seven originally sought for the North Main Street wing of the tower, and two stories off the five-story Steeple Street wing, so that they’d fit in better with the historic buildings nearby. Good!

Since it makes no sense to block an ugly building with another ugly building, it is equally important that revisions appear to be shifting the façade design of Phase 2 toward fitting into the historical setting. And the design of the tower itself has also improved, changing from a pair of grayish materials to something that looks like brick, and changing the original weird pattern of fenestration, akin to Phase 1, to something more regular.

Since Phase 1’s primary material will also be of brick (or a brick-lookalike substance), it seems as if the assemblage of new buildings will at least form a backdrop more congenial to the historical buildings than seemed likely at the outset of the process. Average the two designs together – their massing, their coloration and their detailing – and it may be that the two new buildings will be considerably less of an affront to the oldest neighborhood in the city – a district originally known as Cheapside, after the one in London.

And let’s not forget that each building fills a parking lot. They squash old buildings in spirit but not in fact. No old building needed to be razed. A parking lot represents hope that a lovely new building might be built in the future. We will not be so lucky this time, but it could have been worse.

It would be much better if both of the new buildings were unapologetically traditional instead of the el-cheapo split the difference between old and new style to which edgy-wannabe developers have become addicted. But trying to push developers to do the right thing is to engage in the art of the possible. Those who have opposed Phase 2 have done a very good job. They are to be congratulated. But they must keep up the pressure. That would have been easier if they had first taken aim at Phase 1.

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Rendering of Edge College Hill 2, as revised, looking from Thomas down to Steeple. (GCP)

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Earlier version of Edge College Hill 2 looking from Thomas down to Steeple. (DBVW)

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View of Edge College Hill 1 (left) and 2 (right) after height reduction and other changes. (GCP)

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View of Edge College Hill 1 and 2 before height reduction and other revisions. (DBVW)

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Massing study of original 15-story Edge College Hill 2 program. (DBVW)

 

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Atlanta strives for beauty

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The Millennium Gate (2008), in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood of Atlantic Station. (Pinterest)

Not many cities in America house a philanthropist dedicated to beauty the way Rodney Mims Cook Jr. strives to beautify Atlanta. Cook established the National Monuments Foundation in 1996 to build classical monuments in Atlanta, among other places. And frankly, not many cities need the attention more than the capital of the New South.

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World Athletes Monument

When I last visited Atlanta in 2011, Cook had recently completed the Millennium Gate, a triumphal arch that endeavors to ennoble a neighborhood – the Atlantic Station district in Midtown – and a whole city. A decade prior, Cook completed another classical monument, on Peachtree Street, also in Midtown: the World Athletes Monument, dedicated to the centennial Olympics hosted by Atlanta in 1996. The monument was a gift from Prince Charles. It was designed by Anton Glikin, a student at the prince’s school of architecture, where the young man won a competition sponsored by the school at Cook’s behest. After Lady Di’s 1997 death, the monument served as the focus of public mourning in Atlanta for Charles’s first wife, and is now widely known as the Princess Diana Monument.

These two graceful achievements for Atlanta are being joined by a park named for Cook’s father, the late Rodney Mims Cook Sr., a civic leader and advocate of world peace and civil rights. Cook Peace Park, for which ground was broken May 2017 in the Vine City district, is in the shadow of the new but appalling Falcons stadium. The park will feature a host of classical monuments and statuary dedicated to civil rights and peace, including a monument to the Creek Indian chieftain, Tomochichi, who made peace in the 1730s with Georgia colonists and founder James Oglethorpe.

All quite heartening. In the 1970s, Atlanta saved its iconic Fox Theater and with it the surrounding Beaux Arts hotels, apartment buildings and offices. A neighborhood of preserved commercial buildings and state offices sits just south of downtown, and of course Atlanta’s historic residential enclaves feature homes of elegant design, including not a few by Georgia’s foremost classicist, Philip Trammell Shutze. (I’d been in town to help judge an award program named for him sponsored by the region’s chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.) To top it all off, the canopy of trees in Atlanta is so robust that it is called the City in a Forest. The image of a full monty of sterile modernism is not entirely fair to the capital of the New South.

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Planned Andrew Young Peace Center at Rodney Cook Park. (NMF)

Cook himself points out that the mostly classical firm of Robert Stern Architects, based in New York, has built in Atlanta a host of governmental and institutional buildings, and at least one major commercial tower, over several decades. The New Urbanist firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., based in Miami, did the master plan for the Atlantic Station district around the Millennium Gate. Franck & Lohsen, of Washington, D.C., has designed a classical Andrew Young Peace Center for the Rodney Cook Peace Park. This trend is excellent.

However, the city continues to forgo opportunities to rebuild itself gracefully. Especially sad is the state of land around Princess Diana Square. Formerly known as Pershing Point, most of its historic Beaux-Arts hotels, offices and apartment buildings were demolished in the 1980s just to ease local traffic snarls. Millions worth of commercial development that arose following the completion of the monument to Lady Di have done little, so far as I can tell, to create a setting worthy of Atlanta’s love for the princess – or itself.

(Hours of scrolling through online business news and development websites have led me to this relatively unsettling conclusion. Frankly, though, I have not returned to Atlanta since 2011, and if any readers are able to dispute my assessment, please do so in a comment or even a guest post.)

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Carnegie Monument.

Atlanta has a long history of lovely classical monuments – many sadly throttled by the city’s miasma of modernist glass and steel. At some point those fine examples and the more recent classical monuments by Rodney Cook must be followed by new architecture that expands upon this monumental legacy. The vital purpose of monuments in the service of memory is indispensable, but these monuments will not have served their full potential unless  and until they are joined by many more new buildings of a like spirit. Only then will Atlanta experience the uplift that Georgians deserve and should expect from beautiful architecture. It can happen sooner than you might think.

Almost two decades ago, the Feb. 1, 1999, New Yorker devoted an essay by its architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, to Cook’s effort to revive classical beauty in Atlanta. As he has done elsewhere, Goldberger admits the flaws of modern architecture. “If there is one area in which modernism has failed abysmally,” he writes, “it is in creating civilized urban spaces.” And yet, while predictably disdaining the obvious alternative of a classical revival, he nods a grudging respect for Cook’s stewardship. Goldberger’s piece, “Athens on the Interstate,” deserves a more in-depth treatment. To read it, click the link below.

New Yorker Feb 1 1999

Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.” Rodney Cook has made an admirable start, and there’s reason to hope that his work will, if expanded, enable Atlanta to attain the civic greatness foreshadowed by the historic quest of Georgia and its capital city for peace and justice.

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Proposed Tomochichi Column, part of planned Rodney Cook Sr. Peace Park, begun in May 2017. (rodneycookpark.org)

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Singapore fling at Raffles

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Screenshot of the Raffles Hotel, along the waterfront in Singapore. (youtube.com)

Trump has landed in Singapore and so have we, courtesy of Expedia. I’ve noted the virtuosity of Expedia’s travel videos, which tend to focus on cities’ historic districts and ancient architecture, leaving the modernist kudzu to shock you once you have already got tickets and already arrived. Seriously, Expedia merely recognizes human nature, and caters to its desires – which yearn more to quaff a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel (in a traditional building) than to bear up under the glare of modern architecture – so like a dictator’s haircut! Nah. Been there, seen that, as most people have. So beat the news cycle and enjoy Singapore before the summit begins!

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Kamin: So long, Trib Tower!

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Buttresses of Tribune Tower shot from balcony on the 25th floor. (Chicago Tribune)

Blair Kamin, the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, longtime occupant of the Tribune Tower, used his column to lament his departure, with the rest of the newspaper, this Friday, from the Trib’s historic home in the Gothic pile since it opened in 1925.

I say “pile” with a certain reverence which I’m sure Kamin fully understands. His lament for the building designed by Raymond Hood (of Pawtucket, R.I.) and John Mead Howells strikes an elegiac tone. He writes:

I find my eyes roaming over the tower’s flamboyant neo-Gothic silhouette and its innumerable alluring details, like a sculpture of a wise old owl who clutches a camera and symbolizes the powers of careful observation. These last looks are both pleasurable and painful. I love this building, love it more deeply because we’re about to leave it.

But at least, Kamin writes, the paper isn’t moving to the burbs, just to the architectural equivalent of the burbs. He adds:

[T]here’s no glory in being a tenant in somebody else’s stolid modernist high-rise, especially when you’re leaving a building as architecturally distinguished as the tower. One Prudential Plaza could be the box Tribune Tower came in.

How I empathize with Kamin’s predicament. But I wish he would take these emotions and imagine himself not as an architecture critic who has had the pleasure of a quarter of a century arriving and departing daily at the august Tribune Tower, but as someone else. He should take the opportunity to stand in the shoes of the people who usually read his column. He can express his love for a lovable building, but it isn’t the sort of building he usually praises in his column. He should look at his departure from the Trib Tower through the eyes of a citizen of Chicago, a citizen of the world.

Kamin’s support for modern architecture is an attack on the traditional architecture for which his beloved tower stands. He may not interpret it as such, nor want to consider it as such, but so it is. He should instead consider his pen as a sword that he swings to alleviate the plight of the beleaguered citizen who must walk past ten glass-and-steel abominations for every one building that partakes of the spirit of the Tribune Tower.

Take this opportunity, Blair Kamin, to examine your real feelings about architecture. Use your ejection from the Tribune Tower and the sorrow it unleashes as a teaching moment – a learning experience – for you yourself. Then write your column from your prison cell in One Prudential Plaza as if you were Václav Havel writing from his prison cell in Prague. Those are not entirely without parallel. Think about it. Shake the world of architecture to its foundations, and help make the rest of the world a better place.

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One photog shot by another atop Tribune Tower, with Wrigley Building beyond. (Chicago Tribune)

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