Pentreath, Driehaus laureate

A house designed by Ben Pentreath in Moscow. (Ben Pentreath Ltd.)

I believe I first heard of architect Ben Pentreath from a video called “Three Classicists” in which he, along with George Saumarez Smith, and Francis Terry drew, in 2010, a classical scene on the walls of the Kowalski Gallery, in London. It was videotaped in stop action, or time-lapse, shrinking the time of drawing to about three minutes. They first remove some bad art from the gallery wall, and when finished drawing they chat together while someone paints over their drawing. The architects are accompanied by a cellist.

Well, Ben Pentreath has just been awarded the Richard H. Driehaus Prize for 2023. The jury citation reads: “As a luminary within a rising generation of architects, his work encompasses what the prize celebrates most: beauty, durability and commitment to place.”

All three architects in the “Three Classicists” video are among the young architects associated with classicist Quinlan Terry (Francis Terry is his son), who are now among the leading classical architects in Britain. Pentreath, no doubt along with his two fellows, has had commissions at Poundbury, the new classical town founded by Prince Charles (now King Charles III).

The Pentreath citation continues:

The designs unerringly establish a sense of place, whether new or in the transformation of the existing. The durable construction, arrangement of interior spaces to take advantage of natural lighting and ventilation and placement and siting in mixed-use, walkable cities and towns and villages offer alternatives to the current notions of green architecture which typically rely solely on technological solutions.

Not to mention that the green architecture is almost uniformly ugly.

Pentreath is to be congratulated for his prize (which brings $200,000, as compared with a $100,000 award for the notorious Pritzker Prize). Also to be congratulated is this year’s winner of the Henry Hope Reed Award ($50,000), which was bestowed by the Notre Dame jury on Adele Chatfield-Taylor, who directed the American Academy in Rome for 25 years. She has been steadfast in her stewardship of preservation and the classical revival. I wrote a paean to her work and her beauty before she spoke at the Providence Preservation Society in 2016. My devilish post is here.

Also to be congratuated and, in addition, blessed are the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, which has continued to bestow the Driehaus Prize in the wake of the death, in 2021, of the late Mr. Driehaus. Whether the Driehaus Foundation is behind this continuation, or the School of Architecture has taken up its financial as well as its administrative burden, I have no idea. Bless them both. Bless them all.

My 2015 post on the “Three Classicists,” mentioned also a website founded by Charleston, S.C., classicists Jenny Bevan and Christopher Liberatos. I signed up for their “Vision for Civic Conservation.” It is still there and you can still sign up, but whether there has been action on the site I am not sure. It’s worth checking out, at least for the engaging videos in its collection. Visit the site in celebration of Ben Pentreath and Adele Chatfield-Taylor.

The American Academy in Rome, designed by McKim, Mead & White.

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Professor Curl’s revenge

1933 competition entry by Mies van der Rohe for new Reichsbank. (Stevens Curl collection)

Since the publication of his masterly evisceration of modernist architecture in 2018, Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism, James Stevens Curl has been attacked relentlessly by the British architectural establishment. He has responded with considerable verve and vivaciousness to these vicious attacks, almost all of which demonstrate that the critics have not read or understood his book. Now he has issued a blast that should obliterate them all, published recently in The Critic.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy as actress in Weimar. (Places)

This blast, “Hitler’s Revenge: The RIBA Journal confuses architectural history,” takes its title from the title of a much earlier blast against modern architecture, itself entitled “Hitler’s Revenge,” published in the Sept/Oct. 1968, issue of the journal Art in America. Its author, Sybil Moholy-Nagy, was an actress who married the Hungarian painter, photographer and professor at the modernist Bauhaus school, László Moholy-Nagy. He suppressed his wife’s acting career, and after emigrating to America, she took up architectural criticism, and wrote as a longtime insider about the Bauhauslers she knew so well. She is perhaps most notable for her essay “Hitler’s Revenge.” (Places journal reprinted this essay in 2015)

Moholy-Nagy compares her husband’s emigré colleagues, mostly refugees from the Bauhaus, which was (not!) closed by the Nazis and who ended up in America, to the legend of Johnny Appleseed, planting modern architecture in this innocent nation. She demonstrates that these bastards, led by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a former director of the Bauhaus, were truly bastardly. They aborted then-current trends in American architecture, which had finally broken from its dependence on European architecture to embrace an eclectic range of styles built upon America’s invention of the skyscraper. The Woolworth Building (1902) was a good example of this style.

Moholy-Nagy wrote that modernist Functionalism was

recoined by eager American converts as ‘The International Style,’”  and effectively destroyed what was “the most important era in American public architecture … [when, for] the first time in its history, [the US] was on the way” towards an original architectural expression from which “the eggshells of historical styles” had been dropped, and what emerged was a “native delight in articulation, ornamental detail and terminating form, born from steel and concrete.

Stevens Curl, in his book and his article, lays out not only the misdeeds of the Bauhaus school and its Johnnies, but the details of their relationship to the Nazi party and how American modernists – especially the architect, influencer and Nazi acolyte Philip Johnson – were able to invert that relationship into the absurd charge that tradition in American architecture is tainted by Hitler’s preference for traditional architecture over modern architecture. In fact, the truth is that Miës (Stevens Curl returns the original diæresis over the “e”, which Mies dropped after arriving in America) attempted to persuade Hitler, through Goebbels, that modernism would be an appropriate stylistic template for the Third Reich. But Hitler preferred to stick with architecture that had signified authority (plus dignity and beauty) for centuries. Still, Hitler encouraged modernism for factories, the Autobahn and other utilitarian architecture.

Stevens Curl adroitly summarizes modernism’s malign impact on America by describing one of its greatest crimes: the demolition of Pennsyvania Station, whose proposed resurrection was discussed at a forum at the Cooper Union last night. He writes:

Gropius dismissed what Sibyl Moholy-Nagy called “the most important era in American public architecture … with a uniquely American profile.” Indeed, he insultingly referred to that great era as “a particularly insignificant period in American architectural history, … a case of pseudotradition.” He was referring then especially to the Pennsylvania Railway-Station, the masterpiece of the distinguished American architects, McKim, Mead & White, built 1902-11, the demolition of which (1963-5) was certainly a low point in American cultural life, and America is the poorer for its loss. I have had the misfortune to find myself in the subterranean rat-run of what is now called Penn Station, a hell on earth: if you want to see Modernism as it really is, go there. That any nation could destroy a Sublime masterpiece of Classical architecture and rational planning as great as McKim, Mead & White’s superb American creation, and then make a reality that is wholly dystopian, unpleasant, disorientating, and truly vile, suggests not only a massive failure of national self-confidence, but a pathetic eagerness to embrace the assertions, dogmas, and demands of unscrupulous leaders of a Cult from which reason, sensibility, and appreciation of beauty are entirely absent.

Stevens Curl has the goods on Miës, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, the holy trinity of the modernist cult. They were scoundrels, and the architecture they exported to America has seeded this nation and the world with ugliness. The mission of modern architecture – even if most modernists are ignorant of it – is to use its allegedly utilitarian sterility to transform Americans into cogs and America into a machine (Corbusier’s hatred of street life and his term for housing – “machines for living” – betray this intent) with a tendency toward authoritarianism.

We see these trends in America today in efforts to suppress freedom of speech, pervert American education at every level (in part via modernist architecture schools) and other issues. You need not take sides on these issues to understand the anxiety they sow. Stevens Curl and Moholoy Nagy have bracketed modern architectural history with accurate descriptions of architecture as it is so widely practiced today. That is why the architectural establishment, and especially the supposedly neutral Royal Institute of British Architects, hate James Stevens Curl. But they can’t get away from Sibyl Moholy Nagy.

Left: Proclamation listing Ludwig Mies van der Rohe among supporters of Hitler. Right: Mies closes his letter resigning from the Prussian Academy of Arts with “Heil Hitler!” ((Völkischer Beobachter [18 August 1934] and Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Archiv der Preußischen Akademie der Künste, Pr.AdK 1106 p.37))
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Attend Penn StationPalooza!

Next Thursday, Jan. 26, the three main alternative proposals for restoring some sense of dignity to Pennsylvania Station will duke it out at a forum to be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.. in the Great Hall of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art’s Foundation Building.

The event is sponsored by ReThinkNYC and will pit the architect Vishaan Chakrabarti of the Practice for Architecture & Urbanism (PAU), who wants to refashion Madison Square Garden into a big skylight to enlighten the station; architect Alexandros Washburn, a former city design czar, representing the Grand Penn Community Alliance, who proposes to replace MSG (whose lease is up in a year) with a grand classical space inspired by the old Penn Station; and architect Richard Cameron, architect of Atelier & Co., where he originated the idea of rebuilding Penn Station according to the design of Charles Follen McKim, of McKim, Mead & White, in 1910.

That station was torn down in 1963-’67, an act of cultural vandalism that inspired the architectural historian Vincent Scully to declare, “We entered the city like gods; now, we scurry in like rats.”

The architectural historian Lorraine B. Diehl, author of The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station, will also lecture on the original building’s history.

Cooper Union’s Foundation Building is at 7 East 7th St. Free tickets for either an in-person seat or registration for the Zoom presentation of this three-ring Penn StationPalooza can be reserved at this ReThinkNYC link. Scroll to the bottom. Samuel Turvey, of ReThinkNYC, is leading this forum. You may find my numerous posts on this topic by typing “penn brussat” into Google.

As readers of this blog well know, I favor the rebuild option, which, if accomplished, would enable New Yorkers and their visitors to “enter the city like gods,” not like “rats.” Bringing beauty back to America requires a project of this sort. “Make no small plans,” wrote architect Daniel Burnham, who led the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition – which led to the City Beautiful Movement, which created the civic architecture that led to the American Renaissance. If we want to bring beauty back into our cities and towns, we must build an example that will impress the entire world – and such an example would be to rebuild Penn Station.

My second preference is the proposal by Alexandros Washburn, which is a late-comer to the sweepstakes, and whose proposal is tremendously beautiful. It might be less expensive, but what it lacks is the Penn Station Waiting Room, which was like stepping inside the anteroom of God, and achievable only by rebuilding the old station, which is eminently feasible, both to build and to finance.

Please attend this forum. Kathy Hochul, the governor of New York State who holds the future of New York City in her hands, needs to know how much New York and indeed the nation and the world want this to happen.

Again, to attend this event, next Thursday, Jan. 26, click here.

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Britain embraces tradition

Buckingham Palace, official residence of King Charles III. (Architectural Digest)

Dezeen reports that, in Britain, the Tory government’s minister for housing, Michael Gove, has thrown his support behind the idea of a university-level school for classical and traditional architecture and urbanism. He even wrote the foreward to a private think-tank paper backing the proposed university. If built – as seems likely – it would be the first of its kind in the kingdom in years.

King Charles III, former Prince of Wales.

The move comes at what some consider an awkward moment in British history. The former prince, now King Charles III, has for years been an outspoken advocate of traditional architecture and a sharp critic of modernist architecture. Britons wonder whether, in the wake of the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, will the king stand up for tradition?

British monarchs are not supposed to express opinions. That’s Gove’s job, and it is a blessing that he seems to be doing it. Gove’s foreward for “A School of Place” states:

We must do all we can to ensure a new generation of built environment professionals are armed with the best skills and techniques possible to enable them to go out and build beautiful, sustainable places in which people and communities can thrive.

Those lines will be properly interpreted by both modernists and traditionalists as an attack on modernist placemaking, and will surely irk modernists, who include most of the staff of Dezeen. The government paper itself is by a think tank called Policy Exchange, and written by an architect named Ike Ijeh. It further states:

The new School of Place will seek to wholeheartedly revive traditional architecture from the annals of obscurity to which contemporary architectural education has unfairly consigned it. It will further make rigorous attempts to ensure that none of the institutional or professional bias that can be said to have been waged against classicism or traditionalism is reflected in either its syllabus or curriculum.

Michael Gove, Minister of Housing

This quote, among others, is sure to irk modernist architects and most of Dezeen’s staff, who are worker bees carrying out the institutional bias of the architectural establishment. Its initial reaction against Gove’s support for the creation of what he refers to as “beautiful places” calls to mind the brouhaha that accompanied the foundation of a government commission several years ago, the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, whose purpose was to devise a new development structure for Britain that would incentivise developers to build with an eye toward beauty. It was to bring more input from communities into the process, and was initially chaired by the noted conservative philosopher Roger Scruton. He was sacked after a scurrilous supposed “interview” of Scruton that was later repudiated by its editor, leading to the subsequent reappointment of Scruton, who led the commission to produce a government paper called “Living With Beauty.” Scruton died in 2020, but his spirit seems to have been very much behind “A School of Place.”

The paper’s author, Ijeh, seems to understand fully and is willing to confront the biased attitudes of the architectural establishment. But he calls for the school to teach architecture outside the realm of classicism and tradition – though presumably not modernism; maybe he is thinking of Art Deco or the work of such outliers as Antoni Gaudi. In any event, he states:

Such diplomacy is necessary because the unfortunate fact remains that any perceived political bias towards traditionalism would provoke an immediate and hostile reaction from many within the architectural community, as seen by the hysterical response in some architectural circles to the government’s inauguration of the Building Beautiful Building Better Commission.

He is certainly correct, and perhaps wise to suggest a degree of diplomacy in the curriculum of the proposed school. But please, let him not go overboard.

The situation of King Charles may be part of his thinking. Charles may be reluctant to again take up the gauntlet of his princely crusade for beauty as king. But the forces pressing Charles to keep mum on architecture and planning are, I suspect, purposely misinterpreting the custom of non-intervention by the monarch in politics to dissuade him from intervention in the culture, which, I believe, is another matter altogether.

It is fair to ask whether a British king must stand mute and helpless, forced to say and do nothing as his dominion falters under the sustained attack of cultural warriors for whom Britain is the enemy. How can this be so?

Most Britons would have no problem with Charles’s taking up his crusade in favor of bringing beauty back to the cities, towns and villages of Great Britain.

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Ancient progress in concrete

The Pantheon, in Rome, is thought to be almost 2,000 years old. (getyourguide.com)

A number of publications have run stories describing the recent discovery of how the ancient Romans made their concrete structures last so long. For example, the dome of the Pantheon, in Rome, survives intact to this day. It is still the world’s largest dome of unreinforced concrete. And Roman aqueducts remain standing, some still transporting water slightly downhill over long distances.

Researchers found that Roman concrete contained small white chunks of lime known as lime clasts, which were treated with slaked lime to produce quicklime, which had the quality of curing and setting more quickly, thus reducing production times. But longstanding theory was that the existence of lime clasts in the concrete at many Roman sites was the result error arising from poor quality control. Researcher Admir Masic of MIT thought this might be a bit off. He told Michelle Starr of Science Alert:

The idea that the presence of these lime clasts was simply attributed to low quality control always bothered me. If the Romans put so much effort into making an outstanding construction material, following all of the detailed recipes that had been optimized over the course of many centuries, why would they put so little effort into ensuring the production of a well-mixed final product? There has to be more to this story.

After further research, his team at MIT discovered the lime clasts were a feature rather than a bug. The lime clasts also have the property of naturally expanding to fill and repair cracks that emerge in concrete over time.

At first I didn’t think this should be of any interest to me. Is it surprising that the Romans had construction methods superior to those of our own age of fake expertise? Hardly. The Romans were real people, with serious ideas on how things were and how they should be. But it occurred to me that this was exactly why we should care how they made concrete.

The key is in Masic’s use of the phrase “detailed recipes that had been optimized over the course of many centuries.” What today is “optimized” over the course of many centuries? Not much. The iPhone? After 14 model series, they still drive us crazy with their ineptitude. No. Instead of trial and error leading over time to higher quality of materials and production techniques, we seek rapid eyeblink advancements, usually assisted digitally, without the long slog of productive endeavor. To sneer at the past and its products is the big idea now. Quality control? What a concept! Planned obsolescence is more like it these days.

You can see this most directly in works of architecture. In architecture, as this discovery shows, the Romans got the big things and the little things right. Their buildings incorporated standards to ensure consistent beauty, and their concrete hardened more quickly. Pop quiz: Which is the big thing and which is the little thing? Answer: It was a trick question. Both are vital to ensuring quality. Frank Gehry’s mickled up pieces of paper don’t quite cut the mustard. Extra credit: Will today’s construction managers incorporate the techniques of Rome in modern concrete manufacture? Will they even bother to make themselves aware of these “advances”?

The aqueduct at the Pont du Gard, near Nimes, France, or 12 miles from its source. (USGS.gov)
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“From Paris to Providence”

514 Broadway, the Prentice House, in Providence, where Anna and Laura Tirocchi had their dressmaking shop. Now known as the Wedding Cake House, it is a chic hotel. (Tirocchi Archive)

Providence was once a world leader in textile manufacturing, including the design and manufacturing of machinery needed to produce clothing from the more or less raw material of textiles. As the city’s importance in this realm grew, civic leaders, including some from families associated with my former employer (the Providence Journal), founded the Rhode Island School of Design. It was originally tasked to introduce a higher level of aesthetic sensibility to the design of machinery and the products of that machinery, including ladies’ fashions.

Chart by Raymond Loewy. (RISD)

Sadly, RISD has strayed from its mission. Perhaps predictably, its faculty and students have, so far as I can tell, largely bought into aesthetic philosophies that spurn tradition and its attention to detail and ornament. (I hope to receive an email from someone at RISD saying that’s not true, and chastising me for not appreciating the extent to which RISD has been incorporating traditional elements into its teaching of aesthetics.)

The other day I received a gift from the ever fecund Seth Weine, a Fellow of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. He sent me a catalogue from a RISD exhibition in the year 2000 entitled “From Paris to Providence: Fashion, Art, and the Tirocchi Dressmaking Shop, 1915-1947.” Describing the era of the shop’s foundation, former RISD curator Pamela Parmal, who now works for the Museum of Fine Art, in Boston, writes:

Custom-made clothing was still the rule for women at a time when the ready-to-wear trade had already become established for men’s and children’s apparel. The proper fit over a tightly corseted body could only be achieved through the services of a dressmaker; likewise, the complex draping of fabric and the disposition of elaborate trims and ornaments considered necessary for female attire. The custom process also enabled the buyer to enjoy a level of creativity and the ability to express her individuality. Clients chose their own fabrics, trims and ornaments, and worked with their dressmakers to produce the one-of-a-kind garments that suited their tastes, figures and budgets.

These garments, whether ready-made or custom-made, changed slowly over time. In 1906, the Providence municipal directory listed 890 dressmaking shops. That number was cut in half by 1920. Eventually, during the 1920s and ’30s, Parisian fashions embraced some of the elements of modern design showing up in painting, music and other arts. Maybe there is evidence here of a cause and an effect. RISD exhibition curator Susan Hay describes these changes during the Roaring Twenties, when flappers donned modern fashions and flattened their bodies as if to mimic coutures’ cancellation of sweet curvatures.

This is not, I suspect, how Hay would describe it. She takes a strictly objective view, which nevertheless seems to me a view of acceptance. Never a frown, never a raising of the eyebrows. She is a total professional. Her chapter on fashion’s evolution traces changes tracked by industrial designer Raymond Loewy in his famous chart (above left) of how ladies’ fashion evolved alongside the design of bathing suits and of the houses they occupied with their husbands. See my Journal column of 2005, on the relationship between fashion and architecture, reprinted on my blog in 2013, which includes the photograph below.

William Van Alen (center), architect of the Chrysler Building, at the 1931 Beaux Arts Ball, where leading architects dressed up as their buildings.

Hay continues:

He [Loewy] compares the changes in architecture, from the ornate houses of earlier centuries to streamlined modern architecture up to the 1930s, with developments in female dress, starting with the seventeenth century’s long, full, enormous skirts, full sleeves, and high coiffures, and ending in 1934 with the svelte, form-fitting evening gown, exactly reflecting the silhouette of gowns found in the Tirocchi shop. In the same chart, using a woman clad in a bathing suit, he shows how the very ideal of a woman’s figure changed from the plump form of the 1890s to the thin, long-legged creature of 1935.

Actually, the chart continues to the mid-’50s, with ladies showing less and less fabric, more and more skin, until, at the bottom, Loewy places a question mark, suggesting that the next stage might not be fitting for a chart gracing a family publication. And today, who knows? Women’s fashions, as represented on the runways of Parisian fashion shows, are ever more risqué in their use of materials and forms to display their revolt against tradition, but still allowing peep holes to invite the male gaze. And today, even the curator would probably be canceled for her use of the word “creature” to describe a female.

She adds:

With the coming of age of the anti-ornamental purist element in art after Le Corbusier’s breakthroughs in the late 1920s and the growth in philosophical importance of Germany’s Bauhaus school, fashion’s own “return to order” was the “classic” clothing of the 1930s. [Don’t get me going on this abuse of the word classic!]

She concludes this chapter with some of what she would classify as optimism:

The question they attempted to answer – what does it mean to be modern? – is as much in contention now as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. The concepts of modernism are still present in the Western aesthetic at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The search for elegance in fashion at the start of the new millennium reflects the concerns and debates of the early modern period as they are revealed in fashions from the Tirocchi shop. Although their elaborate Art Deco fabrics and often exuberant ornamentation may have come to look less and less “modern” as the century progressed, among them are many garments that could be worn with great pride today.

True enough, but I imagine that the Ticchotti sisters, Anna and Laura, would be twirling in their graves today.

Let’s see if we can find a photo from a recent RISD fashion event. Ah, here we are! This is a video of the 2022 Senior Apparel Show. Some of it is transgressive, some of it not; some of it is attractive, if not especially practical, most of it is not, and toward the end even displays of sensuality are permitted. It is, all told, not as bad as I expected. Slap me on the wrist! Some of it may reflect a push toward – dare I say it? – more traditional attitudes in the culture, though far from dominant, including architecture, orchestral music, painting, sculpture, etc.

(The video of the RISD Senior show is at the bottom of this post.)

Most of the catalogue details relationship between the sisters and their wealthy clients, mostly the wives of industrialists, entrepreneurs and their leading executive staff. How the Tirocchis acquired fashions from the couturiers of Paris – well, let’s just list the essay titles: “Line, Color, Detail, Distinction, Individuality,” by Pamela Parmal; “Clients and Craftswomen: The Pursuit of Elegance,” by Susan Porter Benson; “Strategies for Success: The Tirocchis, Immigration, and the Italian American Exprience,” by John W. Briggs; American Fashion: “The Tirocchi Sisters in Context,” by Madelyn Shaw; “Paris to Providence: “Couture and the Tirocchi Shop,” by Susan Hay; “Modernism in Fabric: Art and the Tirocchi Textiles,” also by Susan Hay, who was the exhibit’s lead curator.

Even for a nontransgressive male, this is all fascinating. The catalogue may be purchased here.

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Best trad buildings of 2022

Capital Square, in Richmond, with the original Life Insurance Co. of Virginia under construction to  next to city hall to the center left of the Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson.

It grows ever more difficult and hence ever more depressing to construct these annual roundups of traditional architecture. I feel a bit of guilt arising from the headline “Best trad buildings of 2022,” because so many of them are obviously not “the best.” I think I have reason to complain that so many of the websites of architectural firms omit the date of completion of the buildings in their portfolio sections, as if they are trying to perpetuate some sort of secret – perhaps that the building in question has existed forever, and that the firm which designed it is an old institution so venerable that its founding has been lost in the fog of memory. The Institute of Traditional Architecture, founded in 2014 by Joseph D. Jutras, provides a list of the top 50 traditional firms. I challenge anyone to click on a single one whose portfolio does not omit their projects’ date of completion. (RAMSA is an exception.)

For what buildings I am able to include this year I offer thanks to Michael Diamant, founder of the Traditional Architecture website, who has sent, as he did last year, more than a handful of new traditional buildings and, in some cases, before and afters of the site. His work enables me to sustain hope that, despite my lack of patience and diligence in tracking them down, there is actually a plenitude of traditional buildings going up around the world that I simply am too lazy to locate, especially since I put it off till so late in the year.

So here are the best trad buildings of 2022. Purists among my classical readers will probably be disappointed, or even dismayed, by some of the risks taken by architectural tightrope walkers in designing some of these buildings, but they are all of them, at the very least, decidedly traditional.

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The new offices of the Virginia General Assembly, replacing the old office with two historic 1912 facade preserved. (Virginia Department of General Services)

At the last minute I discovered that in Richmond, a new classical office building has been constructed for the Virginia General Assembly, essentially completed this past fall, although legislators cannot yet move in because supply-chain issues have delayed acquisition of office equipment they need to function as modern legislators. The architects for the building – which was built behind a pair of preserved façades of the old General Assembly Building, which was originally the Life Insurance Company of Virginia, designed by Alfred Bossom (1912) – are Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), of New York, and Glavé & Holmes Architecture, of Richmond. (I could find no other new buildings completed this year by RAMSA.)

The new Assembly building is connected by tunnel to the Virginia State Capitol designed in 1788 by Thomas Jefferson, while he was ambassador to France. Together, Washington and Jefferson decided that classicism, embodied in part by the latter’s Virginia capitol, should be the aesthetic template for the new nation. A new parking structure for assembly members and staff, of classical design, is also under construction.

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The Church of Santa María Reina de la Familia, in the new town of Cayala. (Estudio Urbano)

The Church of Santa Maria Reina de la Familia has been completed in the center of the beautiful new city of Cayala, in Guatemala. Designed by Estudio Urbano, it seats over 800 parishioners, and has been filled for masses since it opened in April of this year. Information about its architectural lineage, at least that which may be found online, is all in Spanish and thus unavailable to me. Maria Fernanda Sánchez may have worked on the design of this church with her colleague, Pedro Pablo Godoy. She has sent many photographs of this ecclesiastical masterpiece, which was projected for construction in the city’s original master plan by Léon Krier.

Church of Santa Maria Reina de la Familia, in Cayala, Guatemala. (Estudio Urbano)

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The Orion Amphitheater, in Huntsville, Ala., designed by David M. Schwartz Architects. (DMSA)

The D.C. firm of David M. Schwartz Architects has designed an amphitheater seating 8,000 for Huntsville, Ala., that is already packing them in. The venue replaces Madison Square Mall, a former local hotspot in the 1980s. Huntsville, a center of stratopherical technological development, likes to say that 60 years ago its rockets shot into outer space, and that today it is providing the stage for the city’s future adventures into the musical stratosphere. It opened in May for a music festival, “The First Waltz,” honoring North Alabama’s music scene. Aside from Emylou Harris, the festival features Brittany Howard, John Paul White and Mavis Staples, none of whom are known to me. But the amphitheater, modeled after the Roman Coliseum, has the colonnade of arches and the entablatural fortitude to carry it a long way.

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Garvey Hall, a dining facility at Catholic University, in Washington, D.C.

Catholic University, in Washington, D.C., has built a new dining hall seating almost 500 students in four rooms, seating 238, 131, 91 and 30 students respectively. It is named for John Garvey, president of C.U. from 2010 to 2022, who stepped down in June. The design work, led by Christian Calleri, was performed by Perkins-Eastman Architects in the Collegiate Gothic style, which must be considered rare by the firm, whose work is normally in the modernist vein. Garvey Hall replaces Magner Hall, or House, once a dorm in Centennial Village, a collection of very modest traditional brick dormitories that apparently were built as recently as 1988.

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Michael Diamant sends in a number of new traditional buildings that encourage belief that Europe is finally beginning to understand the superiority of its deep architectural heritage, and is now, more and more, incorporating knowledge of its ways into the design and construction of its future. For example, in London’s Spitalfields district, a slum featuring auto repair emporia was replaced by a mixed-use complex in an Art Deco style, complete with verdant upper stories. The before and after shots (see above) show how completely new construction in a traditional style can change the ambiance of a place.

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But as another set of before and afters from Michael Diamant shows, in the world of classical architecture, progress does not always march in a forwardly direction. Above is a mixed-use project in St. Petersburg that more than fills the space, if not the ambitions, of its predecessor, which must be considered a relatively modest apartment house of the Stalinist era.

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The bus station proposal that was vetoed in favor of the proposal that was actually built.

Finally, here is a delightful bus station in a Polish town outside of Krakow, famous for its salt mines and completed just this year. The before and after is not really that, but rather the built and could’ve been built. I give you joy, as the late Patrick O’Brian’s Captain Aubrey would have raised his glass to toast the decision of the Polish municipal authorities.

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As usual, since it is to be expected that not all who were sent my original request for help locating new traditional buildings received it, they are invited to suggest new buildings that, they feel, belong in this 2022 roundup. Please now help me correct my hopefully numerous oversights!

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Penn Sta. + Best 2022 Bldgs.

Rendering by Jeff Stikeman of the 8th Avenue facade of a rebuilt Penn Station. (ReThinkNYC)

For this hybrid post I present you with the opportunity to view images and videos of a rebuilt Penn Station alongside a plea for readers to nominate the best traditional buildings of 2022. Penn Station’s restoration is a genuine prospect, though alas not in 2022. As New York’s former lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch, recenlty said, displaying maximum exasperation: “I hope somebody lets the governor know that the citizens of New York want this goddamn station rebuilt.” By now, it really is a matter of politics in a democracy. Surveys show the popularity of rebuilding Penn Station, so let’s allow democracy to work in the nation’s largest city on behalf of all Americans, living in NYC or elsewhere.

Below are images from ReThinkNYC.com’s latest press release on rebuilding Penn Station, which contains new and thrilling images and videos. And again, I ask that readers nominate buildings, completed in 2022, that give us hope that sanity might rule in architecture on some not too distant tomorrow.

ReThinkNYC’s press release, which also contains a video explaining “through-running,” a modernization of the station that will increase the efficiency of the regional train network and, by doing so, make restoring Penn Station more affordable. Press here to read the organization’s entire press release.

Also, here are Jeff Stikeman’s illustrations of what Penn Station rebuilt according to the designs of Charles Follen McKim, of McKim, Mead & White, would look like. (I’m getting the hang of this professional P.R. linkage thing!)

Now, here is ReThinkNYC’s video of how the Waiting Room of Penn Station would look after its restoration. The video was done by Nova Concepts, with support from Richard Cameron and Cezar Nicolescu. Don’t forget to hit the “full screen” button.

View from video of Penn Station Waiting Room as it would appear when restored. (Nova Concepts)

On the press release linked to above are video explaining ReThinkNYC’s proposal for “through running” at Penn Station and beyond. You may say that “through-running” defines “in the weeds” but it is vital for the future success of the entire regional train network. We forget that Penn Station is a terminal rather than a station that trains run through to other destinations. This is the definition of inefficiency and must change. Also, equally vital, is the relocation of Madison Square Garden, now squatting on Penn Station, whose lease is up next June. A video linked through the press release suggests potential locations for the arena.

But think, as you view all these options, how important rebuilding Penn Station would be to the revival of classical architecture for America. The construction of a beautiful new pair of classical campuses at Yale University held out the prospect for such a demonstration of classicism’s power and beauty, but it turns out that not so many people visit Yale beyond its student body. But those two campuses, by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, were and are nevertheless extraordinary examples of classicism, which were nominated for best trad building of 2017.

You, too, can nominate for best trad building of 2022! Email me an image of the building. I am at dbrussat@gmail.com, and will do the research if you will send me the name and picture of the building – remember, it must have been completed in 2022. Many thanks,  dear readers, and happy holidays!

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Latest news of Penn Station

Alexandros Washburn proposal to replace existing Pennsylvania Station with one reminiscent of the original station that was demolished in 1963. (21st Century Unlimited)

In the wake of news that New York developer Vornado Realty Trust, perhaps anticipating a recession, hit pause on its plan to build ten skyscrapers around Pennsylvania Station, we have seen reports of a new and delightful proposal to rebuild something like the old station, which was demolished in the 1960s.

The new proposal comes from architect Alexandros Washburn, who served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the city’s  design chief. In his plan, a facsimile of the vaulted steel and glass train shed would rise in the space once occupied by the Madison Square Garden arena. The shed would sit in a frame reminiscent of the 1910 Beaux Arts station designed by Charles Follen McKim. The Garden, whose lease is up next June, would be moved, as would the office tower at 2 Penn. A classical garden similar to Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library would fill the space between the new station and the Moynihan Train Hall recently completed in the James Farley Post Office across the street – a McKim, Mead & White masterpiece completed in 1914. (Click here for illustrations of this plan.)

Washburn’s lovely proposal is not to be confused with the plan advanced by ReThinkNYC to rebuild the old Penn Station on its still-existing foundation. The earlier plan is inspired directly by the original station, completed in 1910, which would be restored. The ReThink proposal’s advanced engineering, modern shopping and updated transit connections would enable American lifestyles to inhabit the grandeur of the Gilded Age icon’s space.

It remains the preferable proposal. Washburn’s plan omits rebuilding the original Waiting Room. It was this vast structure that so impressed arrivals to New York in its halcyon days. Another design, submitted by architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, merely recasts the circular arena structure in glass. All three designs would enable a shift of the regional rail system to what is known as “through-running,” a safer, faster and more efficient method of managing trains and trackage at Penn Station and throughout the network.

Whatever their respective merits, all three designs serve to promote the discussion that New Yorkers must engage if the city is to avoid Hochul’s uninspired, and indeed dispiriting, urban renewal plan to override city zoning and demolish many historic buildings, including at least a dozen eligible for landmark status. Her plan is widely opposed in the community, and would only enrich Steven Roth, owner of Vornado, who now has doubts of his own about the governor’s plan for the district.

Meanwhile, the governor’s has sought to mislead New Yorkers about how much light her proposed renovations would admit to the station, which would be criss-crossed by the shadows thrown by the multiple skyscrapers that she proposes. “Trying to sell us on an underground station that will be bathed in natural light,” says ReThinkNYC’s Sam Turvey, “is demonstrably false and we felt it was time to better illustrate that.” Hochul’s changes, he states, would merely bring Penn up to the low standards of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Showing New Yorkers such fraudulently sunny images is, he says, no more than “eyewash.” He dares the governor to show renderings that honestly reflect the amount of light her renovations would admit into the station.

This obfuscation is of a piece with the sly manner in which the Empire State Development Corporation has managed the project thus far, aesthetically and financially. ReThinkNYC plans to host a forum on the several design options at Cooper Union on Thursday, Jan. 26. New Yorkers would be allowed to compare the three designs (at last count) competing with the governor’s dismal plan for the station and its neighborhood, which she has likened to a “skid row.”

Photo of Waiting Room at original Penn Station, demolished in 1963. (ny.curbed.com)
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Not as sexy but just as bad

Former design of Hope Point (Fane) tower, left. New design of toweer, right. (Fane)

Developer Jason Fane has cut costs by removing the pizzazz from his proposed tower design. Without the sinuous curves, it looks less ridiculous but would not fit into the Jewelry District any better, if built, than before its redesign – its third redesign. It has progressed from three bland towers in 2016 to one in 2018, and then from bland to sexy – as if architecture could aspire to ape Marilyn Monroe.

No, it cannot be done.

Silly, not sexy.

Even if it could be done, it would still stick out like a sore thumb.

Arguably (as I actually argued in a 2018 post), that design was a copycat. Fane tower architects IBI Group, of Toronto, copied an even more curvaceous design, also in Toronto, for a pair of buildings called the Absolute Towers, by MAD Architects. The Fane tower may indeed be less curvaceous than Absolute Towers, but it one ups MAD’s towers, in that the latter seem designed to portray two towers in a state of precoital arousal, whereas the Fane tower seems to portray two towers amid coitus itself. (Really? Click to see.)

Even without the histrionics, this is not exactly what is wanted for a historic city like Providence. And the new design is still way too tall – in spite of a Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling in 2020, by any logic it still does not obey the city’s comprehensive plan (but who cares about logic these days). The building violates the plan’s 100-foot height mandate by an astronomical 500 percent! Most public opponents regretted its height, but its unsympathetic design was widely considered just as obnoxious, however sexy.

The new design, described in a GoLocalProv.com article, basically takes the boring side of the building and carries it all the way around, replacing the sexy façade in which Fane took so much pride, so much so that he even dared to mock the city’s historic character as “cutesy.” Fane has also added residential floors by subtracting a couple of parking floors in the base of the tower. The old design’s moderne-style, stripped fenestration has been jettisoned in favor of what appear to be concrete slabs separating the floors. Its balconies have been substantially reduced in number and size.

The Fane team issued a press release:

After over a year of diligent redesign, the Fane Organization has made changes to The Fane Tower façade design and submitted to the I-195 Commission a package of revised conceptual design drawings for Design Review. The revised exterior concept shows smooth harmonious curvilinear lines and rounded corners that are unmatched in Providence. Recognizing local climate, the number and size of balconies has been reduced.

Note that the building is apparently now called “The Fane Tower.” I thought that was just my reporter’s shorthand. Whatever happened to the so-called “Hope Point Tower”?

None of these changes, if they reduce costs as desired, are to be desired. Better a ridiculous building that resides on a blueprint gathering dust on a shelf than a practical building that is affordable to the developer and actually rises up to poke out our eye. We have already added enough ugly to the heritage of Providence.

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