“Screams art museum”!

Addition to Fogg Museum of Art, at Harvard, designed by Renzo Piano.

Addition to Fogg Museum of Art, at Harvard, designed by Renzo Piano.

It sure does. That’s a direct quote from Thomas Lenz, head of Harvard Art Museums, intended as praise. The top comment after Harvard Magazine’s article about the Renzo Piano addition to the Fogg Museum of Art was “Is this really the best that Harvard could do? Is Renzo Piano really the only architect who is capable of doing a museum addition?”

The answers are “No” and “No.” Indeed, Piano is clearly not capable, except that like most modern architects he is a capable assassin of beauty.

A source, aware of my masochistic attraction to museum additions, passed word that Fogg had committed the ne plus ultra of museum additions, and bade me go online to look at the abomination, to wallow in its ugliness, to immerse myself in the perversion of its attitude toward humanity. I did. He called back to assure me that there were better (that is, worse) shots than the one atop the Harvard Magazine article. I looked for it but have not found it yet.

The addition, which will be completed later this year, manages to slime the building from every direction. Even though it is on the far side of the building from Sever Quadrangle, you can see its cackling hideous crown bulging out from the roof. The original Georgian edifice was designed by Coolidge, Shepley, Bullfinch and Abbott back in 1897. How sad. How very, very sad. Nay, how criminal.

I have a softness in my old heart for the Fogg, partly because of its wonderful name, also because an old and elegant friend used to work there while I was at Emerson College in ’73-74. I wonder whether he keeps up with the doings at the Fogg. If he is there yet, he is probably spinning in his grave. He had the best taste, at least when I knew him.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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9 Responses to “Screams art museum”!

  1. Pingback: Sad, glorious history of the Fogg | Architecture Here and There

  2. Michael Tyrrell says:

    Wow!…. how tragic. Is this addition to be taken seriously? The atrium has been destroyed… the intersection in that photo appears invaded -intruded on. This assault on an old friend should not go unpunished!…


  3. Anonymous says:

    I love the quote for the article, “Instead of a single main entrance to the museum, there are now two: the old one on Quincy Street; and a new, more welcoming one on the Prescott Street side, as Lentz explained.”, which implies that the lovely, human-scaled Georgian door surround of the Fogg with it’s baroque split pediment is somehow less inviting than the industrial sized Moulinex chopper through which museum visitors will pass and hope they are not Julienned.

    I also have serious concerns about the grey wood siding, a material which has no precedent in Harvard Yard of the immediate neighborhood. Architects in Boston run in fear from brick considering it limiting and boring and deliberately attempt the original. One day, perhaps, they will learn that best solution is the simple solution, the obvious solution, the straightforward solution.


    • Eric Inman Daum says:

      Sorry, David, this was me, forgot to fill in the form below…


      • Brilliant comments, Eric! Let me know if you want to post anything on my blog along this line. I may take your comments on the Fogg addition and turn them into posts, as I did recently with my brother’s comment on Betsky. David

        On Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 11:10 AM, Architecture Here and There wrote:



  4. Sam says:

    Does the square panel actually slide, or is it just another disingenuous attempt at giving the building a sense of “movement”, a purely aesthetic holdover from the Modernist idea of the building as a machine?


    • Sam says:

      Apparently it is operable (designed to be adjusted seasonally). Pretty gimmicky, probably not practically necessary, but at least its allusion to movement is genuine (most designs that attempt “movement” don’t move).



    It screams TRAGEDY to the existing architectural fabric.
    It screams NARCISSISM, because really, isn’t that what defines the state of modern starchitecture?
    It screams IMPIETY of the college’s rich history.
    It screams INURBANITY to the local neighborhood and city.
    It screams INCIVILITY of a freshman studio project.
    It screams BLASPHEMY to the path of our past architects.
    It screams IMPERTINENCE, like some bold annoying beacon of…
    It screams unadulterated dog shit.



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