Knockdown knockabout

Plan for change at Brown's School of Engineering, with new building (undesigned) at far right.

Plan for change at Brown’s School of Engineering, with new building (undesigned as yet by newly hired KieranTimberlake) at the lower far right.

Many years ago, no later than the mid-90s, I was invited by Providence Preservation Society director Arnold Robinson to sit in on a meeting of the facilities planning staffs of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. By that time I’d been on the warpath against modern architecture in my column for several years, and was in bad odor with this tribe, which considers modern architecture a form of creativity, and traditional architecture its opposite. So they are the typical artist-wannabes, with a hardline disregard for the opinions of any who disagree. The meeting swiftly devolved into a three-minutes hate, a la Orwell’s 1984, with me as the villain on the screen. But while somewhat startled, I escaped alive, with my retrograde opinions unshaken if not unstirred.

This little incident of long ago lept to mind when I read an e-mail from the mathematician and architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros, of the University of Texas at San Antonio, who had this to say about that part of my column today involving Brown’s plan to knock down some charming old houses to make way (say the planners) for a new engineering building:

Both you and I know that the elimination of Hinckley House is not due to the exigencies of any master plan, or architectural or planning need. It’s the annihilation of the traditional “enemy,” settling old ideological scores, and the modernist obsession with clearing space around their dead buildings so that they can be viewed at a distance. With the new building program, it’s a convenient way of getting rid of a thorn in the modernists’ side, a wonderful old building that they could never design or build themselves.

Working within a philosophy that respects and preserves architectural life (at odds with that of our times), the new building program should stake out Hinckley House as inviolable, and adapt any new construction to enhance it. That’s the best option. Next best is what is happening in campuses all over: leave some great old buildings but ignore them and cut them off with sordid new structures. The worst option (but seemingly preferred by fanatics) is to get rid of the old life altogether and replace it with death.

Pretty sad, if true. I will be reviewing the latest edition of Nikos’s pathbreaking book from 2004, Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction.

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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