Save the bad public spaces!

Plaza of Boston City Hall. (Project for Public Spaces)

Plaza of Boston City Hall. (Project for Public Spaces)

The Project for Public Spaces, in New York City, has sent out an alert regarding a new public program: “U.S. Government Announces Campaign to Save Historically Bad Public Spaces.” At first I thought this was just another silly April Fool’s Day joke, but then I read further and I realized that the program already exists. Preserving such important reflections of our era in public places such as the classically sterile Empire State Plaza in Albany, not to mention Boston City Hall and its crucially forlorn and windswept plaza, is already the focus of federally financed preservationist policy. As one top official explained to the reporter from PPS:

“The way that these plazas inhibit the natural human instinct to connect with others is a unique part of our cultural heritage, and it is as worthy of preservation as the Petroglyphs on Indian God Rock or Jefferson’s home at Monticello,” said National Register program manager Paul Loether. “We need to guarantee that these places not be experienced in the way they were intended to not be experienced.”

What is this but an expression of the longstanding initiative throughout the preservation establishment, starting on top at the National Trust, to preserve aging examples of authentic midcentury modernism that are at risk? Why do so many U.S. communities want to demolish their stock of buildings by Paul Rudolph? Preserving history, the bad and the ugly no less (if not more) than the good, requires tight regulation of out-of-control public sensibilities that advantage beauty and civitas over ugliness and uselessness on the basis of personal taste and vague aesthetic and communitarian concepts in the subconscious (and uneducated) public mind.

A tip of the hat to the Project for Public Spaces for bringing attention to an important national blind spot on this important national holiday.

Empire State Plaza, in Albany. (Project for Public Spaces)

Empire State Plaza, in Albany. (Project for Public Spaces)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, 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.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Architecture Education, Architecture History, Humor, Preservation, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Save the bad public spaces!

  1. westfall2 says:

    If we did the same for laws and kept them because they allow us to experience the past as it was we would still have Jim Crow if not slavery. Is the ugly in public places not the same as the bad in public behavior? Is it not something to be corrected and banished or “experienced”?

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    • Totally valid point. If we abolished buildings that offend civets they would not only be gone but they would serve to teach a useful lesson, and the ears of architects might suddenly open.

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  2. Warren Lutzel says:

    Clem Labine??? You are making me feel my age. Could the next comment be from Carl Erskine? Or even before that Rex Barney? And they had to go ahead and tear down Ebbets Field. Where were you David?

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  3. Clem Labine says:

    I’m still not convinced this is not a bad April Fool’s joke. The upside-down logic in Paul Loether’s statement shows a preservation movement gone mad. If Loether represents official preservation policy these days, we are leaving The Age of Reason and entering The New Dark Ages.

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