The big buzz at the annual meeting (the “congress”) of the Congress of the New Urbanism, under way in Dallas, is how lame Dallas Morning News architecture critic Mark Lamster was. Anyone familiar with his writing cannot have been surprised. Equally unsurprising though much more disappointing was the retreat by Steven Bingler from his pathbreaking article (written with Martin Pedersen) last December in the New York Times.
Bingler now seems to regret that either his piece in the Times, which castigated modernism for ignoring public sentiment, or his presentation yesterday on a CNU panel, has cast him publicly as a New Urbanist. Tell it to the CNU faithful! What a boor. Still, his piece is called “How to Rebuild Architecture,” and whatever his regrets, it is true and worth reading.
But as architects, Bingler’s firm was one of those that helped actor Brad Pitt prolong the pain of Katrina in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward. He helped Pitt put up new modernist housing there that didn’t fit in with the ward’s shotgun houses. Residents mostly dislike Pitt’s poor excuse for houses, some of which have roofs that look like they’re designed to be blown off in a hurricane. Someone who’d help with that must be dubious from the get-go.
Lamster … well, who knows why he was a speaker at the congress? His writing shows that he hates traditional architecture built today – hey, it’s modern times so only modern architecture should be allowed, right? Wrong, but that is the Kool-Aid that consumes the profession’s establishment today and for the past 50 years. Lamster is marinaded in it. He is a good writer but a bad thinker, and anything he writes or says from a podium has got to be regarded with suspicion.
I believe I have Mark Lamster’s number. My blog post “Dish Dallas kitsch” from last July took down Lamster so thoroughly that he should not have been able to rise up from the floor and write another piece of so-called architecture criticism.
But there’s no shame in architecture today, or in most writing about it, or how could we still be seeing the meme that modernist architecture is really classical? To be sure, some of the founding modernists like Corbusier and Mies were brought up as classicists, but they rejected it and abandoned it, and nothing modernist bears any actual resemblance to it – except that it has what passes for roofs, doors, windows and, sometimes, symmetry.
In spite of efforts to “invite” modernism into the New Urbanist framework, New Urbanism remains a distinctive and highly successful effort to undo the dysfunctional urban planning of the past half century or so. New Urbanism is really the old urbanism from before World War II. People like it because it looks traditional, and to the extent that CNU erodes that generally accurate perception under the guise of big-tent open-mindedness, to that extent the CNU is digging itself an early grave.
That project of self-immolation was criticized in a long “Is CNU Burning?” thread on the TradArch list begun by architect David Rau after last year’s congress in Buffalo. But people do not learn, and the project apparently is continuing, in spite of a change in topic this year to “walkability,” which exactly zero people are against.
Wow! Dallas! Now there’s a town that exemplifies walkability!