7 brides for 7 buttheads

Tour Montparnasse, in Paris. (Luc Boegly/Artedia, via View)

Tour Montparnasse, in Paris. (Luc Boegly/Artedia, via View)

A breathtakingly gargantuan amount of balderdash was published by the New York Times today in “Seven Leading Architects Defend the World’s Most Hated Buildings.” The architects have all talked to Alexandra Lange. The first is the hardest sell – the Tour Montparnasse, the only skyscraper in central Paris, defended by Daniel Libeskind.

Before heaving Danny Boy out the top-story window, let me note with some satisfaction the inevitable – that all seven of the “world’s most hated buildings” are modernist. Some of them are surely not really among the world’s most hated buildings, but no matter. Let’s not be too picky while sloshing around in this bin of bilge and buncombe.

The likes of Libeskind, Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid and four other modernists I’ve never heard of (but I rest assured in my conviction that they are modernists) are tasked with defending the indefensible. Enjoy! But before I leave let me extract a passage from Libeskind’s defense of the Tour that everyone in Paris hates and with good reason.

Because they exiled all future high rises to some far neighborhood like La Défense, they were segregating growth. Parisians reacted aesthetically, as they are wont to do, but they failed to consider the consequences of what it means to be a vital, living city versus a museum city.

Before trotting out the hoary “museum city” dodge, as if Paris literally doesn’t change (even museums change), Libeskind lets the cat out of the bag. He claims it is the sentimentality of Parisians’ love for their city’s beauty that is “segregating” growth to the periphery, forcing the prices up in the center. In fact, it is the ugliness of modernism that is responsible, because Parisians can hardly be expected to stifle their human emotions en mass.

Modernists demand the impossible in order to avoid blame. If they were willing to fit their work gracefully into the orbit of aesthetic tolerance – as architects managed to do for millennia – then the populace would not reject their designs. But because they refuse to do so, they refuse to permit Paris and other places people love to expand and evolve in a way that would accomplish necessary goals without poking the public in the eye.

Yes, Danny Boy, you modernists are to blame. And the gorgeous photo by Luc Boegly above shows precisely why it requires far fewer than a thousand words to explain the very simple reason for the painfully obvious truth.

Next up, read Zaha Hadid’s rollercoaster defense of the bureaucratic monstrosity designed by Paul Rudolph in Goshen, N.Y.

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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5 Responses to 7 brides for 7 buttheads

  1. tiffany267 says:

    Your post literally sounds like a prototype for a villain from The Fountainhead. Congratulations on being horrifying.


    • Thank you, Tiff! If “The Fountainhead” were written today, roles would be reversed. Roark the “independent mind” would be a classicist and orthodox colleagues trying to stomp the creativity out of him would be modernists. My post reflects that reality, which is why you find it horrifying.


  2. Rick Schwartz says:

    I essentially agree with Nikos (and David), especially when you look at the indefensible Montparnasse. There just is no — and never was any — excuse to put that in the Paris (or any city’s) skyline.

    I won’t argue, however, that a couple folks don’t make good arguments. Like City Hall in Boston (gruesome inside and out), it was a creature of its time, when architects and cities were considering new ideas in the context of the world around them.

    Similarly, another defender writes that you can’t blame the architect if the parkways, gardens, and finishing parts of a very inventive building were never completed. I have to agree. I’ve been witness to many promises that weren’t kept so that we are left with a grotesque result.

    If you’ll accept my argument for context — or even if you don’t — I certainly accept that six of these monstrosities should be leveled today or tomorrow.


  3. And it will continue to work until reasonable people start calling them on their brazen pusilanimity.


  4. What can one say… defending the indefensible. But it works every time! Just get some famous person to praise a monstrosity and you achieve a mental reversal in the public (it is a basic technique of brainwashing). Granted, some (minor) points are admittedly not perfect, but those are not the fault of the architect — it was a failure to implement the original visionary plan (!).

    Why go through this charade and blatant pretense? Why recycle the old lie that inhuman buildings serve social justice? Because then you can praise some new Museum of Contemporary Art that copies an automobile parts warehouse, and people will just lap it up! Throw in some architecture prizes and we are all set for another decade or so of inhuman architecture. Onward!


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