Zaha, FLW & arrogance

Sketch of Zaha Hadid. Artist unattributed. (Spectator)

Sketch of Zaha Hadid. Artist unattributed. (Spectator)

Far be it from me to defend Zaha Hadid. Any ammo you can blow up under her reputation might rock her architecture – its reputation if not its actual existence. Let ‘er rip! I have defended Zaha from accusations that people die at her construction sites, but complaining about her volatile personality is fair game. Now a defense of Zaha’s arrogance has been made by a woman attacking a man for not attacking another man’s arrogance.

In “Correcting the record about arrogant architects,” the (U.K.) Examiner’s art critic Joan Altabe tries to undermine Spectator critic Stephen Bayley’s criticism of Hadid’s arrogance (“Architecture would be better off without Zaha Hadid“) by attacking his his supposedly missed opportunity to criticize the arrogance of Frank Lloyd Wright in a column two years ago unrelated to Hadid or to the arrogance of architects. She writes:

Everything Bayley objects to about Hadid’s arrogance could be said about Frank Lloyd Wright’s hubris. Yet in a column for The Spectator on Dec. 12, 2013, Bayley gave him a pass this way: “Even as a child, Wright did not want to draw Nature. He wanted to be Nature. Of course, he became one of the greatest architects ever.” Really, Stephen, “The greatest architects ever”?

Architecture criticism as he said/she said cannot be carried very far. But this is ridiculous. Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959. His arrogance – not to mention his immoral private life and his questionable professional ethics – has been part of the case against his work for many decades. And Bayley was hardly, as Altabe puts it, “beside himself with rage” at Hadid’s personality or her architecture. Regarding the latter, even at its tartest his critique was rather lame. Like most of his tribe, he criticizes the architecture apparently without realizing that his critique applies not just to the work of his target but to most modernist architecture, and especially buildings by celebrity architects.

Altabe lets her slip show by removing the words “one of” from her clunky retort to Bayley’s praise of Wright, quoted above. Now, I personally think there’s a good (early) FLW and a bad (late) FLW, but he certainly must be counted as one of architecture’s historical greats. By seeming to doubt that, Altabe only undercuts her own argument.

By the way, the column by Bayley in which he supposedly “gives Wright a pass” for his arrogance is called “The most inspired gift for your child this Christmas,” relating to toys parents can give to stimulate their children’s creativity. After his success, Wright famously recalled his mother’s gift of blocks to her little boy. Bayley criticizes Lego for selling sets of famous architecture, essentially denying Lego’s longstanding open-endedness as a tool for triggering playful young minds. Last time I entered the Lego shop at Providence Place, I looked around, had the same thought, and talked to a clerk. You could no longer buy just a plain set of Legos.

Lego has a set of FLW’s Robie House but nada by Zaha. Sexist? Hardly.

And before we get too far afield of the topic of arrogance, let us not forget the other Frank’s recent middle finger.

Lego set of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House. (thecoolist.com)

Lego set of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. (thecoolist.com)

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.
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