Above on this page, Chicago illustrator Lauren Nassef reinterprets everyday objects that have become symbolic and, rendered as speculative buildings, could be iconic. Please don’t sue her.
The passage appears at the end of an article in Architect, the journal of the American Institute of Architects, entitled “Adaptive Practices: Symbols of Simplicity Never Go Out of Style,” by William Richards. His article focuses on the Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen, which was designed to symbolize the westward expansion of America. This need not concern us. We are interested in the drawing by Lauren Nassef, who shows a city formed from buildings designed to represent everyday objects.
Richards’s “Please don’t sue her” refers to a threat to sue Saarinen on the ground that his concept stole an idea for an unbuilt Fascist arch by the Italian architect Adalberto Libera. He never did file his suit. How can you claim to possess an exclusive right to a catenary arch, which, as Richards points out, is as much a product of physics as it is of the architect’s imagination?
Well, I plan not to sue Lauren Nassef but to praise her. Her illustration exemplifies the essential silliness of modern architecture. The public applies derisive monikers to many works of modern architecture because they look like common objects – cheesegraters or walkie-talkies (London), say, or razor blades (Boston) or, for that matter, testicles, vaginas and penises (London again, Qatar and Beijing). The public prefers buildings that look like what they are supposed to be – banks, churches, city halls or just plain houses.
And the public is right. It correctly understands that architecture as mimicry is not serious business, that its so-called “novelty” is truly the pose of a highly celebrated and well-paid poseur. A profession that can fit both mimicry and novelty into its self-concept is laying itself open to ridicule. An egg carton or a jello mold or a stapler or an orange juicer could indeed be transformed into an iconic building. That is indeed ridiculous. And sad. And ugly.
So thank you, Lauren Nassef, for pointing this out in a manner that should be legible even to someone with an advanced degree!
By the way, your talent shines even more brightly in the illustration below, also from Architect. Here you have drawn real architecture, including modern architecture before it got bored with boxes and took its turn toward neo-postmodernist shape-mongering. (I guess the guy in the cap is Matthew Postal, who describes some of his favorite buildings in New York for another article, “Sourcing the City,” by William Richards.)
Beyond the Nassef drawing below is a photo from Michael Rouchell of a building in Louisiana: “Baton Rouge already has a stapler.”