Betsky waxes nostalgic


Proposed 2 WTC, by Bjarke Ingels Group. (BIG)

Aaron Betsky, regular columnist of Architect, mouthpiece of the American Institute of Architects, sees, in “Starchitects: The Next Generation,” the old guard of modern architecture being muscled aside by a new guard, who are winning big commissions and beginning to taste the sweet smell of success. Don’t drink too deeply, Betsky intones.

Yes, it warms my cockles to see Norman Foster booted by Bjarke Ingels for the 2 World Trade Center job and Frank Gehry edged aside by Joshua Prince- Ramus (mentored by Rem Kookhouse) for the concert hall at Ground Zero. Betsky hopes the new kids on the block won’t poop on the block as the oldsters have.

It makes you forget the battles of the titans who once fought for the right to put their respective stamps on the [WTC] site and then either didn’t get the nod or, when they did — like SOM, Daniel Libeskind, AIA; Fumihiko Maki, Hon. FAIA; and Santiago Calatrava, FAIA — failed utterly and at a great cost, both to the urban environment and to taxpayers.

Above all he praises “work that shows us new ways to address the pressing social, environmental, and, yes, aesthetic, issues that confront us,” forgetting (momentarily, no doubt) that the older generation thought that’s what they were doing, too. And the older generation before them. Etc.

I even enjoyed feeling the hairs standing to attention on the back of my neck when I read about all the thinking that’s going on:

As in many parts of our culture, we are so meta that we are meta-meta, self-consciously citing citers who were self-consciously citing other citers with an irony that coils around serious purpose to swallow more attitude.

This was his reaction to the recent brouhaha over Patrik Schumacher’s criticism of the Chicago Architecture Biennial and its critics. (See my post “Diss the Chicago biennial!“) The major domo in Zaha Hadid’s shop (the next Prince-Ramus?) was as baffling as ever, outdone in his meta-meta-metaphysics only by his critics, who waxed incomprehensible in explaining the hurtness of their feelings. As if any of it is anything new. (Even the trads enjoy counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.)

Well, Betsky cites his own age and his own books and his own mentors of long, long ago – and of today! Watching the factotums of the avant garde wax nostalgic never grows old. It is fun to read, especially if your eyeball muscles cry out for the rolling cure. Betsky never lets us down.


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,, 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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