John King is the architecture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. I met him maybe a decade ago at a conference and have followed his criticism since. This latest piece, “SF skyline’s new LinkedIn addition built by, for New Yorkers,” about a new building near the S.F. financial district, is excellent, among his best, filled with insight about this ugly building and how it affects the rise and fall of its neighborhood. I was so moved that I left a comment:
John, an excellent assessment of how this LinkedIn building affects its setting. But the same can be written about almost any modernist building inserted into a reasonably nice setting – only an already failed setting would fail to be hurt by this building or any of its hundreds of thousands of mates. However well designed, they reduce rather than improve the quality of any environment that people love. Please take what you have written and try to understand how much more widely it applies to the world of architecture than this one building.
The problem is not, as King says, that this building was designed and built by New Yorkers who do not understand San Francisco. The problem is that this is a building built by modernists who do not understand cities anywhere. It’s not that cities should not evolve; of course they should. But change ought to imply improvement. This is not rocket science.
Almost every architecture critic who takes the “it’s not the style, it’s the quality of the design” line has written one or two articles that are intended to establish their objectivity. They find a modernist building they are pleased as punch to denounce – but do not realize how widely their critique applies to modern architecture as a whole. I wish they would take their own words to heart.