Modern architecture is easy to dislike. Its exemplars are ridiculous, its mythology is idiotic, and the methods by which it maintains dominance in the field of architecture are corrupt. I loathe modern architecture generally and feel little but contempt for its buildings individually.
But there are some modernist buildings that strike me as, well, all right.
I could find no photographs online yet of Brown University’s new School of Engineering facility. I criticized it and much of the rest of Brown’s recent architecture in “Brown attacks College Hill,” which links to my original critique. Even then, I found the building less obnoxious than most of its brethren – sort of like the recently razed Fogarty Building, a modestly inoffensive brand of the Brutalist style more aggressively represented by the List Art Center on College Street and, most infamously, Boston City Hall.
The proposed engineering school design I damned with faint praise back then in “Brown attacks”: “predictably boring but not as bad as it could have been.” Of the completed building I would say pretty much the same. True, it deserves to be damned some more given that, for all its modesty, it does not deign to make the least attempt to fit into its lovely College Hill setting (it was designed by KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia). Worse, the four historic houses demolished to make way for it were all far superior buildings both individually and collectively.
Still, it has a certain elegance unlike almost every other modernist building at Brown, from the List Art Center, by Philip Johnson, to the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts by Dildo, Scrofulous + Rentfree (oops, I meant Diller Scofidio + Renfro). Perhaps the only modernist building until now at Brown that could be called elegant is one of Brown’s first modernist buildings, also by Johnson, a block north on Brook Street, his Computation Lab, completed in 1961, a small building erected to house a large computer, the IBM 7070, whose computational power could now probably fit in your cell phone.
Look at it below, as it is today and in as an elevation drawing. Very nice. For the new engineering facility to be placed in the same category is as much praise as I can muster for it.