Ha ha ha ha! Seriously?

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The Alphonse D’Amato Federal Courthouse on the way to the Hamptons. (American Way)

Kristen Richards’s ArchNewsNow for today has several surprises. One is in an article by Beth Dunlop for American Way magazine, “Light Fantastic,” which is about the celebrated modernist architect Richard Meier. It has a line that shivered the marrow of my funny bone.

Meier’s 2000 Alfonse M. D’Amato United States Courthouse in Central Islip, Long Island, is so beloved that even after 18 years, weekend commuters to and from the Hamptons detour past it to bask in the glow of its façade.

Really? “What the hell’s that assassinating the landscape?” is more like what I’d expect to hear. But I am sure Dunlop is correct. There are a predictable number of cranks and lunatics in any given group of 1,000 commuters to the Hamptons. On the other hand, it does remind me of when I was a kid in our Rambler station wagon zooming round the Washington Beltway waiting for the betowered Mormon Temple to rise up around a bend on the horizon and then disappear as we sped by. But that’s a good memory. The temple puts the D’Amato federal courthouse to shame.

Then there’s another article in ANN, “Save the Union Carbide building!” by Douglas Feiden, written for Our Town: The Local Paper for the Upper East Side. Designed by Natalie Griffin de Blois of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the UCB, completed in 1961, is a black glass box virtually indistinguishable from the Seagram Building, by Mies, which, unfortunately, is not also slated to come down. The UCB would become the tallest building ever to be razed on purpose. If it does, it would take that status away from the sainted Singer Building, the tallest tower to be demolished intentionally since 1968, when it came down at Broadway and Liberty, to be replaced by the U.S. Steel tower, another black glass box, now called One Liberty. Like all these blotches, the Union Carbide, at 270 Park Ave., is a corporate borathon. I say let ‘er rip.

And get a load of this quote:

Indeed, SOM has belatedly acknowledged that the firm’s signature works on Park Avenue could never have taken shape without de Blois.

For she not only cracked the glass ceiling, she also built it.

Bully for her! I’m not sure I’d brag so hard on that these days, especially not a man on a woman’s behalf. That line’s a great example of the advice old editors give to young writers: Kill your babies. If it sounds too cute at first blush, it deserves to be cut. Build the glass ceiling, indeed! What ever happened to crack on and keep on crackin’ that glass ceiling? That’s the spirit, not build the glass ceiling.

But put that aside. ANN has Claire Berlinski’s excellent piece on Paris from City Journal, featured on this blog as “Berlinski: Sacking of Paris.” It’s on today’s list. ANN obviates a host of sins for that.

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, 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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3 Responses to Ha ha ha ha! Seriously?

  1. Pingback: Still allowed to like Meier? | Architecture Here and There

  2. Ron Thomas says:

    David – I do appreciate your dogged pursuit of design quality and contextural sensibility, but you don’t advance the cause by labeling those admiring constructed exhibitionism as “cranks and lunatics.” A NYT Opinion article today by David Brooks titled “How the Progressives Win the Cultural War” on gun violence makes the case for some positional diplomacy rather than polarizing verbal attacks (replace “Republicans” with “Starcitects,” “N.R.A.” with “A.I.A.,” and “gun owners” with “modernists”… well you get the picture – literally:

    “To get anything passed, I thought, it would be necessary to separate some Republicans from the absolutist N.R.A. position. To do that you have to depolarize the issue: show gun owners some respect, put red state figures at the head and make the gun discussion look more like the opioid discussion. The tribalists in this country have little interest in the opioid issue. As a result, a lot of pragmatic things are being done across partisan lines.”

    Some suggestions for the cause… The National Institute for Civil Discourse has some positive ideas: https://nicd.arizona.edu/about


    • Thanks for your advice, Ron. It is arguable, certainly, that using a modest tone of voice in confronting a field that has been poking the public in the eye for more than half a century would be a better way to address the problem. It might also be a better way to make the problem worse, The public doesn’t always get its dander up when traditionalists give the bad guys the benefit of the doubt. Since there are plenty of people in the discussion of architecture who do take what you might call the David Brooks line, I would argue that a sharp elbow in the modernist rib now and then can be a good thing, and helps keep the discourse from lapsing into a coma. Still, you make a valid point, and I appreciate your thoughtful concern.


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