Life preserver for Inga Saffron

Fire set by rioters in downtown Philadelphia last June. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Six months ago, Inga Saffron, the architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a column, “Buildings Matter, Too,” deploring riot damage to buildings near the city’s fashionable Rittenhouse Square. Saffron herself did not write the headline, and anyway she buys into Black Lives Matter’s false narrative of America’s institutional racism. She remains on the job.

In my 30 years as an architecture critic I’ve written every headline to appear above my byline, both when I was on the editorial board of the Providence Journal and on my current blog. So when I first heard of the tempest involving Inga Saffron last June, I assumed she must have written the headline. I thought that she had resigned. Since then, I have regretted that I did not throw a lifeline to my fellow member of the very small tribe of architecture critics.

I am glad she didn’t need it. The editor who actually did resign, Stan Wischnowski, should not have. He was the Inquirer’s chief editor. Maybe he deserved to resign for the stupidity, cowardice and fecklessness he displayed by resigning, but not for the headline itself, which he did not even write. (The New York Times story on this does not say whether either of the two editors involved with the headline lost their jobs. The Inquirer’s publisher, Lisa Hughes, did not resign but should have – for accepting Wischnowski’s resignation.)

The headline itself falls squarely in the tradition of headlines that pun or play on phrases or slogans in the news or with a long cultural patrimony. “Black Lives Matter,” thus: “Buildings Matter, Too.”

A craven letter of apology by the editors reads: “The headline … suggested an equivalence between the loss of buildings and the lives of black Americans.” No, it did not. This accusation was fabricated from whole cloth by those who cynically find it convenient to discover an insult in even the most benign of associations. We’ve all run into people like that.

If there were any offense in such a play on words, then how can it be inoffensive for Saffron to place the destruction of buildings on anything like a par with the murder of black people? How could she even think of discussing the two topics in the same article? Maybe she should have been fired after all.

No. That would be ridiculous. But she probably thinks I should be fired for defending the headline.

Perhaps this is all inside baseball. But modern architecture has bought into the rejection of tradition globally for a century, more so than any major field of human endeavor. The loose thinking of most architecture critics – including Inga Saffron – consigns the world to ugliness and sterility.

These features invite a rejection of humanism and an opening to authoritarianism that threaten to reverse more than a century of historical progress toward equality – progress that is belittled by the false narrative that fueled the Saffron imbroglio.

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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10 Responses to Life preserver for Inga Saffron

  1. Pingback: Museum of National Identity | Architecture Here and There

  2. LazyReader says:

    You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large

    Like

  3. LazyReader says:

    The Scots were a classic example. Centuries ago, were the Poorest and most ignorant people on the fringe of European society. Then they began to educate and master the English language. By the 18-19th century, the leading intellectuals………Were Scots.
    Adam Smith: Economics
    David Hume: Human philosophy
    Joseph Black: Chemistry

    Most intellectuals in most countries around the world, see the issue of those more prosperous should be taken down and those lagging cling to their culture, How do you expect to continue what you’ve done and do better?

    Like

  4. LazyReader says:

    Creation is difficult, destruction is easy.
    https://images-wixmp-ed30a86b8c4ca887773594c2.wixmp.com/f/a643642d-b586-4c21-9f5f-633a8501718e/deaalza-6182a73d-b075-4bc3-90ce-e17cd6263a6a.png?token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJzdWIiOiJ1cm46YXBwOiIsImlzcyI6InVybjphcHA6Iiwib2JqIjpbW3sicGF0aCI6IlwvZlwvYTY0MzY0MmQtYjU4Ni00YzIxLTlmNWYtNjMzYTg1MDE3MThlXC9kZWFhbHphLTYxODJhNzNkLWIwNzUtNGJjMy05MGNlLWUxN2NkNjI2M2E2YS5wbmcifV1dLCJhdWQiOlsidXJuOnNlcnZpY2U6ZmlsZS5kb3dubG9hZCJdfQ.7czKxRvzW_Ro2NFjv1zytetOKECd8gcwvG4GvsSU9AQ

    I believe in institutional racism; But who runs the institution? That’s like saying mechanic incompetence is the reason my car breaks down. Teacher once said.. “technology creates natural resources”.What good is oil or uranium if the technology were never invented to use it? None at all. If not for Edison,Tungsten is but a paperweight. They constantly whine “WHite man colonialism” stole our wealth?, the resources they mistook for rocks….

    First they whine about education, Now they whine about the subjects; Math is racist, history is racist, science is . Institutional and acquired knowledge………is bigoted…………..acquiring knowledge, the cornerstone of civilization advancement..is now taboo.

    I’m NOT a racist, I oppose ALL forms of racism, bigotry and institutional segregation. What’s wrong with society? Nothing, Look up Average IQ’s and you can see. If we had been allowed to discuss cognitive/intelligence research for years has been largely labeled racist…..we could have done a lot of good. Geopolitical stability and personal freedom cannot survive with average IQ’s below 90.

    The cultural and intellectual mindset of how societies thrive or collapse is clearly understood and we’ve seen the experiments both in the last 2000 years and last century. South Africa, MidEast, Asia, and Europe, US inner cities etc.
    1: Put groups with different average IQs and cultural mindsets together
    2. Different group outcomes emerge on factors like education, employment, wealth, etc (lots of individual exceptions) but largely cultures that stress education, knowledge, industry, science and set moral standards do well….Societies that don’t stress these factors; huge sums of their populace become wards of the state, welfare collectors or future prison inmates.
    3. Destroy anyone who talks about differences; degrade education and institutions that foster intelligent debate and freer societies. Then condemn the successful til they leave
    4. Attribute the differential outcomes on Bigotry or institutional suppression; rather than performance and acceptance of personal behavior and admitting faults
    5. Watch the bloodshed in the streets.

    They have ZERO ability to harness nuclear energy or mechanical engineering or architecture, or anything. They’re just vandals. Even a thief makes some use of what is stolen. A vandal is just “thug” who kicks over your sandcastle they cant build. That’s why classical architecture is so detested, they cant build anything better.

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  5. Craig Coonrod says:

    When you see fires and property destruction in our cites, it’s often at night when most predators come out. Over the last several months a lot of young diversified people have come out in support of BLM and they want to make a difference. David wake up there is wide spread racism in the United States of America. I have lived in Virginia and now live in South Carolina and I have seen it, in Virginia it was hidden just below the surface. Happy Hoidays David

    Like

    • I think you are wrong, Craig. There is racism in this country and there are racists – but both are on the decline and have been for many years, to nearly the vanishing point. You may be more sensitive to than which remains than I am, yet compared to past times racism is rare, and it certainly is not structured into our institutions, either in our police departments or anywhere else, not even in architecture. That’s not to say that what is virtually structured into architecture isn’t dangerous, but it isn’t racism.

      Like

  6. barry schiller says:

    As a college student going to CCNY in Harlem, I paid no attention to architecture/building design though I knew the main campus building, Shepard Hall, was neogothic. I became aware of architecture later, both from a trip to Europe and from moving to California where the contrast between many beautiful pre-war buildings and the ugly post-war construction was so apparent.
    Decades later at a reunion, a walking tour of around CCNY opened my eyes to the many lovely buildings in the area. So don’t be too hard on college students, they can learn.
    As for the Inquirer headline, buildings do matter, period, and the “too” in the headline can be read in support of BLM, there was truly no reason to apologize. But I disagree with David’s categorization of BLM, it is a diverse movement, and though it may have some destructive elements and also some foolish zealots patrolling language, it is predominantly in response to legitimate outrage over widespread ways racism harms black lives.

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    • There is honest rage, Barry, over racism in the BLM protests, but the BLM organization is based on rejecting the long historical road of progress for blacks in America. At base, it is not an anti-racist but an anti-capitalist organization. The foolish zealots patrolling language are not fools, and they know exactly what they are doing, and it is working. As for racism in America, it exists and is despicable, but it is vastly diminished from what it once was, and may continue to decline (been to a mall lately?) if “the content of our character” prevails, in policy, over “the color of our skin” strategy that has been preferred for decades by too many black political leaders.

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  7. Most average college students don’t value buildings as much as we do. They don’t know much about them. I surveyed my acting class at Wagner College and asked them when they thought Main Hall was built. A majority said 1600s. Two said 19th century. It’s a gothic revival building from the 1920s, something that was obvious to me the first day I walked in the door.
    Street protests are a sign of a healthy democracy, even when they get ugly. The Gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) defaced the Arc de Triomphe. The French and Italians regularly trash buildings older than our entire country when they protest. When you’re angry, you break things. That’s human nature.

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    • Justin, you are no doubt correct. But are the yellow jackets protesting to improve France or destroy it? BLM’s objective is destruction, although many supporters do not realize it. Yankees dumped tea into Boston harbor not to destroy English society but because they wished to participate more fully in it. Motive is important.

      Like

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