Ugliness at Brown explained

Recent photo of Lindemann Performing Arts Center, with “flutes” above glass lobby. (photo by author)

Brown University’s new performing arts center, in the form of a stunted square pillar with flutes squatting atop a rectangular glass lobby, is almost ready for its dedication. It will be called the Lindemann Performing Arts Center, named for a billionaire family of Brown graduates and donors that has been in the news lately because of Brown’s decision to name the center for the family.

The Lindemann Center, designed by the architect Joshua Prince-Ramus of the firm REX, was the subject of my 2019 post “REX wrecks Brown PAC Rx.” Its “flutes” are not the wind instruments known and loved by all, but the technical name for the vertical concave grooves in some classical columns, which you can see in the photo above. (I have no idea why Brown felt some weird desire to make an allusion in the design to classical architecture, if indeed that was the thinking.)

But let’s go now to the Lindemanns and their current plight.

Historically pedigreed families high on any university’s donor list would prefer to see their names in a newspaper only twice in their lives: upon marriage and upon death. The Lindemanns have been in the news considerably more than twice because some people object to naming the center for the family, given the shenanigans of various family members. The following was cribbed from yesterday’s GoLocalProv.com:

  • George Lindemann, the billionaire family patriarch (deceased) and Brown donor, owned a firm, Southern Union Group, that was convicted of a mercury spill in Pawtucket. The $18 million penalty was overturned and reduced to $500,000.
  • His son, Brown graduate George Jr., was convicted of hiring a hitman in 1990 to murder his prize jumping horse for the insurance – but also for the crime of embarrassing the fellow with his “horsey” set. He faces a 33-month prison term.
  • His sister, Brown grad Sloan Lindemann Barrett, has recently been tied to an alleged art theft discovered after a photo shoot of her mansion in San Francisco. Architectural Digest published the photo of Khmer sculptures, believed to have been looted years ago from Cambodia. In the published photo, the plinths were empty but the works turned up when journalistic art sleuths discovered an online photo in which the sculptures had not yet been photoshopped out.

Is this the sort of family behavior that epitomizes the gathering of wealth that so bedazzles Brown bigwigs that they agreed to name the new performing arts center after it? I’m afraid so.

Not because other Brown donors necessarily have similar rap sheets in their backgrounds, but because American capitalism these days does not reward entrepreneurs anymore for investing in products that people need or want. Instead, capitalism today is about the manipulation of money to buy even more money – lots more money.

That is true not only of Wall Street but of the American university system as well, not to mention many other sectors of the economy. And through entities like the Davos world economic forum, most other countries are in on the secret. Main Street businesses here are crushed underfoot, and Big Architecture sees itself as reaping huge profits from the crumbs that fall off the counting tables of the 1 percent. Hence the ugliness – symbolic of immorality – of Brown’s stupid new box, which, it seems, is quite aptly named. Sad but predictable.

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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6 Responses to Ugliness at Brown explained

  1. LazyReader says:

    I guess if the classicists designed prisons…..

    Like

  2. Milton W. Grenfell says:

    Your insightful and wide ranging critique of the new performing arts center is spot on, acknowledging as it does the adage “Architecture expresses the will of the age”
    (Mies van der Roe?). American business today is about making things in China, so that the rich can get richer, and rest of America gets the hindmost, i.e. cheap flimsy products. And poorer.

    Like

    • Thank you, Milton. I hate to think Mies is right, but he might be right in some cases. But if architecture truly expresses the will of the age, what would that say about the era of the Roman empire, or the Dark Ages, or the era of Napoleon, or Napoleon III? The architecture was great but were these the apogee of the will of those ages? By what standard?

      I think John the First, below, was closer to being over the target than Mies.

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  3. Respectfully, you may be confluting! :^) If this family donated the next great classical or traditional college campus building, would you make the same connections? We know going back through history that much of the greatest architecture was made by evil regimes for in some cases insidious purposes with the help slavery. I am just saying, the ugly box stands well on its own as in insult to culture and context. I hope you are well my friend!

    Fondly,

    David

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    • A deft rejoinder. My answer is that if the family convinced Brown to build the next great classical building, it wouldn’t be on my hit list. The family’s crimes (if that is what they are) would take on a different hue – they would be expiated by their good deeds rather than expressed by their bad deeds. This answer may not satisfy a maker of fine distinctions like you, David, and it may not even be, on its merits, satisfactory. But you are probably right. If it were a beautiful buildings, I would not be throwing darts at the naming issue! And yes, David, I am well and hope you are too.

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      • John the First says:

        To be criminal, and to be distasteful and fund utter ugliness is worse than to be criminal and to have an excellent taste, and a willingness to promote beauty. Besides, ‘evil regimes’, aside of some examples, is a moralist high-ground exaggeration.
        Thus, where beauty is promoted while morals are not perfect is preferred over ugliness in combination with bad morals.
        Or in other words: beauty of form and moral ‘beauty’ are two different disconnected approaches, so cases where there is nothing to appreciate of both kinds are wholly condemnable.

        Like

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