Centenary Critique

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Posted by  Paul Malo on March 15, 2002 at 07:22:29:

In Reply to:  Re: centenary.jpg posted by Richard Haut on March 14, 2002 at 17:59:19:

This might be taken to be a comic parody of modern architecture, were it not actiyally built and taken so seriously as to receive an award for design. I am going to use this elsewhere as an examplar of what went wrong--and what must be wrong with us, to admire this sort of thing.

Much might be said about what went wrong historically, and what was wrong in this particular design process. In short, however, the mishapen specimen suffers from what we call "articulitis"--an obsessive pulling apart and individuating of discrete pieces.

This also is a wonderful example of what we call "object fetishism." When the designer runs out of found objects, like the pasted-on trellises and that iconic spiral stair (from Gropius' own Massachusetts house, built sixty years ago) he (or she) invents objects: the building becomes three buildings of different characters, articulated by those useless slots, horrid dark alleys. To make sure we get the point, the central piece has a discordant angle and curve. Why? To be "interesting," in Mies's scathing term, or (as we say) to be "zappy." (This is related to "googie," discussed previously).

This work, for all its desparte and frenetic attept to be "original' and "interested" is banal. It's cliché-ridden: e.g., the white walls (again from the Gropious International Style lexicon) and such mannerist devices as extending one plane at every corner (à la Rietveldt) to pretend the skin is not a wrapper. This is a tired conceit, when used sixty years later.

What's lost, of course, is any convincing sense that all this stuff adds up to a whole. It remains an aggregation of parts--a pastiche of modernist fragments, an accretion of "high-tech" parts (`a la Pompidou) encrusted on the form for cosmetic effect.

It's distressing that this was built, apparently fairly recently, and was honored by a design award. It's doubly dismaying that it is a school of design.

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