31 December 2009

LV versus NY

I was interested that the opening of CityCenter in Las Vegas prompted comparisons with the World Trade Center. The collaborative love-fest among the starchitect participants in CityCenter was also contrasted with the various forced marriages that have dogged the WTC since Herbert Muschamp first convened his ideas competition. As I recall, the strongest entry was Norman Foster's twin-tower "kiss" - produced without partners. Other pairings, right up to the Freedom Tower and its proposed neighbors, seem stillborn in comparison. And almost nothing has been built. Meanwhile, MGM MIRAGE got CityCenter done in five years. Of course, Las Vegas is a completely different development context from New York. (Ironically, I remember listening - in 1999 - to the real estate honcho of a big German bank wax nostalgic about how easy it was to build in Manhattan compared to Frankfurt. I guess these things are relative.)

30 December 2009

Decade Top 10

Various architecture critics have been running "decade top 10" lists. I went through John King's yesterday, focused on San Francisco. This decade has produced oddities like David Chipperfield's revival of the stripped-down classicism so popular in fascist circles in the 1930s (and later with Philip Johnson). I wonder if the Burj won't be the signature building of the decade when historians look back at it, the way the Empire State Building came to epitomize the 1930s? Design per se isn't really the deciding factor - consider the popularity of SF's Transamerica Pyramid. Despite their mediocrity, these buildings capture the Zeitgeist. That happens less frequently than once a decade, I imagine. SF's Ferry Building (1904) is another that does so, which suggests a much longer cycle (per city).

25 December 2009

Blogging away

Six months have passed since I started Writing & Design. It began as a place to write notes and observations about "design writing," but has evolved to take in topics like the fate of print and the nature of design criticism. It's still one paragraph at a time, I note - that format seems to work best for me in this medium. My entries ebb and flow, but I enjoy writing it. It's hard to know who reads it - it gets hits from all over the world, but there's never been much feedback. (I'd be glad to get it: j2parman@gmail.com or post a comment.)

09 December 2009

Design Vanguard

The 12/09 issue of Architectural Record includes a survey of "emerging talent" that's really good - new faces, strong work. I'm really glad to see it. What's especially nice about it is the amount of space they give some of the practices, so you get a sense of their body of work, not just single projects. There's also a thoughtful essay by Martin Filler that relates to the survey theme by discussing the perils of youthful fame and, in the case of Frank Gehry, of late blooming. Filler, who writes for the New York Review of Books, is always worth reading. I wish they'd have him more regularly as their essayist. Anyway, bravo! I was starting to lose hope.

06 December 2009

Print, RIP?

Jeff Bezos is interviewed in this Sunday's NYT Magazine, and he pretty much predicts the demise of books as we now know them. I wonder. Bay area booksellers like William Stout and University Press Books say that Amazon is what's killing them, turning their stores into Mr. Bezos' showroom. I can see the point of digital books if the content is inherently ephemeral - like textbooks that are constantly revised. There's a big push on now by Murdoch and others to grab digital space for magazines, but again I'd make a distinction between those you toss away and those you don't. There's Gourmet, of course, a mag with such a devoted audience that it would probably follow it into any medium. Watching Gourmet in use in the kitchen, I picture a lot of greased-spattered Kindles. (In the interview, Bezos claims to read in the bath, his Kindle safely inside a Ziplok bag. Sounds like Martha Stewart.)

Built time

A lot of postwar buildings, especially in places that were decimated in the war, physically and economically, were built for the short term: get 'em up. Yet the immediate work, especially some of the civic and institutional parts of it, was good, even great, reflecting the influence of movements like CIAM that enjoyed a rebirth in the first decade after the war. What's being torn down in the UK now is mostly the work of the 1960s and 1970s. Not everything "Brutal" was bad, but the UK had more than its share. A lot of it was also put up with the expectation that it would be pulled down when the lease expired in 20 or 25 years. That's not true, of course, of civic and institutional buildings, often equally dreadful. Does dreadful deserve a place in preservation? We preserve a lot of older buildings of no special merit, considering them part of the fabric of the city. Is this an argument for preserving more recent ugliness, or is it better to acknowledge the blight and get rid of it? (But is blight not also an inherently subjective word? Should we save some of it just to find out if someone else will like it better?)