Thursday, July 3, 2014

Gizmodo on Gehry

Geoff Manaugh published a hilarious article on Gizmodo on why "Frank Gehry is Still the World's Worst Living Architect."  That says a lot in a world where Michael Graves and Robert Venturi still practice. 

Although Manaugh doesn't mention Gehry's proposed alterations to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (the changes are more offensive to the history of the institution than they are outright ugly), he does a fine job of conveying how little those running our cities actually know - or even care - about the aesthetics of our built environment. 

They simply want a Gehry.

Between comparing Gehry's architecture to Guy Fieri's hair and Phyllis Diller mid-stroke, Manaugh points out how expensive and time consuming Gehry's work can be, and how poorly constructed they are. But the most interesting point he may have made is that these buildings are grand illusions, bizarre facades hiding dull warehouses wedged within the space available. 

Despite what you may see in front of you, it's just not significant architecture. Many architectural theorists applaud him for using unconventional software to design, but there's a reason he's the only one who does it. Software intended to design airplanes isn't intended to design buildings because buildings don't fly. 

You know who does use this sort of software to design architecture? Walt Disney Imagineering. 

Gehry has essentially redesigned Cindarella's Disneyland castle - repeatedly - by using software capable of incorporating functional mechanics inside a sheath that looks like something else.

The only brilliance in that is the gimmick. 

But to those running cities that want a Gehry, his buildings are a shiny set of keys jingling above a crib. And those running the Philadelphia Museum of Art are no exception to the rule. Loving art for art's sake, the powers behind the museum don't understand Gehry's work anymore than they seem to understand the artistic significance of the museum itself. 

They don't see a big, wet turd on the steps of the Museum of Art, they see a name.


The unfortunate obsession with starchitects, particularly when they impact our hallowed institutions, is that it outsources to those who know little about our cities and civic pride. Horace Trumbauer, one of the main architects who designed the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was an architectural legend, but local. He understood the city, our people, and as a Philadelphian, he knew he would have to answer to his design every single day.

Philadelphia is a hotbed of emerging architects, some of them amazing. By extending a fat paycheck to a Canadian architect who clearly doesn't get Philadelphia, the museum doesn't just offend its own architectural heritage, it insults the Trumbauers of today, those currently practicing in Philadelphia, accountable for the buildings they're designing for their own city.

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