Sunday, July 6, 2014

Has Gehry Given Up?

What's perhaps worse than a bad idea is an idea that makes absolutely no sense. A video from Action News 6abc shows a detailed, illuminated model of Frank Gehry's proposed alterations to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Earlier photographs and renderings only showed bird's eye views of the plans, making it unclear exactly how it would look from Eakins Oval or the Parkway, you know, where people would see it. And surprise, it's as ugly as anyone could imagine.

Sorry, not ugly. Ugliness has merit. It takes effort. Someone has to try to design something truly ugly. 

Gehry's alterations look more like something a child might dream up with a coloring book from the PMA's gift shop. They're senseless. At best, juvenile. 

He's haphazardly placed skylights within the museum's plaza, four square, one round, geometrically flanked by two recessed entrances. Meanwhile the picture window and seating area within the Great Steps provide natural light to the underground gallery space, but no entrance where one would assume. 

Timothy Rub, the museum's director wants people to keep an open mind about the plans yet stated, "its an interesting idea that has some merit." Some merit? Those aren't the confident words we want coming from those in charge of such dramatic changes to our city's greatest cultural asset.

Gehry, who seems fixated on skylights is replacing the seven unfinished pediments with, yes, more skylights. Has Gehry, an octogenarian who's practiced architecture for more than fifty years, simply given up? For all the support the Philadelphia Museum of Art is trying to raise for Gehry's proposals, they seem more interested in the man himself than looking at the designs he's presented. Would there be the same fan fair if these plans were submitted by anyone not branded a starchitect? 

Where are the preservation activists and the Historical Society? Inga Saffron who's made no bones in the past about criticizing popular opinion called Gehry's steps "controversial," but went on to grant a pass stating the "museum should be allowed one daring move." Has our champion of Philadelphia's best buildings, past and future, been mesmerized by this celebrity as well?

The powers behind this decision have their heads buried elsewhere when they need to be looking at what they are allowing to be done to this historic landmark. Ignore the architect and independently examine the merit of the designs. 

Suggest alternatives. Why can't Gehry replace the stone steps with glass ones? They've given the man carte blanche when they should be surveying those in cities with a Gehry, asking them how the feel about it. Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall was so poorly designed that it acted as a concave mirror scalding pedestrians like ants. Do we want that touching a museum that holds priceless art?

Would New York allow Gehry to transform the Guggenheim? Absolutely not and we should hold ourselves to the same standard. Philadelphia is on the brink of many great things. Don't lose sight of the things that already make us great.

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