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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Give 'em hell, Frank

Modern architecture, at least in the U.S., is a bore — don't you think? Nearly every building of the last 40 years is mundane. I live in a mundane house. I work in mundane office buildings. I frequent mundane shopping centers. I worship in a building that graciously I will call utilitarian. Yes, all these structures can be made somewhat nice on the inside, but even then they are heavily constrained by their form. If you want to see thrilling architecture, go to Asia or Europe or Latin America.

Why? It's not that America has no talented architects. The truth is, architects fear that clients will reject novel designs. Clients fear that novel designs won't sell. General contractors fear that they will make too many mistakes. Everyone is cost-conscious and risk-averse. I understand all that, but the result is visual mediocrity and cowardly replication.

Frank Gehry is one of the heroes in the fight against mediocrity and replication. Accused of being "showy", he spoke eloquently:

Credit: photograph by J.L. Cereijido, EPA, Corbis.

In this piece from The New Yorker and indirectly The Guardian, Gehry is quoted: "In this world we are living in, ninety-eight per cent of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There's no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. Once in a while, however, a group of people do something special. Very few, but God, leave us alone."

That's my kind of guy. Watch this documentary if you get the chance.

Following World War II, Raleigh was an internationally noteworthy locus of modernist buildings, both commercial and residential. How do we regain that adventurous spirit? One building at a time, I suppose. If I ever get the chance to have a home designed for my taste, it won't be insipid — I promise.