But now maybe I don't want to bother. This review by Blair Kamin is the first I've seen anybody be particularly critical about what Silber's done. Considering my previous post, Kamin restores my faith.
I'm involved with the history of this great art form because I love Architecture. Aside from the unfortunately uninspired bastardizations of Modernism to serve Economics from the '60s into the late '70s, there's really not much I don't love.
This is why I always hated Lewis Mumford. Mumford was such an insufferable curmudgeon. He didn't like ANYTHING. If New York's wrecking balls had been left in the hands of Lewis Mumford for a few months, there wouldn't have been anything left of the city except for about fifteen random buildings spread out around the island. I suppose he thought he was doing the Architectural community a great service, but really he just sounded like he didn't even enjoy what he did for a living.
Similarly, it would sound as if Silber would prefer Architecture remain stagnantly in the 1990s without ever progressing. I've defended Gehry elsewhere before, but whether his buildings always work the way they ought to is immaterial. One artist cannot be all things to all people and his contributions are astounding, anyway. Gehry realized that we're living through an incredible turning point with information technology in which new solutions can be found to new problems. So he's set his creativity free to envision new problems in structure and form, and then find the solutions to realize them.
He's actually created new software customized to the problems he was trying to solve. He's opened up new doors for new forms of architecture, a new sculptural landscape. Much like the discovery of poured concrete, he's freed future architecture from constraints that were once considered to be a given. I consider that reason for celebration.
So sometimes it hasn't worked quite as well, so what? You can't do something revolutionary without a few slip-ups along the way. If everybody built structures that were easy to understand, gave contractors an easy road, and broke no rules, then nothing new could ever really be accomplished. I've heard it said some visitors to Bilbao literally get nauseous standing in its contorted spaces. I think this is a meaningless argument. Airplanes still have air-sickness bags because, it could be argued, humans aren't supposed to fly. But Amtrak is still losing money.
The point is not whether or not you find Gehry's work aesthetically pleasing, but rather that innovation always comes at a price.
On the one hand, of course good Architecture responds graciously to the needs of its occupants...and perhaps the occupants after them. But Architecture doesn't just make programs into structures in terms of one correct answer to the problem. Relatively sophisticated computer software could do that. Architecture is a practical endeavor, to be sure, but it is also an Art; buildings that do nothing more than "work well" are not Art. A basic unadorned lean-to shed or auto-body shop works perfectly well, but that isn't Architecture.
Architecture also creates forms and structures and models of what behavior and uses can be, and as in the case of Palladio or traditional American Colonial residences, for instance, what uses and protocols for their occupants should be. It encourages certain perspectives on how space is arranged over others, asks us questions about the way we conduct ourselves.
Here's an hypothetical situation:
I'm in a great library doing research and nature calls. But the men's room isn't just right next to me in the reading room. Instead I have to go all the way down a long hallway and up a flight of stairs to get to it. I could grumble and complain that the architect was a fool and didn't know what s/he was doing. Or I could relish the trip and realize en route I pass by a stunning view of the library's impressive landscaped rotunda. Along the way, I might accidentally bump into a friend or colleague using a different part of the library who I never would have met up with otherwise. Perhaps in some cases it's all a mistake, but Architecture has the ability to create these kind of experiences on purpose.
To elaborate on what Kamin said of Wright: he actually came right out and said that great Architecture was supposed to leak. In some ways, I think he had a very good point.
©2007, Ryan Witte