Architect Disconnect

While I do try very hard to keep things positive in Where posts, occasionally something comes along that's so gratuitously heinous that I just can't help but rail against it. That is the case with College Squeeze's recent post on the "20 Ugliest Colleges in the USA."

To wit:

"It does have a nice quad and trees, but seriously. Who cares about trees?" No one. No one at all.

"Sure, it’s full of smart people, but it’s just a brick campus." Hilarious.

"For once, I’d just like to see a building that was intentionally designed trying to be beautiful, but just failed badly." Because most buildings are designed to be ugly, you see.

"I haven’t actually been to Carnegie Mellon, just heard horrible things about it and Pittsburgh." Brilliant technique! Masterful analysis!

"And…oh my, a cottage." And...oh my, an idiot.

"At least Yale tried to make their buildings architecturally interesting by pouring acid all over them." Better architecture through chemistry!

I love good snark -- crave it, even -- but when it's done poorly it tends to make reading feel like having your molars drilled. And this? This is bad. If I were guessing, based on basic grammar and mechanics (not to mention a total lack of aesthetic focus and an embarrassing misuse of architectural vocabulary) I'd put good money on the author being a college freshman with an obnoxiously over-descriptive Facebook page. The explanations for each entry on the list are so self-indulgent that you'll actually grow a year younger just by reading them. (Sorry, Joan Rivers...you'll still look old). Worst of all, they're just not funny. Well, not in the way they were intended to be. As evinced above, the writing itself is quite entertaining.

But what really got my attention -- and that of the folks at Chicagoist, from whence I procured the link -- was this paragraph on the #9-ranked campus, IIT:

"This is the third 'institute of technology' on the list. They need to get better architects at these schools. The low-rise buildings are so nasty and dull that they feel like a blast from the past. Some serious renovation is in dire need at this school. Only the Main building is okay, but the rest just falls short with its flat, square-ish design that feels like an office complex. Of course all of their pictures focus on the Main building, because the rest is just not camera-worthy."

Emphasis added by yours truly.

The Chicagoistas and I were all thrown by the author's utter disregard for architectural history. It's one thing to dislike the Miesian aesthetic, or the Koohlaasian. I hate Koolhaas! Who doesn't? But to say that IIT needs "better architects" is a bit...well the word "ludicrous" comes to mind.

That was my initial reaction, at least. Then my mind started to wander, and I got to thinking a lot about how public opinion affects architecture and legacy. Architects, planners, designers, and those of us who care about what is done by the aforementioned parties have a way of sealing ourselves off from the general public. So it can come as a shock sometimes when we find out that buildings hailed within the architectural community aren't held in high public esteem. And that, in turn, raises the question of what makes a "great" building. Yes, yes, art is subjective and there is no such thing as a building that pleases everybody. But who gets to determine what constitutes "great" -- the learned (obsessive?) few, or the ignorant (honest?) masses?

Sorry if the tone in this one was overly personal...I can be a bit self-indulgent myself, I suppose.

(Photo from Flickr user Hagen Stier. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

IIT: Get a "better" architect (Chicagoist) (I just can't bring myself to link directly to the actual College Squeeze post...you can find a link at Chicagoist if you want to read it.)

1 comment:

Frank said...

Anybody who writes that they've heard bad things about how Pittsburgh looks needs to either get a picture that isn't 40+ years old or talk to people who've been there since 1970. Pittsburgh is by far one of the most beautiful cities in America.

The Blurgh