Jason M. Barr May 10, 2018
Critics of Manhattan’s new supertall superslim buildings have a laundry list of complaints. One particular trope is that they are ugly and out of scale with their surroundings. While I believe it’s important to debate the pros and cons of tall buildings, it’s also important to keep in mind that today’s beefs continue a 130-year tradition of grousing about skyscrapers.
In this vein, I thought it might be worthwhile to give a short pop quiz. I will give you 10 quotes from architectural critics from 1890 to the present. Try to give (a) the year the quote was made, (b) the name of the architectural critic, and (c) the building under discussion.
Please note a few things. First, the years of the quotes are random, so you cannot infer dates from the order of the questions. Second, each quote was written just around the time the building was completed (or being constructed). Lastly, one quote was made by an anonymous writer.
Ready, set, go!
- “[A] lesson in how to be mediocre without really trying. For its bulk, its importance, its effect, and its ballyhoo, it had an obligation to be much better. Size is not nobility; a monumental deal does not make a monument.”
- “How disappointing for the rest of us, though, that [the company] has built itself a stolid lump of a building, one that encourages the public to treat the architecture the way more and more people are treating their local paper: by ignoring it.”
- “If this [suggested change in design offered by the critic] had been sensitively, that is to say artistically done, would not his building have shown more logic, more organization, more form and comeliness, more variety in a higher unity, than it shows now?”
- “This one unravels as a cascade of clunky curves descending toward ribbons billowing into canopies. The conceit is falling water. The effect: a heap of volumes, not liquid but stolid, chintzily embellished, clad in acres of eye-shadow-blue glass offset by a pox of tinted panes, like age spots. It’s anybody’s guess how the building got past the drawing board.”
- “Such buildings show one of the real dangers of a plutocracy: it gives the masters our civilization an unusual opportunity to exhibit their barbarous egos, with no sense of restraint or shame.”
- “If you don’t look up, you could like this building.”
- “But for thoughtful and refined design, one looks everywhere in vain, and the critic finds himself forced to follow the example of the designer—to ‘cuss the thing and quit it’.”
- “The two buildings offer stunning proof that art and style alone are a ludicrous measure of successful urban architecture; what kind of ‘art’ assassinates a city?”
- “The new building, designed by [the architect], is an elf prancing among men.”
- “As presently designed, this fearful instrument of urbicide will be not only the tallest, but unquestionably one of the, ugliest buildings in the world.”
How do you think you did? Here are the answers….