Oculus - Winter 2010/2011 - (Page 42)
Raves & Reviews
Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age, by Blair Kamin. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2010. 304 pp. $30 Blair Kamin’s book surveys the design themes of the first decade of the 21st century, bookended by the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 and the opening of Dubai’s 160-story, quarter-mile-tall Burj Khalifa in 2010. From his vantage point as architectural critic of the Chicago Tribune, Kamin depicts an era of extreme oscillation – between terror and spectacle, artistic triumph and the grandiose banal, socially-conscious sustainable design and self-involved indifference, and boom times and urban disasters, both driven by a combination of natural forces and human nature. It’s a vibrant and confusing picture bereft of any organizing ideology, except perhaps for the worship of and hunger for celebrity. But Kamin has detected a few important themes which he uses to organize his selection of articles and observations: • The state of cities in the aftermath of 9/11 and Katrina • The residential and commercial booms • The parallel cultural and campus building frenzy characterized by competition, celebrity, and spectacle • Preservation and sustainability as emerging, ongoing trends in design, as well as their frequently converging approaches • The new dedication to infrastructure-related issues He also misses a few: the renewed interest in central cities as an alternative to the suburbs; the fracturing of the profession into stars and hacks, and into specialty firms and all-purpose megafirms; and the surge of public interest in design, unaccompanied by any broadbased sense of design literacy. Still, Kamin writes with insight, sensitivity, and balance. His collection is a vivid, memorable, wide-angled panorama of the decade. It is a refresher we need right now. All book reviews by Stanley Stark, FAIA Czech Republic). But in Gatje’s hands they all offer lessons. Referring to authoritative landmark texts by Camillo Sitte and Paul Zucker, Gatje identifies features and principles that abet the success (no thru traffic) or result in the indifferent performance (too great a ratio of width to height) of these spaces. Many of the well-
In Print +
selected photographs and all of the scaled analytic plans are by Gatje, and they demonstrate the value of the architect’s eye. Even in our digital age, public spaces endure as vital elements of successful urban environments. Gatjes’s delicious book helps to illuminate the reasons why.
The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream, by Meredith L. Clausen. The MIT Press, 2006. 497 pp. $22.95 Meredith L. Clausen’s book, originally published in 2004, describes the long, involved, and disheartening history of how the Pan Am Building atop Grand Central Terminal came about between 1958 and 1963. In the process of the project’s realization, the value of modern architecture, the fidelity of Modernism’s master architects, and the effectiveness of the city’s planning regulatory mechanisms were all cast into doubt. It is not a happy story, but it is highly relevant to how we practice now. The Pan Am project generated squalls of controversy about its design, size, bulk, and impact on the congested Grand Central district. Discord also focused on the conflicted roles played by its lead designers (Walter Gropius, Pietro Belluschi, and Richard Roth). The project became emblematic of a crisis within modern American architecture, and a harbinger of new forces that were reshaping the relationships among design, finance, and government. The banal, overbearing building that resulted from this turmoil never created the urban chaos its opponents predicted. But it signaled that the
OCULUS WINTER 10/11
Great Public Squares: An Architect’s Selection, by Robert F. Gatje, FAIA. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. 224 pp. $65 Gatje, an esteemed architect and a former partner of Marcel Breuer, has assembled a sumptuously illustrated compilation comparing and analyzing 35 great public squares in Europe and the U.S. The selections range from the well known (such as Piazza Navona and Rockefeller Center) to the less familiar and surprising (Old Town Square in Telc,
rules governing large-scale public design had changed. The voices of finance and the development community became dominant, and the role of design less potent. Developers reverted to forced marriages of convenience between design architects and executive architects to fulfill public expectations while pursuing their own business objectives. The Pan Am experience is a pointed reminder of how the design process and project life are often conflicted.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2010/2011
Oculus - Winter 2010/2011
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
So Says...Craig Dykers, AIA, LEED AP
How Cities Learn from Each Other
Why Isn’t Architecture a U.S. Export Priority?
When Small Firms Venture Abroad
Division of Labor
Out of Africa
Thinking Globally, Acting Humbly
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Winter 2010/2011