You know I always wanted to pretend that I was an architect, part 2
My pal Reeves (over at Meanderings, which you should read, because he’s a smart guy and a nifty writer) wrote a little bit about the ascent (and possible descent?) of glass in modern architecture. The stuff is everywhere, as anyone who has ever strolled through a financial district can attest. For some reason, people just seem to love their all-glass buildings.
I don’t mind glass buildings. I think they look cool, especially on a clear day with some sunshine and a few fluffy cumulus clouds reflecting off of them. But in terms of architecture, and aesthetics in general, they’re not all that engaging; it’s just glass! (Unless we’re supposed to interpret the shiny panes on all those financial towers as mirrors into our own cold, piggish, greedy souls. I doubt it.) All of this is to say, if new trends in architecture usurp glass, it wouldn’t bother me all that much.
Now, as the title of the post suggests, I’m not an architect, nor am I a particularly keen student of art history. But I was riding my bike through Post Office Square (a universally beloved public space in Boston’s financial district), and I wondered why we’re building structures like this, but we stopped building structures like this. That first building is, of course, the Frank Ghery–designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, built in 1997. The second is the John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse here in Boston, built in 1932. (Here’s a picture of the whole building.) I’ll reiterate again that I’m not any kind of trained art critic, but I think Gehry designs monstrosities. But the high muckity-mucks and tastemakers of architecture love him! Meanwhile, we’ve got a perfectly stately, visually appealing, functional 70-odd-year-old building in a style that nobody wants to build in anymore. Why? Because of the austerity foisted upon the universe by World War II? Doesn’t everybody love Art Deco? It’s the movement that gave us America’s Greatest Building.
The upshot of all this is, architectural movements come and go, but what’s the virtue of moving on to a style that resembles stuff that Voltron threw up, while we’ve got a perfectly acceptable, great-looking style just collecting dust. Buildings are meant to last; fifty years from now, do we want to be saddled with soulless glass monoliths and Lewis Carroll grotesqueries, or do we want to have buildings that reflect our soaring aspirations and high ideals?
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