Thursday, December 4, 2008

Different strokes for different folks (with lousy taste in architecture)

I don't know a lot about architecture, but I do know that I consider the work of the late Paul Rudolph, a modernist who died in 1997, to be a study in butt-ugly. You can see his Orange County, New York, Government Center below.

On second thought, I do see a certain powerful originality to-- Oh Hell. Who am I trying to kid? That's an eyesore.

But not everybody agrees with me. New York magazine reports that, while "his brutalist, sometimes off-putting buildings" were "once criticized as the worst of high modernism’s excesses," they "are now recognized as some of the most expressive American architecture of the twentieth century."

And therein lies the inspiration for the lesson for the day.

You see, in today's enlightened world of design review, where neighborhood committees and landmarks commissions have approval authority over developers' plans, a gathering of officials who share my architectural taste, but lack my live-and-let-live restraint, might easily deny the Paul Rudolph fans of the world the right to construct buildings they consider masterpieces. Or, conversely, Rudolph aficionados might force me to fashion my home along brutalist lines and then live in the godawful thing.

Taste really is a personal matter. All a government committee can do is enshrine one set of preferences at the expense of others held just as dearly by people who don't at the moment, hold coercive power.

So why not let us all build to our own fancy? I can live with Rudolph-inspired constructions so long as I'm equally free to satisfy my own preferences. Sure, we don't get to enjoy the pleasure of playing petty tyrant, but we may actually get some diversity of design, some creativity appreciated by some (if not others), something better than state-approved blandness. We all get a piece of what we want, instead of an endless battle to impose "the right way" on everybody else.

The price of seeing the occasional Paul Rudolph building is one I'm willing to pay.

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Anonymous TJP said...

He is free to design, and I am free to ridicule. I immediately said "Brutalism" when I saw the picture, but it looks like it was modeled with Legos.

December 4, 2008 2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long Beach, California has some government offices in much the same style. Other than that, I really loved a lot of the Long Beach architecture while I lived there, especially the old apartment buildings.

December 4, 2008 7:09 PM  

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