MANY ARCHITECTURE SCHOOLS in the northeast have become more like art schools than architecture schools. They emphasize conceptual “autonomous” architecture and personal expression, and neglect materials, construction, composition, context, placemaking… the list goes on and on. When I was on a design jury with Michael Graves about a year before his death at one of the most prominent architecture schools in the northeast, Michael didn’t know what to say, because none of the students were designing architecture as he knew it (and he didn’t want to criticize them). “They’re not drawing buildings, they’re drawing pictures of buildings,” said one of the other jurors. Like me, he had been a student of Michael.
Last week, I happened to see this renovated student lounge at Columbia, which looks to me like a Delta Airlines lounge at any airport anywhere in the world. And a few days before that I was at Le District, a “French food court” (oxymoron) advertised as “New York with a French attitude.” In reality, it has all the architectural charm of the upscale, tax-free shopping mall at Heathrow Airport.
The new, nearby Eataly—a place with wonderful food—isn’t even as good as the best parts of Heathrow. It just looks like many sub-urban shopping malls. That’s shocking for a place selling the Italian brand. No country in the Western world has as much man-made beauty as Italy, where even the choice of the table cloth and the placement of the silverware on a restaurant table are frequently a work of art.
In other words, at the same time that New York has suffered an invasion of “Iconic” buildings that are identical in character to iconic buildings in other centers of global capitalism, it has also suffered a rash of interiors of inexpressive corporate Modernism identical to many other non-places around the world. A surprising number of offices in New York have a very limited range of expression at their fingertips (or mice—this work is rarely hand-drawn, which is part of the problem).
There’s some irony that this comes at the same time as the locavore movement in food, which emphasizes local ingredients and character. Of course Eataly and Le District sell locavorism, Slow Food, and “terroir” at the same time that they sell us national cuisines from another continent in shopping malls. In 2016, global commerce makes strange bedfellows.PS: It’s not just me. A successful architect in New York tells me his firm only hires students from “the flyover schools,” because they have a more practical education. And Thom Mayne—Starchitect, SCI ARC co-founder, and Pritzker Pritzker Prize and AIA Gold Medal winner—has a hard time hiring SCI ARC students.