Friday, February 24, 2006
“This is not a criticism to be cast aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force.” (With apologies to Dorothy Parker)
People sometimes wonder why I can be so critical of contemporary Modernists (as opposed to plain old Modernism, which I like). The following gossip from the Architect's Newspaper, a bimonthly I often read, shows some of the reasons why.
Faced with the success of New Urbanism, some ideological Modernists throw whatever mud and slander they can think of at New Urbanism and New Urbanists, like "Fellow New Yorkers, beware," "their radical brand of Main Street nostalgia," "the cultish Congress for the New Urbanism." "Code Yellow," "the Executive Bureau under the State Commissariat of the People's Directorate" [so we're both Communists and Republicans, see below], “a hollering match over who was closer to [CNU president] John Norquist—as if he were Kim Jong Il or something," and "We, however, are still terrified. 'It felt like being in a roomful of Republicans,” our informant says, “with their strange fanaticism and extremely bad haircuts.'"
If the condensation sounds comical, read the full item, and you'll see it's mainly confused (and deceitful). It's written by Aric Chen, the poor man's Guttersniper. The good news is I have more readers than him, or his paper. And they spelled my name right.
Anyway, the story was this: I made a motion to move an election discussion from after two presentations to before. The group voted for the motion, and during the short discussion an election committee was formed. End of story, as they say in England.
THE NEW URBANISTS ARE COMING!
Fellow New Yorkers, beware: There are New Urbanists among us, and they have started to organize. Eavesdrop has learned that, in their crusade to spread their radical brand of Main Street nostalgia, followers of the cultish Congress for the New Urbanism are starting a local chapter. At present, however, we're still at Code Yellow; they’re too busy fighting among themselves to do any harm. One of our undercover agents infiltrated last month’s midtown meeting of the Chapter Organizing Committee of the Congress for the New Urbanism (of the Executive Bureau under the State Commissariat of the People's Directorate) and filed this report: “[Committee chair] Ted Andrews was running everything and, all of a sudden, a large, bearded, overbearing guy stands up and tries to commandeer the meeting with the aim of making himself leader.” The agitator in question was New Urbanist blogger John Massengale, and “rarely have I seen such bluster,” continues our spy, who adds that the gathering quickly degenerated into “a hollering match over who was closer to [CNU president] John Norquist—as if he were Kim Jong Il or something. It was so scary it was comical.” The arguments, however, were largely over procedural matters. And with his putsch getting nowhere, we’re told, Massengale (like so many comrades) simply disappeared. But we hear he hasn’t given up; later, he sent us a cryptic message saying that “everyone’s happy.” We, however, are still terrified. “It felt like being in a roomful of Republicans,” our informant says, “with their strange fanaticism and extremely bad haircuts.”
PS: I'm a registered Democrat. Funny that esoteric architects who want to tell the world how to build think that democracy in action is Radical Republican Communism.
BTW, here's my “cryptic” e-mail to Chen. He sent me a pleasant e-mail saying he hoped he “could get your side of the story,” because he'd heard there had been “quite a bit” of tension at the meeting. I wrote back,
Oh, c'mon. I read Eavesdrop — this isn't Eavesdrop-worthy.
We had a few points of view on election timing. We discussed the issue and at the meeting started an election committee to keep the ball rolling. Everyone's happy.
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What else can one expet from people that cannot discern between
- fashion and style
- authenticity and poverty
- creativity and exhibitionism
- rigor and fanaticism
They are the establishment. They resent upstarts but they LOATHE successful upstarts. After Mississippi, it's open season on you lot.
Posted by: Luca at Feb 24, 2006 1:09:42 PM
I am happy to see that you regularly read my gossip column, and The Architect's Newspaper.
If the item in question appears to have been comical, that was in fact the intention. If it appears to have been a ridiculous conflation of extremist points of view--Republican, Communist, New Urbanist, et al--that was also the intention.
I am sorry that I need to explain this to you. (And even sorrier that you found that awful photo of me.) As for the other pot shots: well, we can take it as well as we dish it out, confident in our standing as well as yours.
All the best with your chapter organizing activities.
Posted by: Aric Chen at Feb 24, 2006 6:02:58 PM
I'm happy to have you comment here. Are you going to let me comment in the The Architect's Newspaper?
Posted by: john at Feb 24, 2006 6:40:39 PM
John, you are welcomed to submit a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by: Aric Chen at Feb 24, 2006 7:08:33 PM
Consider the source.
I don't know the Architect's Newspaper very well but my own experience with it suggests that it is not a source on which I would rely.
Posted by: David Sucher at Feb 24, 2006 10:47:08 PM
Thanks for being so reasonable here, but the item in The Architect's Newspaper speaks for itself. I realize it's a gossip piece, but it still comes across as more fictional than farcical.
Too many elements of the piece are just plain old ridicule for the piece to come across as the funny piece you're suggesting. What's funny about saying I disappeared from the meeting or that my note to you was cryptic — it's just misleading.
Remember the context: Starchitects and academics like Reed Kroloff, Ken Frampton and The Architect's Newspaper's own Michael Sorkin have been rabidly attacking New Urbanism because they know it not only offers something they can't — popular fixes for the problems of sprawl and 20th century urbanism — but also threatens the hegemony of the esoteric, ideosyncratic and egocentric theories they've been peddling.
New York New Visions and even the New York Chapter of the AIA fought to keep the New Urbanists out of the Ground Zero competition, but the Starchitects they chose failed miserably in providing any vision of New York. The New Orleans AIA has fought to keep the New Urbanists out of New Orleans, and have failed to produce anything at all. They wish New Urbanism were just about Main Street. The Transect (above), the SmartCode and about 250 New Urban projects show it's more than that.
In the academy, Kroloff and Sorkin are wordsmiths who can sound very reasonable as long as they stick to words. But as soon as they show images of what they propose, they lose all public support, while the New Urbanists go from strength to strength in their charrettes.
Luca is right: the New Urbanists succeeded in Mississippi, they're succeeding in Louisiana, and they're about to have a charrette in Kroloff's home turf of New Orleans. Kroloff is being shown to be the naked emperor, it's upsetting him, and he's fighting back with whatever slander and innuendo he can think of. So much for idealism in the academy.
PS: I didn't go searching a bad picture of you. I merely went to your own website and used the picture you supplied. Put another one up and I'll use that.
I give you points for not being anonymous, like the Guttersniper (although you used an anonymous correspondent here). Anonymity can easily lead to peurile bile — one Guttersniper succumbed to that and was fired, because it's more entertaining for the writer than the readers.
The Gutter's publisher, Lockhart Steele, is a master of real satire, which doesn't rely on the crutch of anonymity.
You're right about New York's architectural establishment and most of the architecture press, but I often find The Architect's Newspaper pretty good.
Posted by: john at Feb 25, 2006 6:58:01 AM
The last time the Republicans were referred to as "radical", there was a Civil War on.
Posted by: lindenen at Feb 26, 2006 2:55:36 AM
I am not an architect, though my sister is in Seattle, and being an English prof. myself, there are great similarties in our field theories. My question is this: a New Urbanist (Anton Nelessen) has drawn up a plan to redevelop my town (Daytona Beach); this new "vision" has not been approved, yet, but a number of residents are becoming more and more concerned - especially those (like myself) who live in beachside historic neighborhoods, neighborhoods that Nelessen has marked as T5 high density districts. While claiming to support these areas with 1920s Arts-and-Craft houses, it seems that the plan will give condo developers the ability to buy up multiple residences and then to have the zoning changed from 4 units per acre to 50, which is what Nelessen's plan approves. I guess I need some information - from architects who seem to be critical of this architectual theory - and maybe some ammo for our upcoming city meetings on this new vision. Thanks.
Posted by: Michael Barnes at Mar 29, 2006 1:57:22 PM
Designs are highly specific. With so little information about the plan for Daytona Beach, it's hard to say anything intelligent, let alone insightful.
New Urbanism is about the making of walkable and sustainable neigbhborhoods. Those can come at many densities and with many building types. The way you describe the situation, I would say preserve the arts & crafts cottages. I don't know what Nelessen's arguments are, or what I would say about them.
Was there a charrette to bring out public opinion? Does the plan reflect public opinion?
Re New Urbanism: There is a charter, which explains the principles. You can find it at the CNU website. New Urbanists, on the other hand, come in many shapes and sizes — we're not a cult (actually I'm surprised Nelessen is doing transect-based planning, as indicated by his T-5 zone).
Some New Urbanists aren't very talented designers, and some just plain get it wrong. I 'd have to know more about the Daytona plan to say more.
I can say that most Florida towers are anti-pedestrian and anti-urban.
Posted by: john massengale at Mar 29, 2006 3:55:14 PM