Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Live from London
Thursday, August 12, 2010
V&V Redux: London Calling
MY BROTHER won't be in his London apartment for a few weeks, although his chocolate Lab Angus will be. So we gave American Airlines a pile of miles (they won't be worth a lot the next time oil prices go up), and we're going over. I may need the pub list I posted a few years ago:
By the time this post goes up on the web, I'll be over the Atlantic, half way to London. When it's 5 o'clock in New York, we'll be out at the pub for last call.
My introduction to pubs came when I was an exchange student in London. I was in a boarding school that didn't allow us out at night, and many of my classmates were under the drinking age. But half the students in the school were day boys, and we'd join them at the pub at least 3 nights a week.
American bars are often dark places where you go to get drunk or hook up. Pubs are community social centers, like clubs open to everyone. They are some of the world's great third good places.
Postscript — 06/12/04: Time Out's guide to pubs and bars in London calls one of my schoolboy haunts "the best pub in Mayfair." Lunch was good.
The Dog and Duck in Dean Street, SohoOther links are at the site for the Good Beer Guide and the historic interiors page of BeerInTheEvening.com.
The Salisbury, St Martin's Lane
The Crown at Seven Dials - sit on the monument in the middle of the roundabout
The Princess Louise, High Holborn
The French House, Soho
Museum Tavern, Museum Street (opposite the British Museum).
All these are a bit touristy, but still good pubs. But then, lots of pubs in central London are touristy. You have to go further out to find fewer tourists. Tourists are a feature of London pubs, as are Antipodean bar staff.
Here are some nice out-of-centre pubs:
Canonbury Tavern, Canonbury, N1 - biggest and greenest beer garden in London.
Edinboro Castle, Delancey Street, NW1 - second biggest beer garden, not so green.
Old King's Head, Upper Street, N1 - theatre pub, opens late. Guaranteed to meet locals here.
Wells Tavern, Well Walk, Hampstead NW3 - nice street, some outside seats.
The Crown, Cloudesley Road, Barnsbury, N1
The Crown, Grove Road, Victoria Park, E3 - organic food
The Eagle, Farringdon Road, WC1 - the original gastro-pub.
Try the Time Out guide to London pubs and bars for many more.
Now I remember why I don't go to Whole Foods more often...
AT 10 AM THIS MORNING at the Union Square Whole Foods there were 10 checkout lines. Some lines were longer than mine, which had 10 people in front of me. A system at the head of the lines went through the lines in order and announced registers as they opened up. Each minute, 6 or 7 registers were announced - so I knew I probably had a 15 minute wait in line, and that turned out to be just about right.
Obvious Yogi Berra reference: "It's so crowded nobody goes there anymore." Of course I would go more often if they had one in my neighborhood, but apparently Eli Zabar somehow keeps them out.
Sunday, August 08, 2010
Travels with my iPhone
Monday, August 02, 2010
V&V REDUX: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
"EVERYTHING CHANGED in December 1910," Virginia Woolf famously wrote, and there are tipping points and turning points like that we sometimes recognize. In 1848, democracy swept across the European continent (often forcefully beaten back by authoritarian governments). In 1989, every Communist government in Europe fell within two months after the first breach of the Berlin Wall.
I’m old enough to remember when the civil rights movement turned a decisive corner in the early 1960s to become an idea supported by the majority of Americans. In The Best and the Brightest David Halberstam wrote that the turning point for opposition to the Vietnam war came when Walter Cronkite first criticized the conflict on the CBS nightly news. And I can point to the exact minute when peace, love and long hair arrived at my high school later in the 60s, radically transforming it overnight.
Woolf was talking about full-blown Modernism arriving in her upper-middle-class circles. The most evident sign was an emphasis on individual freedom. For many, this meant an emphasis on greater social and economic mobility that foreshadowed a broadening of democracy. For Virginia and her friends, it meant becoming proto-Modernists of the worst sort: depressed, self-involved, sexually ambiguous and willfully promiscuous. And nominally-Socialist but obnoxiously-superior upper-middle class intellectuals.
Funny, that still sounds like the "avant-garde" just a few months shy of one hundred years later.
Non-architects might wonder why there are so many references to Modernism in Veritas et Venustas (Truth and Beauty).
This is an important question, because a) normal people (that is, non-architects) usually don't recognize the problem, and b) I’m not anti-Modern, as one might reasonably conclude. I’m an architect educated in the 20th century who's made more than my share of loving pilgrimages to masterworks like Bilbao and Fallingwater, and I once wrote an article on how to visit the buildings of Le Corbusier scattered all over Europe. With details such as how to stay in the hotel in the Corb-designed Unité d’Habitations in Marseille.
The answer to the question is two-fold. 1) At the beginning of the 21st Century we are at a new tipping point, which 2) the entrenched interests of Modernism are fighting tooth and nail. Having argued for a hundred years that Modernism is the only appropriate expression of the time, they can’t accept that the culture has moved on to become eclectic and diverse.
For me, a Classical architect and a New Urbanist, this is restraint of trade. Representatives of my union, the American Institute of Architects, frequently work against my interests. The architecture critic of my hometown paper, the New York Times, constantly argues against everything my colleagues and I do (and he’s joined in that by virtually every architecture critic in the country.) My students tell me I’m a very good teacher, but almost no university wants to hire me, because most architecture schools are run by rabidly dogmatic Modernists. Somehow, they claim to do this in the cause of pluralism.
BUT, and this is an important "but," their position is increasingly an esoteric, unpopular one. There’s no question that society in general has turned a corner.Modernism was the cultural expression of a good deal of the second half of the 20th century, but we’re in the 21st century now, and for most Americans Modernism is just a style – not a lifestyle or an ideology. It’s normal today to work in a high-tech office and go home at night to a new Traditional Neighborhood. On the way home, one might have dinner at a chic new place with Minimal design, and the next night go to a new French bistro with hundred year old tiles imported from Paris, complete with Gauloise stains. This particularly applies to Richard Florida’s "Creative Class" and David Brooks’s "BoBos."
In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the paper’s architecture critic talked about a new survey of the hipper than hip twenty-somethings in Silicon Valley. “People love gadgets,” said the sociologist who made the study.
”They all want their own computer and a plasma television, but at the same time they also love the traditional look.... I pressed them for reasons and they explained, ‘We’re working in high-tech impersonal settings all day; we want to go home to Grandma’s house.’ That was the exact phrase one used.”Princeton University surveyed its students and found that the overwhelming majority of its students wanted to live in Gothic colleges while at the university. Since Princeton had already built in the preceding decades what therefore amounted to a two-century supply of Modernist dormitories for a handful of students, they created a new policy for future building.
The center of the campus, which includes all the undergraduate housing, will be a Gothic zone: new colleges there will be Gothic. (Brief clarification: Princeton is switching from a dormitory system to an undergraduate college system in which each "college" will have a dining hall, a library, and other common facilities. The student survey also showed that’s what the undergrads want.)
The rest of the campus – with classrooms, laboratory buildings, athletic buildings, parking garages and the like – will be the “anything goes” zone. Construction has started on Whitman College, a new Gothic quadrangle designed by the second winner of the Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture, Demetri Porphyrios. At the same time, the university announced a gift of an increasingly ubiquitous Gehry-designed building on the edge of the campus.
Much of the money for Whitman College was donated by Meg Whitman, the young Chairman of eBay (a BoBo). While the Gehry building was donated by the octogenarian Princeton alumnus Peter Lewis, Gehry’s biggest patron. For ideological reasons, Whitman is more likely to appreciate Gehry’s design than Lewis is to like the new Gothic building. Gehry himself ungraciously and publicly criticized Whitman College, as did Robert Venturi, who has designed several important buildings at Princeton.
I say “ungraciously” not only because they are biting the hand that feeds them: why does Gehry feel that it is his role to lecture the students and tell them they must like what he likes? He went so far as saying that an institution of higher learning should not build a traditional building today. (How tolerant and pluralistic is that?)
In fact, with Whitman College, Princeton, which a decade or two ago usually considered only important Modernists such as I.M. Pei, Minoru Yamasaki or Charlie Gwathmey for new commissions, has decided for the first time in five decades to build a genuinely Traditional building. In that decision, they are joined by colleges and universities all around the country, some of whom are also tearing down or recladding their Modernist buildings. Some are doing that for aesthetic reasons, some because their Modernist buildings require too much maintenance, and some for both reasons.
A recent article in the Harvard Crimson said,
“The decades-long debate over whether Mather House or the Leverett House towers holds the dubious distinction of being the ugliest residence on campus may have just been settled once and for all—thanks to the opening of One Western Avenue, Harvard’s newest, and perhaps most hideous, graduate school housing unit.”The title of the article was, Snap, Yo’ Momma’s Uglier than One Western Avenue.
The architect of One Western Avenue is also the chair of the urban design department at the Harvard School of Design (HSD). It’s believed this is one of several actions by the HSD faculty and administration that led Harvard President Lawrence Summers to recently snub the school while deciding what to do about the enormous campus expansion he’s planning on the other side of the Charles River from the main campus.
The new section of the campus will eventually be as big as the old campus is now. To the consternation of the HSD, it seems that every Harvard department except the HSD is represented on the committees studying the expansion. Naturally, the school’s architects, landscape architects and urban designers think they are the faculty whose advice is most needed, and they publicly complained in the Boston Globe. (To see the article, click here.)
What has brought us to the situation in which the President of Harvard University avoids his own design faculty (rated number one in America) when he wants design advice? Plain and simple, it’s the result of too many bad new places made and endorsed by the faculty, accompanied by an ideological stance among the architectural establishment and its educators that is simply out of step with the culture at large.
President Summers doesn’t want a polemical statement: he wants an open-minded examination of how to best expand Harvard. He wants to know what will lead to the best result, and evidently feels he won’t get that from his own faculty.
This ideological rift between the leaders of the architectural profession and the rest of society is a new phenomenon. When Harvard brought Walter Gropius from Germany to run the architecture school before World War II, he was embraced by Harvard, Boston and much of the American establishment. Gropius set up a seminar program for Fortune 500 leaders that led to built results such as Lever House and the Seagram Building on Park Avenue and the Prudential Tower in the Back Bay. The New York Times, the Boston Globe, Time and Fortune lauded them. Harvard itself hired Gropius to build on its campus, and his firm The Architects Collaborative became the largest and most important firm in New England.
Architects like Gropius were in the vanguard of that significant cultural change. Architects now, while saying that they are promoting the new and the different, are actually fighting for things to remain the same.
New and different were the buzzwords of Virginia Woolf in 1910, and Gropius in 1940. They are essential words in the philosophy of Modernism, which quintessentially sees itself as a force for change in a Traditional world. What is obviously different now is that Modernism is more than a hundred years old, and the dominant philosophy for the last fifty of those, if not longer. New and different today should mean something other than a Modernist monoculture. As expressed by the leaders of the HSD, it's the same old thing.
Almost a hundred years after the change described by Woolf, we are beginning to change just as radically again. This is not a rejection of Modernism, but it is as different from Modernism as Modernism was from the culture of our great-grandparents in the early 20th century.
This is exactly what most of society wants. Who opposes the change? Professional Modernists.
It is they who are afraid of the sort of evolution and change described by Virginia Woolf.