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Ouroussoff's Gehry defense was more "hero worship" than civic concern

So what exactly did New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff mean last Friday when he counted himself among "we" opponents of the Atlantic Yards project?

I observed that "more likely, he’s an opponent of [architect Frank] Gehry’s vision being stymied." Indeed, more of that perspective emerged in a Sunday essay headlined Nice Tower! Who’s Your Architect? that also involves a Gehry project for Forest City Ratner.

Writing about the architect's Beekman Tower in Lower Manhattan, Ouroussoff, with satisfaction recounted how Gehry got over on the big developer:
Some architects were able to work around conventional real estate wisdom by forging exteriors that would impose a specific experience on the interior spaces. By the time the consultants at Forest City Ratner, the developer behind Mr. Gehry’s Beekman building, realized that the wrinkled walls of the architect’s tower would be mirrored inside the apartments, for example, it was too late to change without a costly reworking of the design.

What about interiors?

But Ouroussoff would like to see architects helping transform the interior layouts, and that was not to be:
...Yet neither Mr. Gehry nor [architect Neil] Denari was allowed to tinker with the actual layout of the apartments, which will be the same loftlike interiors that have become as much of an urban cliché as the gated Mediterranean community has in suburbia.

This echoes an exchange during a 1/7/06 Times Talk interview conducted by the critic. Would Ratner let Gehry work on the 'internal social organism' of the project, Ouroussoff wondered: "Will the developer let you play with those things, the way you were able to with your own house?"

"No," Gehry said, citing in-house marketing people and architects at Forest City Ratner. "They do apartment layouts. We tweak them, but we can't really make a big architectural statement... We can influence them, make sure they are in the right places with the right views... but it’s fairly conventional...."

Hero worship

It's a little late for Ouroussoff. Critic Karrie Jacobs, a champion of innovative architecture but an opponent of backroom deals, observed last Friday on her blog:
But the thing that really gets me is the naive hero-worship embedded in Ouroussoff worldview (or should I say weltanshauung?):

"If large-scale development is unavoidable, why not enlist serious talents like Mr. Gehry to come up with an alternative to the bottom-line proposals that have been the accepted norm for decades? Finally a big developer had turned to a legitimate architectural hero for help, rather than the usual corporate hacks."

Finally? Has he not noticed that architectural heroes have become the new corporate hacks?


  1. Finally!
    Someone who agrees that Mr. Ouroussoff needs to dislodge himself from the collective jocks of Gehry, Koolhaus,Scofidio et al.

    The Bilbao museum was nothing short of mind-blowing, and absolutely necessary for the state of architecture at the time. But gehry has become a caricacature, the scofidio 'folding' building is an iteration of every starry eyed arch students dorm room drawings, and liebskind....don't even get me started on the crystalline wedges manifesting themselves across the world.

    silly rabbit, metaphors are for poems!

    None of this is to say that the more, ahem, expressive architecture is not without its place. the world needs the 'morphosis' firms to push along new agendas and fresh ideas.

    its just that i'm getting sick of every architect in new york being called a hack for practicing in what i call the modern vernacular: skyscrapers that use the site/environment as their muse, and who, having lived in the city for years, understand its layers and love its architecture.

    three cheers for kpf, fox fowle, and beyer blinder belle!


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