PRINT December 1995

Herbert Muschamp


Why must it take the commission of a major new concert hall to inspire our architects to articulate the links between sound, space, time, and social occasion? Never mind: it’s rare enough to find even a concert hall where those connections are memorably expressed. So I give thanks for the new chamber-music hall Christian de Portzamparc has designed for the CITÉ DE LA MUSIQUE in Paris.

The hall is wrapped within a spiraling lobby, a disorienting shape to move through: it puts you in mind of music’s capacity for temporal displacement. The hall itself is shaped like an ellipse. Acoustical engineers doubted whether the design would work, but Portzamparc wanted this shape because he thought it would make a more sociable space. And he was right. Especially in the balcony seats, the hall allows a precisely pitched balance between sociability and concentration. (The design incidentally also works magnificently on an acoustic level.) You feel you’re with people you want to be with: some of us play instruments; others listen. And the place expands your awareness of time, beyond the duration of a composition, to the history of musical life in Paris. Portzamparc’s design shows how an enclosed space can be as generously urbane as a street.


TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL AND TOWER, on Columbus Circle in New York, is like a scene out of a horror movie: just when you think the beast is dead, up it rises from the pit, bigger and more hideous than ever. This time the monster has three heads: Donald Trump! Philip Johnson! The ’80s! Eeeeeek!!!

Trump made his Manhattan debut by stripping the stone off the old Commodore Hotel, wrapping it in foil, and calling it the Grand Hyatt. At Columbus Circle, he’s removed the dark glass from the old Gulf and Western Building and wrapped it in gold lamé. For Johnson, the project also represents a return to roots: press releases tout the venture as an homage to the International Style and Mies van der Rohe. Right.

Herbert Muschamp is the architecture critic for The New York Times.