PRINT December 2001

Philip Nobel


1 Best Exit: Morris Lapidus (1902-2001) God bless Morris Lapidus for showing us how to go out in style. Five decades ago the architect was excommunicated from modernism for having too much fun with a series of Miami Beach hotels. He carried on so quietly that many assumed he had died, until he was swept up in the sudden love for all things midcentury. Lapidus began his belated victory lap by claiming Frank Gehry had stolen his licks. And when he was honored at the White House last year, he didn’t wallow in his glory. A few minutes before the ceremony Lapidus was railing to the press about being slandered in the New York Times. (The article in question was published in 1964.) At an awards dinner in New York in November 2000, he stood up from his wheelchair, walked very slowly to the podium, and wagged a crooked finger at the entire design world. ’What’s the most important thing in architecture?“ he asked gravely. ”It’s people. People! Don’t forget that." By January he was dead.

2 The Lost Buddhas of Bamiyan In February the Taliban announced that they would blow up a pair of 1,500-year-old cliff-carved Buddhas, 175 and 120 feet tall, because they were once worshipped and might be again. E-mail flew, the New York Times diverted a river of ink, the UN lumbered to the cause. A few weeks later those idols were gone, but the media rally assured their bombproof immortality as graven images.

3 The Stars In the architectural firmament it was a very big year for binary stars. Cousins Peter Eisenman and Richard Meier worked together on one competition project. (It flopped.) Rem Koolhaas teamed up with Herzog & de Meuron to design a hotel. (It fizzled.) And Koolhaas and Gehry collaborated on an art space in Las Vegas. (It’s lighting up the Strip!) Then, in numbers approaching galactic excess, more than thirty fancy architects were invited to design spec houses in a nondescript subdivision on the wrong side of the highway in the Hamptons. How will it all end? Oh yes, I remember: Stars implode.

4 Faut-il pendre les architectes? Should we hang the architects? “Of course!” answers Philippe Trétiack to the question posed in the title of his new book (Editions de Seuil, 2001). This catalog of the horrors of life among the grands projets is a must-read, blinder-lifting work of scathing candor. And as the fabulously overrated Jean Nouvel circles ever closer to New York, it may turn out to be a survival guide as well.

5 Karim Rashid He stands alone astride the once-starless world of industrial design. It was unquestionably Karim Rashid’s year, but what can you say to a man whose neo-retro-chic ideas for tchotchkes and chess sets now seem just a touch too tied to that late-’90s go-go spirit he evokes so well in the title of his new book, I Want to Change the World (Universe Publishing, 2001)? Well check this: It’s changing.

6 The Architectural Blockbusters
Mies and Venturi and Schindler and Gehry.
Nouvel and Niemeyer, it’s gotten scary.
So many chances to bow to our kings!
Overhyped shows are my favorite things.

7 Preston Scott Cohen Juries, short-lists, shows, a book: 2001 was a very good year for this emerging Harvard-affiliated architect peddling a new idea: In the absence of “predicaments,” architecture must concoct some or die. Cohen’s invented travails of choice are elaborately repurposed geometrical systems cribbed from Palladio and other heroes of symmetry. The process mostly results in designs for houses, mostly unbuilt. So he takes some voodoo horizon lines and screws a building into a pretty twist. Long live Architecture!

8 The Twin Towers What can we say? That we loved those buildings? That we hated them? That they were inhumane or aggrandizing? That they dwarfed the city and that they anchored it? That without them there’s a big hole in the sky—and thank God the sun is shining through? That we can never forget and that we must rebuild? That we must forget rebuilding and just remember? That we must remember to get it right next time? (That there should be no next time?) That the new buddings should be shorter? Or taller? Or exactly the same height? That one new tower should top out at 111 stories to mark the date? That we should build four little ones? That rubble should be used in the new concrete to make a “living memorial”? That the site is a grave? That it should be cleaned up and paved over as soon as possible? That a monumental, heroic figurative sculpture should be placed there? That the buildings should be rebuilt as they were? That the buildings should be rebuilt and left empty? That the buildings should be rebuilt as they were but left empty above the points of impact? That they should be named after the phoenix? All of this was actually said, early and often. But the best idea is to let the questions rest in peace; it’s too soon for answers.

9 Imported Talent The weekend of October 13 was one of the brightest in years for American architecture. Tadao Ando’s tight concrete Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts opened in Saint Louis, and Santiago Calatrava’s addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum spread its mobile wings over Lake Michigan. Few such hothouse exotics thrive on American soil (Is it the air? the water? the manure?), but these two seem to be taking nicely.

10 And finally . . . Attention Prada shoppers! Rem Koolhaas’s long-promised, presumed-to-be-fabulous flagship store under construction in SoHo is—for real, this time—“opening soon.”

Brooklyn-based architecture and design critic Philip Nobel is a contributing editor of Metropolis magazine and has written for the New York Times, Vogue, and Architectural Digest, among other publications.