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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Metropolis pans the ICA and its architects

In a recent essay, Metropolis Magazine's Philip Nobel took aim at the new Institute of Contemporary Art and its architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

In the essay, he highlights design and execution problems of the building, and criticizes the fact that many starchitects seem to get a free pass on mediocre buildings by architecture critics.

I have yet to visit the new ICA (blasphemy, I know), and I have several years to get to the point of expertise that Philip Nobel has, but I am quite impressed by the building.

Nobel writes "The museum sits on the edge of the water, and reaches toward it with a deep cantilever, but to the land it shows only its back—and not a particularly well-groomed one at that." I think the view from behind, of a plain, near-windowless white box, strikes as true modernism. That modernist box will be the centerpiece of the multi-use area once Fan Pier is developed.

I don't think that a substandard product should get praise just because it was designed by a "star" architect. But, Boston is not very friendly to modern design, so any progress towards modernism needs to be heralded.

Also, be sure to check Greg Cookland's write up of the Metropolis article.


Mark said...

I don't wish to suggest that your opinion of the project itself is not justified or valid. You suggest that it's a worthwhile example of "true modernism." Fair enough.

Then you say, "but, Boston is not very friendly to modern design, so any progress towards modernism needs to be heralded."

That's the sort of free pass the article you cited is decrying: Anything is better than nothing, so we should be pleased. "Any progress" does not necessarily mean good, or real, progress.

Gradon said...

Mark, thanks for the comment. Let me rephrase: The move towards modernism, like the white cube on the waterfront, must be heralded.

On the other hand, the shortcomings of design, like the less than stellar ventilation system of the ICA, should be cited, so that architects are aware that they are immune from negative press.

And architectural critics should not give a non-deserving building a glowing review just because of the architects stature in the field, or any perks he received in order to write about a building. When that happens, it's the responsibility of writers like Nobel to call them out.