Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The Way We Build Now
I RECENTLY came across these stills from Ayn Rand's egocentric movie The Fountainhead. I saw the film many years ago but apparently never noticed (being an architecture student and all) what a TERRIBLE building Howard Roarke's "work of genius" was. You can see it in the photo above on the window sill.
Like all egocentric works of art, it is self-referential, without context. Roarke sees it as a self-generating object expressing technology, construction and function, with no context or urban fabric necessary for its design.
And, it's boring. A boring box, with no composition, rhythm, massing or human scale. At the base, it detaches from its surroundings, ignoring one of the first rules of urban design, namely that stores "activate" streets, making them more interesting for, you know, people.
In the second photo, the philistine bankers, who are fatter and balder than our hero, have committed the ultimate barbarism: challenging the egocentric judgement of The Great Artist. Of course we can all agree that what they've done is pretty silly. But let's point out that no good Classical architect would ever propose such a silly solution. This is the classic straw man.
The reason the photos struck me is because the silly solution is very similar to what "historic preservationists" say is the proper solution when adding to an old building: make the addition contrast with the original, so we can tell them apart. The addition should also be "of its time," which means Modernist (see below).
So a Classical addition to a modern building is bad, and State Historic Preservation Offices won't allow them. In fact, they usually won't allow Classical additions to Classical buildings, because they're not "of our time" and "you can't tell them apart." But they will promote an addition like the one below (a steel and glass tower behind an old Classical building that becomes its base), which seems to me very little different from the travesty that Roarke rightly complained about.
After the jump, a bonus photo from Midtown Manhattan.
PS: What a surprise — Rand's egocentric architect is self-tortured. That's what the ego does, torture us, at the same time it makes us think it's right and that we should be tortured.
Urbanism and an Architecture of Place
I just came back from a walk in one of the most beautiful parts of Greenwich Village
It's Only One Short Step from “Wow” to “Bow-Wow”
Cogito Ego Sum II
Egotecture to be branded as Ecotecture
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Celebrity Rand Fans
by Robert James Bidinotto
It was the evening of May 13, 2004, and on PBS-TV’s Charlie Rose Show the host was chatting with actor Brad Pitt about Troy, his new movie.
“As he has done on other occasions, Pitt talked glowingly of the science and aesthetics of architecture,” reports scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra. “Rose asked him if he knew of any way to combine his passion for architecture with his passion for acting; he wondered if there was any ‘story of a great architect’ that might inspire Pitt.
“‘That would go back to The Fountainhead,’ Pitt replied. Rose wondered if Pitt would even consider re-making it. Pitt said that the book is ‘so dense and complex, it would have to be a six-hour movie…I don’t know how you do it under four, and not lose, really lose, what Ayn Rand was after.’ But he affirmed his profound interest to star in a re-make, and cited Oliver Stone’s own interest in directing it as a feature film.”
Brad Pitt —arguably Hollywood’s biggest star—playing Howard Roark?
Oliver Stone —unquestionably Hollywood’s farthest-left director—remaking an Ayn Rand film?
It gets weirder.
On October 3 of the same year, Pitt’s soon-to-be girlfriend, Angelina Jolie, appeared on Topic A, a now-defunct CNBC show hosted by Tina Brown. Brown asked Jolie what she’d been reading lately.
“What am I reading? I’ve been very into Ayn Rand, so I’ve read The Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged,” Jolie replied. “I just think she has a very interesting philosophy.” She added: “You re-evaluate your own life and what’s important to you.”
Angelina Jolie—Hollywood’s leading Bad Girl—re-evaluating her life values because of Ayn Rand?
Ten or twenty years ago, if Hollywood’s hottest couple had publicly announced interest in the ideas of America’s most controversial individualist, eyebrows would have banged against the ceiling. Today, it’s more remarkable because they don’t.
But the story gets even weirder.
Jennifer Aniston—Pitt’s ex-wife, who divorced him over his relationship with Jolie—is now involved with actor Vince Vaughn. (Coincidentally, Vaughn also had a role in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the film where Pitt and Jolie met. Small world.)
But more significant for readers of this magazine are Vaughn’s reading habits. In 1998, interviewer Judd Handler asked Vaughn about them.
“The last book I read,” Vaughn replied, “was the book I’ve been rereading most of my life—The Fountainhead.”
So try to follow this: Fountainhead fan Pitt leaves wife Aniston for Fountainhead fan Jolie, after which Aniston takes up with Fountainhead fan Vaughn. Meanwhile, leftist director Stone wants to remake The Fountainhead movie. Starring Pitt.
Notice a common thread here?
Ayn Rand Becomes…Cool
Decades after publication, Ayn Rand’s novels suddenly have become the bedside reading of many on Hollywood’s A-list. But the reach of her work extends much farther—into boardrooms and major league dugouts, onto the bright sets of TV studios and the grass courts of Wimbledon, into the cluttered dens of famous cartoonists and the bustling offices of Capitol Hill. Everywhere, it seems, the prominent and the powerful are coming out of the philosophical closet—so to speak—and acknowledging the personal influence and inspiration they have drawn from Rand’s work.
This represents a sea change in attitudes. Rand used to say that she was challenging the cultural traditions of two and a half thousand years—a claim underscored by the icy reception given her books by most leading intellectuals. While the general public devoured her novels and sent her thousands of avid fan letters, critics mocked them as hack writing, while scholars dismissed them as junk philosophy. Reviews, especially for Atlas Shrugged, were scathing. For example, the New York Times reviewer—Communist Party member Granville Hicks—denounced Atlas as being “written out of hate.”
How times have changed. In the pattern of many once-reviled innovators, Ayn Rand appears to be achieving a kind of posthumous public vindication. One sign of this is the increasing willingness of many popular celebrities to associate their names with hers.
Of course, endorsements of Ayn Rand’s books and ideas by public figures (or anyone else) don’t constitute proof of their merits. Nor do the statements of movie stars, athletes, and politicians usually reveal anything more than a superficial or compartmentalized grasp of what Rand stands for, or a passing interest in her work.
But that’s not my point here. The real point worth noting is that statements by public-relations-savvy celebrities do constitute a reliable barometer of cultural trends. And the new willingness of so many public figures to endorse Ayn Rand’s works indicates that she and her ideas are becoming less and less controversial.
The existence of a large and enthusiastic group of “celebrity Rand fans” underscores what might be called “the mainstreaming of Ayn Rand.” When even Hollywood hunks and hotties are no longer embarrassed to enthuse about Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead to a Charlie Rose or Tina Brown, it’s a measure of significant progress in the spread of her ideas through the culture.
In fact, it may even suggest that Ayn Rand is becoming—dare I say it?—cool.
Posted by: ttorrison at Jul 29, 2008 1:57:22 PM
Many historic preservationists don't agree with making additions be violently different, although that is called for according to the Secretary of Interior's standards.
To me, this often ends up denigrating and destroying the qualities of place, looking very discordant and accentuating difference and the building, rather than promoting context sensitivity.
Posted by: Richard Layman at Aug 12, 2008 10:58:03 AM
The two great ironies here:
* If Roark were "alive" today, he'd pretty much have to be a classicist -- just to set himself in opposition to the Prevailing Consensus around Modernism.
* Defining yourself as in eternal opposition to whatever the "sheep" believe means the sheep get to set the agenda, and you have no individuality at all. See the first irony, above, for an application of this.
Posted by: Hal O'Brien at Aug 21, 2008 5:40:01 AM
Great insight. I never read the book but my wife was required to do so by one of the architects she worked for.
Posted by: Ryan Close at Sep 10, 2008 11:44:02 AM
Sorry that it took so long to approve some of the comments. There's a bug in the system.
I wrote about Aniston and Pitt with some relevant comments here. And I had a Quote of the Day about Aniston and Pitt. When asked what she most looked forward to as a newly single person, she said, "I look forward to comfortable furniture" (ex-husband Brad Pitt bought furniture that looked like museum pieces - sharp, angled and very uncomfortable).
Posted by: john massengale at Sep 12, 2008 9:55:05 AM
PLEASE tell me that the two black boxes in the bottom picture aren't actually touching the building behind them!!!!
Posted by: Sam at Dec 4, 2008 1:04:54 AM