continued from page 109 younger man ultimately lost. Kyle Lommen, the Allied
Works architect who ran the project from the firm’s New York office, strenuously denies that the decision to embrace, rather than remove, the skeleton of
Stone’s building was a political move to appease preservationists. A classic
Freudian reading would suggest that the denial is part of an elaborate defense
mechanism and the embalming of Stone’s skeleton is another act of architectural penance for all the historic buildings torn down in the modernist zeal of
the late 20th century, from Penn Station to the Dakota Stables. Thanks to the
writings of Venturi, Scott Brown, et al., we don’t just bulldoze the past—we
layer on top of it, make it into a sandwich, and wrap it.
Today we’re moving beyond the stage
of “reading” a building like a text, and
toward a new, urgent pragmatism.
Landscape + Urbanism
Photo: © Ryan Shepard
With six landscape architects on its cial challenges of our time—including
faculty, the Massachusetts Institute climate change, renewable energy,
of Technology’s School of Architec- water conservation, landscape tox-ture and Planning is exploring how icity, deindustrialization, environ-landscape and design can redirect mental justice, adaptive reuse and
contemporary urbanization. the design of cultural landscapes.
Landscape + Urbanism at MIT Architects, landscape architects,
focuses on analyzing the forces that urban planners and those in relat-shape the built and natural environ- ed fields are encouraged to further
ment and using that understanding their professional and academic cato design strategic solutions to the reer by engaging in this unique line
most pressing environmental and so- of inquiry and practice.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
School of Architecture + Planning
But this view of the project inadequately explains the decision to keep the
lollipops. Today we’re moving beyond the stage of “reading” architecture like
a text, and toward a new, urgent pragmatism. The relevant question is not
what a building signifies but what it does. Or, from the architect’s perspective,
given the rules of the game (budget, time, anticipated revenue, code, etc.) and
the pieces on the board (Stone’s building, the circle, the Time Warner Center,
the park, the public): How do we proceed? MAD proceeded not with a grand
formal gesture but with a strategy of getting the most for the least while formally holding its own against Time Warner’s glass behemoths, which incidentally cost almost 20 times as much as the museum. The museum’s glass,
furniture, and fabrics were donated in kind, as were the lollipops, in a sense:
they stayed because they were structure. Removing them all would have
meant demolishing the building and starting from scratch, and one good reason not to do that was all the code (seismic, for instance) grandfathered in
from the Stone structure.
My intent is not to make excuses for the building but to question the framework by which it is being judged. If we are to encourage frugality in architecture and the reuse of materials, structures, and foundations—both concrete
and administrative—then we need to critique buildings for what they are:
responses to a varied set of conditions, not contenders in a pictorial pantheon. Ouroussoff went as far as to include the new MAD in his list of New
York’s top seven buildings that are candidates for demolition, a move Lee
Rosenbaum rightly called “critical malpractice.” It’s a sad sign that architecture criticism in newspapers is stuck in the spectacle, the game of evaluating
and arranging buildings like sculptural objects in a gallery.
Architecture should look more at the current product-design discourse.
In 2001 the design theorist Richard Buchanan lucidly noted that designers
are turning away from “visual symbols and things” toward “action and environment” as the means by which they create and evaluate design. Objects
these days are inseparable from the experience of using them: the old standards of form, function, materials, and technique have begun to follow, rather
than lead, design development. (The design of the iPod is not so much about
the material object as its interface and the iTunes infrastructure.) As their
conceptual tools have shifted, Buchanan argued, designers and theorists have
started to understand products not from the outside but from inside the experiences of the people who make and use them.
So while the new MAD building may have some unresolved issues in its
form, materials, and proportions, it does make an argument about the use of
old materials and the usefulness of history. And as an experience, it’s incomparably richer than standing in a dank, empty folly or shopping in the Time
Warner Center’s Whole Foods across the street. Cloepfil and Allied Works
have not created a visually resolved building. But they have conceived a
rather clever one. °