Thursday, March 03, 2005

Peter Keating takes over the WTC project, or the print horse-whipping of the month

I usually don't read the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, but a headline caught my eye at the bookstore and I checked it out online here at home. Martin Filler's review of 4 new books about the design competition for the WTC Memorial is a scathing indictment of government fiddling with the process.

Here's what he has to say about the current architect on the project:

"There was no such card to play in New York, where the Libeskinds encountered a nemesis whose political instincts and tenacity far outstripped even theirs—David Childs, design principal of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Childs, a cool strategist who has a history of changing styles when useful to his advancement, brings to mind the successful conformist architect Peter Keating in The Fountainhead.

Is this just a passing reference? Hardly:



"The sixty-three-year-old Childs is an opaque, paradoxical figure, and a clear portrait of him fails to emerge from any of the recent books, although he was interviewed at length by both Goldberger and Nobel, and he is extensively quoted, disparagingly, by Libeskind. Childs's contradictory craving for establishment recognition and artistic credibility most closely resembles the career path pursued by the late Philip Johnson, though the taciturn Childs lacks Johnson's mercurial charm and social acumen. As Johnson did, he wants to have things both ways, as their mutual friend Peter Eisenman told Andy Geller of the New York Post:

[Childs] is tormented about being his own signature self and being in a big corporate firm. He has aspirations to be a great architect, but they are limited by a lack of capacity to say what he wants to do. He's a Hamlet-like figure. On the one hand he says, 'I've got to get out.' On the other hand he says, 'What about all the years I've put in?' [SOM] is very powerful and very strong. He'd lose that backing.

A more obvious impediment to Childs's "aspirations to be a great architect" is the fact that he is a dreadful designer. As with Johnson, his ambivalent position has nonetheless provided him ample opportunity to build on a grand scale. Two of Childs's previous Manhattan skyscrapers—the postmodern Worldwide Plaza of 1986– 1989 on Eighth Avenue in midtown and the neo-moderne Time Warner Building of 2000–2004 on Columbus Circle—are among the worst blights on the city's skyline in recent decades. Some of us who subscribe to an auteur theory of architecture—believing there are some architects whose every building is worthy of serious consideration regardless of their occasional failures, whereas others seem incapable of creating anything of lasting distinction—are inclined to place Childs in the second category."

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That's what I call a kick in the fundament, in black and white yet. If any of you have doubts about the "reality" of Ayn Rand's characters in the above-mentioned novel, follow the link.

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