In his new book, Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber, PhD, Hon. AIA, argues that form meant to please one’s self (or one’s theoretician cronies) is architecturally irresponsible. Whimsy is okay, he opines (he lauds Gaudí), but, as he states in his subtitle, “‘genius’ disfigured a practical art.”
Silber, whose 25 years as president of Boston University included serving as client for more than 13 million square feet of campus facilities, asks specifically that buildings be “functional, harmonious, and offer no offense to their neighbors”; nor to the intended occupants.
He predicates his pragmatic opinions on architecture from watching his father struggle through the Great Depression making his living on what small-project and renovation work he could find. Later, as Silber was working his way through school, he recounts in the book, he worked as a drafter and renderer in his father’s office, thus gaining a deep appreciation of how buildings go together and why.
Starting with Pei’s Hancock “Plywood” Tower (unintentionally absurd) to his Louvre pyramid (intentionally so), Silber leaves few starchitects out of his litany of critical observation—Wright, Johnson, Kahn, Sert (particularly his work at Boston University), Libeskind, Holl, and Gehry included. There are the occasional laudatory pauses—for Fay Jones, Moshe Safdie, and Stubbins Associates, for instance—but, on the main (but not Mayne, who escapes unscathed), Silber is pointedly displeased with “the heights of pretension and bogus philosophic and historical exposition,” which he traces specifically to the publication of Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time & Architecture: the growth of a new tradition in 1941.
What do you think?