Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

The Usual Suspects: A new list of America's most popular buildings. (Witold Rybczynski, March 14, 2007, Slate)
There are a number of bona fide signature buildings on the list--Santiago Calatrava's addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, Renzo Piano's (almost complete) New York Times Building, Moshe Safdie's Salt Lake City Public Library, and Foster & Partners' Hearst Building--but there are not many of them. Although buildings built after 1997 (when the Bilbao Guggenheim was built), represent 21 of the 150 favorites, which is a relatively large number for a single decade, only one (the Polshek Partnership's Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York) is in the top 50, and most are toward the bottom of the list. Moreover, the most admired recent building is hardly avant-garde: Bellagio, a Las Vegas hotel and casino, is designed in an exuberant Italianate style and resembles a cluster of lakefront villas. I'm not sure what this means. Maybe it's just that more people go to casinos than planetariums, or maybe we should be talking about the Bellagio effect--architecture as popular entertainment.

At No. 22, Bellagio is not at the top of the list. The buildings that Americans care for the most tend to be older. Some, like the White House (No. 2) and the Washington Monument (No. 12) are very old; others, like Grand Central Station (No. 13) and the Chrysler Building (No. 9), date from the early decades of the 20th century. It's tempting to conclude that people just dislike Modernist architecture, but Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial (No. 10) and Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch in St. Louis (No. 14) are resolutely Minimalist, and the Empire State Building, which is No. 1, is Art Deco Modernist.

I don't think that most people who admire the Empire State Building know the name of its architect, William Lamb of Lamb, Shreve & Harmon. Nor would they recognize James Hoban, the architect of the White House, or George F. Bodley, the first architect of Washington National Cathedral, Nos. 2 and 3 on the list. Perhaps the architects are not well-known because, despite the size and prominence of their works, they are not signature buildings in the modern sense. They were not personal statements, and they were not meant to be shocking. These architects were striving for something different: long-term quality rather than short-term notoriety. And it is the steadfastness and enduring quality of these buildings that people like. Conversely, the impact of buildings that seem exciting and unusual today often doesn't last. That is something that cities lusting after signature buildings should remember. In architecture, the race is usually to the slow and steady.
Architecture? That could be the epitaph for the entire Enlightenment.

Here's a nice bit from Patrick O'Brian's H. M. S. Surprise in which Tom Pullings sums up the Anglo-French conflict:
"Then on her quarter, with the patched inner jib, that's the Hope: or maybe she's the Ocean -- they're much of a muchness, out of the same yard and off of the same draught. But any gait, all of 'em you see in this weather line, is what we call twelve-hundred-tonners; though to be sure some gauges thirteen and even fifteen hundred ton, Thames measurement. Wexford, there, with her brass fo'c'sle eight-pounder winking in the sun, she does: but we call her a twelve hundred ton ship."

"Sir, might it not be simpler to call her a fifteen hundred ton ship?"

"Simpler, maybe: but it would never do. You don't want to be upsetting the old ways. Oh dear me, no. God's my life, if the Captain was to hear you carrying on in that reckless Jacobin, democratical line, why, I dare say he would turn you adrift on a three-inch plank, with both your ears nailed down to it, to learn you bashfulness. the way he served three young gentlemen in the Med. No, no: you don't want to go arsing around with the old ways: the French did so, and look at the scrape it got them into.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Patrick O'Brian (6 books reviewed)
Historical Fiction
Sea Stories
Patrick O'Brian Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Patrick O'Brian
-OBIT: Patrick O'Brian: Prolific novelist whose voyage into privacy meshed with the odyssey of his sea-going characters (January 8, 2000, The Guardian )
    -ESSAY: Full Nelson: Outmanned and outgunned, the British flummoxed the French. (PATRICK O'BRIAN, 4/18/99, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Cast away Three years after his death, his acclaimed seafaring novels are still bestsellers and have just been made into a blockbuster movie. But recent revelations about how Patrick O'Brian abandoned his family have cast a shadow over his work. (Richard Russ, November 28, 2003, The Guardian)
-IN MEMORIAM: PATRICK O'BRIAN: Senior Correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth is in San Francisco, remembering a man who wrote about the sea. (Online Newshour, January 10, 2000)
    -OBIT: Patrick O'Brian: Prolific novelist whose voyage into privacy meshed with the odyssey of his sea-going characters (Guardian, January 8, 2000)
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: Patrick O'Brian: With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times
    -PODCAST: Good Story 275: Master and Commander (2003)
    -PODCAST: ACF Middlebrow #38 Master And Commander: Titus & Peter Robinson & John Yoo talk about Master & Commander, the Peter Weir seafaring adventure movie, about the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it was based, about the charm of military adventures & the series we've been reading. (Titus Techera, ACF Podcast)
    -ESSAY: An Author I'd Walk the Plank For (Richard Snow, January 6, 1991, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius (David Mamet, 1/17/00, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: A Master and the World He Commands: Pondering Patrick O'Brian and his nautical novels, before Russell Crowe takes over. (MAX HASTINGS, November 7, 2003, Wall Street Journal)
    -OBIT: Patrick O'Brian, Whose 20 Sea Stories Won Him International Fame, Dies at 85 (FRANK J. PRIAL, 1/07/00, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Gone Aloft (Derek Brown, 1/07/00, The Guardian)
    -Featured Author: Patrick O'Brian: With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times
    -ESSAY: Full Nelson: Outmanned and outgunned, the British flummoxed the French. (PATRICK O'BRIAN, NY Times)
-INTERVIEW: Conversations/Patrick O'Brian; In the Glare of the Short-Toed Eagle, Or What You Read Is All You'll Get (FRANCIS X. CLINES, November 14, 1993, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: The Seas of Adventure Still Beckon a Storyteller; At 83, Patrick O'Brian Journeys Into History (FRANK J. PRIAL, October 19, 1998, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: Patrick O'Brian: The author of the wildly popular 18th century seagoing saga created, out of his own life, a fiction nearly as elaborate. (IAN WILLIAMS, 1/13/00, Salon)
    -APPRECIATION: The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius (DAVID MAMET, 1/17/00, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The real master and commander: The swashbuckling novels of Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forester owe much of their inspiration to one man: Lord Cochrane, a seafaring scot whose life was marked by adventure, adulation and scandal. David Cordingly reports (David Cordingly, 02 Sep 2007, The Telegraph)
    -REMEMBRANCE: Master and Deceiver: Patrick O'Brian, the celebrated author behind the new film "Master and Commander", has been branded a callous, deceitful and arrogant bully. His stepson, Nikolai Tolstoy, says the truth is much more complex (Nikolai Tolstoy, 11/30/03, Times of London)
    -ESSAY: Nautical novelist 'couldn't even sail' (James Landale, 8/16/04, BBC News)
    -ESSAY: Cruising with Patrick O'Brian - The Man and the Myth (Tom Perkins, Latitude 38)
-FAN SITE: The Gun Room: which it's the Patrick O'Brian list of the world!
    -APPRECIATION: An Author I'd Walk the Plank For (Richard Snow, January 06, 1991, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: The Interview: Geoff Hunt (Bob Frost, 1993)
    -ESSAY: Science at sea: What the novels of Patrick O'Brian can teach us (Stephen Curry 6 April 2008, LabLit)
    -REVIEW: of Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian (Jan Morris, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Patrick O'Brian: The Making of a Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy (Joseph O'Connor, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Patrick O'Brian: the Making of a Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy (John Lanchester, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Patrick O'Brian: The Making of a Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy (Rachel Cooke, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Patrick O'Brian: The Making of a Novelist by Nikolai Tolstoy (Max Hastings, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Aubrey/Maturin books: Master and Commander & The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O'Brian ( Danny Yee,
-REVIEW: of the Collected Short Stories of Patrick O'Brian (Dinah Birch, TLS)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Aubrey Maturin series (Ex Libris Reviews)
    -ARCHIVES: Patrick O'Brian (NY Times)

Book-related and General Links: