Could this be the architecture equivalent of Tupac versus Biggie?
Last Sunday Nicolai Ouroussoff, the architecture critic for The New York Times, published an essay (“As Heroes Disappear, the City Nees More”) lamenting the 1970s heyday when Charles Gwathmey, who died earlier this month, and the rest of the so-called New York Five made New York a center of modernist discourse.
More than halfway through the piece he offers this gobsmacking assertion: since the days of the New York Five Los Angeles has produced two generations of architects “that has no real equivalent in New York.” Ourossoff, who was previously the architecture critic at the Los Angeles Times, is referring to the usual L.A. suspects–Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry, Eric Owen Moss (his Beehive office complex is shown above), Greg Lynn, Michael Maltzan, among others.
Not content to leave it at that, Ourossoff then writes that “the most important works of contemporary architecture to rise in New York over the past decade…were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos, a Japanese woman and a Frenchman” He’s alluding to Gehry’s IAC headquarters, Mayne’s Cooper Union (above) building, Sanaa’s New Museum and Jean Nouvel’s tower going up in Chelsea.
To be sure, there’s a lot to admire in these architects, but to dismiss the hotbed of New York designers seems not just specious but lazy. This morning Brooklyn architect Andy Bernheimer delivered a vigorous brushback with an open letter posted on Design Observer in which he cites Alexander Gorlin, Leven Betts, Lewis-Tsurumaki-Lewis (their Bornhuetter Hall at the College of Wooser is above) and Leroy Street Studio as examples of young New York firms exploring design and contemporary life in all its complexity without the celebrity posturing customary from the Richard Meier set. “The work and teachings of many of my colleagues is mostly lacking in self-promotion but overflowing with substance,” Bernheimer writes. “This is what makes them influential and, at times, heroic. But it is also, perhaps, what makes them far less visible to Mr. Ourosoff. He should be looking more closely.”
New York might actually have been better off without Ouroussoff’s architectural heroes, and the star system that produced them. The architects of Gwathmey’s generation too often degraded the city fabric by inserting glass towers without regard to context or proportion. Too much neighborhood character was sacrificed on behalf of development disguised as architectural expression. Does Ourosoff really think that young New York architects should aspire to build things like the 21-story luxury condo (above) with blue-green reflective glass that Gwathmey preposterously positioned above Astor Place?