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June 15, 2010


by Paul Goldberger

Let’s kill all the lawyers,” Dick the Butcher famously said in Henry VI, Part II, but lately it has seemed like it is the architects whom playwrights have wanted to kill off. Well, maybe they don’t exactly want to kill them off, since they seem to need them more than ever as protagonists, given that two plays about architects were staged in New York at the same time this spring. But if playwrights have awakened to a new love of architecture as a subject, it doesn’t appear to translate into love for architects themselves. Neither of these plays is exactly what you would call a flattering portrait.

Gehry looms large over Safdie’s play, since part of the plot involves the claim that glare from the building created problems for a neighbor, which in fact did happen when light reflected off the steel surface of Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. And the whole Staten Island scheme is a stand-in for Gehry’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. The plot is contrived, and becomes more so as it goes on, since Safdie, who is the son of the architect Moshe Safdie, is torn between wanting to give architects room to be creative and telling the world how overbearing they can be. But at its best the play is a hilarious sendup of idiotic architect-speak, and a reminder of the gap between the public’s demand that buildings be ever more exciting and entertaining, and their need to fulfill certain practical functions. One of many plot twists involves a confession by the former architecture critic of the Times that he and several other leading architecture critics—the “Bilbao 12,” they were called—conspired with developers and public officials to create “archi-tourism by starchitects,” and were paid off to write an endless series of positive reviews of buildings by the likes of Eberhardt Shlaminger, which in the real world translates to Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, et al. It’s comforting, I suppose, to know that Safdie isn’t inclined to let the critics get away with anything, either.


Posted by eric at June 15, 2010 10:08 AM