When someone erects a hot dog stand in the shape of a giant hot dog, the result may be in bad taste — maybe comic bad taste — but no great harm is done. The problem is that more and more architecture is coming to resemble novelty architecture. I don’t mean that architects are slavishly mimetic. But novelty architecture comes in several varieties. Is a building that allegedly illustrates linguistic vertigo any less preposterous than the hot dog stand? How about something that could have come from the set for Ben Hur? Novelty architecture has a place . . . . Only we need to keep it in its place: roadside refectories, amusement parks, universities, and other retreats from the serious business of life. . . . .
There is a largely retrospective, even autumnal, ingredient in the current celebration of work by Peter Eisenman and Leon Krier. We are invited to look back a couple of decades or more to explore the work of two energetic architects whose words and whose work helped set the agenda for important aspects of contemporary architectural theory and practice. It is, in all senses of the word, heady stuff, full of breathtaking ideas. Are they, for all that, good ideas? Well, I will leave you all to answer that question — or to leave it unanswered if that course seems more expedient. Leaving it unanswered, I suspect, is what Brendan Gill would have done, if for no other reason than he wanted to keep the fun of architecture going as long as possible. Fun is nice. I like fun. But fun remains most fun when it keeps its appropriate place. The ambition to transform all of life into a playground is a prescription for the ruin of fun.
From the end of Roger Kimball’s remarks at a 2002 Yale symposium looking back on three decades’ (or so) friendly antagonism between Peter Eisenman and Leon Krier, respectively representing opposite extremes among theorists of architecture’s role vis-à-vis ‘civilization’ in the period from the sixties until today. Published in the collection Eisenman/Krier: Two Ideologies, 2004.