Monday, October 16, 2006

Ahem, Susan - Now I'M Confused

Susan Barnes-Gelt--chatty gadfly, former Denver City Coucilperson, community activist, bright, articulate (I could go on, but I won't)--provided a curious piece in last Sunday's Denver Post in which she says, essentially, good-bye to bad rubbish. The bad rubbish being Steven Holl, architect, who scooted out of the design of the Denver Justice Center while, it is reported, collecting $700,000 in fees in spite of his abrupt exit. My prior post gets into Holl's side of the story which, suffice it to say, Susan didn't provide in her piece.

My first thought here is that Susan is gleeful with Holl's departure because--can you EVEN believe it!--she was not a member of the Denver Justice Center Task Force. Therefore, since her opinion on the new structure was not required or solicited, then, well, how could the design and construction possibly go forward without her input. I mean, it's unthinkable.

Facetiousness is really a lame tool, isn't it?

Let me note a few things Barnes-Gelt said:

It's good news that New York architect Steven Holl will not be designing Denver's new Civic Center courthouse. Perhaps it's a harbinger that Denver's infatuation with internationally acclaimed architects who care more about building a portfolio than building a city is cooling.

Holl's approach was more than a counterpoint to that vision; it was cacophony.

Instead, he designed an icon, a monument to his ego. Perhaps he was trying to create a new paradigm for the American courthouse or maybe he was competing with the new Libeskind-designed Hamilton wing of the Denver Art Museum. But he failed to recognize that an art museum plays a very different role on the civic stage. Art is provocative, challenging and seeks to break the rules. Justice is based on precedent, restraint and adherence to rules.

The placement, design and materials of his building had nothing to do with these values or this place, the site and function of the building or its role as a contributor to the urban context.

Denver citizens and officials played a role in this ill-fated relationship. We are intoxicated by the idea that a disparate collection of iconic architecture might qualify us as a cultural mecca. Our insistence that Denver's future is linked to the creation of so-called "world-class" architecture as dispensed by famous (i.e., they live somewhere else) designers is foolish.

Fabric, not object, defines great cities. The best cities are about people, strong and legible connections and a beautiful, safe and comfortable public realm. Interesting and lively streets articulated by strong, durable buildings that are respectful of context, scale and material make up the DNA of a great city.
Okay. Now, let me note a few things Barnes-Gelt has said in the past, much of it with regard to the Libeskind addition (incongruous mess that it is) to the Denver Art Museum. But, first let me give you a little insight into Barnes-Gelt's obvious disdain for us mere common folk and what she perceives to be our lack of appreciation for "cutting edge" architecture:

A piece from the New York Times, July, 2003, entitled, "For a Shaper of Landscapes, a Cliffhanger," by Patricia Leigh Brown, former City Councilperson-At-Large Susan Barnes-Gelt was quoted--with regard to Lawrence Halprin's now defunct (erased) Skyline Park: "The park was never loved. Denverites do not warm up to modernism. We don't really get the built environment, and we for sure don't get it if it's not red brick and at least 75 years old. Against that, Halprin's esthetic [sic] was not respected or frankly, enjoyed."

Hmmm... Yes, this was part of my prior post, "The Masses are Asses." Let's let Barnes-Gelt go on, though:

Perhaps it's time for Denver to concentrate its energies on strengthening the structure and character of the broader city to provide a worthy setting for the eureka moments of Libeskind, Ponti and other star architects.
"...other star architects." Hmmm... Star architects like, for instance, Steve Holl? I guess not.

My response to Barnes-Gelt's giddy "...eureka moment..." was: "Ms. Barnes-Gelt is, I believe, infatuated with diadems like the word 'iconic.' If you wrap the concept, the person, the 'vision,' within the idolatrous cocoon of 'icon,' then no more needs to be said; no more needs to be studied; no more needs to be considered; regular folk need take a fucking hike, 'cause the politics of privilege have spoken."

Let's take a look at Ms. Barnes-Gelt's remarks from the Denver Post on September 29, 2006 entitled: "Denver - It's Time to build a city!"

This week, Denver celebrates the grand opening of the city's newest architectural icon: the Art Museum's Daniel Libeskind-designed Frederick Hamilton Wing. And there are several more iconic structures looming over downtown's horizon.

Six internationally renowned architects (none of them local) are competing to design the Clyfford Still Museum, located on Bannock Street behind the Hamilton Wing.

Acclaimed London architect David Adjaye is designing the Museum of Contemporary Art's new exhibit hall in the Platte Valley.

And the city awaits big-ego-architect Steven Holl's scheme for the new courthouse at the downtownJustice Center campus.
Our charm bracelet is full. Now Denver should pause and attend to the strong, durable links necessary to weave this urban eye candy into a coherent, human-scaled whole.

It's time to build a city.
If you recall, way back at the beginning of this post, Ms. Barnes-Gelt chided Steve Holl for designing an icon, "...a monument to his ego." But, gosh, see now I'm confused. I'm confused because Susan just gushes over with iconic icons creating eureka moments and, in the process, we're gonna build a city (as if we didn't already have one!) and, by golly, by gosh, if ya'll don't see the vision 'cause ya'll just like red brick and square boxes, then get the hell out of the way 'cause Denver's on the move.

I'm confused. Are you?

Oh, by the way, Barnes-Gelt's idolization of the Libeskind pokey, lopsided glob that, as noted in a prior post, even physically nauseates art lovers who try to enjoy the art within but simply can't because the innerds of the glob diabolically intrude upon that enjoyment; yes, did Barnes-Gelt read the New York Times evaluation of the absurd memorialization of the Libeskind ego?

Well, anyway... I've emailed Steven Holl to see if I can get his side of the story. Don't expect an answer.

P.S. Dear Susan: The word "cacophony" to a true follower of the arts is something you ought not use to advance your "eureka" moments.

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