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Architecture of the Absurd

The Ray and Maria Stata Center, designed by architect Frank Gehry for MIT.The Ray and Maria Stata Center, designed by architect Frank Gehry for MIT. (Raul654/Wikimedia Commons)

From Rem Koolhas’s CCTV Building in China to Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at MIT in Boston, contemporary architects want their buildings to turn heads. But one man’s masterwork is another man’s hodge-podge with a leaky roof.

John Silber thinks our buildings need less individualism, more standards. “If anybody thinks that Gehry is not engaged in a con job,” Silber told Kurt Andersen, speaking about the Stata Center, “they haven’t looked at that building.” Silber is the former president of Boston University and the author of Architecture of the Absurd: How “Genius” Disfigured a Practical Art. In it, he proposes that many architects have forgotten the hoary old principles of their profession, as outlined by Vitruvius: "firmness, commodity, delight."

What’s the most absurd building you’ve ever seen? Is Gaudí gaudy or gorgeous? Is bizarreness a pleasurable break from the ordinary or an attention-seeking blight?

Post an image below and tell us why the building makes your day — or ruins it. We may talk about your pick on the show.

See other listener responses.

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September 28, 2012 07:47:34 AM
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Sid

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The Sharp Centre for Design at OCAD University

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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I was up in Toronto for a few days this March, wandering the City alone, looking for the Art Gallery of Ontario, when the Sharp Centre came into view around a corner. I was stopped in my tracks.

My first impression was that it felt juvenile, though not in a pejorative sense. The way this enormous, checkered structure is hoisted in the air above an existing (and relatively staid) structure had the air of childish whimsey. I couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of it.

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September 27, 2012 05:47:42 PM
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Sonja

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RMJM 'Gate/Pants of the East'

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Suzhou, China

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'Nuff said. Take a look. It's amazing it made it past the render. . . and no one noticed.

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August 06, 2011 11:39:31 AM
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Jamie

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Majesty Building

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Altamonte Springs, FL

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The Majesty building sits on Central Parkway near the Interstate Four overpass as an empty glass shell that has been under construction since 2000.

The building is owned by the local Orlando Christian television station The SuperChannel, and the reason the project has taken 11 years and counting to complete is the station has vowed to build the project debt free using donations from viewers and support from business claiming a portion of the office space on the buildings floors five to 17.

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July 30, 2011 10:21:07 PM
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Lorenzo

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The Portland Building

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Portland, Or

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This is the ugliest building in Portland. To get into the University of Oregon Arch. School, I had to write an essay, "What built place has inspired you the most." I used Micheal Graves' Portland building as the building that made me want to build beautiful places... not Portland Buildings.

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July 30, 2011 02:41:16 PM
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Peter

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PPG Place

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Pittsburghers adore it but I think it's a tragic collision of gothic design and plate glass. PPG Industries was the old Pittsburgh Plate Glass company. It is as if the architect insisted on gothic and PPG insisted on plate glass. Compromise may be a beautiful thing it politics and marriage but it make for awful architecture

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July 25, 2011 12:09:26 PM
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Jeffrey

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City Hall, Boston, MA

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Boston, MA

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Concrete. and lots of it. In comparison to the surrounding city, this structure looks like a penitentiary was constructed in the heart of the City. It is grey. It is enormous. and the tiny rectangle windows are recessed, further informing the world that justice is hidden from the population. A smidge of reading educated me that this structure belonged to the 1950's and 60's Brutalist movement in architecture, which should've been warning enough to stay away. Increasing the ire is the surrounding plaza. My first statement was "this must be handicap hell!" You know, I have never seen anyone in a wheelchair in the plaza.

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July 24, 2011 11:32:22 PM
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Barbara

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The Experience Music Project

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Seattle WA

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Ugly from every view. Looks like a giant creature ran amok in a used car lot and then swept up all of the damaged cars and left them in a pile.

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July 24, 2011 10:19:10 PM
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Josh

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University Hall

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Chicago, IL

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The University of Illinois at Chicago's high-rise, known informally as UH, combines two terrible traits in a building: first, it's unspeakably ugly, and second, it's over-designed. The whole thing is made of unadorned concrete, and it's all straight lines and sharp angles, without even the slightest curve to be found. It's also designed to get wider and wider as it goes up, which makes it look awkward and unbalanced, like it's about to fall over at any time. Because, apparently, of its unusual shape, it creates a wind-tunnel effect. Any time there's a bit of wind around the UIC campus, it starts swirling around UH, getting so strong that it often becomes hard to walk into it. It doesn't just get that bad in major storms, mind you, but quite often.

It's ridiculous on the inside, too. The great thing about UH SHOULD be the view. UIC is located on Chicago's Near West Side, and it should have spectacular views of the downtown skyline, Lake Michigan, etc. And it does - sort of. Kind of. This is where the over-designed nature of UH really shines through. You see, the windows inside are all in the shape of the letter I for Illinois. So they're just narrow little slits you can barely see through, plus slightly wider trapezoid-shaped windows on the top and bottom of each. You can see a bit better out of these windows - if you get down on your hands and knees to look through the bottom one or climb up on a chair to see out the top. Otherwise, your field of vision is limited to a few inches, so you're squinting to see more than just the barest slice of the spectacular view that should be clear from the upper floors.

I got my Master's degree at UIC, and I graduated more than four years ago now, but I still think of UH and how ridiculous and how horrible and how stupidly designed it is. As I'm someone who knows nothing about architecture, that's quite a feat of design.

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July 24, 2011 05:20:56 PM
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George

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Sugarbush Ski Lodge

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Warren, VT

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It's just a ridiculously huge barn. Is that really appropriate for a ski resort?
Further more, the design, particularly the silo, does not seem to be in keeping with Vermont barn vernacular. It seems more midwest.
The first time I saw it it made me think of the end of "The Jerk" where they replaced to old shack with an enormous shack.

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July 24, 2011 03:13:48 PM
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MIT alum

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Gehry Stata Center

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Cambridge,MA

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It is a boring cliche. Gehry's private joke at the expense of MIT and everyone who has this thing's presence imposed on them. Once you've experienced it, it is surprisingly easy to ignore. How long before MIT can figure out a good reason to tear it down?

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July 24, 2011 01:53:57 PM
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gabriel

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Royal Ontario Museum

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Toronto, Canada

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They literally bolted this thing on to an old brick building, making no attempt at professional, attractive joinery. Hideous..

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July 24, 2011 12:32:01 PM
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Brad

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Libeskind House

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Don't know, Don't care

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This is suppose to be a house. It is a scuplture that has had a function forced upon it. If Mr. Liebskind wants to create an experiencial three dimensional sculpture that's great. But please do not insult me by trying to tell me that it is suppose to be lived in. Or that it was conceived with that purpose in mind. This is nothing more than a 3D fantasy created by a brilliant salesman who was able to convince some gulable person to build it. This is self indulgant art, not Architecture. Self indulgant art has it's place and can be a great thing if it is aknowledged for what it is. This man does not deal with all of the issues and concerns that go into and influence architecture.

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July 24, 2011 12:01:13 PM
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Lenny

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Baku Flame Towers

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Baku, Azerbaijan

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My hometown of Baku, Azerbaijan is an ancient city - a small walled city built in the medieval period - is surrounded by a modern city that expanded in the late 19th and 20th Century. The city is a mix of architectural styles, which mostly work very well together. However recently - fueled by oil money, the city has embarked on a Dubai-inspired spree of ostentation. The city is building a grotesque complex of three skyscraper in the shape of a flame (a flame being the symbol of the city of Baku). Built on a slope, the monstrosity overshadows the entire city and sticks out like a sore thumb. I am yet to come across someone who has anything positive to say about this structure. See photo here: http://i52.tinypic.com/35cogig.jpg and here: http://i071.radikal.ru/1103/02/76ff513080a8.jpg

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July 23, 2011 08:01:30 PM
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Patricia

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see comments below

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timbuktu, TX

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This is an insulting witchhunt. Please post the most ridiculous radio show you have ever heard. Don't encourage ignorance, rather encourage learning something about architecture. Please call your guest on his misrepresentation of Vitruvius. How about talking about what makes good architecture - the MOTHER of all the arts. It's not necessarily about profit. Long live Gehry and Libeskind.

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July 23, 2011 06:19:16 PM
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Curt

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Bayterek Tower

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Astana, Kazakhstan

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Self explanatory

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July 18, 2011 04:10:58 PM
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Michael

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The Stata Center

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Cambridge, MA

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If your college dorm had a baby with Optimus Prime, it would like exactly like the Stata Center.

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