Architecture for Amateurs

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Renderings of rooftop urban garden by SHop Architects for the Essex Crossing development on the Lower East Side. Renderings of rooftop urban garden by SHop Architects for the Essex Crossing development on the Lower East Side. (Courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office)

Witold Rybczynski, emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of many books, including his latest How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit (Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 2013), offers a beginner's guide to architecture, including a "walk-through" of submissions to the competition for the National Museum of African-American history.


Witold Rybczynski

Comments [13]

ellen from Manhattan

Is beauty really so relative? Is there anyone who doesn't think the Tuscan countryside isn't glorious? Is there anyone who doesn't love the look of those "older" buildings along the Seine in Paris, who couldn't sit and look at the Trevi fountain forever? I admire the Guggenheim but I don't particularly enjoy looking at it. However a great city must welcome innovative new ideas and I"m glad it's there. I just think that beauty has to be given its due in the creation of any new building in NYC and that the body of people screening should be comprised not just of other architects and city officials but of ordinary citizens from all walks of life and all ages. If we'd done that, I doubt that buildings that makes you dizzy with their wavy metal stripes would be in a museum, not on the streets of NYC.

Oct. 08 2013 12:09 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

What is not talked about here is that architecture
works hand in glove with the aspirations and messaging of a ruling elite. Imperial Rome, Medici Florence, or Rockefeller Center. Where Diego Rivera’s mural was covered due to its message.
So we the mass public are told by the elites what spaces are good for us.

Oct. 08 2013 11:52 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Wow, the caller's observation about the lack of soul in CAD really resonates with those of us bemoaning the lack of soul in CAM (computer-assisted-muzaking)...

And, Brian, PLEASE do a segment on that motorist-biker incident. Think there's a lot there with how it's being covered.

Oct. 08 2013 11:43 AM
theresa nicholas from ny

The Guggenheim is a terrible example of architecture suited to its purpose. A museum should be designed to enable the viewer to experience the art, which is very difficult in the Guggenheim, not least of which is due to the the floor of the spiral which keeps the viewer slightly off-balance and uncomfortable. The art is secondary to the feat of the spiral.

Oct. 08 2013 11:42 AM
J M from NYC

Please talk about the 1400 towers going up on West 57th Street.

Oct. 08 2013 11:41 AM
Nick from UWS

Architecture is dead in the water. Buildings today are created without the slightest connection to nature, to scale, to human values, to context, to beauty. Just the grinding repulsive egos of the so-called "architects" and the banks that fund them.

Oct. 08 2013 11:40 AM
Jf from the future

I have collected all of the greatest architecture in the world here:

Oct. 08 2013 11:39 AM
Art525 from Park Slope

The critic says the Guggenheim is not a place to look at art but rather at people. Since the building was built to be a museum it would seem to mean the building was a failure. And of course there are those stories the Wright wanted the building to shine rather than the paintings inside. According to the legend the walls were curved so that the paintings wouldn't sit well on them and the lighting had to be redone as wright had installed them to glare off the paintings.

Oct. 08 2013 11:38 AM
Fishmael from NYC

@Nick from UWS: "Buildings today look like the Excel spreadsheets"

You nailed it! LOL!

Oct. 08 2013 11:38 AM
Nick from UWS

The aesthetic appearance of the building is extremely important, as civic ugliness demoralizes the street public. I have never seen so much sheer hideous garbage going up in NYC recently, such as the Time-Warner Center. This is an example of what I call sociopathic architecture; buildings created without the slightest consideration for the poor souls who have to look at that crap day in and day out. Buildings today look like the Excel spreadsheets and the bean counters that "create" them. Utter garbage.

Oct. 08 2013 11:35 AM
Fishmael from NYC

I'm always struck by how older architecture in NYC, even work-a-day buildings, have decorative elements that "give back" to the street and the passerbys.

Contrast this with monstrosities such as Battery Park City - almost fascist, inward-looking, with no concern for the street-level view.

Would you guest care to comment on why street-facing aesthetics are so rare these days?

Oct. 08 2013 11:34 AM
Wally from NYC

What happened with the awful New School building at the corner of 5th and 14th St. This is a Skidmore Owings designed building and it is hideous! It doesn't fit the area!

Oct. 08 2013 11:34 AM

Want a grass carpet? live in a geodesic translucent frosted dome with domes inside for separate rooms. Way cheaper than a regular house.
Most Architecture education exists only to perpetuate the architecture of straight lines and right angles, and to engineer stability in inherently unsound, unsafe, nondurable, precarious structures. Cob houses, earthships, balloon concrete, and curved additive “architecture” is 500-1000’s of times stronger on all counts.

curved architecture is inherently structurally sound without having to require many years of study to learn how to make an inherently unstable shape structurally sound.

Reinforced concrete self destructs. It is a product of planned obsolescence. To perpetuate actually unnecessary expense, and flow of money. Rebar destroys concrete from the inside out. So why do permit’s require it? Roman concrete like the parthenon will last thousands of years without it. Everything in this system is wrong. Meant to create streams of money instead of streams of value. Cannabis makes a concrete that gets harder with age.

Oct. 08 2013 11:33 AM

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