John R. Silber, long-time president of Boston University and author of Architecture of the Absurd, passed away this week. See below Francis Morrone’s review that appeared in the November 23, 2007 Wall Street Journal.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has just filed suit against the architect Frank Gehry, whose wavy, odd-angled metallic forms infiltrate the skylines of many American cities and not a few abroad (like Bilbao, Spain). The suit seeks unspecified damages for “design and construction failures” at the Stata Center, a two-towered structure that opened three years ago, housing computer-science labs on MIT’s Cambridge, Mass., campus. Mr. Gehry’s response? “M.I.T. is after our insurance.”
John Silber’s “Architecture of the Absurd” might serve as an amicus brief for MIT. It is a thoughtful argument against the excesses of “designer” architects and urban-planning utopians. Mr. Silber, the former president of Boston University, may seem, as he notes, “an unlikely person to write a book on architecture.” But he is an architect’s son and a professional philosopher who, as the president of a major university for 25 years, directed the construction of buildings totaling 13 million square feet of floor area — more than most clients, to say the least. His critique of today’s architectural culture has a hard-nosed clarity that is seldom found in today’s writing about architecture.