… architecture is so routinely pilloried, and with such imaginative comparisons, delicious takedowns, and clever labels. The nicknames come from comedians and critics, rivals and urban legend.
London is clearly current headquarters for this business, beginning with Norman Foster’s Swiss Re tower, all but officially renamed the Gherkin, as in the pickle (just think – if somebody came up with it first, it could have been the pine cone). Then there’s the Cheese Grater and the Walkie-Talkie (the Leadenhall Building and 20 Fenchurch Street, respectively), handily skewered side by side in this review in The Guardian.
In the case of Rafael Vinoly’s Walkie-Talkie building, the playful label didn’t just stick. It got worse. Because of sunlight reflecting intensely off the concave glass curtain wall, it is now the Walkie Talkie Death Ray building, or Walkie Scorchie, the Fryolater, take your pick. Inevitably, a journalist fried an egg on the sidewalk subject to the intense reflection, which had damaged cars and caused carpeting to smolder.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim museum was derided when it opened in 1959. Robert Moses likened it to an “inverted oatmeal dish.” Another critic called it an “indigestible hot cross bun.”
Critics blasted Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center at Harvard, which turned 50 this year, as a “white whale on stilts,” and, my personal favorite, “two pianos having sex.” But at least the attacks had softened. The chapel at Ronchamp was merely “an ecclesiastical garage” (good one!) and his proposed 100,000-seat stadium of the late 1930s, according to none other than Picasso, a “cup without a saucer” (snap!).
This is a lot of fun, and the list could go on. A master at this game is doomsayer James Howard Kunstler and his Eyesore of the Month feature. San Francisco’s new transit center? “Man-eating amoeba.” Rem Koolhaas’s Seattle Public Library? “Highway overhang.” Next?
Skeptics would say the pillorying parallels the ludicrous forms that star architects feel they must create to outdo each other, and accordingly the way contemporary architecture has lost its way. Much more urgent needs – affordable, efficient housing, the revitalization of places like Detroit, planning the urban expansion of cities in the developing world – should be occupying the design profession, the argument goes.