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Quantuck Lane Press
Architecture of the Absurd: A Case Against Dysfunctional Buildings

Architecture of the Absurd: A Case Against Dysfunctional Buildings

by John Silber
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Have you ever wondered why the Guggenheim is always covered in scaffolding? Why the random slashes on the exterior of Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum, supposed to represent Berlin locations where pre-war Jews flourished, reappear, for no apparent reason, on his Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto? Or why Frank Gehry's Strata Center, designed for MIT's top-secret Cryptography Unit, has transparent glass walls? Not to mention why, for $442 per square foot, it doesn't keep out the rain? You're not alone.

In Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber dares to peek behind the curtain of "genius" architects and expose their willful disdain for their clients, their budgets, and the people who live or work inside their creations. Absurdism in a painting or sculpture is one thing -- if it's not to your taste, you don't have to look -- but absurdism in buildings represents a blatant disregard for the needs of the building, whether it be a student center, music hall, or corporate headquarters.

Silber admires the precise engineering of Calatrava, the imaginative shapes of Gaudi, and the sleek beauty of Mies van der Rohe. But he refuses to kowtow to the egos of those "geniuses" who lack such respect for the craft. Absurdist architects have been sheltered by the academy, encouraged by critics, and commissioned by CEOs and trustees. They stamp the world with meaningless monstrosities, justify them with fanciful theories, and command outrageous "genius fees" for their trouble.

As a young man, Silber learned to draw blueprints and read elevations from his architect father. In twenty-five years as president of Boston University, Silber oversaw a building program totaling 13 million square feet. Here, Silber uses his experience as a builder, a client, and a noted philosopher to construct an unflinchingly intelligent illustrated critique of contemporary architecture.

Le Corbusier's megalomaniacal 1930s plan for Algiers, which called for the demolition of the entire city, was mercifully never built. But his blatant disregard for context and community lives on. In Boston, Jose Lluis Sert's unprotected northeast-facing entrance to the B.U. library flooded the first floor with snow and ice every New England winter. In Los Angeles, sunlight glinting off the sharply angled steel curves of Gehry's Walt Disney Music Hall raises the temperature of neighbors' houses by 15 degrees. And of course, Libeskind's World Trade Center plan, with its spindly 1776-foot tower and quarter-mile-high gardens, proved so impractical it had to be re-designed, in an exasperating negotiation hardly worthy of the complex tragedy of the site.

Dr. Silber, an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, asks all the questions that critics dare not. He challenges architects to derive creative satisfaction from meeting their clients' practical needs. He appeals to the reasonable public to stop supporting overpriced architecture. And most of all, he calls for responsible clients to tell the emperors of our skylines that their pretensions cannot hide the naked absurdity of their designs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593720278
Publisher: Quantuck Lane Press
Publication date: 11/12/2007
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

John Silber was president of Boston University for twenty-five years and is an internationally recognized authority on ethics, the philosophy of law, and the philosophy of Kant. His works include Human Action and the Language of Volition and Straight Shooting: What's Wrong with America and How to Fix It. He has been the recipient of Fulbright, Guggenheim, and ACLS fellowships. In 2002 he was named an honorary member of the AIA. He lives in Boston.

What People are Saying About This

Roger Kimball

Architecture of the Absurd is more than a wake-up call -- it is the opening skirmish in a battle to reclaim architecture for the people who use it.

John Wolfe

This is a brief but delightful tour of contemporary architecture with a guide who is famous for his candor. He divides our best-known building designers into the architects, who keep in mind the users of a building, and the artistes, who keep in mind the cover of Architectural Review. Being John Silber, he names names and shows you the artistes' buildings, travesty by travesty. This book will gall some of them. Even more so will it embarrass the guileless souls who have fallen under the spell of the artistes' metaphorical lyricism 'explaining' their own work -- and paid millions for such pretty words.

George F. Will

This volume of spirited criticism by Silber, an accomplished philosopher, raises an ominous question: If it is axiomatic that we shape our buildings, and then they shape us, what are we doing to ourselves with an architecture of the absurd?

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Architecture of the Absurd: A Case Against Dysfunctional Buildings 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
cybrarian_wi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't actually read all of the text of this book but what I did read was interesting. There are two buildings that I didn't find listed that I was surprised weren't included - Hundertwasser in Prague and a funky "marshmallow" building in Tel Aviv (I don't know who was the architect).
booklog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
President of Boston University for 25 years, the author surveys the miserable buildings foisted on the world by ego-driven architects. In 1951, as a faculty member at UT, he spoke on the topic of why their would never be an architecture of the absurd as in art and music, arguing that buildings were too expensive and structures had to meet the needs of the client. How wrong he was! This book is a treasure-trove of educated and often witty commentary on the reason why people run in terror from the idea of having an architect design their house or business building.Who wants an ugly building with a leaky roof that costs millions and doesn't do what you need done?On the plus side, Silber gives the client tools for dealing with idiot architects, and points out that most of the practitioners of the art of design DO want to build good buildings that work.Read this in tandem with "How buildings learn" by Stewart Brand.
partenon More than 1 year ago
I found this book in my local library; without knowing what was about, I fell compelled by the image on the cover and the title. I read it in about 1 hour; I have to agree with previous comments that it is not the best written book, but it makes a point on denouncing the overrated starchitects and their malpractices. It fails, however, in my opinion, to make a diagnose as to why is this happening - or was happening before the recession - the explosion of tortured building forms around the globe; I have my own theory, and it has more to do with personality types than a architectural movement, size of egos and the inability to see oneself as a regular person, most of the times believing that one is more than the rest in all aspects of life, in one word, immense EGOS unleashed over the public.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well, I read this book and thoroughly enjoyed ever waking second of it. I do not agree w/ the first review @ all! John Silber is a genius! My sister and I both agree that it is one of the most interesting architecture books we've read to date. He obviously knows what hes talking about and has a passion for his profession. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree with the previous reviewer that this book is poorly written. However, that should not dissuade the reader from hearing the essence of Silber's argument. For once, an an author tries to see past the pretentious jargonistic 'archispeak' that is used instead of real design by so many of today's so-called leading practitioners. For many so-called designers, the art of building is something best left to draftsmen. This is not the way architects worked historically. Architects as recent as Louis Kahn respected all aspects of design and held construction detailing in especially high regard. Not so for Daniel Libeskind or Peter Eisenman who wear their construction ignorance prodly as though it were a badge of honor. That these two charlatans both hired other architects to design their New York City residence speaks volumes about their sincerity as architects not to mention their professional competence. Silber points out that so many people, not wanting to seem like philistines, happily endorse Libeskind, Holl, et al, even when they had little building experience. Frank Gehry at least does construction documents in house. But hen buildings like Libeskind's Denver Art Museum leak badly, the museum boards merely absorb the extra cost overruns and repairs not seeking to contradict their poor selection. More surprising, when Libeskind's Toronto ROM also leaked, and its own curators revealed that Libeskind chose not to take the collections into account, the public ends up paying for the remedial work. Silber's journalism needs a lot of polish. But it is refreshing to see a voice of reason amongst the nonsense written by pseudo-designers pretending to be architects. It is time someone called Libeskind a fool, and called Eisenman a hypocrite. Thanks to Silber for doing so in this timely book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In four words: 'Don't buy this book'. Not only the book is poorly written, its points are so poorly exposed that it will make you want to throw the book accross the room. Don't do it, the hardcover will probably break something on the way. If you HAVE to read it... buy it second hand... or get it from the library. It might be a pretty good looking book to add to the library but it has all the wrong ideas. You definetly want it outside of your brain.