An MIT grad student writes:
A reader you quoted the other day on your blog reported that a certain seminar room in Gehry's Stata Center at MIT causes vertigo and is no longer used. I happen to work in that building as a graduate student, and the story isn't quite as juicy as your correspondent told it.
It's true that according to old-timers, when the room was first built, it caused some people to experience vertigo. But according to the same story as I've heard it from many people, they swiftly put in some large conspicuously vertical objects like rolled-up rugs and the problem was solved. In any case, the room is regularly full for seminars and I've never heard a complaint of vertigo in the present.
The building certainly has its practical problems, though. For one thing, it's said to cost twice as much to maintain per square foot as any other structure on campus. For another, it's tremendously spendthrift of MIT's only resource even more costly than money -- space. For most of the building's height, the floor plan contains only two towers dwarfed by the sprawling footprint at ground level. An aerial photo [by Philip Greenspun] illustrates this very well:
Another reader writes, sort of in defense of Gehry:
So far none of your correspondents has taken up the relationship between single buildings -- which is what architects, especially stars, mainly produce -- and public spaces. Spaces need design, but it's a different skill than creating a building -- a complementary one, and not usually found in the same person. (The Campidoglio is the exception that proves the rule: not only was Michelangelo, obviously, exceptional himself, but his design separates that space from the bustle of urban Rome.)Reader #3, more fully in defense of Gehry -- and certainly more critical of his critics -- says:
I'm inclined to tolerate arrogance on this matter in a Gehry, even when genuinely offensive, because I think the responsibility for public spaces has to be shared more broadly -- just as the monuments, if any, are plums in the pudding of the urban design, the architects can be expected to be outliers in the design community.
I wanted to chime in a tiny bit about the Gehry thing, with some context. I think it's fair to say that Fred Kent is a widely known but not particularly liked figure in the architecture world-- or perhaps I should say the "capital-A architecture" world. Project for Public Spaces, the organization Kent founded and runs, has a regressive streak that is at odds with a beliefin architecture as a potentially provocative, avant garde, response to the world. I don't have to tell you Gehry epitomizes that sensibility, nor that the hero architect shtick regularly backfires, with occasionally disastrous consequences for cites and "public space."
But-- and here's where I cheer Gehry on, and tell Kent to take a seat-- that's not a reason to stop believing in the transformative potential of buildings, which is what the pabulum Kent spouts seems to argue. Especially not when there are architects like Gehry who come around every once in a while.