What Nicolai Ouroussoff Could Learn from Karl Pilkington

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One may be the most widely read architectural writer in the nation. The other is the unsaintly holy fool of the Science Channel's series An Idiot Abroad. But the authority should have paid attention to the clown.

Nicolai Ourossoff, the New York Times architecture critic, writes of Frank Gehry's 8 Spruce Street that the impersonal lobby and industrial-looking public school housed in the lower floors don't matter:

. . . once you see the tower in the skyline, a view that seems to lift Lower Manhattan out of its decade-long gloom. The building is particularly mesmerizing from the Brooklyn waterfront, where it's possible to make out one of the deep setbacks that give the building its reassuringly old-fashioned feel. In daylight the furrowed surfaces of the facades look as if they've been etched by rivulets of water, an effect that is all the more dramatic next to the clunky 1980s glass towers just to the south. Closer up, from City Hall Park, the same ripples look softer, like crumpled fabric.

There's just one problem. People paying $3,000, which the developers have considered raising, for a small apartment in the building (This is "democratic at heart"? Well, I guess there's no co-op board) don't have this view at all, even if some can see the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

That's where Mr. Pilkington comes in, in an episode broadcast days before the review. Gazing at the superb and mysterious "Treasury" in the Jordanian site of Petra from his makeshift sleeping quarters in a simple grotto facing it in the Middle East episode of the program, he confirms his maxim that, "I'd rather live in a cave with a view of a palace than live in a palace with a view of a cave." Time for New York apartment-seekers to scout Brooklyn walkups. Or rent anywhere and hang out in City Hall Park.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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