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. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center and holds a Ph.D in European history. More

Edward Tenner is an independent writer and speaker on the history of technology and the unintended consequences of innovation. He holds a Ph.D. in European history from the University of Chicago and was executive editor for physical science and history at Princeton University Press. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows and John Simon Guggenheim fellow, he has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton and has held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy. He is now an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, where he remains a senior research associate.

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